Transwarp Tuesday: Soulminder by Timothy Zahn

An intriguing premise…


New-to-me author Timothy Zahn is a prolific writer and a Hugo Award winner for his novella Cascade Point. So his new novel seemed like a good choice for this week’s…



Soulminder by Timothy Zahn




When Dr Adrian Sommer loses his young son in a vehicle accident, he dedicates his life to finding a way to prevent such unnecessary deaths in the future. In partnership with Dr Jessica Sands, he develops the Soulminder machine which can trap the life force or “soul” at what would normally be the point of death. This enables the soul to be held in a form of limbo while the doctors put the patient’s body to rights, and then to be returned to it. At first the machine is seen as a marvellous invention, equivalent to keeping someone on life support. But gradually all sorts of moral questions come to the surface as people and governments begin to abuse the technology. As the head of the organisation, Dr Sommer also becomes its moral conscience, trying to ensure that his invention is used only for good.

Although this is a novel, with an overall story arc, it has something of the feel of a collection of short stories all set within the same society over a period of a couple of decades. There are a few recurring characters, but many others who only appear in one or two chapters. Once the basic premise of the Soulminder society is set up, each chapter takes a look at one or two of the ways the machine can be used or abused. That makes it sound very dry, but the moral questions are embedded into interesting and inventive stories, which keeps it all very readable. The quality of the writing is good and the main characters are likeable. The characterisation is not particularly in-depth – we really only get to know them in terms of their involvement with the Soulminder project, and learn next to nothing about their personal lives. I found this made it difficult to feel any real emotional involvement in what happened to them.

Timothy Zahn
Timothy Zahn

Assuming the reader can accept the premise of a soul being something that could be ‘captured’, the questions Zahn raises are interesting ones, and on the whole fairly credible. For example, he looks at how rich people might be able to achieve a form of immortality by transferring their souls into the bodies of poor people who can’t afford to be in the Soulminder programme. In another chapter he considers how the machine could be used as a method of torture. I felt, though, that he completely underplayed the reaction of humanity in general, and religion in particular, to having absolute proof of the existence of a soul which exists even when separated from the body, hence implying some form of afterlife. I couldn’t help but wonder if this discovery might actually have the effect of making people more willing to die rather than less, and I felt the casual acceptance of all the religious people in the book to the trapping of souls was frankly incredible.

Otherwise, though, I found it an intriguing premise – perhaps a bit too full of moral ‘messages’, at the expense sometimes of a feeling of credibility in the reactions of the characters, but well-written and enjoyable overall.

Little Green Men rating: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Open Road.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

20 thoughts on “Transwarp Tuesday: Soulminder by Timothy Zahn

  1. FictionFan – This is really an intriguing premise isn’t it? I’m glad that, for the most part, it worked for you. I have to say though that I agree completely about books with heavy ‘moral messages.’ I don’t mind knowing the author’s stance on a topic, but I want to get caught up in a story, if that makes sense.


    • Yes, it was an interesting read, but I felt if the characters had been better developed he could probably have got his point over without it seeming so much of a ‘message’. But he did raise some thought-provoking questions…


  2. Oh wow! I wonder how the torture was done… For instance, was the soul tortured, or just the body?

    And I must say that’s it’s interesting that it comes across as a bunch of short stories. But, FEF, there had to be a main character. Or two of them.


  3. Once again you’ve found an author who has me interested as this premise is really interesting. I love the way he uses this to explore what initially looks like a really good idea, and imagines how it would be abused in the future…. I also like that this is a series of short stories with the story arc linking them. A great find and one that I might have to explore for myself.


    • Yes, it was an interesting one overall. The structure was unusual and I wasn’t sure about it at first – it seemed to jump a few years between chapters. But once I saw that they were sort of separate stories all within the main one, I felt it worked pretty well.


  4. Just say “no” to hitting people over the head with moral messages. They don’t belong in kids’ books or those written for the older crowd. Give them a story and let readers come to their own conclusions. Can you tell I feel pretty strongly about this?


    • Haha! Well, as the person who made half of America hate her by being impolite about The Phantom Tollbooth, I must say I agree with you! But this poor man did it reasonably well – the stories were interesting even if the conclusions were a bit contrived…


  5. Sounds interesting, doubt I would read it. It’s nice, though, when the writing is decent and you are reading so many things. Also, I don’t enjoy the obvious moral message in film or books.


    • Yes, I prefer the message to be hidden away, if there has to be one at all. But it was an enjoyable read despite that, and at least it does deserve the name sci-fi, which so many of the contemporary authors don’t seem to…


  6. “Although this is a novel, with an overall story arc, it has something of the feel of a collection of short stories all set within the same society over a period of a couple of decades.”

    That is an interest.

    I’m with you. I prefer to access any messages on my own.


Please leave a comment - I'd love to know who's visiting and what you think...of the post, of the book, of the blog, of life, of chocolate...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.