The Terminal Man
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|The Terminal Man|
First edition cover
|Cover artist||Paul Bacon|
|Genre(s)||Science fiction novel|
|Publication date||April 12, 1972|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|LC Classification||PZ4.C9178 Te PS3553.R48|
|Preceded by||The Andromeda Strain|
|Followed by||The Great Train Robbery|
The Terminal Man is a novel by Michael Crichton about the dangers of mind control. It was published in April 1972, and also serialized in Playboy in March, April, and May 1972. In 1974, it was made into a film of the same name.
Plot summary 
Harry Benson, a man in his 30s, suffers from psychomotor epilepsy. He often has seizures followed by blackouts, and then wakes up hours later with no knowledge of what he has done. During one of his seizures he severely beats two people. He is a prime candidate for an operation to implant electrodes and minicomputer in his brain to control the seizures. Surgeons John Ellis and Morris are to perform the surgery, which is unprecedented for the time. In modern medicine, such a device would be called a brain pacemaker.
The ramifications of the procedure are questioned by psychiatrist Janet Ross, and 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. 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. Despite the concerns voiced, the team decides to go ahead with the operation.
The operation implants forty electrodes in Benson's brain, controlled by a small computer that is powered by a plutonium power pack in his shoulder. Benson must wear a dog tag that says to call the University Hospital if he is injured, as his atomic power pack might emit radiation. While he is recovering, a woman named Angela Black gives Morris a wig for Benson, whose head was shaved prior to the operation.
Morris goes back to his normal work, where he interviews 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.
After resting for a day, Benson goes through "interfacing". The forty electrodes in his brain are activated by computer technician Gerhard, one by one, to see which ones would stop a seizure. Each produces different results. One of the electrodes stimulates a sexual pleasure. Ross asks Gerhard to monitor Benson.
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 leads to him having more frequent seizures. Ross checks on Benson, and discovers that, due to a clerical error, Benson has not been receiving his thorazine. She then finds out that Benson has escaped from the hospital.
Ross goes to Benson's 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, an upgraded IBM System/360
Ross is contacted by Anders, a policeman who found Benson's dogtag at the murder scene of Angela Black. After answering questions at the police station, Ross goes home. Benson arrives at her house, and has a seizure, which causes him to attack Ross. Ross manages to turn 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. He is in turn attacked by Benson, who smashes the lower part of his face in with a steel pipe and then flees.
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 and Ross go down into the basement in search of Benson. Anders locates Benson and has a brief firefight, injuring and disarming Benson before becoming lost in the maze of corridors. Benson goes back to the computer room to finish shutting down the computer mainframe and finds Ross. Ross picks up Benson's gun, Benson returns to the computer and goes to steal the gun from Ross. After an intense (and tearful) internal struggle finally shoots and kills Benson unintentionally.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations 
Like his previous bestseller The Andromeda Strain, reviews for The Terminal Man were widely positive.
The New Yorker called the novel "A fascinating, splendidly documented thriller."
Life Magazine said it was "An absolutely riveting novel."