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Immortal Life by Stanley Bing

Published by Simon & Schuster on December 5, 2017

Immortality has been a dream since legends of the Fountain of Youth appeared in fifth century BC, and probably earlier. Modern dreamers focus on science rather than myth, including the possibility of downloading the contents of a mind for transference into a new body. That concept raises a number of intriguing questions, some of which receive tongue-in-cheek attention in Immortal Life.

Arthur Vogel is looking for a solution to the problem of death. Body parts can be replaced if you can afford the technology. The Mighty Vog invented a switch that makes Artificial Intelligence possible and became the richest man in the solar system.

Meanwhile, a fellow named Gene wakes up with no real recollection of his life. He does, however, have a huge supply of facts. A doctor named Bob knows more about Gene than Gene, as does a woman named Bronwyn, but they give him little insight into his background or why he has an implant in his finger. The reader quickly understands, even if Gene doesn’t, that Gene has no memories because has been rebooted. Again.

Gene was made to fill a role, but when Gene realizes the nature of that role, he balks. That’s considered a flaw, as is the fact that Gene yearns for a woman named Livia despite having no memory of her. The glitches need to be fixed but the project is already overbudget and Gene keeps going off on a frolic of his own. The problem with artificial humans is that they behave like humans. You really can't trust them.

But more importantly, you can’t trust mega-size corporations. One of the serious questions the novel asks is whether the privatization of the Cloud will eventually result in its control by one company, or perhaps one person. Another question is: If life extension allows the powerful to remain in power longer, forcing the younger generations to remain in the cheap seats, will immortality impose a glass ceiling on the ambitions of the young?

Serious questions aside, Immortal Life pokes fun at the present by lampooning an imagined future that is based on present trends (infotainment, synthesized food, life extension technologies, a Civil War between red and blue states, the radioactive wasteland that used to be Korea, Amazon’s desire to own everything, and Alexa’s continuing inability to get anything right).

Immortal Life delivers an amusing series of goofy moments. Robots and humans alike are exposed as victims of imperfect programming. But when the story isn’t being funny (and even when it is), characters make some well-stated points about how the Singularity anticipated by science fiction writers might be the “tragic conclusion to the great pageant of human history,” not the next step in human evolution so much as a repudiation of what it means to be human. As Gene says, “that would be a bummer.”

As a comedy, the story can get by with underdeveloped and somewhat stereotypical characters. Some of the humor might be a bit shallow (yes, we know our wireless devices have made us dependent and lazy, but we’ve known that for some time now), and a couple of paragraphs won’t appeal to supporters of the current presidential administration, but the story’s silliness made me laugh often enough to win my recommendation.


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