Halperin, James L. The First Immortal. New York: Del Rey, 1998. ISBN 0-345-42182-5.
As Yogi Berra said, “It's hard to make predictions, especially about the future.” In this novel, the author tackles one of the most daunting challenges in science fiction: the multi-generation saga which spans its publication date. There are really only two ways to approach this problem: show the near future in soft focus, concentrating on characters and avoiding any mention of news and current events, or boldly predict and take your lumps when you inevitably get it wrong. Hey, even if you do, odds are the books will either be on readers' shelves or in the remainder bins by the time reality diverges too far from the story line. Halperin opts for the latter approach. Preachy novels with an agenda have a tendency to sit on my shelf quite a while until I get around to them—in this case six years. (The hardcover I bought in 1998 is out of print, so I've linked to the paperback which remains available.) The agenda here is cryonics, the resurrection myth of the secular humanists, presented in full dogmatic form: vitrification, cryogenic storage of the dead (or their heads, for the budget-conscious), nanotechnological restoration of damage due to freezing, repair of disease damage and genetic defects, reversal of aging, organ and eventually full body cloning, brain state backup and uploading, etc.—the full mambo chicken meme-bag. The book gets just about everything predicted for the years after its publication as wrong as possible: Xanadu-style back-links in Netscape, the Gore administration, etc. Fine—all were reasonable extrapolations when the first draft was written in 1996. My problem is that the further-out stuff seems, if anything, even less plausible than the near term predictions have proved to be. How likely is it that artificial intelligences with a hundred times the power of the human brain will remain subservient, obedient slaves of their creators? Or that a society with full-on Drexler nanotechnology and space stations outside the orbit of Pluto would be gripped by mass hysteria upon learning of a rain of comets due a hundred years hence? Or that a quasi-socialist U.N. style World Government would spontaneously devolve freedom to its subjects and reduce tax rates to 9.5%? And doesn't the requirement that individuals brought back from the freezer be sponsored by a living person (and hence remain on ice indefinitely if nobody steps up as a sponsor) represent an immoral inter-generational breach of contract with those who paid to be frozen and brought back to life under circumstances they prescribed? The novel is well-written and presents the views of the cryonicists faithfully and effectively. Still, you're left with the sense of having read an advocacy document where story and characters are subordinate to the pitch.

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