The Man Who Lived Forever by R. DeWitt Miller and Anna Hunger (1956)


A couple of years ago, I watched a terrifying documentary on PBS about how we're all going to die from global warming, the impending magnetic pole reversal, food shortages, water shortages, pandemics, an ice age, and some other scary crap the Earth is going to try to rid itself of the disease we call humanity. The documentary discussed some of the plans people have been coming up with to try to avoid catastrophe, but also included a grim warning that nothing is ever going to work at all because a long term strategy would be necessary, and politicians only care about the short terms they spend in office. Of course, people have historically always believed that they were living in the end times, and the idea that we're all out of luck because of the short terms of politicians isn't terribly new, either. The authors of The Man Who Lived Forever certainly considered the latter issue, as the titular character of the book has learned to circumvent the problem by living forever and becoming the eternal leader of the world. Having a perspective far grander than any short-lived mortal, the Master, as he is cryptically known, has solved all of mankind's problems, enabling everybody to live happy, carefree lives in a peaceful world. That is, until a mysterious sickness threatens to wipe out the human race, and neither the Master nor his Council of World Scientists know how to stop it.

I sometimes consider what it would be like to live forever. It seems like it might be kind of sweet, until you realize that if you were immortal, you'd have to watch every single person you ever care about die. This alone should make the prospect unbearable to anybody who isn't a sociopath, but perhaps death gets easier to deal with as you grow older, and, by logical extension, much easier to deal with if you live forever. This isn't the case for the Master, however, and when his current wife is struck with the sickness, he is devastated at the thought of losing her sooner than he would otherwise. He is so distraught that he agrees to give his secret of immortality to the mysterious Dr. Everling if he is able to cure the sickness, as he claims he is able to.

To further complicate things for the Master, his wife is dying just as he is about to be rejuvenated with the sacrifice of a randomly chosen World Scientist. Korson, the selected life donor, wants the Master to use his millennium of study to teach him philosophy in his final week of life. The Master agrees, but then Korson's life (and death) is further complicated when he begins to fall for Tarmo, Dr. Everling's ward.

I thought this was a really good book. It's a straight forward science fiction story, and though the story or writing don't get terribly deep, the content provides plenty of fodder for thought. It's easy to spend a few hours reading the book, and then twice as long considering the questions about life and death that are presented with it. Often good science fiction, and good fiction in general, forces one to think about stuff, and that is certainly the case with The Man Who Lived Forever. If you're not feeling terribly introspective, though, it's still a good read just for the story. Plus, it's an Ace Double, so after you finish reading it, you can flip it over and read The Mars Monopoly by Jerry Sohl. I haven't read that one yet, but The Man Who Lived Forever has already made this book worth the couple bucks I spent on it.

Buy this book.

No comments: