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Books–The First Immortal: A Novel Of The Future by James L. Halperin January 14, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Books, Other, Philosophy, Science Fiction.

I’ve been putting this review off.  I finished this book back at the end of November, I think, and it just seemed like too much of a pain to actually respond to it. 

First off, the Foresight Institute has an excellent and fairly comprehensive review of it here.  Halperin’s vision of the future pace of political and technological change, despite some dogged attempts at hedging, comes off far too optimistic for my taste.  But that stuff is too complicated to get into here, so I’m just adding my personal observations to what’s already been written for Foresight. 

I know that when reading fiction I tend to try to see what the author is thinking, and that this is not usually fruitful or possible.  But in this case, because of the political nature of the subject matter, and because of Halperin’s stated interest in cryogenics, it is impossible not to read this book and think to oneself, “Hmmm.  This guy is absolutely terrified of and obsessed with death.” 

Look, I don’t want to die either.  Last night my wife and I had a discussion about mortality.  She has recently lost her beloved grandmother.  We had both lost in the spring a West Highland White Terrier that had been with us since just after we got married, through our first house, graduate schools, a move to the East Coast, career changes, all sorts of disasters.  Anyway, my wife said that part of the fear of death comes from the fact that people tend to visualize the future in terms of events happening to us as we are now.  The example she used was of a boy who wants to marry his mom when he grows up, because he thinks that he will need somebody like that when he grows older.  So I guess I’m thinking that there will be a time when death does not seem the horrible prospect it does now.  I’m certainly less scared of death than I was when I was younger. 

But the over-the-top urgency with which Halperin infuses the fear of death and the prospect of cryonics into this story baffles me.  For example:

Even before Wendy’s suspension, I’d begun studying the phenomenon of aging with an obsession matching my previous delvings into nanotech and neuroscience.  My own appointment with death-or-ice seemed too distant to warrant preparation . . . but the impending demise of my first golden retriever had filled me with an overwhelming sense of urgency.

I’ve popped over to Amazon.com and noticed that a lot of the favorable reviews of this book seem to come from people similarly terrified about death and similarly optimistic about cryonics, and technology in general.  I don’t know, should we fear death this much?



1. Moon Topples - January 14, 2007

For my part, I think a fear of death can be a productive way to fuel your everyday life sometimes. The whole Carpe Diem thing. But it sounds like this is somewhere beyond that.

Moderation is the key, I suppose.

2. caveblogem - January 14, 2007

Moon Topples,

Maybe. Fear of death is a good way to keep out of certain kinds of trouble, like sky-diving, too, even as it fuels the excitement of those kinds of activities. I guess that what I meant to say it was not that this guy is afraid of death, or dying. He is afraid of being dead. A lot of plot complications hinge upon the possibility that certain characters (like the golden retriever mentioned in my post) might not ever be able to come back from being frozen. A lot of effort into using that possibility to raise the tension level in the story. I just think that those efforts fell flat.

Maybe this kind of fear is common to agnostics and atheists, anyone who doesn’t think there is something for you afterward. Halperin seems to fit into this category. But so do I. And yet there is something about devoting years of your life to making sure that you will be frozen and then properly stored, convincing others that this is really. really important. Seems to be so many other valuable ways to spend one’s time.

3. debra - January 14, 2007

Thanks for stopping by my blog earlier! I took your advice and visited librarything.com. Now I have my own ‘library’ online and I’m excited about adding to it.

Stop by any time! Have a great day!

4. caveblogem - January 15, 2007

Great to see another LibraryThing convert, debra. Perhaps we can band together and convince WordPress to let us use the cool Java widgets that LibraryThing makes available.

And it is nice of you to stop by as well!

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