THE MERCHANTS OF SOULS
Mysterious forces threaten humanity in this relatively weak third installment in Barnes's Thousand Cultures series (after 1998's Earth Made of Glass). Once again, composer Giraut Leones, secret agent for the intergalactic Office of Special Projects, is in the thick of things. In the Thousand Cultures, people periodically record the contents of their minds on a device called a psypyx. When they die, their psypyx is stored until someone is willing to share their brain with the deceased. After two years, the dead person's mind is reanimated in a cloned body. Unfortunately, on Earth, where most people inhabit virtual reality simulations, someone has the idea of converting these stored personalities into what are essentially computer games that would force helpless, disembodied humans to be other people's playthings. Most citizens of the Thousand Cultures react to this proposal with horror. Though still recovering from a painful divorce, Giraut volunteers to carry the mind of a dead friend to Earth, and help lead a campaign to turn public opinion against the monstrous idea. As usual, Barnes's writerly nuts and bolts are firmly in place: well-developed characters, well-wrought environments like sterile, intellectually incestuous Earth, where anything can be discussed but nothing has meaning. Moreover, his conception of sharing one's brain with a separate personality is persuasive. Unfortunately, the novel bogs down in talk, and too many important events, including the discovery and punishment of the villains, occur off stage. Barnes is generally near the top of the SF world, but this one disappoints. (Dec. 19)
FYI:Barnes is co-author with astronaut Buzz Aldrin of Encounter with Tiber and The Return.