LEF Magazine May 1998
The First Immortal
A new novel charts a family's extended existence via cryonics
Imagine closing your eyes, old and sick and about to die, and then re-opening them young, strong and bursting with energy. Imagine closing your eyes in today's world and waking up in the year 2070...a time and world of incredible riches and wonders, a world truly beyond your imagination.
That's exactly what happens in James L. Halperin's new book The First Immortal, the first novel to capture in realistic fashion the inexorable march of spirit and technology that will almost certainly transform us in the 21st century from mortals to immortals. The novel follows the fortunes of a single family from 1925 until late in the 21st century. The defining event in the family's history occurs in 1988 when 63-year-old physician Benjamin Smith succumbs to a heart attack on a rain-soaked spring day. In an act of defiance against death, Smith is frozen after "death," and his lifeless body is transported into the future when, it is hoped, it will eventually become possible to restore him to life, health and youthful vigor.
At the point of his cryonic suspension (freezing), Smith is the only one in his family who has opted for this highly speculative procedure, but, in an act of great love and foresight, he has set aside millions of dollars in a trust to pay for anyone else in his family who wishes to be frozen. At first, this gesture is challenged by some family members who prefer to get their hands on Smith's money right away rather than join him in what they consider a hopeless quest for immortality. But, as time goes by, and the fledgling science of cryonics improves and gains in credibility in the scientific community, Smith's family members join him one by one as they, too, begin to succumb to lethal diseases and accidents.
The payoff occurs in the latter half of the 21st century after the science of reanimation has made great progress, thanks in large part to remarkable advances in medicine permitting the rebuilding and reconstruction of the body's cells on an atomic level. These advances in nanotechnology make it possible to fully repair the damage to the brains and bodies of pioneers such as Smith and his family.
This leads to a Smith family reunion in the world of tomorrow, which is characterized by deep emotion, unorthodox changes in the nature of relationships, and surprising twists and turns that leave the reader amazed and fascinated. Not everyone can be restored to life with their original identity intact, for example, which leads to profound questions about the nature of identity, and challenges the emotions and adaptability of friends and relatives. Another surprise the future has in store for the Smiths (and readers) is the phenomenon of children becoming "older" (in experience) than their parents, and the consequences for those young in experience who have to compete with those who are young in mind and body, but old in experience.
These issues are covered with imagination and realistic fervor in Halperin's book. They also have a significant impact for readers who grow to identify and empathize with the members of this extraordinary family over 150 years of exciting experiences and shared emotions. Ultimately, the reader buys the idea of reviving patients frozen in the 20th century because the description of the technological advances leading to revival is plausible. Also, you very much want these people to live. It's natural, after all, to hope that you, too, will have the opportunity of enjoying life late in the 21st century, with the prospect of additional hundreds or thousands of years of bountiful life.
The question of whether anyone frozen via today's relatively primitive techniques will ever be restored to life will not be answered anytime soon. The question of when scientists will be able to demonstrate the revival of a complex organism from suspended animation will be sooner in coming. One of the major goals of the Life Extension Foundation is to develop fully reversible suspended animation as quickly as possible. The Foundation has provided funding for a laboratory now under construction in Southern California, where a team of experts in cryopreservation will soon be working to conquer death by perfecting suspended animation.
We believe suspended animation will be perfected within 20 years, perhaps sooner. We also believe that some degree of aging control will be achieved within that 20-year period, and that total control over aging will be achieved by the middle of the 21st century. Although our timetable for success is faster and somewhat different from that depicted in The First Immortal, there is no disagreement with the book that these objectives will be achieved during the 21st century, and that these achievements will cause radical changes in ourselves and the world we live in.
Purchase The First Immortal on-line.