D C Wright-Hammer on the genesis of Between Two MInds: Awakening
Between Two Minds: Awakening was the culmination of a lot of personal experiences. Nearly five years ago, I was working as a data migration specialist, and I had some serious health issues. I subconsciously blended my job and my condition, and I thought, “What if my mind is still good but my body isn’t? What if minds could be digitized and migrated, so to speak, into healthy bodies?” While the reality transferring consciousness (or mind migration as I call it) isn’t so simple, it’s been theorized for hundreds of years. Descartes’ Evil Demon thought experiment (and Harman’s updated ‘brain in the vat’ model) posited that a person’s mind could be manipulated by an omnipotent demon (or supercomputer) that could simulate your experiences. This includes your body (or the one you perceive to be in) as well as all external stimuli. As the experiment goes, a mind would have no way of knowing whether you truly exist in a world or a simulation. This was the basis for “The Matrix” series. Descartes is quoted in Latin, “dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum” or in English, “I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.” People often forget “doubt” in the phrase, and I think it’s very important. The ability to doubt our own existence is proof that we exist.
With that in mind, I wanted to take the concept of mind migration a little more seriously. I wanted to make it believable. It was then that I began melding my personal experiences, the philosophy, and the fiction into a science fiction thriller. Set in the near future, Ryan D. Carter (a play on Rene Descartes) is a paraplegic who has always dreamed of walking. He orders this mind migration, a common but expensive procedure in his time, and he gets his mind uploaded into a physically fit body. It was here that I knew I wanted things to go wrong for Ryan. Every advancement in technology can bring about side effects. Add in corporate interests, money, and nefarious characters jockeying for power, and you have a situation ripe for disaster. But sometimes disaster isn’t so obvious. I wanted Ryan’s, and by extension, the reader’s experience to be subtle.
To that end, I tell the story from the first person past tense POV to make it more personal to the reader. Eventually, an interleaved or zippered narrative is established where the reader is given a compelling back and forth between Ryan’s experiences and that of another main character. Details from both perspectives give clues to where the story is going, but even the most adept readers will have difficulty predicting the plot twists at the end. And yet most readers swear that the finale is very satisfying. Can Ryan solve the puzzle unraveling in his new brain before it’s too late? Or does he suffer the consequences of being between two minds?
Are we our bodies, or our minds? A philosophical question explored by many writers over time, with most believing our truest selves lie in our thoughts, not the physical shell that houses them. Believing this, would you risk leaving behind an imperfect body to migrate your mind to a new one?
Ryan, the protagonist of Between Two Minds: Awakening does exactly that, exchanging his paraplegic physical self for a new body. The process is touted as almost problem-free, safe and effective. But Ryan experiences strange side effects – or are they? Or is there really another mind inhabiting his new body?
As Ryan searches for answers, he finds more questions: what is the connection between this other consciousness and himself? The line between his life and his co-consciousness blurs: who is real? What is real? Whose memories can be trusted?
The premise of Between Two Minds: Awakening is not new (few premises are) but Wright-Hammer’s interleaving of two stories, chapter by chapter, effectively brings the reader into each character’s wildly differing worlds, inciting in the reader the desire to keep reading to work out how the two will come together. Without spoilers, my advice is to read carefully, because apparently insignificant things will prove to be important as the story moves towards its climax.
I’m giving the book four stars, not five, from the cumulative effect of a number of small things that jarred: dialogue that didn’t ring true, some awkward transitions, a few continuity questions. There are a lot of small details, perhaps too many for some readers, but a writer cannot hide items of significance in a narrative if they stand out as obvious! The overall story kept me interested and trying to guess where it was going (I didn’t) and that tells me the author has done his job. It would make a compelling movie!