[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
ROBERT J. SAWYER
Hugo and Nebula Winner


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Typical Passage

MINDSCAN

by Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright © 2005 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.


When giving readings at bookstores, I often don't read the opening of a novel; rather, I look for a typical passage that embodies the flavor and theme of the book. I find that in a book superstore, where the acoustics are usually quite lousy, a six- or seven-minute reading is ideal. This is the passage I often read from Mindscan.


       Tomorrow — Monday — I would go see my mother. As usual, it was a duty I was not looking forward to. But tonight, a beautiful autumn Sunday night, should be fun: tonight was a little party at Rebecca Chong's penthouse. That would be great; I could use some cheering up.

       I took the subway to Rebecca's. Although it wasn't a weekday, there were still lots of people on the train, and many of them stared openly at me. Canadians are supposed to be known for their politeness, but that trait seemed entirely absent just then.

       Even though there were plenty of seats, I decided to stand for the trip with my back to everyone, making a show of consulting a map of the subway system. It had grown slowly but surely since I was a kid, with, most recently, a new line out to the airport, and an extension of another all the way up to York University.

       Once the train got to Eglinton, I exited and found the corridor that led to the entrance to Rebecca's building. There, I presented myself to the concierge, who, to his credit, didn't bat an eye as he called up to Rebecca's apartment to confirm that I should be admitted.

       I took the elevator up to the top floor, and walked along the short hallway to Rebecca's door. I stood there for a few moments, steeling my courage ... literally, I suppose ... and then knocked on the apartment door. A few moments later, the door opened, and I was face to face with the lovely Rebecca Chong. "Hey, Becks," I said. I was about to lean in for our usual kiss on the lips when she actually stepped back a half pace.

       "Oh, my God," said Rebecca. "You — my God, you really did it. You said you were going to, but ..." Rebecca stood there, mouth agape. For once, I was happy that there was no outward sign of my inner feelings. Finally, I said, "May I come in?"

       "Um, sure," said Rebecca. I stepped into her penthouse apartment; fabulous views both real and virtual filled her walls.

       "Hello, everyone," I said, moving out of the marbled entryway and onto the berber carpet.

       Sabrina Bondarchuk, tall, thin, with hair that I now saw as the yellow I supposed it always had been, was standing by the fireplace, a glass of white wine in her hand. She gasped in surprise.

       I smiled — fully aware that it wasn't quite the dimpled smile they were used to. "Hi, Sabrina," I said.

       Sabrina always hugged me when she saw me; she made no move to do so this time, though, and without some signal from her, I wasn't going to initiate it.

       "It's ... it's amazing," said bald-headed Rudy Ackerman, another old friend — we'd hiked around Eastern Canada and New England the summer after our first year at U of T. The "it" Rudy was referring to was my new body.

       I tried to make my tone light. "The current state of the art," I said. "It'll get more lifelike as time goes on, I'm sure."

       "It's pretty funky as is, I must say," said Rudy. "So ... so do you have super strength?"

       Rebecca was still looking mortified, but Sabrina imitated a TV announcer. "He's an upload. She's a vegetarian rabbi. They fight crime."

       I laughed. "No, I've got normal strength. Super strength is an extra-cost option. But you know me: I'm a lover not a fighter."

       "It's so ... weird," said Rebecca, at last.

       I looked at her, and smiled as warmly — as humanly — as I could. "`Weird' is just an anagram of `wired,'" I said, but she didn't laugh at the joke.

       "What's it like?" asked Sabrina.

       Had I still been biological, I would, of course, have taken a deep breath as part of collecting my thoughts. "It's different," I said. "I'm getting used to it, though. Some of it is very nice. I don't get headaches anymore — at least, I haven't so far. And that damn pain in my left ankle is gone. But ..."

       "What?" asked Rudy.

       "Well, I feel a little low-res, I guess. There isn't as much sensory input as there used to be. My vision is fine — and I'm no longer color-blind, although I do have a slight awareness of the pixels making up the images. But there's no sense of smell to speak of."

       "With Rudy around, that's not such a bad thing," said Sabrina.

       Rudy stuck his tongue out at her.

       I kept trying to catch Rebecca's eye, but every time I looked at her, she looked away. I lived for her little touches, her hand on my forearm, a leg pressing against mine as we sat on the couch. But the whole evening, she didn't touch me once. She hardly even looked at me.

       "Becks," I said at last, when Rudy had gone to the washroom, and Sabrina was off freshening her drink. "It is still me, you know."

       "What?" she said, as if she had no idea what I was talking about.

       "It's me."

       "Yeah," she said. "Sure."

       In day-to-day life, we hardly ever speak names, either our own or those of others. "It's me," we say when identifying ourselves on the phone. And, "Look at you!" when greeting someone. So maybe I was being paranoid. But by the end of the evening, I couldn't recall anyone, least of all my darling, darling Rebecca, having called me Jake.

       I went home in a pissy mood. My dog growled at me as I came through the front door, and I growled back.


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