More of a novella than a novel, Crichton’s work runs at a mere 261 pages. An author known for science-fiction related horror laden with advanced technology in scientific fields, Crichton’s Terminal Man doesn’t delve into the ocean and alien life as in Sphere, or in the wild pits of the jungle as in Congo, but instead deep into the tangled mess of the human mind. Harry Benson has a form of seizure that induces black-outs, ones accompanied by uncontrollable rage and violence. Thinking they have found their poster boy for a new experimental treatment, a team of specialists work with the police to have the offender receive a new type of operation. Electrodes are planted into his brain, where when the seizure is coming on, the electrodes (ran by a main computer system), are activated, instead sending pleasure responses to his tissues. The operation works, until Benson discovers how he can turn on the pleasure nodes with more frequency, resulting in a frantic rampage that turns this tale into one a modern Frankenstein.
Loaded throughout with social commentary, this book gives one food for thought. Beginning with a 2 ½ page introduction from the author, Crichton cites a brief history of man using technology to modify brain behavior through psychosurgery. In the book he uses a psychologist, and touches a little on psychotherapy and non-physical brainwashing, but the real scope of his work explores, points out the good, and then warns against the dangers of man becoming overly arrogant with technology. The plot premise is nothing new (nothing is anymore, though), being done long ago with such works as Frankenstein, Jekyl and Hyde, and so forth. The updated version here uses more modern-day tools, but the story is the same.
Crichton writes with a serious, impersonal style, keeping scenes short and sweet. Real action in terms of violence doesn’t gear up until the end, but it’s not needed until then either. Of course, as with his other books, tons of medical and technological jargon is used, with a few pages illustrated on what the imaginary computer print-outs would show. If you’re a person who doesn’t crave serious pieces, this ones not for you. It’s not boring though, far from it, and while the characters are not delved into deeply it’s told from multiple points of view from a observing manner they seem realistic enough to make things worse. Suspense is high at the end, but this thriller isn’t devoted solely to this response. Instead, it enjoys making people think, much like his others books did.
The Terminal Man is interesting, absorbing, and worth reading. It’s not worthy of five stars simply because it’s not exciting enough after it’s done, but it’s still a good read, especially with those who enjoy shorter works.
“... we have created a man with not one brain but two. ... This new brain is intended to control the biological brain. ... The patient's biological brain is the peripheral terminal -- the only peripheral terminal -- for the new computer. ... And therefore the patient's biological brain, indeed his whole body, has become a terminal for the new computer. We have created a man who is one single, large, complex computer terminal. The patient is a read-out device for the new computer, and is helpless to control the readout as a TV screen is helpless to control the information presented on it.”