“The more books you read, the more stupid…”
The main thing about this book is that it effectively captures the idea that people can be immortal (or, in this case, live indefinitely). In commercial purposes I would even retitle the book into “Immortal People”, “The Path to Immortality” or simply “Immortality.” Many religions, including Christianity, exist through the exploitation of the human’s belief in immortality (or, like they put it, life after death). However, unlike religion, Yuri tries to justify the transition to a new state of humankind on the grounds of actual scientific ideas, theories and hypotheses (albeit with a share of fantasy).
I do not know what the book contains more — science or faith — but with a certain assumption it can be called the Bible of the New Realities. Hooking the reader with the idea of immortality, the novel takes him into the journey of rethinking and reevaluation of many fundamental ideas about human nature and the meaning of human life. The strong point of the book is that it shows how close we have come in terms of technology to peek over the edge and see other possible manifestations of life, and even quasi-eternal life.
This idea gives way to the well-written story about the creation of a new race of ‘eternal people’, which is based on the most updated scientific and technological knowledge. One of the most impressive aspects of the novel is the presentation of many innovative scientific visions and theories, especially dealing with computers and programming, medicine, nano- and biotechnology. It feels that the author was firmly “charged” with research data in these areas and managed to convert the acquired knowledge into a fairly coherent overarching concept. However, although scientific facts set out in the novel are noteworthy and entertaining, the style of their presentation does not always fit for fiction. Sometimes the narrative suffers from unnecessary detail, and the repeatedly used scientific dialogue is rather dry.
In this regard, some of the Soviet popular science movies of 1960s such as “Can a Machine Think?” or “Theory of Relativity” come to mind. There renowned actors delivered complex scientific ideas in a playful conversational form. Though quite unpretentious, these films did not limit themselves with scientific talk but employed different techniques of artistic imagery, particularly video-visualization. The author of fiction should always keep in mind that his text must be relatively easily percepted, and should eschew creating any inaccessible scientific barriers for the reader. As Stephen Hawking wrote in the preface of his book “A Brief History of Time”, he deliberately removed all the mathematical formulas from it, except for E = mc2, although his whole theory was built on formulas. Scientific facts should be transmitted through engaging and touching stories, which are easily digested and kept in mind, such as the cases of teaching the deaf-blind people or treatment of the wounded sappers described in this book. Otherwise the reader will skip them without delving and one of the purposes of the book will not be fully achieved.
Complex theories like the one in this book should be more coherent, not just a set of unconnected concepts, ideas and facts, they should be more tightly linked with each other for a more holistic vision. In this case we have some aspects in too much detail (for example, about the eye treatment or about the female sex organs), but other important issues are ignored completely. For instance, I did not understand from this book how the “new people” are charging with energy, roughly speaking, if they eat at all? And if they do eat — then what? If they are inorganic, then they don’t need organic food at all (at least for creating new flesh). And what about our backward system for food processing — stomach, liver, guts and all the rest.
What will be the fuel of these new people? Maybe they will directly draw energy from outer space, or single malt whiskey will be enough (as far as I remember, this is the only stuff which someone consumes throughout the novel). But the radical changes in the structure of energy supply will in turn lead to the change of consciousness. They will still be almost like humans, “but less and less the same,” and in time it will lead to fundamental changes in cultural habits, and a lifestyle as a whole. The novel doesn’t tell us how the non-organics have everything arranged inside. We are let known, that they have brains and genitals, but what about all the rest, for example, the heart? Do they have blood and do they need it at all, and how about defecating? What will show when they are pierced? There are lots of similar questions.
For instance, let’s take childbirth. If I am not mistaken, a whole chapter is devoted to it. Apparently, the author wanted to make his androids appear more human. However, this topic raise a series of new questions. As one of the researchers remarks in the book, “the main human genital organ is the brain.” If it is really that way, then why waste resources on the creation of these symbols of sexual difference. After all, our long-livers are not going to conceive, bear and give birth to children, — they will get their ready-mades from the factory in a complete form (and even, perhaps, with pre-ordered features). That means that procreation will move away from mankind, once more crucially differing old humans from the new ones.
This leads to another question — do these new people need sex organs and sexual intercourse as such? After all, generating orgasm as the highest form of pleasure and stimulating the brain development (the book says it is one of the main functions of sex) could be achieved easily with mushrooms. According to the author, sex and drugs have similar effect on brain. So instead of engaging complex and costly production procedures of genitalia it would be much more rational to invest into chemical industry to produce replacing drugs. And there will be now need to install genitals to newborns on factories.
