New York Times Book Review
Sunday, 29 August 1982
Review by Gerald Jonas of MINDKILLER by Spider Robinson
If I didn't think it understated his achievement, I'd nominate Spider Robinson, on the basis of this book, as the new Robert Heinlein. Like Mr. Heinlein in his prime, Mr. Robinson writes in a crisp, tightly controlled prose about a future that is recognizably descended from today's world yet provocatively altered-and he writes with such authority that you find yourself accepting his projection as the future. But he is even more ambitious than Mr. Heinlein, who never attempted a subject as subtle and complex as the theme of Mr. Robinson's "Mindkiller": pleasure as a form of mind control. If pleasure is what evolution has taught us to seek (so that we tend to like things that are good for us, such as food, drink and sex) what will happen if we can suddenly get it wholesale at the touch of a button? Mr. Robinson considers this question at some length, and he is not pleased by the prospects.
His "wireheads" give themselves over to the ultimate addiction: they stimulate their cerebral pleasure-centers directly with pulses of electric current they themselves control. And-like the electrode-implanted mice of the 1950's experiments that established the existence of these pleasure centers-they will "happily" starve to death as long as the current keeps flowing through their "feel-good" circuits. Mr. Robinson's book is full of slightly futuristic gadgetry, all well imagined and all essential to the plot, which concerns a rehabilitated wirehead, the agent of her rehabilitation, a mild-mannered but rebellious English teacher and a mystery man so powerful that he eschews all the conventional trappings of power. To advance the plot, Mr. Robinson plays narrative and stylistic tricks that turn out to be not tricks at all but keys to a surprise ending that is both logically and dramatically satisfying. If the book has a flaw, it's the narrow range of characterization-not as narrow as Mr. Heinlein's but not quite full enough to carry Mr. Robinson's message. In compensation, he vividly evokes places-part of the book is set in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where Mr. Robinson now lives-and he writes as clearly about computers as he does about karate chops, both of which figure prominently in the near future he so compellingly envisions.
Note: MINDKILLER was reissued in March 1996, as the first half of the Baen paperback compendium DEATHKILLER (the other half being a related 1987 novel,TIME PRESSURE). DEATHKILLER is still in print.