A fascinating blend of science and speculative fiction, Robert Wilson Morgan’s novel explores the social, psychological, and ethical consequences of scientists being able to transplant a brain into a fully functional donor body.
Set just before the COVID pandemic hit, the narrative revolves around Roger Scully, a Denver-based doctor and recent widower who, while travelling in Tibet, was involved in a horrific car accident that left his lower body a “pulpy mess.” Taken to the Chinese city of Chengdu for emergency surgery, he finds himself without his pelvis, hips—and everything below.
Facing a radically diminished quality of life, Scully opts to become what is essentially a medical guinea pig. The high-risk surgery would transplant Scully’s brain into the body of a donor: a condemned prisoner who opted to donate his body to science for the opportunity to die under an anesthetic instead of via a bullet to the brain. Once inside his new body—which is of Uyghur descent—Scully begins a new life in China with a new name. But his ultimate goal is to make it back to the States, regain his identity as Roger Scully, and restart his medical career.
Morgan raises numerous questions throughout, namely about the ethics surrounding organ donations from condemned criminals and China’s highly experimental medical procedures involving animals and humans. He also touches on the Uyghur’s plight in China, some Americans’ distrust of Asiatic people, and the question of why America doesn’t have a functioning national system of organ donation.
But the intriguing science-powered premise falters in the novel’s last half when the narrative momentum gets bogged down by too many mundane details— endless appointments, budget meetings, etc.—about Scully’s professional life. And fans of science-based thrillers by authors like Robin Cook and Michael Crichton will find the thought-provoking but toothless conclusion unsatisfying.
The novel’s latter half is disappointing, to be sure. Still, readers will be intrigued by the book’s powerhouse premise.