The book composes of at least three loosely interconnected genres: Cyberpunk (dystopia, virtual reality, hackers-gamers as main characters), serious (even a little heavy-paced) Popular Science (not Science Fiction as a feature genre, but non-fiction) and Sexual Romanticism. However, this does not embrace the full genre landscape of the book. At least two others should be added: Social Criticism in the opening chapters and the Liturgy of Religious Enlightenment in the end, thus comprising a jump from biological (and materialistic) hell into the obscure non-organic paradise. In the beginning the dark side of Realism, Social Criticism and Political Satire are particularly evident, later disappearing completely. For instance, Fedor’s native land is literally and virtually compared to an ass, but even stronger than that is an amazing metaphor of his land as a “diamond funnel with mushrooms”. Satirical comments about the Orwellian television, escaped thieving officials, unpaid salaries, unarmed military aircraft and unprofitable gas pipelines should be added. There is nothing to say about the ending than to exclaim “Hallelujah!” It strongly reminded of a classic Coca-Cola commercial in a New Age & Hippie style, which had a very ambiguous (in present meaning) slogan — “It’s The Real Thing. Coke is”. And also the sentimental visuals of the family science fiction of Spielberg, particularly, “E.T.” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
Accordingly the whole atmosphere of the book is far from noir suspense of such thrillers as “Blade Runner” or “The Matrix”, and the closer to the ending, the more peaceful and relaxing it becomes. The main intrigue of the book (the fight between the forces of evil and good) is not defined well enough, and the climatic fight (against the enemy dove near the swimming pool) is very short and blurred. The characterizations are drowned in the scientific and sexual pathos of the book. Of course, it is not a psychological novel of the Dostoevsky or Tolstoy type, aiming at a quite different set of goals and focusing on other issues. But still all the characters — good or bad — are too cardboard and one-dimensional. The good guys can be compared to their peers from the “Ender’s Game”, and the bad guys — to the evil geniuses of the James Bond series and religious zealots of Dan Brown. The good guys are all wonderful people, though some have experienced working as killers and prostitutes. Their overall cultural level is a bit alarming. Aside from practical interest in computers and virtual reality, it seems, they only care about love (mainly, in the form of sex) and occasional pool parties. Oh yeah, I forgot about the “Star Wars”, apparently, “Film of Films” for our heroes (they cite it often and with pleasure), and their only connection to the world of art and culture. I am far from judging their spirituality, but is it rather queer, that they never mention any other movie, or book, or music (sorry, music seems to be referred once as a means of stimulating sexual experiences), also they do not show any interest in sports, fitness, fashion or cars. Well, of course, they are not ordinary teenagers, but something really special! It looks like, they became androids long before their actual transformation. And indeed, why should they go to school? They feel quite comfortable with the slogan of Mao Zedong — “The more books you read, the more stupid you become!”
The bad guys of the story are the army of orthodox Chinese, led by a Manchu (remember Fu Fanchu?). This line is strongly underdeveloped. The Manchu of the book, aka Alexander, had a prophetic vision of the apparition who encouraged him to build an empire based on ophthalmologic know-how (something reminds me of Scrooge McDuck thrillers). He creates his own artificial double and sluggishly attempts to destroy our heroes, leaving the reader without tangible conflict.
As for the author of the book, he worships to his own gurus — Alvin Toffler and Genrikh Khrustov, which feels a bit subjective and one-sided. Why them? The emergence of Khrustov as a key figure behind the book is fully justified, because the author has borrowed some of his fundamental scientific ideas, including the thesis “I feel — therefore I am”. It would even be appropriate to devote more space to the presentation of Khrustov’s ideas. But the presence of Toffler in the book is less evident. He is mentioned two or three times, and each time it is indicated that he is a prophet, and almost a genius. We are told, that he helped Deng Xiaoping to get China out of its asshole (although it is still a question — did they get out or not?) But what exactly Toffler did for China, except one wrong prophecy, remains unclear. Maybe Nostradamus or Vanga will do better? Seriously speaking, referencing to Toffler doesn’t seem convincing. So the author must decide — either he presents Toffler’s theories more persuasively, or does not mention him at all.
The ending hints (reinfoced by rumours) that it is just the beginning of a new story — a prequel. The author left us with too many fascinating issues that require further exploration. For instance, how the new long-living people will interact with us, the short-living? In this battle between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons the stronger will eventually win, but who will it be — I cannot tell. The logic of progress suggests that the long-living people will displace the short-living. However, our biological race has endured a few thousand years of ordeal and is still far from vanishing. On the other hand, the by now the non-organics are too inexperienced and unpredictable. To become a viable community they still have to go a long way of self-knowledge and self-regulation. The other possibility of story development goes as follows: Though biologically homo sapiens are much closer to, say worms, than to non-organic people, however, the book shows that sex between the two races is not only possible but can be highly desirable. And that leads to the next stage — the emergence of a bio-inorganic hybrid (I wonder, will he be sort- or long-living?). One more possible turn of events: say, the long-livers will leave Earth — and judging by their stares aimed at the “wild blue yonder” (as Werner Herzog put it) — that is more than likely. What direction will the evolution of their brains and their externals take then? It is quite possible that “out there” it would be absolutely impossible to resemble morphologically an earthly human being. We can easily assume, that in some time they will change so radically, that we won’t be able not only to understand but even to perceive them. If the contact between the two races will be lost, the differences will grow (we as species are also subject to change, when it comes to millennia). But maybe we’ll keep in touch in one way or another — what line of development it will give to planet Earth and its inhabitants? The author left us with a vast and prolific space for imagination and consideration. As a reader I experienced an engrossing journey into the world of abstract ideas and an important and useful intellectual reload of consciousness. Hopefully Yuri will go on with exploring the themes and ideas put forth in this novel in the subsequent novels of the cycle.
By Sergey Lagoisky