Viper | 2021 (2 September) | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book
In the near future, Earth’s population crisis has been solved through drastic measures. On reaching adulthood, people can select how the rest of their lives will be lived – as a worker in their own bodies, as glamorous and wealthy pleasure-seekers (but for a pitifully short life), as a kind of human-android hybrid. All have their lifespan limited. But, for the longest life, people can opt to share a body – five minds in one body for about 140 years – but with consciousness limited to four hours as each mind takes its turn through the day.
Alex, Kate, Sierra, Ben and Mike have lived together in one body for 25 years. While Mike does everything he can with his time to keep the body fit, others within the commune have treated it less well. The time has come to compete for time credits to buy a new host body. They must play a series of virtual games in the ‘death parks’, places where people play to gain time but so often lose it. But, as the games play out, one of the five goes missing and soon it becomes terribly clear – they have been murdered. Someone wants to kill them off one by one. But who? Could they be sharing a body with a killer?
Five Minds is such an original and clever speculative novel, which takes the concept of a locked room murder mystery to extremes, with some of the suspects confined within one body, and each of the minds using their allotted shift of time to investigate. The chapters move through the structure of the day, moving between the minds, with Alex starting the day. It’s purposefully disjointed with each mind having to readjust to where their predecessor in the body has left them. They can communicate through messages, leaving clues and warnings – or lies and deceits. It’s an intriguing way for a murder enquiry to be conducted.
The science fiction element comes to the fore in the Death Park, a horrendous place of shifting realities and manipulation. Some of the games are frightening, others physically challenging, but the cost can be extreme, even fatal. What a place!
It is a dark novel. There seems no pleasure to be had living in four-hour chunks, in a body that isn’t your own, with the minds of others that you don’t particularly like. What if you’re the one who never sees the sun or even daylight? You can see why few select this course but there is a sadness about the other types of life. The setting of the Death Park seems appropriate to the gloom of a world that has no room for the people who live on it.
Five Minds raises questions about what type of life one might want, what one might be prepared to do to have more time, what time one might give up for a short life of luxury. But it is also an excellent crime novel that goes off in all sorts of unexpected directions. It does get complicated, which you’d expect when nobody has time to see the full picture, and is very clever and satisfying in the way it develops.