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Immortality, Inc.

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First published in 1959 as a startling, revolutionary novel of the future, then pushed to new cinematic limits as the feature film adaptation FREEJACK in 1992, Robert Sheckley's unsettling vision of Tomorrow now arrives in ebook format for the 21st century.

Thomas Blaine awoke in a white bed in a white room, and heard someone say, "He's alive now." Then they asked him his name, age and marital status. Yes, that seemed normal enough---but what was this talk about "death trauma"?

Thus was Thomas Blaine introduced to the year 2110, where science had discovered the technique of transferring a man's consciousness from one body to another. Where a man's mind could be snatched from the past, when his body was at the point of death, and brought forward into a "host body" in this fantastic future world.

But that was only a small part of it. For the future had proved the reality of life after death, and discovered worlds beyond or simultaneous with our own---worlds where, through scientific techniques, a man could live again, in another body, when he died here. And in the process, the reality of ghosts, poltergeists, and zombies was also established.

What did it all mean? How had this discovery of what they called the "hereafter" shaped the world of 2110?

Thomas Blaine found himself living in a future where the discoveries and techniques imagined by people of his time, while having come about, were completely overwhelmed by discoveries no one had ever dreamed of.

250 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published January 1, 1959

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About the author

Robert Sheckley

934 books550 followers
One of science fiction's great humorists, Sheckley was a prolific short story writer beginning in 1952 with titles including "Specialist", "Pilgrimage to Earth", "Warm", "The Prize of Peril", and "Seventh Victim", collected in volumes from Untouched by Human Hands (1954) to Is That What People Do? (1984) and a five-volume set of Collected Stories (1991). His first novel, Immortality, Inc. (1958), was followed by The Status Civilization (1960), Journey Beyond Tomorrow (1962), Mindswap (1966), and several others. Sheckley served as fiction editor for Omni magazine from January 1980 through September 1981, and was named Author Emeritus by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2001.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 230 reviews
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11k followers
March 18, 2012
Please…do NOT confuse this novel with the 1992 celluloid dump known as Freejack. Remember, the one featuring:

Emilio “I should’ve hung it up after The OutsidersEstevez,

Mick “Acting be damned, I’m a rock god and can star in any movie I please, so suck it” Jagger, and

Sir Anthony “Who do I have to blow to get out of doing this movie…really…fine I’ll do the movie” Hopkins.

That movie was an infected wart and had nothing in common with this book.
Nothing. Ignore its existence.
On the other hand, fans of Philip K. Dick should find some nice similarities between elements of Sheckley’s work and that of the Dickster. To me, Sheckley reads a bit like PKD sans the drug-fueled, reality-warping plot aspects for which the master was known. I've always thought that, in addition to PKD mastery at twisting his readers’ neurons into pretzels as they struggled to parse the layers of the real and not real, he was also very talented at inventing excellent settings for his tales. He created engaging, well thought out futures and peopled them with individuals whose quirks and eccentricities made them seem genuine. His characters acted in ways that were just odd enough to feel like real life.
I see a lot of that in Sheckley’s writing. He’s like sober, safer PKD. Far more accessible, but also not as creative or memorable. Still, for fans of the master, I think Sheckley’s catalog is worth a look.  I thought this story was pretty darn good.
Written in 1959, the main plot involves a yacht-designer, Thomas Blaine, who is returning from vacation when he loses control of his car and slams head on into an oncoming vehicle:
At the moment he knew he was dying. An instant later he knew that he was quickly, commonly, messily, painlessly dead.
Uh…not so fast.
Thomas wakes up in the year 2110 to discover that his mind has been rescued and brought forward into the future where it has been given a new body. The operation was part of a marketing campaign for a company called the Rex Corporation that specializes in reincarnation and life extension procedures.
However, the day after Thomas awakes he learns that the CEO of the company has elected not to proceed with the advertising and that Thomas is free to go. Thomas leaves the hospital and finds himself strolling around New York in the year 2110.
What Thomas finds, and what the rest of the short novel explores, is a society that has proven the existence of life after death. In addition, science has evolved to the point where life can be extended almost indefinitely through the use of body-replacement and similar procedures…but, of course, only for those with the money to pay for the procedure. As one character explains to Thomas,
We got this high-tension energy web. When the body dies, that web should be able to go on existing, like a butterfly coming out of the cocoon. Death is simply the process that hatches the mind from the body. But it doesn't work that way because of the death trauma...Dying is a tremendous psychic shock, and most of the time the energy web gets disrupted, ripped all to hell. It can't pull itself together, it dissipates, and you're completely dead.
It is then explained to Thomas that, through a combination of science application and eastern philosophies such as yoga, the energy web can be strengthened to the point that it survives the death trauma.
Again, only if you are rich enough and can afford hereafter insurance.
This is a quality story and I’m surprised it is not better known. The premise is fascinating and Sheckley does a nice job of exploring the ramifications of this world, both from the perspective of the “haves” vs. “have nots,” and from the viewpoint of a people that have lost all fear of death. The whole economy has been reorganized in the wake of the Suicide Act of 2102 and the emergence of the hereafter insurance industry.
The writing is good, but not remarkable, and the characters are varied and pretty well drawn. However, it is really the ideas that carry the story and there are more than enough to keep you engaged.  A few of my favorite aspects of this brave new world:
1. Suicide Booths (yes, fans of Futurama, this is where they got the idea).
2. Legalized Hunts, in which a rich person says goodbye to the world by hiring a group of hunters to kill him in an exciting fashion.
3. Beserkers and Murder Pacts (You get to find out about these on your own).  
4. Ghosts and the technology to communicate with the dead
5. Zombies and zombie colonies which is wonderfully handled by Sheckley.
6. Hedonism run amok in new and interesting ways.  

