The First Immortal

James L. Halperin, Author
James L. Halperin, Author Del Rey Books $24.95 (342p) ISBN 978-0-345-42092-3
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
Cryonics--the freezing of human beings for later reanimation--has become commonplace in the 21st century imagined in this innovative but fact-heavy, utopian techno-thriller. Physician Benjamin Smith dumbfounds his family in 1988 when he allows his body to be put into cold storage--and wills himself a trust fund to cover his next-life expenses. A court battle over the trust nearly tears the Smith family apart and proves a touchstone for the problematic legal and social issues that cryonic preservation raises. As explained by Ben's great-grandson Trip Grace (whose mastery of nanotechnology proves the key to successful resuscitations in the 21st century), cryonics helps to redefine death. Halperin ruminates on the subject through fictional cameos of such real-life luminaries as Jack Kevorkian and the pope. Halperin stretches credibility by suggesting that people today would agree to costly experimental freezing with no guarantee of revival, but he plots the book with thoroughness and imagination. His depiction of a future in which suspended animation is a civil right is convincing. However, the thick bulwark of scientific fact and fancy he uses to support it prevents all but the most superficial examination of character. After Ben's ""death,"" the narrative turns into a dense fabric of historical and scientific speculation, rich with data but bereft of soul. Readers who enjoyed the extrapolations of Halperin's first novel, The Truth Machine, will warm to the ideas of this novel. Others may find it as cold as its title character. (Jan.)
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