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Soulminder de Timothy Zahn

Soulminder (original: 2014; edição: 2014)

de Timothy Zahn

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777278,151 (3.69)1
"For Dr. Adrian Sommers, a split second of driving while distracted leads to tragedy--and obsession. His family destroyed, he devotes his entire being to developing Soulminder, a technology that might have saved his son as he wavered on the edge of death. Sommers's vision is to capture a dying person's life essence and hold it safely in stasis while physicians heal the body from injury or disease. Years of experimentation finally end in success--but those who recognize Soulminder's possibilities almost immediately corrupt its original concept to pursue dangerous new frontiers: body-swapping, obstruction of justice, extortion, and perhaps even immortality"--Publisher's description.… (mais)
Autores:Timothy Zahn
Informação:Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy (2014), Paperback, 283 pages
Coleções:Sua biblioteca, Para ler
Etiquetas:Fiction, Science Fiction, Santa-thing

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Soulminder de Timothy Zahn (2014)


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For Dr. Adrian Sommer, a split second of driving while distracted leads to tragedy—and obsession. His family destroyed, he devotes his entire being to developing Soulminder, a technology that might have saved his son as he wavered on the edge of death. Sommers’s vision is to capture a dying person’s life essence and hold it safely in stasis while physicians heal the body from injury or disease. Years of experimentation finally end in success—but those who recognize Soulminder’s possibilities almost immediately corrupt its original concept to pursue dangerous new frontiers: body-swapping, obstruction of justice, extortion, and perhaps even immortality.
Soulminder is a little different that the other books of Timothy Zahn that I have read. I picked it up in late December, and I started reading it immediately, but it didn't hook me. I turned to other things, then I came back to Soulminder in March. The more I read, the better it got. This book is not a page turner, but rather a slow burner.

Part of the reason for that is the structure. This work was expanded from a serialization in Analog magazine, with three of the chapters adapted from that previous publication. Accordingly, this isn't a traditional novel, with a continuous flow, but rather is more like a collection of novellas with common characters and a common theme, sometimes with separations of many years in between the events each chapter.

Another reason why this book is different is that it is a different kind of science fiction. For a long time, my working definition of hard sci-fi has been: the method of good "hard" science fiction leaves the reader usefully instructed in certain principles of physics or biology after reading a story that otherwise closely resembles a Western. Many of the best works in the field use this formula, but it isn't the only one that works.

Isaac Asimov had a three-part typology that explains some other ways:

In 1953, Isaac Asimov published an article titled "Social Science Fiction" in Modern Science Fiction. In that article, he stated that every science fiction plot ultimately falls into one of three categories: Gadget, Adventure, or Social.
Gadget: The focus of the story is the invention itself: How it comes to be invented, how it works, and/or what it is used for. The invention is the end result of the plot.
Adventure: The invention is used as a dramatic prop. It may be the solution to a problem, or it may be causing the problem itself, but the main focus is on the caper and how the invention's presence helps or hinders it.
Social: The focus of the story is on how the presence of the invention affects people's daily lives, whether for good or for ill. The chief distinction between this and the other two types is that the presence of the invention influences the plot rather than causing it or being the goal.
Soulminder is social science fiction in Asimov's model. There isn't any attempt to describe the scientific principles of Soulminder for the very simple reason that there aren't any. This is a technology that doesn't exist in our world, and we don't have anything that even vaguely approaches it. Thus, we can't learn about soul transfer like we learn about linguistics in The Way of the Pilgrim, or about orbital mechanics and extra-planetary habitats in The Martian. What we can learn about is what our world might be like if a technology like this existed.

The depth at which Zahn explores this question impressed me more and more as I read through Soulminder. My first hint that Zahn was up to something really interesting came in chapter two. Dr. Adrian Sommer, co-inventor of Soulminder, is on a televised panel with several religious media figures to debate the merits of his technology. Since I have a background in moral theology and moral philosophy, I found the stances each expert took to be plausibly within the range of acceptable opinion in their respective faiths, but mostly I found the whole exchange a little boring, since it was mostly a rehash of existing controversies in our world. However, it turns out the debate was really just a red herring for the really interesting question that comes up while Dr. Sommer is sitting in the green room during a commercial break: one of his clients has been caught in the soul trap after suffering an entirely expected third heart attack, but he also has an organ donor card and the hospital is about to start harvesting his organs, since he is legally dead.

On the one had, Dr. Sommer's client probably deserves a chance to be put back into his body once his infarcted heart has been dealt with. On the other hand, at least four people will benefit from the technically dead client's organs. On the gripping hand, it isn't at all clear that the client's heir/protege has pure motives when he insists that the legal precedents around organ donation be followed. This is very, very applied ethics.

And Dr. Sommer has a decision to make. He very much wants to do the right thing, even when he frequently doesn't know what that is. So he makes his decision, and he goes on, through the rest of the book, doing his best to make sure the moral monsters of the world can't take advantage of the power over life and death that he has created.

