The Terminal Man

The Terminal Man is a novel by American writer Michael Crichton, about the dangers of mind control. It was published in April 1972, and also serialized in Playboy in March, April, and May 1972. In 1974, it was made into a film of the same name.

The Terminal Man
First edition cover
AuthorMichael Crichton
Cover artistPaul Bacon[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
GenreScience fiction
PublisherKnopf
Publication date
April 12, 1972
Media typePrint (hardcover)
Pages247
ISBN0-394-44768-9
OCLC213300
813/.5/4
LC ClassPZ4.C9178 Te PS3553.R48
Preceded byThe Andromeda Strain 
Followed byThe Great Train Robbery 

Plot summary

The events in the novel take place between March 9–13, 1971. Harold Franklin "Harry" Benson, a computer scientist in his mid-thirties, is described as suffering from "psychomotor epilepsy"[2] following a car crash two years earlier. He often has seizures followed by blackouts, and then wakes up hours later with no knowledge of what he has done. During these seizures, he severely beats two people; the day before his admission, he was arrested after attacking a third. He is a prime candidate for an operation to implant an electronic "brain pacemaker" in the amygdala region of his brain in order to control the seizures, which will be performed in the Neuro-Psychiatric Service (NPS) of University Hospital. Two NPS surgeons, John Ellis and Robert Morris, are to perform the unprecedented surgery.

The ramifications of the procedure are questioned by the NPS's staff psychiatrist, Janet Ross, and later by her former teacher, Manon, an emeritus professor. Manon raises concerns that Benson is psychotic and predicts that the crimes he commits during the blackouts will not be curtailed. Ellis admits that what they are doing is not a cure, simply a way to stimulate the brain when the computer senses a seizure coming on. It would prevent a seizure but not cure Benson's personality disorder. Ellis rationalizes his approach by pointing out that he is not convinced that not operating on Benson will do him any favors; his condition threatens his life and those of others, has already undermined his legal status three times, and is worsening. Despite the concerns voiced, the team decides to go ahead with the operation.

Forty electrodes are implanted into Benson's brain, controlled by a small computer that is powered by a plutonium power pack in his shoulder. Benson must wear a dogtag that says to call University Hospital if he is injured, as his power pack may emit radiation. While he is recovering, a woman identifying herself as Angela Black gives Morris a blonde wig for Benson, whose head was shaved prior to the operation. Morris refuses a man who volunteers to have electrodes put into his brain to stimulate pleasure, but realizes that people like Benson could potentially become addicts. He recalls a Norwegian man with schizophrenia, who was allowed to stimulate himself as much as he wanted, and did so much that it actually gave him brain damage. Roger A. McPherson, the head of the NPS, interviews Benson and realizes Manon and Ross were right about his psychosis, ordering nurses to administer thorazine to Benson.

After resting for a day, Benson goes through "interfacing." The electrodes are activated one by one to test which ones would stop a seizure. Each electrode produces different results; one stimulates a sexual pleasure. Gerhard, one of the technicians administering the test, shows his findings to Ross, who discovers that the seizures are becoming more frequent. She explains that Benson is learning to initiate seizures involuntarily because the result of these seizures is a shock of pleasure, which leads to him having more frequent seizures. Ross further discovers that, due to a clerical error by the nurses, Benson has not been receiving thorazine. She then finds out that Benson, using the wig and disguising himself as an orderly, has evaded the police officer assigned to guard him and escaped from the hospital.

Ross goes to Benson's house, where she finds two girls who say he has a gun and possesses blueprints for the basement of the hospital, where the computer mainframe is located. Morris meets Benson's boss, who tells him that Benson disliked University Hospital because of its ultra-modern computer system, an upgraded IBM System/360. After Benson's dogtag is found at the murder scene of Angela Black, Ross is questioned by police. Benson confronts Ross in her house and attacks her upon having a seizure. Just before losing consciousness, Ross manages to turn on her microwave oven, the radiation of which affects the power pack in Benson's shoulder and forces him to flee. Morris uses a book of matches found on Angela's body to track Benson to an airport hotel. Morris finds a mechanic who has been beaten by Benson, and is himself attacked and injured.

Back at the hospital, Ross receives a phone call from Benson, which is traced to somewhere inside the building. The hospital's computers begin to malfunction, as if somebody was disturbing the mainframe. Ross and Anders go down into the basement, where Anders exchanges fire with and injures Benson before becoming lost in the maze of corridors. Benson goes back to the computer room and finds Ross. After Ross picks up Benson's gun and, after an internal struggle, shoots and kills Benson unintentionally.

Background

At one stage it was known as The Sympathetic Man.[3]

Crichton stated that this was his least favorite work.[4]

Film adaptation

The novel was made into a film in 1974.[5]

Reception

Like his previous bestseller The Andromeda Strain, reviews for The Terminal Man were widely positive.

Los Angeles Times called it "an entertaining and unsparing narrative, compressed and scientifically sound."[6]

The New Yorker called the novel "A fascinating, splendidly documented thriller."

Life said it was "An absolutely riveting novel."

John Barkham Reviews called it "A superb thriller..." and said "It will make you think-and shudder."[7]

The novel was criticised by the American Epilepsy Foundation who said it unfairly linked epilepsy with violence.[8]

References

  1. Modern first editions - a set on Flickr
  2. This was changed to Acute Disinhibitory Lesion (ADL) syndrome in subsequent reprints.
  3. Hollywood Today: Mike Crichton, a Skyscraper in Any Form Norma Lee Browning. Chicago Tribune 30 Aug 1970: s2.
  4. Interview at https://web.archive.org/web/20050325012031/http://www.adara-interactive.com/crichton/ow_transcripts2.htm
  5. The Terminal Man (1974) on IMDb
  6. THE BOOK REPORT: Mind Control by Surgeon's Scalpel Kirsch, Robert. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 24 May 1972: f6.
  7. First Ballantine Books Edition: January 1988
  8. CROMIE ON BOOKS: Is Crichton bestseller unjust to epileptics? Cromie, Robert. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 06 Aug 1972: h5.
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