In Soulminder (Timothy Zahn; Open Road Integrated Media), an invented device called a “soul trap” can capture the personality and memories of a dying human in a form that can be restored into the person’s brain if the physical damage that killed them can be repaired. While the device is initially conceived as a device to save the lives of trauma patients and people undergoing dangerous surgery, the fun doesn’t really start until the discovery that under some circimstances the device can be used to body-swap.
While not one of the groundbreaking stars of SF, Timothy Zahn has produced solid and interesting work in the past. I quite enjoyed the four-book series that began with Night Train to Rigel. His earlier, related Blackcollar and Cobra sequences were not bad either. Zahn is intelligent and careful with his worldbuilding; though I don’t read Star Wars tie-ins, my impression from what I see on the shelves is that he’s writing the best of them these days.
This could have been a step up – a fine example of the kind of near-future extrapolative SF that changes just one thing and explores the consequences in a rigorous way. Alas, Soulminder reads like it was phoned in while the author was having a bad day. There are clever bits, but it’s a sour little grind of a book which illustrates the fact that, while characterization is not tremendously important in idea-as-hero SF, the author at least has to write characters you don’t actively dislike.
Everybody is brooding and angry and obsessive all the time, the protagonist’s backstory is purest melodrama, the one competent man is unpleasantly arrogant, and various mildly clashing idealisms seem curdled and unengaging. The resulting mess is not really redeemed by clever plotting, in part because it reads like a fixup collection of short-story-length episodes rather than an integrated novel.
I can’t recommend this book. There isn’t enough fun here.