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

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Novel Outline


by Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright © 2003 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.

The science-fiction field has a long history of authors expanding a previously published short work into a novel; I started my own career that way, expanding the novelette "Golden Fleece" from the September 1988 Amazing Stories into the novel Golden Fleece, published by Warner in December 1990.

And I did it again in fifteen years later for my novel Mindscan. This time out, the seed was a short story called "Shed Skin," which I'd originally written for The Bakka Anthology, a book honoring the 30th anniversary of Toronto's SF specialty bookstore, where I used to work. "Shed Skin" was later reprinted in the January-February 2004 issue of Analog, and won that magazine's Analytical Laboratory Award for Best Short Story of the Year, as well as going on to be a finalist for the Hugo Award.

I felt that particular story really deserved to be expanded to novel-length, and based on the following tiny pitch, Tor Books agreed, commissioning a novel for a bigger advance than I'd ever had in my life. The working title was Skins, which was later changed to Action Potential, and finally to Mindscan, and the finished novel won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science-fiction novel of the year.

In the end, Mindscan ended up being a completely separate work from "Shed Skin" — although it shared the broad strokes of the short work's premise, the novel had no characters or settings in common with the short story. In some cases, the novel version completely supplants the short story — few read the original short version of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game anymore, for instance — but I wanted both "Shed Skin" and Mindscan to have separate lives of their own ... an appropriate gesture, I think, if you consider the subject matter.

Skins will be an expansion to novel length of Robert J. Sawyer's 2002 short story "Shed Skin." "Shed Skin" was written for The Bakka Anthology, an anthology of stories by employees past and present of Bakka, Canada's oldest science-fiction specialty store; the anthology was limited to 400 copies.

The novel-length version will be a science-fiction thriller, 100,000 words long, expanding on many of the issues only hinted at in the short story, and incorporating the latest cutting-edge research into uploaded consciousness.

In particular, Skins will thoroughly explore and dramatize the following:

  • The legal battles surrounding the concept of uploaded consciousness, and the transference of legal personhood and property rights to the uploaded version;
  • Whether there is anything innately superior about a biological rather than electronic instantiation of a particular person;
  • The psychological effects of the practical immortality that goes with uploading consciousness into a durable android body;
  • The psychological adaptation to such a new body;
  • The issues of physician-assisted suicide and abortion as related to the legal barriers to disposing of shed bodies.

The book will fully develop the character from the short story: George Rathburn, Dr. Shiozowa, Dr.Ng, Darius Allan Thompson ("Dat"), and Detective Lucerne, and — most of all — it will explore in depth the relationship (entirely off-stage in the short story) between young George and 82-year-old Kathryn, both of them now in energetic android bodies.

The novel will start considerably before the events of the short story, dramatizing George's realization that he might die at any time, and so has to upload now, even though he is still a young man; the initial counseling George went through before uploading his consciousness; the actual process of uploading; getting used to the android body; getting used to life at Paradise Valley; and more.

The end result will be an intricately plotted, character-driven thriller exploring just precisely what it is that constitutes personhood.

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More about Mindscan
Other novel outlines and synopses
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