Though I have read most of the techno-thrillers written by Michael Crichton, I had no idea that he was actually a medical doctor before he became a successful author. His medical knowledge comes to the fore in The Terminal Man, one of this earliest novels, written way back in 1972 after his debut with The Andromeda Strain. Though aware of its age, I picked it up in a bid to fill out the gaps left in the books of his I have read.
The Terminal Man looks at the dilemma of a computer controlling the human brain. Like most of Crichton’s books, the fun is how he shows something fascinating that might just be possible in the current day and age, not in some sci-fi future. So, how to bring about a computer-brain interface in 1972 and make it seem plausible? Enter psychomotor epilepsy, a rare but real medical condition where the patient can commit serious physical harm to those around him when he is under epileptic shock. Benson is a computer scientist working on AI who is implicated in many physical assaults committed while under psychomotor epileptic shock. The neurological department at Harvard Medical Hospital decide to try a new procedure to cure him. The epileptic shock can be detected by using probes inserted into the brain. Similarly, the shock can be annulled by inducing electric shocks in other regions of the brain associated with pleasure. In an experimental surgical procedure, Benson is hooked up with these probes connected to a simple computer chip that detects and emits shocks. Technically, he is now a cyborg. As always in a Crichton novel, things get interesting when the interface between nature and machine goes haywire. The same happens here when Benson’s brain gets drawn into a path of pleasure addiction, it starts to induce the epileptic shock so that it can derive the kick of pleasure back.
The technological premise and details of the surgical procedure and device are very interesting in this novel. Its always fascinating to see the complexity and mystery of the human brain. However, the immaturity of an amateur author shows through in the characters and the plot. The second half just turns into a Hollywood chase sequence to stop a deranged killer whose brain is no longer under his control. The Terminal Man is a good read for Crichton fans, but the rest can skip this for his other novels, which are far better reads.