7. The raging debate between science and religion regarding the afterlife.

This story won’t change your life, but it is short, fast-paced and a lot of fun. I’ve now read a few things by Sheckley and am becoming more and more of a fan.

3.5 stars. Recommended!!
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.6k followers
April 28, 2019
In Robert Sheckley's charming 1959 novel, we visit a future where immortality has become standard, well-established technology. If you don't want to die, you just come up with the necessary money and trained professionals will take care of the problem for you. Your mind will survive the death of your body and be installed somewhere else. Sheckley has a lot of fun with the concept. It occurred to me to wonder today whether we might not already be in sight of a solution. I don't see it working the way it does here; this notion of the mind being an "energy web" which can somehow be extracted from its fleshly envelope doesn't match up well with current science. But here's another approach that seems closer to what we're developing right now.

Deep learning technology has got rather good at processing data that records human decisions and turning it into software that can imitate those decisions. When Deep Mind built the first incarnation of their champion Go machine, AlphaZero, they trained its neural net on tens of thousands of recorded games played by professional Japanese Go players. The top players, who are now mostly Korean, smiled contemptuously and were unimpressed with the machine's outdated "Japanese" style. They were less happy when they discovered that it was possible to swap out the data; the retrained version killed their best player, then also the best Chinese player. Playing Go was an interesting starting point. It's a highly complex activity which appears to require a great deal of insight and understanding, but it seems that a machine can learn to imitate the way humans do it. More recently, OpenAI's GPT-2 text generator has been trained on large amounts of written language. You give it the start of a piece of writing, and it continues. OpenAI are concerned that it's entirely too skilled at generating plausible fake news, fake reviews, and similar. It seems to be as good at doing that as all but the best human writers.

Project this trend forward a decade or three, and might it not be possible to train a net to imitate you? It's the same basic recipe, but this time the data comes from logging your behaviour. The more data you can log, the more faithful the copy will be. Of course, it'll be difficult to log really large amounts of data, even if you walk around constantly with sensors monitoring everything you see, hear, say and experience. But we're not as unique as we think; in fact, nothing's as unique as we think. Modern neural net technology merges lots of different kinds of data and figures out the deep patterns that link it together. GPT-2 doesn't need one model for fake news stories and another for fake Amazon reviews. It's just got one model for "text". The latest versions of Google Translate don't have one model for each language pair. They just have one model for "translation". As a result, they can take a decent shot at translating between language pairs they've never seen before, leveraging the related knowledge they've picked up. So... if you want to train a net to imitate a person, you move a step up. You consider the more general problem of imitating human behaviour in general and train it on data from a huge number of different people. Then the net is given the much smaller data sample for you personally. It couldn't figure out much if that was all it had. But you're like many other people in various ways. It will spot the patterns and interpolate and guess its way forward. I can see it producing a terribly convincing simulation.

What would it feel like to be an artificial copy of a human being, sitting inside this vast web which at the same time includes data taken from billions of other people? I don't know; I can't imagine it. But there's a straightforward way to find out. You do it, and you ask the copied person to describe what they're experiencing. If you copy a person who's good at expressing themself, a philosopher or a visionary poet, you might get some remarkable answers.

