Review in the Wall Street Journal: The Dystopia of ‘Immortal Life’
Friday, Dec. 22, 2017 at 6:33pm
A world where moguls live forever and bad thoughts are punished by intercranial shaming. Dave Shiflett reviews ‘Immortal Life’ by Stanley Bing.
By Dave Shiflett
Death is for chumps, at least according to Arthur Vogel, the central character in Stanley Bing’s stimulating, satirical and perhaps even visionary novel “Immortal Life.”
An eternally ambitious trillionaire, Vogel has underwritten technology that allows his consciousness to be downloaded into a young stud named Gene, whose body was created (via printer) for the task. The transfer allows Vogel to keep on truckin’ and pursue his dream to rule the world. Yet there’s a glitch in the technology. Gene’s own consciousness won’t entirely surrender, resulting in host and unwanted guest battling for control of their shared residence—and the future.
Mr. Bing, who in real life is CBS executive Gil Schwartz, spices the tale with a diverse cast, including Sallie, Vogel’s cunning wife; Mort, a skilled brown-noser who runs Vogel’s security apparatus; Bob, who created the technology before developing second thoughts about it; and an old guru named Tim, who leads a resistance movement dedicated to returning the world to a pre-digital state.
There’s no loitering in the fast-paced story, though readers may stop and chuckle at Mr. Bing’s droll dystopian future. Hackers (“pimply-faced geeks in Guy Fawkes masks”) are disciplined via “intercranial shaming”—a “blast of focused contempt and hatred beamed directly into your head.” Showers are limited to 60 seconds, using charcoal is an “eco-felony” and old hippies still play “Stairway to Heaven”—badly. Eden this isn’t.
Some readers may quibble with the underlying assumption that immortality is preferable to the alternative. Executives with eternal life, after all, might be denounced for indiscretions centuries old, with offenders sentenced to watching reruns of Gloria Allred press conferences for 500 years or so. By then, no doubt, Vogel will have figured out how to peddle mortality as immortality’s cure.
Mr. Bing subtitles his novel “A Soon to Be True Story.” Let’s hope not. A world where moguls live forever and showers last a minute doesn’t seem like much to look forward to.