OUTNUMBERING THE DEAD was easily one of the most thought-provoking books I have read in quite some time.
In the distant future humans have the abilityOUTNUMBERING THE DEAD was easily one of the most thought-provoking books I have read in quite some time.
In the distant future humans have the ability to live forever. While still in the womb, these unborn babies are given a treatment during the second trimester...for most, it works. But for the unfortunate few, time still slips away one second at a time.
Essentially, Pohl uses this slim volume to explore the consequences of immortality. Since most of the population is unable to understand what it would feel like to know that death was going to happen, Pohl has created a great vessel in Rafiel, a dancer and actor. Rafiel is the perfect man to "play the part" of a mortal. His entire life has been in the entertainment industry, faking life to please others. For the world, Rafiel is a curiosity. Perhaps freak would be a better word to use. The many ways the immortals treat Rafiel are handled with care and skill, even though Pohl only gives the minutest amount of detail to make his world plausible.
The real calamity of the story is how Rafiel cannot make the immortals understand what it is like to face death. Rafiel's time is finite. He wants to use this time. But if you are an immortal, what does time mean? Why do something now, when you could do it in a year, a decade, a century? And because of this ability to postpone indefinitely, their limitless life may have less value than a finite one. They have no base of understanding of goals, dreams, and desires. These words are only relative to them. For them, a dream is still a dream a thousand years later. For them, reality can be the moment, but it could also be the moment's future. Alas, urgency and passion to accomplish things in life are not even considered.
At 125 pages, there is not much room for plot. But Pohl knows how to counter this. By getting the reader to care about Rafiel's impending death, Pohl is able to make this story more about ideas and emotions than about action. And Pohl accomplishes this in spades.
First off, let me say this: SHAME ON YOU AMAZON! You have prohibited a great cover of this novel from showing here on goodreads. The cover I speak ofFirst off, let me say this: SHAME ON YOU AMAZON! You have prohibited a great cover of this novel from showing here on goodreads. The cover I speak of looks like this: five ghostly apparitions stand forlornly, one is reaching toward a light that looks as if it is an exploding star; they all have chains on their wrists; the far right figure, the only woman, is tenderly reaching for the hand of the man trying to grasp the light; a pitch black background acts as a backdrop. It is the perfect cover for this novel. It tells so much without revealing anything (that is unless you have read the novel). So I say again: SHAME ON YOU AMAZON.
Okay, now on to the book.
ANTHEM by Ayn Rand is a novel set in a far-off post apocalyptic future, in a world where technology has been relegated into the land of myth and fancy. People of this world are no longer given birth names; they are given a name according to the cohort they were born into. It is a world where the individual is less than the collective.
This is the story of Equality 7-2521. In the beginning, they (he) are destined to be great thinkers. No other cohort in history has thought the way they (he) do(es). But this is not to be. Equality 7-2521 is given the job of Street Sweeper by the Council of Vocations. It is this council that determines what is essential for the collective at the moment. Equality 7-2521 does a grand job of keeping the streets clean. It is not until they (he) comes across Liberty 5-3000, renamed the Golden One, that Equality 7-2521 begins to think outside of the proverbial collective box. Later, when Equality 7-2521 discovers a secret cave (which in reality is an abandoned subway tunnel) does the meaning of individuality actually begin to take root in their (his) head. While stealing away to this “secret place” Equality 7-2521 begins to experiment with copper wires, eventually making an apparatus that conducts electricity. Equality 7-2521 is overwhelmed by this discovery, and wants to share it with the World Council of Scholars. But before they (he) can do that, it is discovered that they (he) is not in at curfew. Equality 7-2521 is taken away to the Palace of Corrective Detention where they (he) are beaten and tortured and interrogated. Equality 7-2521 never talks, not so much as a whisper. When they (he) decide to escape, the morning of the meeting for the World Council of Scholars, they (he) bring the electrical apparatus. When shown the device, the members of the World Council of Scholars shirk back from it in fear. When Equality 7-2521 offers to give the council this gift, they scoff at him and berate them (him) for thinking not of the brotherhood but of only them(self). Equality 7-2521 refuses to be detained again and runs off into the Uncharted Forest with the device, there they (he) wander aimlessly, and await the moment a beast tears them to shreds. But it is not a beast that confronts them (him); it is the Golden One that finds them (him). Together, Equality 7-2521 and the Golden One go on a journey further into the Uncharted Forrest. When they happen to come across an old cabin, they investigate the relics left behind from the Unimaginable Times, mainly books. It is at this moment that Equality 7-2521 goes from them to him. It is at this time that he begins to understand that “I” can be more powerful than “we”. With this new knowledge, Equality 7-2521 renames himself, Prometheus. It is also at this time that he gives the Golden One a new name, Gaea. It is at this time that first-person narration takes over. (The rest of the novel you will have to read for yourself.)
For this reader, the premise of this novel is intriguing. The setup and the style in which it is written allows for a fast paced story, packed with delicious nuggets of thought. And, to boot, Rand wrote this as a writing exercise while she was outlining ATLAS SHRUGGED. Now don’t get me wrong, I think Rand was a big sloppy bowl of crazy. But what she has written in ANTHEM is a testament of what people should do to keep their governments in check. Basically, Rand tells the reader to remember this: governments work for the people, not the other way around.