I'm wondering if I'll get a chance to hear them.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,967 followers
May 14, 2020
This humorous SF novel from 1959 is notable for its cavalier attitude to death. Of course, it makes a pretty standard case that society would naturally break down it there was no POINT to living, especially if you had set up your life insurance... :)

Yes. Life insurance is actually AFTERLIFE insurance. If you can afford the process, you too can live on and get yourself a new body.

Sound familiar, fans of Altered Carbon?

Of course, Sheckley goes into some of the more interesting aspects of this world, including hunting parties to give yourself a proper send-off, to insurance scams, to the whole fish-out-of-water storyline so commonplace in older SF, where we also must go through our own culture shock.

The novel may not be as sophisticated as many modern novels, but it IS a lightly humorous adventure, not an all-out social commentary that skewers everything it touches. And that's just fine. :) I still had a good time even if I rolled my eyes at some of the assumptions and story cliches. After all, it WAS 1959. Dames and Gents always seemed to always find those super-standard roles. lol
Profile Image for Jamie.
1,159 reviews103 followers
March 7, 2020
A rollicking, and at times laughable, sci-fi adventure involving time travel and mind/body swapping. There's less outright absurdity and more serious storytelling with genuine intrigue, skullduggery and depth here than is typical for Sheckley. He takes on some intriguing concepts including the mind-body relationship and the nature of death and the afterlife, as well as personal responsibility. It's not easy to pull off humor in sci-fi, which he does here with only a light touch, and Schekley is the master as far as I'm concerned with his rich imagination and keen sense for the absurd.

Immortality, Inc. is not quite as good as his masterpiece, Dimension of Miracles, which I recommend to sci-fi readers, especially fans of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy which many consider as having borrowed heavily from it, despite denials from Douglas Adams.
Profile Image for Glenn Russell.
1,357 reviews11.8k followers
September 21, 2022

There's no doubt Robert Sheckey counts as the joker in the deck of 20th century American science fiction. When it comes to the most laughs per page, this Brooklyn born author wins every time.

Turning to the book under review, Immortality Inc. is a very, very, very funny novel. Sheckley frames his tale thusly: Thomas Blaine is killed in a car crash in 1958, his body mauled, and wakes up in 2110. What! Impossible, you say. Nay. In this future world, the Rex Corporation can pull off a bit of time travel and mind transference so that tall, thin Blaine now inhabits the body of a stocky professional wrestler. All this is explained to the crash victim including that Rex did what it did to him for marketing reasons.

Understandably, Thomas Blaine is appalled he was used in this way but, hey, guy, at least you're alive. However, there's a news flash just in: the old gezzer who's the CEO of Rex decides their initial marketing plan wasn't such a hot idea in the first place and the corporation has absolutely no use for a 1958 man. Thus Blaine is invited to leave the Rex building – now.

So there he is: a man from 1958 with a new body and new set of clothes walking the streets of New York City in 2110. And Blaine is in for a series of shockers: this is a world where down-and-outers stand in line to enter suicide booths, a world where not only do corporations routinely pay donors for their youthful bodies (sold as receptacles to the old and wealthy for mind transfer) but there's also a black market for donor bodies, a world where some men and women live in a bodiless transitional state between life and the hereafter but can still communicate with the living, a world where zombies and poltergeist exist, and, most dramatically, a world where corporations sell immortality to those who can afford it (immortality of the mind thanks to science; immortality of the soul is still within the domain of religion).

If all of the above sounds positively bonkers, please keep in mind Harlan Ellison said Robert Sheckley did for literature what the Marx Brothers did for film. Oh, yes, Sheckley used the conventions of science fiction to create zany, comic adventure tales that highlight the foibles, silly aspirations and cockeyed dreams of modern humans, all with a light, sardonic Loony Tunes touch.

Oh, the places you'll go and the people you'll see in the 22nd century, Thomas Blaine. Here's a sample:

Big Apple Acid Trip – Welcome to your new New York, 1950s man: “At first glance, the city looked like a surrealistic Bagdad. He saw squat palaces of white and blue tile, and slender red minarets, and irregularly shaped buildings with flaring Chinese roofs and spired onion domes....With relief he saw skyscrapers, simple and direct against the curved Asiatic structures. They seemed like lonely sentinels of the New York he had known.” Blaine experiences future shock on a colossal scale but as humans we have this thing about adapting to change when it means our survival.

