2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great ideas, conveyed in writing no worse than most sci-fi
The vitriol displayed in some of the reviews of this book amazes me. While the writing style may not give Updike or Bellow anything to worry about, when compared to some of the so-called giants in this genre, like Asimov, Clarke, and Niven, it holds up quite well.
Yes, there are some lapses such as: about 5 too many Star Trek references; a tendency to take today's...
Published on Oct. 13 1997
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as tightly woven as usual...
I'll admit my bias up front: I'm a solid Robert J. Sawyer fan. I got hooked with "Factoring Humanity," sailed right through "Flashforward," "Starplex," and "Calculating God," then stumbled a bit with "Illegal Alien." Then I read "The Terminal Experiment."
I do like this book. It had some good strong...
Published on July 16 2001 by Jonathan Burgoine
Most Helpful First | Newest First
4.0 out of 5 stars Will the real Peter please stand up?,
Sawyer has made a bold, and generally successful, attempt to raise the genre of speculative fiction above the 'space opera' level. Merging a wealth of science and technical publications with a philosophical drama, he's launched a fresh approach to sf prose. The story relates the life of Peter Hobson, who becomes a specialist in brain signal detection after witnessing a corpse reacting to an organ transplant operation. His research discloses that the brain indeed possesses something that seems to transcend death. Pursuing that issue, he records his own brain signals, creating three identities. Meanwhile, Hobson's a lovely, devoted, wife betrays him with a creep, devastating him. The result is mysterious deaths, a world reaction to his discovery and some heavy discussion on human values.
The debate over human consciousness, whether it exists, whether it's unique in the animal kingdom and whether it has a long term essence, remains ongoing and intense. Works on evolution and sociobiology are permeated with the question of whether our ability to communicate ideas reflects the existence of a spiritual element in humanity. Ever since early humans could perceive the idea of death the question of 'what happens after' has dominated our thinking. Sawyer makes a good effort to deal with the first part of the question: yes, there's something there, and it's not limited to humans. As to the afterlife, Sawyer raises the question, then leaves it for a later book or someone else to decide.
The many comments below about Sawyer's characters reflect the maturity of his prose style. Readers looking for simplistic people and predictable action are not pandered to in this book. He introduces a devout Muslim AI engineer, surely a novel idea in speculative fiction, and a graduate chemist unable to shed her childhood disappointments. Current concepts of family stress, with separations, sex, and parental tensions all become major features in this story. While the characters here are mildly wooden [especially in comparison with Sawyer's later books], their models are real enough. Sawyer simply had too much philosophy and technology to present in too few pages. The lady copper, in particular, is a pretty fast thinker, given the novelty of the circumstances.
The philosophy redeems any faults in this book. We need to recognize where evolution has brought us. Sawyer touches that issue lightly, bringing the story to a level rarely encountered. We are left uncertain as to whether the concept of the soul is meaningful. That will leave some readers unsatisfied, but that's a major part of Sawyer's appeal. He will raise the questions, you must come up with some of the answer.
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic example of philosophical science fiction,
I've spent most of my life reading science fiction; I've read almost everything written before 1980, and a huge chunk of what's come since then. What I've loved most about the genre -- after the guilty pleasures of space opera -- is its capacity to take the unanswerable questions and try to answer them. Too often, the questions we want to know the answers to -- what is the meaning of life? Why are we here? What happens to us after we die? -- are either unanswerable or fully realized in religion. So, for a science fiction writer to contemplate the nature of the soul and the afterlife, he runs two risks: one, that he will come up with ridiculous, unproveable answers, or two, that he will utterly infuriate one or more of the established religions. To Robert Sawyer's immense credit, he does neither. He constructs a fascinating premise: what if the soul could be proved to exist, and be proved to be heading somewhere after death? He then constructs another premise: he takes the protagonist's personality, and he makes three AI copies: one with no modifications, one that has all the bodily references deleted, and one with all the knowledge of aging and death deleted. That is his main story. The murder mystery that runs along side this plot is interesting, but it isn't the main point. Sawyer is asking the most important questions a human being can ask, and he's coming up with plausible answers. One of the paradoxes of science fiction is that its greatest books are religious in nature: "Stranger in a Strange Land" and "Dune" are two excellent examples. And while "The Terminal Experiment" isn't quite up to that level (what is?), it is a worthy younger brother to those older giants. The clear, lucid prose reminds me of Isaac Asimov's belief that nothing should get in the way of the story; the characters are not eccentrics, but everyday people, which serves Sawyer's purpose much better than coming up with oddballs that we might remember better. I enjoyed this book far more than any other sf novel in years, precisely because it brought me back to why I stayed in love with the genre after I grew up: it's the only literary form that still provides intellectual provocation.
