Monday, 19 May 2008

Book Review: Immortality Inc. By Robert Sheckley

I must confess that this is the first time I’ve read Sheckley’s first novel, from 1959, despite having read much of his other work. The premise is simple, that of a man from 1958 dying in a car crash, and his mind being snatched at the point of death and entered into a new body in 2110. The idea of a man from the present being thrown into the future has long been a staple of science fiction, but Sheckley’s treatment of the story is so gripping and strange that it sets it far apart from the crowd. It is a brief novel, thus it doesn’t hang around long enough for your attention to wander, yet its impact is huge.

The character of Tom Blaine is great, an everyman that you really do grow attached to. His journey through the world of 2110 is fascinating, and the ideas thrown up, such as the almighty Hereafter, the reality of ghosts, zombies acting as hosts for spirits and so on, are compelling. The reactions of Blaine when he first comes to in 2110 are great, and you really get a sense of him being an outsider thrown into a world he can barely recognize. The future world is nicely depicted, without going into too much detail about how everything works in both a technological and sociological sense, which goes a long way towards sustaining the sense of disbelief. There’s still wonder to be had in that world, but it is hard to find amid the rabble of a civilization showing the full scale of changes that were first being glimpsed back in Blaine’s own time.

The ending is unexpected and appropriate, and I was very pleased to find that this was a book which I couldn’t work out the ending to, even when a mere twenty pages away from its climax. Sheckley’s prose is skilful and daring, and for a first novel it holds up very well indeed. Here’s a book that really does deserve its status as one of science fiction’s most popular novels.

I was going to say this would make a great movie, but there’s already been one- Freejack, back in 1992. That didn’t really do the novel justice in any way, but I’d love to see one made now that remained faithful to the original novel. While some of the text and dialogue has indeed dated, the plot remains strong and the storytelling is constantly impressive.

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