Mindplayers – Pat Cadigan (1987)
For Allie, putting on the madcap that Jerry borrowed was a very big mistake. The psychosis itself was quite conventional, but it didn’t go away when she took the madcap off, so the Brain Police took over leaving her with a choice – go to jail as a mind criminal or become a mindplayer.’
Blurb from the 2000 Gollancz SF Collectors Edition
‘Mindplayers’ comes from the heyday of cyberpunk and is set in a world where people can sell or edit their memories, enter another’s psyche, peddle psychoses and explore their own inner landscapes where old friends and relatives exist, powered by the memory of their living selves.
When Alexandra’s friend Jerry Wirerammer persuades her to try an illegal mindplayer helmet it leads to arrest for both of them. For Jerry, this is the start of a downward spiral into criminal activity and worse, but for Alexandra (or Deadpan Allie as she subsequently becomes known) it opens up a whole new future. Allie it seems leads a very mental life and is given (as an alternative to criminal charges) the chance to train as Mindplayer. From here on we follow Allie’s life and examine the influences that the people with whom she comes into contact have on her.
It is a seemingly straightforward novel which, on closer reading, examines rather more complex concepts than may at first be apparent.
The central idea which Cadigan explores is that of identity and seems to be asking the question ‘Are we truly individuals when we are changed by everyone with whom we come into contact?’
In our normal world this would be a profound question but it takes on a new dimension in a society where one can enter the psyche of another or download their memories.
Following her training, Allie decides to become a pathosfinder, which, to all intents and purposes is a therapist-cum-mind surveyor, assessing her clients’ psyches in order to advise them whether they are suited for the path they’ve chosen in life.
Allie is confronted again and again with the question whether a personality can ‘transfer’ from one mind to another. Her old friend Jerry Wirerammer contacts her (usually when he is in trouble) and demonstrates the issue when he sells his personality to a Persona Hire company, and subsequently has many of his memories erased to prevent himself being incriminated in various felonies. Ultimately there are more of Jerry’s memories in other people’s heads than in his own.
There are later novels set in the same universe, such as ‘Fools’ which is a far darker, more complex piece.
This, however, is fast, accessible, unfailingly inventive throughout and bursting with concepts about consciousness which are practically Zen-like in their philosophical implications.
And it’s funny. What more could one ask for?