Thoughts on Immortality, Inc

So, I was browsing through the books on my bookshelf looking for something to read, and came across my old copy — I had it when I was a kid, so over thirty years ago — of Robert Sheckley’s “The Status Civilization”, which I had loved. But I seemed to recall that it seemed fragile the last time I had read it, and so instead of reading it I instead decided to look for a new copy of it, which I managed to find … and even some collections that contained the short stories that he had done in it that I had loved (and I don’t normally like short stories). But then I was browsing again after re-reading some Starcraft novels and found a couple of novels of his that I had bought at some point and had never read. The first one I decided to read was “Immortality, Inc”. And after doing the Hugo Award Assessment I thought it would be a good idea to talk about it and see how it compares to modern science-fiction.

The overall plot is about a man called Thomas Blaine, who gets into a car accident in 1958 … and wakes up in another body in 2110. It turns out that the future has solved the problems of both time travel and of mind/body separation, and so this big corporation has decided to bring him from the past into the future as a marketing gimmick. And then they get cold feet. The novel focuses on Blaine’s attempts to adjust to his new body and his new future, with the complications of a zombie, a ghost, and the fact that he’s seen as an embarrassment to a major corporation and, potentially, a legal liability.

The novel focuses on describing and outlining the world of 2110 and the consequences this sort of technology would or could have, and does that reasonably well. There’s a lot of exposition, but it’s all directed at Blaine and done through conversations, and so stays interesting, unlike “Seveneves”. However, this does mean that the development of the plot and characters tends to be pretty shallow, as events and characters crop up and friendships and relationships are started without all that much preamble; things just, well, kinda happen for most of the work. As such, the pacing is quite good, but the relationships and events often seem to come up … well, not out of nowhere — because the hints are always dropped long before the things happen — but at least in the sense of them just, again, kinda happening because they should happen now and not due to overt development through the novel.

However, I’m going to forgive him for this because, at the end of it all, all of this pays off. Every one of those moves really adds to the work, either by adding a great scene or an interesting insight or something. We always look back on those scenes that looked like they might add something later but didn’t really have to and note that, yes, they really did add to the work … including to the ending.

At the end of the day, the plot seems rushed to me … or, at least, like it is rushing. But that keeps things moving, and what development is done turns out to pay off really well down the line. So my only complaint about the work is that I wish he’d spent more time developing the world and plot more and letting us see more of how this stuff all works and worked out. But at the end of the day, it was still a good read.

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