Earlier in chapter two, Dr. Sommer tries to enlist the help of the Reverend Tommy Lee Harper, a fiery televangelist who is staunchly opposed to Soulminder and all its works. Dr. Sommer suspects that Harper is a man of integrity, and Sommer is right, Harper has so much integrity that he won't help Sommer defend a technology Harper thinks is fundamentally wicked, and contrary to God's plan, no matter what the earthly stakes are.

Sommer closed his eyes briefly. “It’s not out of bad mice or bad fleas you make demons,” he quoted quietly, “but out of bad archangels.” “You and C.S. Lewis make my point for me,” Harper nodded. “Soulminder is an archangel, Doctor, so far as earthly creations go. I’m very much afraid that it’ll be beyond your ability to keep it from becoming a demon.”
For a long minute Harper gazed past Sommer, at the lights of the city stretching to the horizon. Then, slowly, he shook his head. “I’m sorry, Dr. Sommer,” he said, “but I can’t help you.” The knot in Sommer’s stomach retightened. “Why not?” he asked, fighting to keep his tone polite. “You see the evil in what Marsh is doing—” “But you ask me to support one evil to keep another from happening,” Harper interrupted him. “I can’t do that.”
The ethical dilemma at the hospital bed, and Zahn's portrayal of Rev. Harper, a man who would simply have been an obscurantist villain in many a book, convinced me that Zahn had written something truly compelling, a moral thriller.

Once I got into it, this book just kept getting better and better. The schemes, grift, and oppression that come into being just because Soulminder exists are breathtaking. Much of it is even plausibly high-minded. The professional witness program, spearheaded in my own great state of Arizona, offers up the bodies of volunteers to the souls of murder victims so that they can testify at their own trials. Justice will be done. However, it is never that simple, especially since only souls that had been rich enough in life to pay Soulminder's fees can be captured and returned, and professional witnesses tend to be the same kind of people who volunteer for drug safety trials. And that is the kind of program the United States governments run. There are plenty of less savory places in the world, and they have Soulminder facilities too. Harper's prediction has a lot going for it.

While I appreciate the moral realism with which Zahn approaches the likely consequences of soul transfer technology, I was also pleasantly surprised by some subtle philosophical points that seemed rather Thomist. For example, the body matters as much as the soul. If you find yourself in someone else's body, you can inherit their habits, emotions, and memories as well. Depending on who that person was, you may find yourself with some unwelcome side effects, like the crime lord who stole the body of a pious young Catholic who happened to share a resemblance, and then discovered that he unexpectedly felt guilty!

If you can persevere through an opening that is admittedly a bit slow [the first chapter was originally written in 1988 or 1989], you will find a work of surprising depth. Not exactly space opera, but worth your time. ( )
  bespen | Apr 6, 2018 |
   I received this copy from the publisher through Netgalley.com and that in no way has influenced my opinion in regards to this review.      This review is written with a GPL 3.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at  Bookstooge.booklikes.blogspot.wordpress.leafmarks.tumblr.com by express permission of this reviewer.           Title: Soulminder Series: ----- Author: Timothy Zahn Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars Genre: SF Pages: 283     Synopsis: Dr. Adrian Sommers lost his 5 year old son in a car accident and is convinced that if he could have had more time, he could have saved his son. That idea turns into a full blown obsession and Sommers invents a device that can be a holding tank for the soul until the body can be healed and the soul returned. Each chapter shows a different aspect of the implications of such a device.   My Thoughts: In many ways, this is the book I have been waiting for from Zahn. Something that is science fiction'y but so theologically and philosophically laced that you can't help but reflect on the implications of what the author is writing about.   Now, Zahn's Mormonism shows through in how he presents the idea of what a soul is and so I deducted a half star because I really disagree on this and I think it is important.  It didn't detract from the overall story though and if you're not too worried about things like that, you probably won't be bothered by this much at all.   The chapters were very reminiscent of old Asimov stories, as each chapter was a snapshot in time of one particular incident. In one sense this novel was a series of short stories that happened to all be about the same subject. I really like short stories when they are done right and most of these were done right.   So overall, I really enjoyed this book. It made me think, even if just to figure out where and why I disagreed with Zahn and it presented some really good questions about ethics, morality and what is life.   I did take off a star because I thought the idea of the "airtight" security rather laughable. If it exists, someone somewhere can hack it, steal it or copy it. Reverse engineering might take years, but this book covers almost 20 years and the rewards would be astronomical. And secondly, the ending was so deus-ex machina that I quite literally rolled my eyes. Inserted code can be found, no matter how cleverly hidden. The next generation is always producing a smarter genius *smiles*   But once again, Zahn produces a book that I can thoroughly enjoy and recommend whole heartedly. " ( )
  BookstoogeLT | Dec 10, 2016 |
3 stars means I think it's OK, 2 stars mean I don't like it. If I could I guess I'd give this 2 and a half stars. The book started out promising but then devolved into a series of short stories where most of the original characters become minor characters. While preparing for this review I learned that Soulminder originally was a series of short stories appearing in Analog Magazine. Apparently the end of the book is meant to tie all the stories together and provide a coherent ending. I had several problems with the book but I read it through. Which means I didn't hate it, although it's not really OK.

