The novel “Terminal Mind” by David Walton was published for the first time in 2008. It won the Philip K. Dick Award.
Mark McGovern is the son of a wealthy politician so his life is far more comfortable than the average, yet his best friend is Darin Kinsley, who belongs to a social class with which the rich generally avoid personal relationships. The situation for the two of them becomes complicated when they release a super-virus called a “slicer” into the net.
That event has a series of important consequences and ramifications that add tension in Philadelphia, one of the city-states that emerged from the fragmentation of the old USA. A political and social situation that was already unstable is likely to become explosive and the attempts to destroy the slicer make disturbing truths slowly emerge.
“Terminal Mind” is a novel that brings together several ideas in fields ranging from political and social to technological ones. Set in a future in which the USA no longer exists, it offers a portrait of a Philadelphia in which there’s a strong separation between rich and poor. When there’s a need to make use of advances in biotechnology and for example to buy physical modifications, only the rich can afford the best while the poor have to make do with much lower-quality solutions.
This is a very dystopian future in which the political and social situation in Philadelphia generates a lot of tension. Interpersonal relationships are often characterized by violence and some characters seem psychopaths because of the ease with which they use it. Despite these problems, there are still technological advances, but there are also problems in that field, for example in improving the upload, the transfer of a human mind into a computer.
All these ideas put together give “Terminal Mind” a considerable potential but perhaps there are too many of them for a novel less than 300 pages long, especially because it tells a number of subplots that follow a series of more or less important characters, perhaps too many. It might be one of the cases in which a longer novel would have allowed a greater development of ideas and characters but the problem is also in the way in which David Walton filled the pages.
Of “Terminal Mind” I was especially impressed – but not necessarily in a positive way – by the interpersonal relationships, typically complicated. There are lots of dialogues that are not always useful and only slow down the pace. One consequence is that in the end I cared little or nothing about the characters’ fate.
In my opinion, even if he wanted to keep the same length, David Walton could have focused more on the important elements of his novel. This would have made the many events and twists that are present in it more effective. The novel is also supposed to be a thriller and sometimes disturbs for the brutality of certain acts but for me doesn’t keep the tension.
Reading “Terminal Mind” for me was sometimes frustrating because the premises were intriguing with the projection of both positive and negative trends in the future. The novel in fact shows both progress towards a potential transhumanism and the tendencies to tribalism.
In these cases, expectations can influence impressions a lot, so for a part of the readers a story especially based on interpersonal relationships can be very good. I assume that’s why “Terminal Mind” won the Philip K. Dick Award.
Personally I was more interested in the technological developments towards transhumanism but in this novel they seem little more than hinted at and used in the development of stories of human beings who are often not even interested in improving themselves. For example, physical modifications are available – to the rich, of course… – and used for aesthetic reasons.
The result is that the future described is quite depressing. In some ways it’s a realistic future thinking of certain uses of new technologies but for me “Terminal Mind” ends up being just another technological dystopia. If that’s OK for you, you might like this novel.