Mindplayers (1987) by Pat Cadigan

Don't miss out on other works by Pat Cadigan:
Synners (1991) Book Review
Available works by Pat Cadigan


Set in the near future where an entire ecosystem of businesses, careers and government bodies has developed around manipulating people’s minds, Mindplayers centres on a category of people know as ‘mindplayers’, trained in and particularly adept at accessing, interacting with and manipulating other people’s minds via neural interface devices. Pat Cadigan is one of only a very few, but definitely most important, first wave Cyberpunk female writers. She was involved in the movement from its very beginning, contributing for example to Bruce Sterling’ fanzine Cheap Truth (1983), and her status had already been cemented a year before her debut novel Mindplayers came out with her inclusion in Bruce Sterling’s seminal anthology, Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology (1986). Mindplayers was shortlisted for the PKD Award (1988), came second place for the Locus Best First Novel Award (1988). Bruce Sterling identifies it as essential to the Cyberpunk canon.

When Alice Hass borrows a bootleg neural interface known as a madcap from her friend Jerry Wirerammer, she expects just another recreational trip. Next thing, she wakes up at the ‘dry cleaner’, jerry having left her there to have her brain ‘cleaned’, only to be arrested by the Brain Police. A mug-holo of her brain reveals unusual brain patterns, so she is placed in the criminal justice program and given a choice: rehabilitate as a mindplayer or face partial mind erasure. Choosing the former, Alice enrols in a mindplayer program at the J. Walter Tech Institute where she learns to create and implant false memories in people, find and manipulate the pathos in people, read somebody else’s Emotional Index, an to dream lucidly. The program gives her direction in life end she continues to pursue a successful career at a top mindplayer agency. Of the different kinds of jobs – thrillseeker, belljarrer, dreamfeeder, pathosfinder, neurosis peddler, reality affixer – Alice eventually chooses to become a pathosfinder helping clients better to connect with the core of their souls.

While the neural interface technology has serious applications in areas such as medicine and crime prevention – the technology was originally developed in the medical field – it has long since been subsumed by the entertainment industry, the urban landscape cramped with shops selling everything from enhanced dreaming, memory wipes, to famous persona constructs. Power People is the biggest franchise in town, specialising in licensing and commoditising the experiences, memories and talents of famous people. Jerry for example has licensed his mind to Power People, but as he has since resorted to bootlegging himself in order to make more money, he constantly has to erase his memory lest Power People will find out during one of his routine template renewals.

Mindplayers does not follow a traditional narrative structure, and while Alice’s many encounters as a mindplayer keep the reader guessing as to where the narrative is headed, the real topic of the story is Alice’s inner psychological drama. As encounters with other minds leave traces in Alice’s own mind, change her core and idea of self, she is always at risk of unravelling. Alice for example does a job on a murdered artist, Kitta Wren, whose brain is now suspended in liquid and wired up, awaiting the brain police to scour it for relevant information pertaining to their investigation. It is not unusual for artists to sign post-mortem permissions, allowing mindplayers to scour through their dead brains, the idea being that dead people’s brains, artists’ in particular, still retain valuable information that can be commoditised. In Kitta’s case, Alice is looking for any poetry left in her brain. In life Kitta had striven for constant craziness – induced psychosis – as an artistic strategy, and now that Alice has to mindplay with Kitta’s dead brain, part of Kitta’s psychotic mind spills over to Alice’s.

Mindplayers falls within the frontier-of-the-mind sf tradition, recalling Rudy Rucker’s Ware tetralogy (1982-2000) and Michael Swanwick’s Vacuum Flowers (1987). It is works with similar tropes to PKD’s false memory implants in the short story We Can Remember it for you Wholesale (1966), better known as Paul Verhoeven’s film Total Recall (1990), and Roger Zelazny’s neuroparticipant therapists in The Dream Master (1966).