Soulminder is a technology that enables your "life source" of "soul" to be captured in an electronic trap when you die. At some later time, when the doctors have fixed whatever it was that killed you, your soul could be reunited with your body. Soulminder can capture your soul over great distances (thousands of miles).

The first problem, which others have noted, is that the book isn't very entertaining. It mostly reads like a dissertation, with little character development and wooden dialog.

The second is that the story is kind of free floating in time. It could be today, it could be 10 years ago, it could be the near future. The issue for me is not so much the Soulminder technology as the other technology that seems to be needed in order to support it. Zahn introduces the concept of a neuropreservative without any explanation. A Google search returns neuropreservation, which is the cryonics process of preserving a person's head after death in the hopes the person can be revived in the future. The neuropreservative is something injected into your brain to keep it from deteriorating after you die. Also medical technology seems much advanced so that most people see Soulminder as an immorality machine. Your body can be repaired, apparently without limit, while you hang out in the Soulminder trap, wistfully looking at the light at the end of the tunnel (literally). One of the main characters (without getting into any plot details) arranges for himself to be shot through the heart by a sniper, fully expecting to be brought back to life. It was all too vague for me.

The one good point I'll make is that the book actually did come to an end. It was looking to me like I'd have to read a sequel to finish the story. A sequel is certainly possible but I don't think I'll be reading it.
  capewood | Mar 19, 2015 |
The premise of the Zahn's new novel involves the concept of being able to save one's soul, not in the religious sense, but in the actual physical (electronic?) sense. Two medical researches, one who has lost a five year old son in an accident, work together to find a way to catch a person's soul as he dies. The soul can then be held in a type of limbo until the body is repaired, and the soul can be re-introduced - bringing that person back to the world. The second researcher is driven by the need to be immortal and to develop the Soulminder system to that end. The chapters of the books are not so much divisions of the novel, but each is its own separate story of dealing with the ways that people can twist something developed as a Life saving medical procedure, and warp to fit their own selfish and evil ends. Although the author doesn't delve into what he thinks a soul really might be, he seems to equate it with a human's consciousness. This was a fascinating read, and I actually liked the way the chapters were used. It was different, and provided a wider range of perspective on the whole process of Soulminding. Hard science concepts aren't used, just enough to get the point across, which makes it an easier read for many. ( )
  dreplogle | Oct 29, 2014 |
I have heard so many great things about this author, who has written more than forty science fiction novels, but I was disappointed with Soulminder.

It tells the story of an invention by Adrian Sommer and Jessica Sands of a method to isolate the soul from the body. The "Soulminder" - like a heart-lung machine, works to “trap” the essence of a person who has died, so that if the body can be repaired, the soul can then be put back into it. The Soulminder becomes mankind’s ticket to immortality.

It’s an idea that’s instantly popular and in demand, and immediately creates complications. Because it is an expensive procedure, is it fair that it only be available to the rich? Should its use be subject to government controls? What are the implications for religious beliefs?

In a short time, the ethics of the Soulminder becomes even more complicated. It begins to be used for witness testimony, with the dead temporarily borrowing a body of a volunteer to tell the court who killed them, during which time the soul of the body being borrowed is held in the soul trap. The rich and bored decide that borrowing bodies is a good way to experience extreme sports or extreme drugs. Criminals now have a new way to hide: they can steal other bodies in which to place their souls, killing off the original owners. Terrorist government regimes come up with the idea of torturing people, killing them, and then bringing them back to torture them again. In short, the possibilities for the use and especially the abuse of the Soulminder are endless.

Sommer is desperate to return the Soulminder to its original life-saving medical purpose, and to eliminate the corrupt or deleterious uses of his invention. Does he have to destroy it entirely, or is there some other option?

Evaluation: The narrative really felt flat for me. The issues raised by Soulminder should have been interesting from an intellectual standpoint, but they were just paraded out one after another in a meh-like fashion, and I never got excited about them. Nor did I get invested in the characters. Most of what we learn about Sommer and Sands is that they work too many hours and they “growl” a lot (as in, "‘Oh certainly,’ he growled” or “‘I’m not sure,’ she growled." A search through my e-book edition yielded 39 instances of growling….) There were a few allusions to the fact that people who, having gone through the soulminder, reported a tunnel with light at the end, but of course, since they come back to life, they in essence abandon the tunnel, so that possibly-intriguing plot line gets abandoned as well. ( )
  nbmars | Oct 17, 2014 |
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"For Dr. Adrian Sommers, a split second of driving while distracted leads to tragedy--and obsession. His family destroyed, he devotes his entire being to developing Soulminder, a technology that might have saved his son as he wavered on the edge of death. Sommers's vision is to capture a dying person's life essence and hold it safely in stasis while physicians heal the body from injury or disease. Years of experimentation finally end in success--but those who recognize Soulminder's possibilities almost immediately corrupt its original concept to pursue dangerous new frontiers: body-swapping, obstruction of justice, extortion, and perhaps even immortality"--Publisher's description.

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