Mind control and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have long been a popular sci-fi themes, Michael Crichton was already famous for the apocalyptic virus-laden 'Andromeda Strain' (book and later film) when the grim near-future 'Terminal Man' was published in 1972. Thirty years on some of it is now cybernetic science fact, especially in the area of limb replacement, and opto/audio electronics. There is probably a thunderingly good 21st century sci-fi film thriller to be got out of this book too, given sufficient virtual reality graphics. Something in the style of 'The Matrix' or 'Terminator' would do fine.
The hard sci-fi devotee will appreciate this medical psychodrama. (Crichton had a Harvard med school training but I don't think he's an MD.) Without doubt this is a book with a mission: to render the detailed science and technology of a man-machine interface clear and plausible - and to then play out the Frankensteinian possibilities of the mind-control chip. In fact, the book is positively teachy and preachy; it is told in the form of a diary; and is a workaday piece of literature, which probably explains why it is not better known. That in mind and allowed for, I enjoyed it greatly and I would also recommend it to medics, psychology students, and enthusiasts for AI and cybernetics (and I fit nearly all of those categories).
The patient is, with heavy irony, a meek and mild top computer programmer. His psychomotor epilepsy is organic - caused by a brain lesion. However, on top of this, his psychosis is a florid form of fear of machines, with the delusion that they are trying to take over the world (and who are we to disagree?). The surgeons want to make history - they want to fix him up with the cutting-edge stereotaxic brain surgery, implant a pleasure centre stimulating microprocessor, and power it with an embedded plutonium battery. Thus, the brain - at the moment of epileptic crisis - becomes a peripheral device to the computer. No more homicidal rages - so easy to smooth them out with a shot of computer bliss. Instant! One or two of the doctors are uneasy, the organic damage might be short-circuited, but the psychosis? The brain's revenge is complete. The world's most complex computer and ultimate adaptive learning device is far from being so easily tamed.
The blood and gore are plentiful, perhaps overly so, so this book is not for those with a weak stomach. My hardback version has an astonishing array of anatomically accurate graphics and background detail. There are patient skull X-rays. The structure of the brain is displayed, variously sectioned, in particular the temporal lobe. There is a synopsis of the history of the treatment of psychomotor epilepsy (1864 - 1971). The five page annotated bibliography of nearly all the relevant scientific literature (nothing on AI or expert systems) is as excellent as it is astonishing for a novel. Still, just in case you need to check the facts...which need not necessarily be an incipient obsessive-compulsive behaviour pattern...excuse me, I must go to the library now...
This report prepared by Michael JR Jose
In 1972 Los Angeles, a computer programmer suffering from brain seizures, Harold Benson, undergoes an experimental treatment of having nuclear-powered electrodes inserted into his brain. At first the experiment seems to be a success, but then the scientists come to realize that, to their horror, the electrodes have enhanced Benson's latent psychosis. It is up to Dr. Janet Ross (the original dissenting medical doctor) to track him down and cure him--if she can.
This report prepared by Marcus Wyche