Mindkiller: A Novel of the Near Future


278 pages
ISBN 0-03-059018-3




Reviewed by J.B. Snelson

J.B. Snelson is a librarian, bibliographer, and (antiquarian) bookstore
owner in Wolfville.


Wire-heading is an idea which a number of science fiction writers have used, most notably Larry Niven. Yet it can also be said that no writer before Spider Robinson has really seriously considered the social or personal implications of this discovery. (Technically the process has been possible since 1956, but practically the ability to perform the operation efficiently and without too much cost has yet to be developed.) A number of wires are inserted into certain areas of the brain. When electricity is then applied, a “high” is created that is much more intense and pleasurable than heroin or cocaine could ever be. Once the wires are inserted, one need only plug oneself into the nearest home or hotel electric outlet and one is in full nirvana. Niven and others go this far, but they fail to note, as Robinson does, that unless someone else unplugs you, the result is almost certainly suicide, since the willpower required to unplug oneself is virtually superhuman.

The scene begins in Halifax in 1995, when a would-be suicide is prevented from jumping off the local bridge by a bad Samaritan (go ahead and jump if you wish, but would you mind if I mug you first?). Then it rapidly changes to New York, some four years later, where a man named Joe, without other names or a past, rescues a young woman killing herself by wire-head electricity. Chapters alternate between the would-be suicide in Halifax and the activity of Joe. The relationship between the two alternating story lines is resolved only at the end in the justly named Paradise, Nova Scotia. The story is powerful and Robinson shows a maturity and a growing command of the novel form which places this well above his earlier works, including the award-winning Stardance. Yet, one does guess the relationship between the two story lines somewhat earlier than Robinson desires. Mindkiller, therefore, may be a most powerful novel, but it misses being a truly great novel. Still, it shows that not only is Robinson a maturing writer of singularly great power, but shows promise of developing to the point where he may yet produce a truly great novel.

A further word of warning is required: the novel is most definitely not light reading, and it features a lot of sex and violence. The parents who had their children reading Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon (which was listed as one of the best books for young adults by the American Library Association) would probably object to their reading this book. This is most definitely a book for the mature adult.

The subject is important. It is, as Robinson points out, only a matter of time before wire-heading becomes commercially viable. It is also potentially a social problem which makes alcohol and cocaine seem like positively unadulterated blessings. Our grandchildren, if not our children, will have to cope with it. Robinson spells out the dangers of this form of induced nirvana clearly and without pulling punches. Interestingly enough, he also suggests that the same process may have the greatest value to man if used right.

An important novel by an important writer, who may yet produce a major masterpiece, Mindkiller is a must for the reader of adult science fiction, for those who want a novel which deals with a major social problem before the problem develops, and for all who demand that a novel make them think as well as entertain them.


Robinson, Spider, “Mindkiller: A Novel of the Near Future,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 12, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/38465.