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To test his theories of immortality and life after death Dr Peter Hobson has created three electronic simulations of his own personality The first has all knowledge of physical existence edited out to simulate life after death The second is without knowledge of aging or death to simulate immortality The third is unmodified a control Now they are free One is a killer

10 thoughts on “The Terminal Experiment

  1. says:

    The Terminal Experiment A Substandard Crichton style thrillerOriginally posted at Fantasy LiteratureRobert J Sawyer is a very popular Canadian SF author with many novels under his belt and several major awards including the 1995 Nebula Award for The Terminal Experiment 2003 Hugo Award for Hominids and 2006 John W Campbell Award for Mindscan I hadn’t read anything of his so I decided to give The Terminal Experiment a try It’s about an engineer who creates three artificial copies of his consciousness and one of them becomes a killer It is narrated by the very competent Paul Hecht and is an easy listen But how well does it hold up as an award winner? I’ll freely admit I am not a big fan of “techno thrillers” in SF Generally I find this a flimsy plot device to move a mediocre story forward uickly Usually a shadowy and sinister organization or super villain is up to no good and the intrepid hero and his clever sidekick andor love interest race against time to defeat the badguys and prevent a terrible calamity The heroes are usually are scientists engineers detectives private investigators or scholars Sometimes they produce massive runaway best sellers that explore the secret history of Christianity and became Hollywood blockbusters starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tatou flitting from one gorgeous European location to the next usually with a trail of dead bodies left behindWell The Terminal Experiment isn’t uite that bad but it hardly breaks any new ground or provide insight into the nature of AIs and human consciousness I recently read Greg Egan’s Permutation City and that book dives into those ideas in such depth and complexity it was almost overwhelming In contrast The Terminal Experiment goes down way too easily following a by the numbers thriller plot Dr Peter Hobson is the biomedical engineer who invents a machine that can detect brain patterns as they leave the body after death which many interpret as proof of a human soul After creating much hoopla in the media and religious circles he decides with the help of his friend Sardar Muhammed an AI programming expert very convenient don’t you think? to create three AI simulations of Peter’s consciousness in order to test some theories about the afterlife and soulSo three simulations are created 1 Spirit a version of Peter in which all physical desires and urges are removed allowing for a pure intellect unburdened by worldly concerns; 2 Ambrotos who has all fears of aging and death removed to simulate the conditions of an immortal being; and 3 a control version of Peter with no special modifications Initially all three simulations take to their existence positively exploring the Internet of 1995 with enthusiasm and curiosity The book really betrays its age with some very dated descriptions of “cutting edge” technology of the nascent web and there are numerous laughable details about information technology etc Over time the simulations get frustrated with their limited virtual environs and break out into the larger global IT network They also start to develop some aggressive behavior seemingly triggered by Peter’s subconscious feelingsWhat ensures is a thoroughly unexciting thriller as they try to outsmart the simulations and prevent them from getting out of control This idea has been done to death many times before I found it hard to care about either the characters plot or even the philosophical uestions the book raised not because they uestions themselves are not important they are but due to the amateur way in which they are presented to the reader The writing is pedestrian but unthreatening exactly what you would expect from a “mainstream thriller”What this book illustrates is the problem with near future techno thrillers winning major awards like the Nebula or Hugo While they may seem fairly innovative or cutting edge at the time it only takes 5 10 years to make them hopelessly outdated or wrong in their predictions Books about the far future alternate histories or fantasies are less likely to age badly In 1995 it beat John Barnes Mother of Storms Nancy Kress’ Beggars and Choosers Paul Park’s Celestis Walter Jon Williams’ Metropolitan and Gene Wolfe’s Calde of the Long Sun and while I haven't read those books I find it very hard to believe this was the best SF book of that year In the end you can never please everyone when choosing the “best” SF or fantasy novel since taste plays such a major role but voters should consider how well a given book is likely to stand the test of time so when someone picks up an award winner from a previous decade they can be confident it’s at least well written and thought provoking

  2. says:

    Just okay 4 of 10 stars

  3. says:

    The Terminal Experiment is perhaps my favorite Sawyer novel Published in 1995 it's a near future 2011 story of artificial intelligence and immortality and murder and life after death wrapped up in a mystery with thought provoking and challenging speculations on religion and medical ethics and scientific procedure Sawyer always keeps the story at the forefront and produces really convincing and sympathetic characters even the proverbial and literal ghost in the machine It's not a light read but an enriching one in the manner of Connie Willis's Passages Good stuff

  4. says:

    Always with that contrived ripped from the headlines plugged into a thriller feel and the distracting sense that Sawyer's characters are just cameos of folks he met while researching his book but you would think that after 50 years of SF exploring the ramifications of AI and afterlife Sawyer would come up with something perceptive than just murderous AIs and a completely imaginary proof of soul life Another example of hailed Hard sci fi that relies on arbitrary fantasy tools and measurements that are just as fuzzy as any magic spell As a nineties novel it can be valued for its projections of the current form of the digital age though most interesting is the happy ending arc for his highly flawed protagonist Given Sawyer's commercial success and formulaic approach it's hard not to wonder if he and his readers have overlooked the fact of the protagonist's abominable behavior But surely

