Society of the Mind, Eric L. Harry

Harper Collins, 1996, 504 pages, C$35.00 hc, ISBN 0-06-017694-6

Rarely has an author made such an impressive debut on the techno-thriller field than Eric L. Harry with Arc Light. That first novel started with World War III… and then went on to bigger things. It was a better Clancy than most Clancy. And now, Harry goes on to write a better Crichton than Crichton.

Everyone knows the kind of story Crichton writes: Jurassic Park, RUNAWAY, Sphere, The Andromeda Strain. The kind of novel where the first half’s a walkthrough and the other half’s a non-stop race against time, death and technology run amok.

When Society of the Mind begins, a brilliant psychologist (Laura Aldridge) is brought to the private high-tech island of a multi-billionaire. Her goal, we finally get to discover, is to psychoanalyse a computer’s mind. But as the first two-third of the novel is spent “ooh-ing and “aaah-ing over bleeding-edge computers, AIs, robots and the handsome billionaire, it’s no bet to bet what’s going to happen: Before long, Laura and her billionaire will be trading kisses with each others and bullets with robots and computers gone crazy. That’s what eventually happens… but not quite in the stereotypical manner.

Harry has a real talent. Arc Light was a good story enhanced by good scenes and adequate characters. Similarly, Society of the Mind is the traditional cautious techno-thriller, but done with considerably more forethought than Crichton.

[This is where I tell the reader that Eric L. Harry has his own Web site at and that on this site, you can find such fascinating information as:

  • Harry never had any intention to begin writing. Arc Light was begun because (I am not making this up!) he needed to have something to print with his new printer.
  • The first draft of Society of the Mind, a 500+ pages thriller, was written in six weeks, as an aside during the redaction of his next techno-thriller. Wow.]

It’s borderline science-fiction/techno-thriller. In E-Mail, Harry confirmed that he thought about marketing the novel as straight SF, but didn’t. Good call: Society of the Mind has the SF gadgets, but the TT “attitude” that gadgets can -and do- kill people whether we want it or not. I found the approximate date of the story (around 2000) to be ridiculously optimistic, but one never quite know…

Arc Light remains a better book, I think, but Society of the Mind doesn’t disappoint. Most of the ideas presented here are familiar to anyone versed in the latest Wired/socio-technical literature, but they’re presented quite entertainingly. However, Harry still have problems with closing down his books (The first half is usually more fun. Here, I thought most of the robotic wars could have been compressed in half the pages) and providing a satisfying finale. Even though the last few lines of this novel are a kicker.

Society of the Mind is now out in paperback and it’s a worthwhile buy. You’ll get decent entertainment value for your money, as well as more than a few thought-provoking issues. Encourage your friends to take a look at it; I know I will.

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