The Terminal Man

The Terminal Man

infobox Book |
name = The Terminal Man
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = First edition cover
author = Michael Crichton
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Science fiction novel
publisher = Alfred A. Knopf
release_date = April 12, 1972
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback) Audiobook
pages = 247 pp (first edition, hardback)
isbn = ISBN 0-394-44768-9 (first edition, hardback)
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"The Terminal Man" is a novel by Michael Crichton about the dangers of mind control. Published in 1972, it was later made into a film of the same name.

Plot summary

To give perspective, the author gives a timeline of developments in behavior modification. He informs the reader that such active research in behavior modification isn't merely a potential threat in the distant future; he cites examples of how it is occurring now, specifically in regard to trying to curtail psychomotor epilepsy.

Harry Benson, an unimpressive man in his 30s, is a sufferer of psychomotor epilepsy and the character around which the novel centers and derives its name. He often has seizures, periods of blackout, and he then wakes up hours later to unfamiliar surroundings with no knowledge of what he's done. He has severely beaten two people. The book begins with Benson in the third stage of the disorder, and he is a prime candidate for an operation to implant electrodes and minicomputer in his brain to control the seizures. Surgeons Ellis and Morris are to perform the surgery, which is unprecedented for the time.

The ramifications of the procedure are questioned from the beginning, naturally, by psychiatrist Janet Ross, and they are ominously echoed by an emeritus professor named Manon at the lecture about the surgery. Manon raises concerns that Benson is psychotic (pointing to Benson's adamant belief that there is no difference between man and machine) and the crimes he commits during the blackouts won't be curtailed because the operation is anything but a cure for psychomotor epilepsy. Ellis admits that what they are doing isn't a cure but just a way to stimulate the brain when the computer senses a seizure coming on. It would prevent a seizure but not cure his personality disorder. However, it will stop the harm Benson inflicts upon others, so they decide to go through with the operation.

They place a plutonium power pack in his shoulder to power the computer, forty electrodes, and a mini-computer. They give him a dog tag to wear that says to call the University Hospital if he were to be injured, as his atomic power pack might emit radiation. Later, while he's recovering, a woman named Angela Black gives Morris (one of the surgeons who operated on him)a wig for Benson, whose head was shaved prior to the operation. Morris then goes back to his normal work, where he talks to a man who volunteers to have electrodes put into his mind to stimulate pleasure. Morris refuses him, but realizes that people like Benson could potentially become addicts. He recalls a Norwegian man, who was allowed to stimulate himself as much as he wanted, and did so much that it actually gave him brain damage.

McPherson, head of the Neuropsychiatric department, interviews Benson, who is still convinced machines are taking over the world. McPherson realizes Manon and Ross were right and orders nurses to administer thorazine to Benson.

Gerhard, a computer technician, begins testing two computers. The two computers had been programmed with primitive emotions, and a dislike of certain objects, like bananas and cucumbers. They begin to interact with one another and the one that is programmed to be loving is repeatedly asked "Have a cucumber" by the annoying, angry one. After politely declining several times, the nicer one, St.George, replies "GO TO HELL!" which was not programmed at all. Gerhard doesn't think he's malfunctioning, he thinks the computer is actually learning to be angry.

After resting for a day, Benson goes through "interfacing". The forty electrodes in his brain are activated by Gerhard, one by one, to see which ones would stop a seizure. Each produces different results. Only two work, so they are programmed into the mini-computer. One of which, electrode seven, stimulates a sexual pleasure. Ross asks Gerhard to monitor him.

Gerhard shows his findings to Ross, who realizes that the seizures are getting more frequent. She explains that Benson is learning to initiate seizures involuntarily because the result of these seizures is a shock of pleasure, which he likes. This could worsen his condition as it did to the Norwegian, giving him frequent seizures. Ross goes to check on Benson, and upon looking at his record, realizes that nobody had given him thorazine as McPherson ordered. The nurses were told to obey only commands from Morris or Ellis, and when they read the name as "McPhee" instead of McPherson, they thought it was a mistake(as a McPhee did work at the University Hospital, but not in neuropychology). So they didn't give Benson thorazine, which means he is still psychotic and thinks machines will take over the world.

Ross finds out that Benson has escaped from the hospital. She goes to his house, but finds two girls instead who say he has a gun and blueprints for the basement of University Hospital (where the computer mainframe is). Ellis searches at a strip club where Benson, who is fascinated with all things sexual, spends a lot of time. He doesn't find him. Morris goes to his job, and meets Benson's boss who said that Benson feared the University Hospital because of its ultra-modern computer system. The number to the University Hospital is called by Anders, a policeman who found Benson's dogtag. Benson is the suspect of the murder of Angela Black. Ross goes down there, answers some questions, and goes home. Benson arrives at her house, and has a seizure, pinning her to the kitchen counter, strangling her. She reaches out her arm and turns on her microwave, which disrupts the atomic pacemaker in his shoulder. He runs away. Ross goes back to the hospital and goes to sleep.

When Angela Black is brought back to the hospital for autopsy, pathologists find a book of matches that have the name of an airport. Morris goes to this airport, and a bartender says he saw Benson an hour ago leaving with Joe, who took him to the hangar. Morris goes to this hangar and finds Joe severely beaten (Joe later dies). He is in turn beaten by Benson, who flees. Morris will survive but has his mouth wired shut when the ambulance takes him back to the hospital.

Ross, back at the hospital, is awakened by Gerhard. She has a call from Benson. When Anders traces the call he realizes that Benson is inside the hospital. Gerhard's computers begin to malfunction, as if somebody was messing with the mainframe. Anders, a policeman, and Ross go down into the labyrinth-like basement with scores of hallways and rooms that are hard to navigate through. Anders locates Benson and has a brief firefight, injuring and disarming Benson before becoming lost in the maze of corridors. Benson, with blueprints, goes back to the computer room to finish shutting down the computer mainframe and finds Ross. Ross picks up his gun, and after an intense internal struggle finally shoots and kills Benson.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

"The Terminal Man" was also made into a film, but unlike his other novels adapted to film, it was never very popular.

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