Friday, 14 September 2012

Triggers Is a Good Book

Or why you should read Triggers by Robert J Sawyer.

At first pass Triggers seems like a straight forward political/action/thriller with a Sci-fi magguffin thrown in to make the plot go. The book opens with the attempted assassination of US President Seth Jerrison on the steps of the Lincoln memorial shortly after a number of terrorist attacks in the United States. President Jerrison is rushed to a hospital to receive life saving surgery where he is exposed to the side effects of a lab accident. You see, elsewhere in the same hospital Canadian scientist Dr. Ranjip Singh performs an experiment to treat PTSD in a war veteran. This experimental treatment goes awry and inadvertently entangles the minds of various hospital staff, patients, and visitors such that every one of them experiences the memories of one of the other affected individuals. The president, of course, is one of the affected individuals, meaning that someone in the hospital has access to all of his memories. This is taken as a threat to national security. It falls to Secret Security agent Susan Dawson and Dr Singh to discover who has the presidents memories. So yeah, pretty thriller-esque.

(The book is called TRIGGERS for Pete's sake.)

The things is, despite the thrillery premise and actiony title (and cover art), Triggers is really a high concept Sci-fi novel about empathy. The novel's main theme is that human empathy is amazing but basically impossible. I, as a person, can certainly sympathise with say, the plight of a woman being harassed on the train, but since I can't experience it myself I can never truly empathize with her. Triggers asks what if we all could empathize with someone else. Since the characters can all access the memories of another person they can perfectly empathize with that person and exploring this idea is the real meat of Triggers. Sawyer also focuses his attention on all the different things people would do if they could basically read another person's mind: from being in two places at once, to using it for their professional advantage, to being kinky, to borrowing skills. So, despite the thrillery window dressing of Triggers, the main thrust of the book are the interpersonal relationships of the novel's characters and the way realizing true empathy changes them.

Triggers: its smart, engrossing, and uplifting. Read it.

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