Reincarnation Room - “On the raised stage, under white floodlights, the reincarnation apparatus was already in place.” Blaine looks on in stunned disbelief as an old man's mind in his old man's body is about to be shifted to the body of a young man. But, wait, this technology doesn't always work as planned. One possible result: a newly created zombie. As readers, we shouldn't look for hard SF answers – this is soft SF Sheckley-ized.

The Old Ultra-Violence – Sure, in Burgess' near futuristic Clockwork Orange world we viddy droogies smashing gullivers but in 2110 violence goes haywire: gladiators fight to the death in Madison Square Garden, berserkers go on murdering rampages on crowded city streets and rich guys bored with life can face death in grand style: take on the role of Quarry in a battle against a band of Hunters armed with axes and spears. With his new muscular pro wrestler body, Blaine can join seasoned Hunters out for blood. What fun!

A Frank Talk About Frank – Turns out, Blaine's burly wrestler's body belonged to a guy by the name of Frank Kranch who sold it to the Rex Corporation. Between heartfelt tears, Frank's grieving widow Alice fills Blaine in on the story of Frank the glorious Hunter and then treats Blaine (as Frank, sort of) to an even more glorious round of sex. Ah, a woman's love! Among the more humorous episodes in the novel – thanks Robert Sheckley.

To Live On and On - Blaine has a chance to seal the deal for his own afterlife that lands him in a very dangerous 2110 soup. How to escape? A series of mindswaps reminding readers of Sheckley's Mindswap. Outrageous! Would you believe in the end this novel is actually a love story? Pick up a copy (or listen to the audiobook) and find out for yourself.

American SF author Robert Sheckley, 1928-2005
Profile Image for Jemppu.
500 reviews92 followers
September 11, 2022
An intriguing premise on the nature of death and human soul, buried under escalating piles of useless 'entertainment combatting' and insipid 'romance' gimmicks.

Barely worth a 3.

(Also crap: the movie adaptation).

Reading updates.
Profile Image for Ajeje Brazov.
702 reviews
October 20, 2017
1958: Thomas Blaine è in auto e attraversa una strada quasi deserta, quando ha un incidente e... Si sveglia poi, ma il mondo non è più quello che ricordava, infatti Thomas si ritrova...
Romanzo di fantascienza sociologica dove Sheckley ci racconta cosa potrebbe succedere se una parte importante della vita, la morte, possa essere messa in secondo piano e quindi resa superflua, dando all'umanità una "seconda opzione", ovviamente sotto cospicuo pagamento, e cioè una "vita" dopo la morte: l'aldilà.
La storia è scritta in modo magnifico, mi sono sentito partecipe durante tutta la avventura/storia. Poi in neanche 200 pagine ci sono tante di quelle idee che mi spiace di averlo finito. Spettacolari le ambientazioni, le situazioni in cui Thomas si imbatte durante il racconto, i personaggi mi sono piaciuti tutti, ognuno con la sua caratterizzazione. Il tutto condito con quel pizzico di sana ironia, la ciliegina sulla torta.
Quindi a chi piacciono i romanzi distopici, che sprizzano di idee a profusione, con un po' di suspense ed azione, ma anche con spunti riflessivi, tutto in salsa umoristica, lo consiglio vivamente!

"Ci sono due costanti fondamentali nel comportamento umano. Una è l'aspirazione di tutti gli individui a godere della massima libertà: libertà di culto, libertà di stampa e di riunione, libertà di scegliersi un governo piuttosto che un altro: tutte le forme d'una vita libera, insomma. L'altra è l'aspirazione di tutte le autorità a reprimere ora l'una ora l'altra di queste forme.
Il governo reprime e limita la libertà per vari motivi. Per motivi di sicurezza, per esempio, per smania di potere, per scopi di profitto personale, o semplicemente perchè ritiene che la gente comune non sia in grado di apprezzare i benefici della libertà. Ma quali siano i motivi, il risultato non cambia: l'Uomo tende alla libertà, il governo la nega."
Profile Image for Lizz.
220 reviews52 followers
June 18, 2021
I don’t write reviews.

This story has a bit of everything. You get thrown into a dystopian future along with a man from 1958. His mind is swapped into a different body as he dies in a car wreck. Bodies in the future are a hot commodity. As is gaining assured entrance to the afterlife. It always helps to be rich.