  5. says:

    40 to 45 stars Excellent read Well thought out premise that was very well executed Highly engaging original story RecommendedWinner Nebula Award for Best Science Fiction Novel 1996Nominee Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novel 1996Nominee Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel 1996

  6. says:

    Who else writes like Sawyer nowadays? This is thoughtful and engaging sometimes even thrilling as I've come to expect from him I love all the different ideas sprinkled through the predictions of possible near future politics culture and technology I love the 'exoticism' to me of the Canadian setting and the view from there of the US But this particular book isn't perfect because it hasn't aged well SF wise We still have VCRs but can create fully sentient and self aware AI We have smart homes but not smart phones not even cell phones it seems Of course Sawyer isn't a prophet and he's not to blame but reading such 'errors' does pull me out of the storyStill a read I didn't want to put down Sawyer's work reminds me of why I liked the best of Michael Crichton I will def continue to read Sawyer and welcome recommendations

  7. says:

    This Nebula and Aurora winner is one of Canadian sf writer Robert J Sawyer's first novels originally published in installments in Analog magazine It's a near future story of a very likable biomedical engineer who discovers scientific evidence of an afterlife who with his best friend cook up some artificial intelligence variations on himself that take on a life of their own It also becomes a thrillermurder mystery as some folks who have wronged him begin to turn up dead Along the way Sawyer dabbles in philosophicaltheological uestions raised by the discoveries which I always love This book is better than some of the Sawyer's recent work although I can't claim to have read them all yet

  8. says:

    I loved Flashforward by Sawyer This book was good but not uite up to the same uality as that one Still I enjoyed it a lotThe Terminal Experiment took a little while to set up the story The beginning wasn't uninteresting just not specifically about what it proposed to be about It did weed its way into that about halfway through and I ended up being satisfiedThis book begins with a scientist in Canada who develops technology to assess when a person actually dies not just when the doctors say they doto assuage his fears after a traumatic organ harvesting experience Surprisingly this new techniue captures the soul of his terminal participant leaving her body The existence of a verifiable soul shakes the worldIn the meantime the scientist also teams up with a friend of his an expert in artificial intelligence to conduct another experiment Obsessed with immortality and life after death the scientist copies his own mind into a computer One copy is removed of all neural connections that have to do with fear of death or aging This copy simulates what it would be like to be immortal The second copy is removed of all connections having to do with physical sensations and preoccupations This simulates life after death The thrid copy remains an exact copy of the scientist to act as a controlPretty soon things go awry when people start turning up dead The three simulations have escaped into the vast expanse of the internet and one of them is a killerLike Sawyer's other book that I've read there runs a common theme of how science can dramatically change the world What things would change if people knew scientifically that a soul was real and that it left your body at death to go somewhere? Abortion issues? Religion? Animal Rights? And what would happen if there was a version of yourself that felt immortal? Or felt detached from the physical world?Props to Sawyer he's very good at exploring socially significant scientific issues in an engaging way

  9. says:

    As Robert J Sawyer seems to be able to do so effortlessly; taking a series of very human circumstances complex philosophical uestions futuristic ideas and ties it all together to create an intellectually stimulating page turner

  10. says:

    returnreturnThis is not uite as bad a book as I had been led to believe The prose is often leaden in particular the cringe worthy opening passage which I think should be used as a model of how not to write in classes for impressionable young writers and the numerous info dumps idicating that the characters have read all the available scientific literature up to 1994 which is a shame as most of the book is set in 2011 What appears to be the killer idea of the first half of the book that science can detect the soul leaving the body at death is simply forgotten for the last third of the narrative which plays the rogue AI's in the net cliche as a murder mystery leading to an unconvincing resolution The detective character herself violates standard operating procedure by burbling her theories about the crime to one of the key suspectsreturnreturnBut apart from that the characters were not too unbelievable and the exploration of the issues of artificial intelligence and the scientific basis of the soul not too undergraduate with all due respect to my undergraduate readers And he does predict a future Pope Benedict XVI Of course whether the present Pope will still be there in 2011 is another matterreturnreturnStill it is pretty surprising that this won the 1995 Nebula Award for Best Novel I confess I haven't read any of the other nominees and if this was voted better than them I don't really intend to Actually I may have read Beggars and Choosers by Nancy Kress I know I read one of the later books in the series and was seriously unimpressed The Hugo for the euivalent year went to Bujold's Mirror Dance which is the start of the superb four book climax to the Vorkosigan saga as continued in Memory Komarr and A Civil CampaignreturnreturnThis is not the worst Nebula winning novel I have read that title goes to either The uantum Rose by Catherine Asaro or The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov but it is certainly in the bottom four I can't decide if I like it less than Neuromancer because I can't remember anything about the Gibson book even though I know I have read it several times