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Reading Group Guide
THE TERMINAL EXPERIMENT
by Robert J. Sawyer
Many reading groups and book clubs have enjoyed novels by Robert J. Sawyer.
The following questions may help stimulate an interesting
discussion about The Terminal Experiment. (These questions
might also suggest essay topics for students studying the book.)
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Note that these questions reveal much of the novel's plot; to
preserve your reading pleasure, please don't look at these questions
until after you've finished reading the book.
The Terminal Experiment discusses various legal and clinical
definitions of death, before arriving at the notion that death is
defined by the departure of the soul from the body. Do you share
this definition? If not, what constitutes your own personal
dividing line between life and death?
- Although one crazed critic of The Terminal Experiment tried
to construe the book as being anti-organ-donation, the author,
Robert J. Sawyer, is in fact an advocate of organ donation, and
has pledged all of his organs after death. Are you an organ
donor? Did the book change your attitude towards organ donation?
- The novel was rejected by Sawyer's original publisher,
because of its direct discussion of the abortion issue. Is the
discussion gratuitous? Does the question of abortion ultimately
come down to one's religious perspective? How did your feelings
towards Peter and Cathy change, if it all, when you learned that
they had had an abortion?
- The Terminal Experiment came out in 1995, and was the first
of Robert J. Sawyer's books to be set mostly in Toronto, Canada,
where he lives something that has now become his
trademark. If you're a Torontonian yourself, how did you react to
this setting? If you're not a Torontonian, did you feel you got a
good sense of what Toronto was like from this novel? Did the fact
that the setting wasn't the typical American city surprise you?
Delight you? Put you off? Also, it's now several years since the
book was written. Do the now-dated references bother you?
- The author has stated from time to time that he doesn't
particularly care about whether his characters are likable, only
whether they are believable. Some have observed that Peter Hobson
is indeed not particularly likable. What do you think? Either
way, is he believable?
- Much of the novel deals with Peter's reaction to his wife
Cathy's affair. Note that Peter Hobson is the principal viewpoint
character, and we really only hear his perspective on the affair.
Do you think that Peter is in denial about his own possible
contribution to Cathy's straying? Or is he the innocent victim he
claims to be?
- Periodically, readers like to crow that they had figured out
before the end which sim was responsible for the murders, but
let's face it with only three suspects, one out of
every three readers should guess right by chance, anyway. The
real question is: did you foresee why the guilty sim had
committed the murders? What do you think of the reasoning Sawyer
presented in the novel about why that sim might feel it would get
away with murder?
- What did you think of Sawyer's conception of a human mind
devoid of a physical body, as personified by the Spirit sim? What
did you think of his conception of an immortal human mind, as
personified by the Ambrotos sim? Would the lack of a body, or the
lack of an eventual death for the body, really have the
psychological effects Sawyer described?
- Sawyer's original title for this book was Hobson's Choice,
underscoring the alternatives offered: living forever, and
therefore never discovering if there is an afterlife, or going to
an afterlife, the existence of which is assured but the nature of
which is unknowable. Which would you choose? Why?
- The character of Sarkar Muhammed is both Peter's best friend
and, in many ways, his conscience. He's also presents some
Islamic views about the philosophical questions underlying the
novel. What did you think of the portrayal of Sarkar?
- The conception of the soul given at the end of the book
"an atom of god," using the word atom in its classical
sense of meaning the smallest indivisible part is not the
traditional notion. The soul Sawyer portrays is devoid of
memories of its time on Earth and of normal sensory inputs. What
is your conception of the soul? Do you believe in life after
death? Could science ever prove the existence of the soul?
- This book won the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of
America's Nebula Award the "Academy Award" of those fields
for Best Novel of 1995; the award is voted on directly by
the members of SFWA. What qualities do you think led to
The Terminal Experiment winning the Nebula?
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Download this Reading Group Guide in Adobe Acrobat Format
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