2.0 out of 5 stars All around sloppy effort.,
An excellent premise. A man discovers hard scientific evidence that some part of the human mind continues to exist after death and then sets up an experiment creatinge three computer simulations of himself: one has all remembrance of physical existance edit out--simulating life after death, another has all knowledge of death removed--simulating imortality, and the third is unaltered--a control. Then all escape and one commits a murder--but which one!
But don't get excited; it's all a bore. The murder is committed in the absurb method of having a man's low-fat gravy replaced with the real thing. He's on medication that requires a very strict diet so he dies. But the reader doesn't have a chance to ponder how ridiculous this is because he or she is still trying to figure out how the author failed to realize how stupid the experiment is: the one with the three copies of our hero. All three know that they are simulations so the control is hardly a real simulation of the main charcter, Hobson. The one with no knowledge of death, knows what death is and doesn't want to be deleted. These inconsistancies are lost on Sawyer who plows ahead with his ridiculous murder plot.
Perhaps and even bigger problem is Sawyer's failure to create realistic people. All the minor characters--especially the ones that are refered to in the "news briefs" scattered throughout the book behave in unbelievable manners. Like the Republican Senator who becomes a supporter of Euthanasia becuase the existance of a human soul has supposedly been proved!
The Major character don't fair much better. Each seems to be a mouthpiece for Sawyer to express his own philosphical views. Certainly the main two character's frequent asides on subjects like abortion, child development, and evolution are interchangable. Simply reading them by themselves would give you know hint of wether they are being uttered by Hobson or his friend. The characters are that one-dimensional.
All things considered it is an easy read and had a lot of potential. But don't bother reading it. And what in the world is Phil Donahue doing in this book!
5.0 out of 5 stars Good solid SF doing what SF is best at,
By A Customer
When Science Fiction is at its best, the technology is so accurate that only small extensions make it "fiction" instead of "fact". That is definitely the case with the Artificial Intelligence technology utilized in this book. We may not be at the point of actually creating fully thinking simulations, but so MUCH of the technology is right, it is no suspension of belief by the reader to believe that this has been achieved in what is effectively a current day setting. It is truly evident that Sawyer consulted with the experts in the field.
When SF is doing its best, it uses the fictional world to deal with important issues. That is also handled adeptly in this book. The Terminal Experiment not only deftly discusses social issues such as abortion and infidelity, but also the "biggies" such as life, death, and the meaning of it all. Even the sidebars indicating media and commerce's reactions to the main character's discovery, which could have really been hokey if not done well, are fun rather than a distraction.
A+ for good SF; A+ for SF "doing good"; Sawyer immediately became one of my favorite authors on the reading of this book alone.
4.0 out of 5 stars Hobson's choice ideas make book worth the read,
By A Customer
Robert Sawyer has moved to the forefront of Canadian SF writers, largely on the basis of this book and StarPlex, both multi-nominated tales. Neither is up to the quality of the outstanding Far Seer trilogy, but that's hardly damning. What Terminal Experiment offers is a series of ideas wrapped up in Sawyer's second attempt at the SF mystery. The first was Golden Fleece and the 'mystery' quality of this book doesn't quite live up to that early effort, in a discipline that Isaac Asimov called the most difficult in the field. But all that's back story to this book.
Terminal Experiment features Peter Hobson, a scientist with a creationist bent, who invents a measuring device for souls. This puts him at the fork of a series of Hobson's choices that eventually lead to an AI-induced nightmare. His solution is pedestrian. The joy of the book is in the conundrums of existence that are raised. Describe your last meal at a restaurant with a friend or loved one. Did you describe the scene from the vantage point of your seat or did you assume the role of a third-party on-looker? It's a little tidbit, but the kind of item that prompts discussion after the fact. And what better legacy can a book have?