Alongside Yevgeny Zamyatin’s WE, ANTHEM is considered a classic within post apocalyptic literature. I’ve never read WE, but I will be certain to read it sooner than later. Is ANTHEM a good book? Sure. Is it a book worth reading eighty plus years after it was published? Yep. Does it have all the answers? Not even close. This is a book of ideas. Plot and characterization and setting are shadily written. Perhaps that is the genius of this brief 120 page novel. Perhaps Rand wanted the reader to fill in the gaps with their own struggles against their own government. Regardless, this is a quick read that any reader of science fiction, or any person interested in the struggle between individualism and collectivism should read. If anything, it should make you think.
Do you remember when you and friends went went to 7-11 as kids and bought slushies? You would buy the Coke flavored one, one of your buddies would buyDo you remember when you and friends went went to 7-11 as kids and bought slushies? You would buy the Coke flavored one, one of your buddies would buy the raspberry flavored one, and then there was that guy that made a slushie suicide and mixed the two flavors, pretending that this was the magical flavor handed down from the gods. Yeah, we all know that crazy bastard. Well, NIGHT OF THE SAUCERS is like that suicide slushie. You see, Eando is not a real name. It is the combination of brothers Earl and Otto Binder (the first letters of their first names and the word and). For whatever reason they felt that together they made an unbeatable writing duo. They weren’t exactly wrong in this assumption, but they weren’t right either. Let me explain.
NIGHT OF THE SAUCERS is the type of book that B-movie producers dream of coming in contact with at some point early in their careers. The plotting is simple. Roguish male hero and vixen human (alien female) need to do X in order to save the world. Let me be honest, I’d see that movie. But the Binder brothers had other things in mind. Not only is there a roguish hero who knows advanced martial arts, he is also a journalist who knows the truth behind dozens of UFO sightings. He purports to excuse these sightings as weather balloons, atmospheric disturbances, etc. The truth is he is married to an alien. Together—under the umbrella of the Galactic Vigilantes—they combine their skills to keep earth safe from the warmongering alien race Vexxans. These nasty little brutes are hairy dwarfs that resemble a cross between Gimli from LoTR and a warthog.
Okay, so as I said slushie. But we really haven’t covered why this novel veers into the suicide slushie dimension. Allow me this moment.
Besides being a world-saving duo, Thane and Miribel are superior to all others in intelligence. Once they figured out why the Vexxans are collecting a mysterious seed—which they need so they can extract the energy from and then hurl earth toward the UW (United Worlds)—they brilliantly go from being science fiction characters to noir characters. Thane, the husband, devises a brilliant plan to tail the Vexxans, find out where the Seed Collection site is, and then thwart this deadly plan. After reconning these little mongrels, he opts to undergo a surgery that turns him into one. I’m not lying here. But there is a catch. He only has twenty-four hours to accomplish his goal or else he will be doomed to stay in the form of a Vexxan for the rest of his life. O the humanity! And, I haven’t even gotten to the best part. One of the characters, Daryl Seatonbury III, is not only a bajillionaire who collects rare jems and so is interested when Thane finds one of these seeds, he is also a highly advanced cyborg that the Vexxans created as their Seed Guardian.
I PROMISE I’M NOT MAKING ANY OF THIS UP!!
To boot, there is enough gadgetry (a vibroscope?!) and invisibility cloaks for aircrafts and personnel to make even the most loyal hard SF fan enjoy this outlandish story. And did I mention the telepathy in this novel? Oh, man the joys…I could go on and on and on…dammit…brain freeze.
Two minutes and seventeen seconds. A small amount of time for most of us, but within the confines of Robert Sawyer's fantastic science fiction novel FTwo minutes and seventeen seconds. A small amount of time for most of us, but within the confines of Robert Sawyer's fantastic science fiction novel FLASHFORWARD, 2:17 becomes more than a number; it becomes the insight to what the future holds. You see, 2:17 is the amount of time humnaity checked-out. All seven billion. As you can guess, choas ensued if you were one of the unlucky ones awake at the time. Planes crashed. Cars drove themselves. I can only guess what that unlucky skydiver experienced.
Joking aside. Sawyer did something really interesting with 2:17. It is not only the amount of time a person was blacked out, but, as I said, it was also the amount of time a person glimpsed into thier future 21 years in the future. Some of these futures were bright; some not. The real question is: What would you do with this knowledge?
Take a look at Genesis 2:17.
"But of the tree of knowledge of good and eveil, thou shall not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shall surely die."
Dang, Mr. Sawyer, what a tangled web you weave. Even though humanity had no choice in seeing thier future, they still had a choice on how they would decide to live thier lives. Would this knowledge corrupt you from living your life? Or, would you be able to remain freewilled? Can the future be changed? Or, is it written with an iron pen?
I doff my cap at you, Mr. Sawyer. You have successfully created a thought-provoking novel with layered implications about religion and human nature.