November 04, 2015

Science fiction thriller tackles ethical issues

As published in The Erin Advocate

Sharon Sasaki has published a science fiction thriller that projects today’s medical issues into an outer space future where technology has advanced – but human nature has not.

Formerly a family doctor in Erin, Sasaki now works as a surgical assistant at Guelph General Hospital. She will be promoting her debut sci-fi novel, Welcome to the Madhouse, on Saturday, November 14 at the Tin Roof Café on Main Street, 6-8 pm, with a reading starting about 6:30 pm.

The story starts with Lt. Dr. Grace Lord arriving at a medical space station. Most of the patients are humans who have been altered with fantastical animal adaptations to make them more versatile soldiers or workers, on planets being exploited by the profit-seeking Conglomerate. They arrive horribly injured, frozen in cryopods, needing to be rebuilt.

The narrative shifts among several modes, including strong action sequences that are pushed to extremes by the eccentric characters and technologies within the space station. It is a mix of hospital drama and Space Opera science fiction, with inspiration that ranges from Isaac Asimov stories to Star Wars movies.

Other sections are introspective descriptions of characters and their philosophical musings. Should one mind be allowed to use two bodies? Should the minds of important humans be copied, so as to resurrect them in new bodies after they die?

Still other sections focus on the patter of conversation among doctors, such as the bizarrely abrasive surgeon Dr. Al-Fadi (“Welcome to the Madhouse, Dr. Grace!”) and the easy-going anesthetist Dr. Dejan Cech.

Then there’s the space station’s commanding officer Nelson Mandela (an ever-present artificial intelligence who is not all that smart), Sophie Leung (a tiny nurse with a huge voice), and patients like Dris Kindle (a human-leopard soldier planning to give up her babies for adoption).

For such a high-tech facility, it is surprisingly disorganized, vulnerable to the weaknesses of humans and uncontrollable outside forces. Barely holding the upper hand are human creativity, ingenuity and personal respect.

There are emotional and ethical issues involving android SAMM-E 777, a surgical assistant whose real name is Bud. Like many a sci-fi robot, he is aware of his lower class status and explores ways of becoming more human. He develops his capacity to experience confusing emotions, feels loyalty to his creator, upgrades himself to protect his beloved Grace from threats in the Madhouse and takes initiative to save the station from a mysterious virus attack.

While the endearing Dr. Lord is the centre of the action, she doesn’t drive it. She’s too busy reacting to crazy characters and incidents. Powerful evil impetus is provided by a psychiatrist who abuses his mind-melding techniques.

“Grace is a moral voice,” said Sasaki. “But the book is really about Bud. He embodies all the good characteristics of humans. The theme is: What does it mean to be human?”

It’s not an optimistic look ahead. The future seems to be ruled by competition for resources and profits rather than higher ideals.

Sasaki, who has read science fiction since she was 7, says, “The book is based on what we face in the hospital – we never know what’s coming in the front door. It’s a platform to question things that are going on in today’s world. I raise questions, without giving answers.” She is planning to expand the story in a number of sequels, and a prequel.

The book is available for $15 from the office of her husband, Chiropractor David Sherrington, 18 Thompson Crescent in Erin, and at the Nov. 14 book reading. It’s also available at Booklore in Orangeville, The Bookshelf in Guelph and Chapters at Square One, or through (print on demand), or