Book Report: First Immortal by James L. Halperin (1998)

Well, this book is an interesting piece, very throught-provoking. In it, Ben Smith, a WWII veteran and Japanese prison camp survivor, opts for cryonic (aka cyrogenic) preservation. The first third of the book describes his life until suspension, his philosophical discussions with his peers in the medical field, his friends, and his family. The middle part describes the immediate after-effects, including the lawsuit among his heirs to split up his trust and to unfreeze him to kill him, essentially, to get the money in his trust, and then the direction of society. The third part deals with his revival and nano-repair to the age of 25 and his dealings with his extended and eternally young family, including an infant cloned from his dead wife who will grow to be his wife again.

The book is strongest in the beginning, where the reader can focus on the main character. After that, it gets a little epic and sagaish for pure enjoyment. As it’s not actually cut into chapters, one cannot find a “one more chapter” stopping point and it’s hard to chunk into digestible bits. Additionally, it starts in 1998 and projects history from the top of the dot-com era, full of optimism of eternal growth and whatnot. So when it intercuts news summaries from a year to ground you–which it does with every scene, since sometimes we’re skipping ahead decades, it starts out with corporate news, such as June 15, 2042: Scientists at Eastman Kodak, Compaq’s stock rises, Sun Microsystems this, or 2084, Chrysler introduces. These are already punchlines, as are the invention of “backlinks” by Netscape in something like 2006. Seems to me the trackback made it before then.

Once we get into the future, we’re into LiberalTechnoTopia, where no one lies because everyone has a lie detector implant, where contraceptive implants are mandatory at birth (the United States was the last holdout-yay us!), and where the good Democrats want to offer free cryonics as a human right, but the Republicans want to have a two-strikes and you’re dead law (which they get, and it cleans up society nicely, but that’s mentioned as an aside). Every new development is handled by society in just the perfect way–no human would use it for evil, because humans are inherently good!

So the book, which could have been a very interesting philosophical tome questioning the nature of humanity, the meaning of identity, and a host of other things, ultimately turns into a blended composite of L. Neil Smith’s The Probability Broach (the Demotopia) with The Metaphysics of Star Trek with a heaping topping from cryonics brochures. The author, a coin dealer of some repute, definitely wants to popularize cryonics. As a matter of fact, he’s willing to let you download this book for free to get the word out.

I think I’ll hold out, since Congress will seize the assets of anyone in suspension come 2010.

Books mentioned in this review:



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