If you knew you were guaranteed an afterlife regardless of your behaviour, would it affect how you lived? Or died? Be careful though. Minds can, and often do, go stark raving mad in the process of crossing over. The living bear the brunt of that madness in the form of horrible hauntings. And here you thought ghosts were merely superstition.
Profile Image for Lex Shooric.
22 reviews1 follower
July 7, 2012
Great book and amazing plot. Glad to see tribute to Sheckley in Futurama: Suicide booths, and Mars taken over by Chinese colonists is from this book :)
Profile Image for Lemar.
665 reviews53 followers
November 22, 2017
“Perhaps a grim-faced Oligarch had Earth in his iron grasp, while a small, dedicated underground struggled toward freedom”, wrote Robert Sheckley in 1959’s Immortality, Inc. as he thought about the future. When, in the first couple of pages, he finds himself in the future it is more complicated than that, terrifying in a different way.

The “Inc.” is important as our main character, Tom Blaine, is thrust into a future in which it would not be a spoiler to say corporations remain.

This is s lively book, Blaine exudes that film noir ‘50’s vibe of a guy who doesn’t need or want anyone’s help. Only, of course, he does need help, being human, and he finds it in alliances with terrific characters. Sheckley dives into psychology, how does a guy handle finding a job 150 years in the future and how does that make him feel? I like Blaine, not a pretentious guy, who says, “Action isn’t my forte. I’m an expert on contemplation and mild regret.” He is clever about getting his bearings, figuring out how to understand the people of his new time.

“Nothing could be more revealing than what people did for pleasure. Through games and drunkenness, man exhibits his essential attitudes toward his environment and shows his disposition toward the questions of life, death, fate and free will. What better symbol of Rome than the circus...”.

There’s nothing remotely naive about Blaine which makes the fundamental optimism of the book even more powerful.

“ throughout history it was argued that man didn’t have the intelligence to choose his own religion, or that women didn’t have the intelligence to use the vote, or that people couldn’t be allowed to elect their own representatives because of the stupid choices they make. And of course there are plenty of neurotics around, people who’d louse up heaven itself. But you have a much greater number of people who’d use their freedoms well.”

“Chaos was forever prophesized and utopia was continually predicted, and neither came to pass.” That I can believe.
Profile Image for Adam.
340 reviews21 followers
November 14, 2021
A future where afterlife is a scientific fact, if not thoroughly explained, minds can be transplanted into previously occupied bodies, and Dr. Jack Kavorkian is a billionaire that runs his own suicide service. Okay, I made that last one up, sort of.

Sheckley’s tale is a bit messy, and not always coherent, but it’s fun and brimming with ideas. The story centers around a man who has died in a car accident, and yet awakens in a different body and a different time. The first part could be described as a future, dystopian, sci-fi mystery. I found it to be well written, intriguing, and slightly humorous.

The future, as usual, is a mess! Half the fun is finding out how and why - for both the reader and the protagonist. Although, maybe it’s not as fun for him.

The second part is more philosophical and delves into the mind-body relationship, and didn’t captivate me as much as in the beginning when I was trying to figure out what the heck was going on.

Despite being predictable, I love that the afterlife is basically a luxury item for the wealthy. Some things will never change.

Story-7, Language-8, Ideas-9, Characters-7, Enjoyment-7, Overall-7.5
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,028 followers
December 14, 2017
The description says the movie "Freejack" was based on this novel, but only on the very basic idea. I liked the movie even though it gets a lot of hate. No matter your opinion of it, just keep it completely separate from this novel which was so much more than a fun romp with Renee Russo & Mick Jagger.

A couple of centuries in the future from 1958, they worked out how to keep the mind alive after the body died sometimes. Fairly often. Reasonably well. IF you got lucky or had the money. They also figured out time travel. So Sheckley takes an average man out of the past & puts him into a slightly used body in the future. It's a corporate publicity stunt that runs into some legal trouble, so it never really takes off, but this poor schmuck is stuck & has to deal with the new world.

It's a great look at the human condition. What would people do if they KNEW there was life after death? It's not available to everyone, but certainly isn't unattainable by anyone. That's what Sheckley explores. He's kicked the legs out from under Death itself & that reveals a lot about humanity, especially through our time-lagged main character.

There's some real weirdness in this high tech world. Zombies & ghosts are real. They're minds that didn't mesh into their new body properly, minds that haven't gone beyond the Threshold. There are suicide booths & more, a world with different priorities.

