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Immortality Inc. by Robert Sheckley
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Immortality Inc. (original 1958; edition 1991)

by Robert Sheckley

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307636,351 (3.64)6
Member:RandyStafford
Title:Immortality Inc.
Authors:Robert Sheckley
Info:Tor Books (1991), Paperback
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:science fiction

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Immortality Inc. by Robert Sheckley (1958)

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Showing 5 of 5
My reactions to reading this novel in 1992. Spoilers follow.

Not as funny a novel as I expected from Sheckley but still pleasant enough. Sheckley comes up with a world that has scientifically verified the afterlife and can engineer your soul to make sure it survives. The mind sometimes, very sometimes, survives its separation from the body. When the "scientific afterlife" is discovered, the world goes on a binge of hedonism; everyone attempts to pack of lifetime of pleasureable experiences in, unrestrainted by conventional religious morality (and painful experiences are sought in torture clubs -- lust and pain of every variety are sought). Then the bottom drops out when it's revealed few minds survive death.

However, three corporations develop a process (which can be duplicated by twenty years of discipline in Eastern mystic pursuits like yoga) which hardens the mind so it can survive death -- the process is very expensive though. Afterlife insurance is a government policy question; a few policies are given out by grants and lotteries. Hosts can be obtained for the dying who don't want to leave this world. On the open market, this involves killing a body (who's mind has been insured for afterlife) and occupying it with another mind. On the black market, the orginal mind is just killed. Transplant is an illegal procedure where one mind "possesses" another mind and body, inhabits a corner of its consciousness, taps into its skill, talents, emotions, sensations. This is sold as mainly sexual titillation. Experience sex as the other gender, the emotions a pervert feels, even sex as an animal. In one of the best scenes of the book, this is revealed as having much more potential for human freedom and society. Why be constrained to the set of skills just you've developed?

The protagonist of the novel, snatched from 1958, inhabits a body very different -- and not to his liking -- from his old one, with different skills, inclinations. Why, argues an illegal transplant peddler, must a man be constrained to the diseases, skills, hereditary, and early environment that shaped his body? When the protagonist flees hunters through a series of transplants, the possibilities of this argument are intriguingly shown. His "dead" body is shipped separately to avoid detection.

In a fashion typical of the great sociological sf of the fifties, Sheckley, in remarkably smooth, glib prose which, nevertheless, touches on important issues, using an everyman. He is a junior yacht designer who, comically, always seems to find himself as a junior yacht designer no matter where he goes in time and space -- raising a serious point that perhaps we are all "destined" to fill certain niches in life.) It is through his journey we see this world and work out its implications. Some religions contend that the soul and mind are not the same and "scientific hereafter" does not mean the soul's survival is not dependent on traditional moral practices. Other's adopt a Nietzche's dictum of dying at the right time through suicide booths, berserking (killing as many innocent bystanders as possible before the police down you -- this leads to one of the books more comic scenes where the survivors of a berserking criticize the dead berserker's lack of prowess), and Hunts (a person tries to kill as many of his appointed hunters as possible before being killed -- this motif is much like Sheckley's The Tenth Victim and, at one point, Sheckley says a society's games tell a lot about its attitudes toward "life, death, fate and free will").

In the afterlife, before a mind crosses the threshhold, he can send messages on the spiritual switchboard. If the death transition renders the mind insane, it could become a poltergeist, gibbering ghost, haunter, or another creature of out folklore like a demon or werewolf. Beyond the Threshhold, communication with the dead is not possible and hell, nirvana, extinction, or reincarnation may loom. No one knows. Zombies are ghettoized; they result from a mind occupying a body after it has been vacant too long. They have only gross muscular control over it. Sheckley's protagonist learns a lot about his place in life as he tries to get a job, falls in love with one of his rescuers (even though, at story's end, it's revealed she caused his fatal auto accident), and learns why a zombie is hanging around him. He questions his moral assumptions. Sheckley throws in some nice commentary on sf cliches as Thomas Blaine, protagonist, thinks about one kind of future he may inhabit, and the constant complaints on how new artforms will corrupt society. (here "sensories" which give a full-sense drama.) Sheckley's novel provides more food for serious thought than immediately obvious and some comic bits are nice like looking for a job and the technicians who prepare Blaine's mind for the afterlife. This book is interesting in that its notions of transplants shows how little many of sf's concerns change, only the rationalizing instrumentality. ( )
  RandyStafford | Dec 5, 2012 |
One moment Thomas Blaine is crashing into another car and in the next he's in 2110 and trying to survive in a world where you can take out insurance on your mind surviving your bodily death. It's a dated, strange mix of Christian Science and science. I found it readable but not impressive, the book was originally published in 1959 so it contains the echoes of cold war. One of the funniest things was the idea that China would have taken over Mars, more because of the fact that then it was a little more far-fetched than now!

Overally I'm a bit meh about it. While interesting, I didn't regret reading it but I don't think I'd read it again. ( )
  wyvernfriend | Jan 10, 2012 |
NIL
  rustyoldboat | May 28, 2011 |
Future where mind can be shifted from body to body. The existence of a scientific after life has been confirmed. Where hint contained in religion and folklore have found their place in scientific practice; where manipulation caught up with the theory represented by the hints in religion and folklore. ( )
  Darrol | Dec 5, 2010 |
Immortality Inc. is another funny book by Robert Sheckley, with some of his trademark humour and satire evident.

A dead man wakes up a couple of hundred years later to find out that everything is for sale, even the afterlife.

A book that is definitely very entertaining.

http://notfreesf.blogspot.com/2006/12/immortality-inc-robert-sheckley.html ( )
  bluetyson | Mar 22, 2008 |
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» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert Sheckleyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Barbesti, SilvanoContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gudynas, PeterCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harris,JohnCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pignolo, GinettaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Warhola, JamesCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Afterwards, Thomas Blaine thought about the manner of his dying and wished it had been more interesting.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Not to be combined with the 1992 Geoff Murphy film Freejack. But, okay to combine with any re-issue of the book Immortality Inc packaged with the movie title Freejack. Variant Titles: Immorality, Inc. and Time Killer
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Thomas Blaine awoke in a white bed in a white room and heard someone say, "He's alive now." Then they asked him his name, age, and marital status. Yes, that seemed normal enough--but what was this talk about "death trauma"? Thus was Thomas Blaine introduced to the year 2110, when science had discovered the technique of transferring a man's consciousness from one body to another, when a man's mind could be snatched from the past, as his body was at the point of death, and brought forward into a "host body" in this fantastic future world.… (more)

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