Read Terminal Experiment not for the mystery or even the near-future SF. Read it for the chance to talk about things you never imagined could be part of your life.
4.0 out of 5 stars A simple but thought provoking book,
By A Customer
Four stars may be a little too generous for this book, but 3 seems to chintzy. Sawyer starts out inventing a super EEG to helop define brain death and (oops!) discovers the human soul. What this has to do with the rest of the book is uncertain and as such, the first 75 pages are largely superfluous. He uses this beginning to set up his characters, which he does in a soap opera type fashion, but spends too long introducing a technology that is irrelevant to the story.
When the true plot is unveiled, it is well mapped out but a little too superficial. Further distracting from the story are continuous references to the "soldwave" which serve little purpose.
Lastly, we are told fro the beginning that one of the computor simulations is the murderer, but it is a little too easy to figure out which one it is.
So why do I give this book 3 and a half stars? Because despite its flaws, its and enjoyable, if simple, read.
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking fictional science,
I read this book and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is rightly classed as science fiction because it deals with potential new technologies, how they may be used, how they may affect society (although a bit of discussion beyond Net messages would have been better) and how the "monsters" created by Robert Sawyer's main character get out of control. Don't be put off by the absence of interplanetary wars and lots of wonderful new technologies to ponder. The setting and extrapolation of current trends is quite realistic, and welcome at a time when we are facing the need to debate issues which challenge our ages old vision of humanity. Concerns expressed by other reviewers regarding the number of references to Star Trek and use of aging talkshow hosts are petty. This is classic science fiction because we could open a newspaper tomorrow and read about exactly the sort of research Robert Sawyer discusses. I'll be seeking out other titles by this author.
5.0 out of 5 stars Nebula Award winner,
This book won the Science Fiction Writers Association's Nebula Award, and it's easy to see why. It deftly balances believable characterization with brilliant scientific exposition. This was Sawyer's first big award win (he went on to win the Hugo in 2003 for HOMINIDS), and definitely marked a turning point in his career. I've heard Sawyer say that he likes to combine the intimately human with the grandly cosmic and that's certainly what he does here, with the story of a marriage on the rocks set against the discovery of scientific proof for the existence of the human soul (and idea I was initially turned off by but that Sawyer sells very effectively). I think this was the first of Sawyer's books to be set in his hometown of Toronto, something that has become one of his hallmarks. It's not his first to also be a mystery novel (that would be GOLDEN FLEECE), but it certainly is one of the most clever whodunnit premises I've ever seen. Top marks!
3.0 out of 5 stars Good ideas, but poor characterization,
There were two main ideas in the book: the philosophical implications of the discovery of a 'soulwave' that exits the body after death and an AI experiment that makes three differing copies of a human's brain to determine what makes up a soul. The author should have stuck to these concepts.
The subplot regarding an affair between the protagonist's wife and a coworker took up far too much of the book. This subplot did feed into the main plot, but the point was belabored. Another subplot involved the investigation, rather simplistic, of the murders of the coworker and the wife's father.
The dialog in this novel was very stilted. For example, when they weren't talking about technical concepts, the protagonist and his AI friend interacted like teenagers, complete with obscure Star Trek references. I found the monologs spouted by the AI versions of the protagonist to be the best dialog in the novel.
2.0 out of 5 stars Random Walk,
By A Customer
What a let-down. After reading Flashforward (also by Sawyer) and enjoying it sufficiently to look for more by the author, I happened upon Terminal Experiment. I have now had my fill of Sawyer for the forseeable future. Sawyer can't seem to decide what this book is about: mushy theistic philosopy, an affair between the protagonist's wife and her co-worker, a murder mystery, or an AI experiment (of the possibilities, the last at least had potential for an interesting plot). Unfortunately, Sawyer meanders aimlessly through all of the above story lines without addressing any one of them in an interesting way. Combine this with stilted plot, a whiny protagonist, and an uninteresting supporting cast, and you don't have much. Hard to believe this won a Nebula. It might be worth reading if you find it in the pocket of the seat in front of you on the airplane, but this book is certainly not worth buying.
Most Helpful First | Newest First
The Terminal Experiment by Robert J. Sawyer (Mass Market Paperback - Dec 1 2009)
CDN$ 13.50 CDN$ 12.18