THE TERMINAL EXPERIMENT
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
When I first became aware of Robert Sawyer, his books had cute little dinosaurs on the covers and I avoided them. Eventually, I heard some good things about them and I picked up the first book of the series (Far-Seer) and discovered that, although the book still had a cute dinosaur cover, the material inside the cover was well worth reading. The Terminal Experiment is Sawyer's sixth book, and only his second book without a dinosaur on the cover. Instead, the cover looks like a medical mystery along the lines of something Robin Cook would write.
At the start of the book, Peter Hobson (the book was titled "Hobson's Choice" when it appeared in Analog is a medical student attending an organ-harvesting on a motorcycle victim. When the patient shows a pulse and reacts to the procedure, Hobson begins to wonder where the line between life and death actually is. After graduation, Hobson pursues research into the development of a super-sensitive EEG to determine the actual instant of death. During his research, Hobson and his good friend Sarkar Muhammed develop a technique for creating a perfect neural scan of a person's brain.
Hobson and Muhammed create three duplicates of Peter Hobson inside computers at Muhammed's lab. One "Hobson" is immortal, one "Hobson" is dead and one "Hobson" is the control.
While this is going on, Hobson's personal life is falling apart. His wife has begun to have an affair with a co-worker (as soon as Sawyer describes how perfect their relationship is, you know she's going to have an affair) and Hobson's father-in-law dies because of a medicinal reaction. To make matters worse, a police investigation focuses on Hobson's life and work.
Sawyer is writing a mystery with this book, and, to a certain extent, succeeds. The pace is good, keeping you turning the pages, and the characters are likeable, even the libidinous Hans and the un-enlightened Rod. However, because of the way Sawyer creates his mystery, there is no real chance of figuring out who is responsible. In some ways its reminiscent of the way Conan Doyle would always have Holmes solve the crime by pointing out a piece of evidence that was known only to Holmes and not to Watson. Nevertheless, just as the Holmes stories are well-worth reading, I would also have no hesitation to recommend The Terminal Experiment to a friend.
Oh, yeah. Go out and get Sawyer's other books, too. At the very least, you'll be entertained. More likely, you'll begin to think about our society.
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