Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Terminal Experiment

The Terminal Experiment is a mish-mash of fascinating ideas, all of which are explored somewhat but none of which is fully explored to the extent I would expect from a Nebula Award-winning novel. For example, in the novel, Robert J. Sawyer introduces the idea of being able to copy a person's neural nets onto a computer hard drive, thus creating an AI duplicate of the person. He then takes it a step further and imagines erasing some of the nets, thus modifying the experiences and thoughts of the copy and thus creating a new person, based in part on the original. In fact, the main character, Peter Hobson, makes three duplicates of himself--one as a control to imitate him specifically, one with no physical needs to simulate life after death, and the last with no knowledge of age or death to simulate immortality. However, these virtual characters are treated nearly tangentially until they escape into the internet and one of them begins planning murders. All of this would make a fascinating novel if expolored in depth, but that never really happens.

Similarly, Hobson discovers the physical basis of the soul, a measurable and plottable electrical nexus that leaves the body upon its death. Again, the topic is touched on tangentially, with news reports regarding the public reaction to the news that there really is life after death, ut other than a few perfunctory scenes of Hobson testing his thesis, nothing much happens with this advance. Also, Hobson encounters a company that promises immortality by injecting nanobots into the human body to stave off the source of aging, as well as implanting technology for preventing accidental (or intentional) death. But again, this idea is given short shrift.

Wrapped up around this mess is the ongoing turmoil of Hobson's relationship with his all-too-human wife, which follows the archetypal plot of nearly every Hallmark movie ever made.

Of course, the AI personalities is given the most attention, but even its climax is revealed by the bizarre flash-forward that is the prologue, one which removes any possible suspense about how the book is going to turn out as well as revealing how it is going to get there. It's all very unfortunate, especially when it is matched up with the writing style of Sawyer. He employs simple, short sentences which propel the reader through the story, but have nothing of art about them, mimicking elementary primers in their style. In this way, the content and style are well-suited to one another, and the book is an enjoyable read until the back cover is closed and the reader realizes that it's all a bunch of fluff without depth. In fact, to seal the deal, we are given a saccharine epilogue as well that breaks no new ground.

In short, the book is a horrible tease, dense with the potential of its own ideas but failing to live up to it.

No comments:

Post a Comment