Corpus Callosum

Posted by Paul Samael on Thursday, August 1, 2013 Under: Book reviews



This is an excellent literary novel with a sci-fi element (but if you are not a big fan of sci-fi, don’t let that put you off, because the focus is much more on the characters than the science).  The basic premise is that technology has been developed which allows the contents of your brain to be uploaded into a “BrightBox” – but in most other respects, the world of the story is very similar to our own.  Joey and Jeannette are twin sisters.  When Joey is fatally injured in a fire, Jeannette can’t face the thought of life without her – so she pays the good folk at LifeMedia to have Joey uploaded.  This means that Joey’s consciousness survives - but with no body attached to it.

At first it seems to have worked – the consciousness inside the BrightBox seems to be recognisably Jeannette’s sister in terms of her personality (Joey can see and hear via cameras and microphones and also speak, although she has no mobility – she is reliant on Jeannette to carry her around).  But as time goes on, Joey starts to wonder if she now has more in common with other BrightBox “uploadees” than with “breathers” like her sister.  On top of which, it seems that the technology is not entirely bug-free – which may be contributing to Joey’s problems in adapting to her new condition.

Jeannette, meanwhile, starts a relationship with Steve, one of the staff at LifeMedia, but it’s not immediately clear who’s using who – is Jeannette trying to secure special treatment for Joey or is Steve using her to pursue his own agenda?  Or is it more that both of them feel a common bond from spending so much of their time dealing with BrightBox “uploadees”?

Before I go any further, I had better declare a special interest in this idea of “uploading” your consciousness after death, because it’s something I’ve explored in my own novel.  But whereas I wrote about it in a rather more speculative/abstract way, “Corpus Callosum” tackles it head-on and attempts to describe what it would be like in a much more concrete manner.  In my view, it does so very successfully, not only from the perspective of the “uploadees” but also in terms of depicting the reactions of their relatives and friends who are still “alive” in the conventional sense.

Although it starts off relatively gently and appears to be primarily character-driven, the plot soon gathers momentum and I found it hard to put down.  It also gave me a lot to think about – for example, to what extent do our bodies dictate the way we think and behave?  Would we start to become different people if we no longer had human bodies, like the uploadees?

I think this is the reason for the novel’s title, “Corpus Callosum”.  It is the medical term for the bundle of neural fibres between the two different hemispheres of the brain – which may be symbolic of the novel’s interest in various forms of duality (mind and body, twins, male and female, “uploadee” and “breather”).  It is also Latin for “hard body”, which may be a reference to the way that Joey re-awakes to find the “software” of her consciousness uploaded into an entirely new “hard body” – an octagonal box about the size of a games console.

Another aspect of the novel that I enjoyed was that (for me at least) it had lots of echoes of other science fiction I’ve read.  This is not to say that it’s derivative – on the contrary, it is very original and I only mention these other works because I think the parallels are interesting (and I also think that “Corpus Callosum” can hold its head up in this sort of company).  Anyway, here’s a flavour of the other books I thought I could detect echoes of:
  • Various works by Philip K Dick – there are several novels in which Dick seems similarly fascinated with being able to communicate with or reanimate the dead e.g. “Ubik” (characters are able to talk to their dead relatives) or “Counterclock World” (time is reversed and the dead come back to life).  And in “Dr Bloodmoney” a character is able to talk to her twin who has a distinct personality but no independent physical existence (he is just an embryo inside her body) – as a relationship, it’s quite similar to the one between Joey and Jeannette once Joey has been “uploaded” (since Joey has no mobility).
  • “Childhood’s End” by Arthur C Clarke and “Blood Music” by Greg Bear – OK, potential spoiler alert here (so you may want to skip this bullet), but in very broad terms what ultimately seems to happen to the “uploadees” in “Corpus Callosum” reminded me of the “merger”/transformation which large parts of the human race undergo in these two novels.  The difference is that these novels operate on a fairly epic scale, whereas “Corpus Callosum” is more of a Chamber Music piece by comparison (but there’s a lot to be said for that approach).
As with many self-published books (including no doubt my own) there is the odd typo - and very occasionally, there was a sentence that jarred slightly (Can you swing a bag “vociferously”?  Although if the bag contains a talking box with your sister’s consciousness in it, maybe it can be “vociferous”).  But these are, frankly, quite pedantic criticisms in the scheme of things – and I’m pretty sure I could never have written anything half as good when I was the author’s age (she is still in her twenties, I think). 

Finally, I was interested in the reasons why the author decided to self-publish – sadly, I think she is probably bang on the money in her analysis of how commercial publishers would’ve responded to her manuscript.  If I were her literary agent, I might be inclined to take a different tack and maybe try to get some film-makers interested – because I think you could turn this novel into a great screenplay for an independent art-house movie.  And being the useless, lazy good-for-nothings that they are, publishers just love film tie-ins (because it means someone else has done their publicity for them).

Oh and one more thing – for what it’s worth, I’m not the only person who enjoyed this novel (it has attracted a clutch of similarly positive reviews at Amazon).  You can download it from Smashwords here and at the time of this review it was available free of charge.

In : Book reviews 


Tags: "corpus callosum" "erika d price" 
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About Me


Paul Samael Welcome to my blog, "Publishing Waste" which will either (a) chronicle my heroic efforts to self-publish my own fiction; or (b) demonstrate beyond a scintilla of doubt the utter futility of (a). And along the way, I will also be doing some reviews of other people's books and occasionally blogging about other stuff.
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