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.


The Pyramids from Space by Jack Bertin (1970)

Like a fisherman throwing out a lobster net, the mysterious power from outer space sent the pyramids - to catch Earthmen

Oh man, do I love the 50 cent rack. Both of the used bookstores within walking distance of me have 50 cent racks outside, and I think they're completely awesome. A room full of used sci-fi books is great, but a little overwhelming. Faced with too many options, I end up with absolutely no idea what to choose, and I just stare at the shelves, doing little more than sucking up the intoxicating aroma of old books. With the 50 cent racks, it's simple: if it's old sci-fi, I probably want it. Fifty cents for a few hours of entertainment is a practically unbeatable value; you would be hard pressed to find its equal in the world of movies, video games, drugs or porn. I'll start visiting the theatre more when the tickets cost roughly 15 cents per hour, but until then I'll lay on the couch reading cheap sci-fi.

To help illustrate the awesomeness of the 50 cent science fiction book, I'm going to compare The Pyramids from Space to the movie Stargate. Like Stargate, The Pyramids from Space is a story about humans transported by means of a strange device to a planet on the other side of the galaxy that is, for some reason, inhabited by ancient Egyptians. Stargate is 10 bucks on DVD, 20 bucks if you want it on Blu-ray. The movie is two hours long, so it costs roughly 5 bucks an hour to see (10 bucks if you want to see it on Blu-ray). Your mileage may vary, but I read the book in about two or three hours, and it was only 50 cents. Since you can read this, I'll assume you're also capable of doing basic math.

Of course, enjoyment of a work of fiction or its medium is entirely subjective. Some people love to see special effects, and some people just don't like reading. For some reason, my short attention span works better with words than with moving pictures and sounds, maybe because I can set my own pace. And I've just never really liked Kurt Russel.

For fans of written science fiction, The Pyramids from Space is a good, light read. It's not terribly deep or meaningful, and is more fantastic than hard sci-fi, but it's entertaining the whole way through. There aren't really any slow parts to the story, and the short chapters tend to end with cliffhangers. I found myself deciding to read "just one more chapter" a few times, which I take as an indicator of a good book.

Were I to be faced with the choice of either Stargate or The Pyramids from Space, I would choose the latter. Not only is a better deal in terms of dollars, but it has dinosaurs, gangsters, and a Roman army. You have to use your imagination to enjoy it, but you don't have to imagine any of the characters are Kurt Russel. That is, unless you really want to, in which case you could even make all the characters look like Kurt Russel. Either way, I liked this book.

Buy this book.