I'm tempted to give it 5 stars, but it's not quite that good. The everyman character just wasn't engaging enough to capture me fully, unfortunately. Still, it's highly recommended. I have no idea why this isn't better known.
Profile Image for Trike.
1,465 reviews152 followers
January 25, 2022
The story itself is 3 stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️, but Bronson Pinchot’s brilliant performance of the audiobook is multiples of that:
Pinchot’s reading is genuinely hilarious, so much so that I went back and re-listened to several passages. Particularly the section that resembles The Most Dangerous Game: it is, hands down, the funniest thing I’ve heard in quite some time, and that’s all down to Pinchot. It never would’ve occurred to me to read that section in a supercilious pseudo-uppercrust accent in a rather Monty Python or perhaps Frasier Crane way. Amazing.

The story itself tackles big existential issues about life and death, in the most offhanded way. It has a very 1950s-cusp-of-the-60s viewpoint, of course, written as it was in 1958 by 30-year-old Sheckley. He misses most of the actual future by a country mile, of course, but the story isn’t about how computers work in 2110. It’s a tidy little treatise on life, death, and life after death, and what technology and society has to say about any of those topics. It’s had an influence on any number of subsequent works, including Futurama lifting Tom’s first day in future NYC for Fry’s experience. Apparently the Beatles were big fans of the first adaptation of it.

I need to go back and watch the 1992 movie based on it, called Freejack. I don’t recall much about that movie other than race cars crashing and Mick Jagger trying to kill Emilio Estevez. The movie takes place in the dystopian future of 2009, so that should be good for a laugh. But for real laughs, listen to this audiobook. It’s a hoot.
Profile Image for Tucinkata.
194 reviews
June 20, 2022
"Смъртта беше древна привилегия на човека, негов договор с живота от незапомнени времена, гарантирана както на дворянина, тъй и на роба. Смъртта беше утеха и последно право на човека. Но може би те бяха отменили това право и вече не можеш да избягаш от отговорност само затова, че си умрял."

"И все пак, мислеше си Блейн, човечеството през цялата си история е проявявало способността да заобикаля както върховете на щастието, така и върховните бедствия. Вечно ни пророкуват хаос, непрестанно предсказват утопии, а не се сбъдва нито едното, нито другото.Съответно Блейн очакваше това бъдеще да прояви определени предимства спрямо миналото, но очакваше и някои недостатъци; част от старите проблеми щяха да са изчезнали, но на тяхно място щяха да са дошли други."

"Новото му тяло имаше значителна физическа сила, но той никога не бе харесвал грубата сила. Тялото изглеждаше тромаво, недодялано, трудно за управление. Подобни тела се препъват в столове, настъпват хората по мазолите, ръкуват се прекалено енергично, говорят прекалено гръмко и се потят обилно.Тялото не беше цвете за мирисане. Но лицето беше още по-зле. Блейн никога не бе харесвал силните, сурови, грубо издялани лица. Биваше ги за миньори, армейски сержанти, пътешественици из джунглите и тям подобни. Но не и за човек, който обича цивилизованото общество. Подобно лице очевидно не беше способно на изтънчени изражения. Всички нюанси, всички деликатни взаимодействия между черти и плоскости щяха да се губят. С такова лице можеш да се хилиш или да се мръщиш; ще личат само грубите емоции."

"Прекалено много ръце са посягали към Мари Торн, предположи той, а тя не е избрала нито една от тях. И когато лакомите ръце продължили да посягат, тя избрала за щит презрението, сетне студенината и накрая сама се намразила. "

"Светът е тъжен, болен и мръсен, приятелю. Пийни си."

"Според повечето учени независимото съзнание е следващата стъпка в еволюцията. След милион години, казват те, изобщо няма да ни трябва тяло, освен може би за кратък инкубационен период. Лично аз не вярвам проклетото човечество да изтрае още милион години. Не го заслужава и това си е."

"— Значи само богатите отиват в рая — каза Блейн.
— А ти какво очакваше? Не може всички да се юрнат натам."

"— Как беше смъртта? — запита Блейн.
— Като взрив. Усетих как се разпръсквам навсякъде, ставам по-голям от галактиката, разпадам се на късчета, те пък се разпадат на още по-ситни късчета и всяко едно от тях бях аз. "

"— Аз съм на четиридесет и три години, уморен от нощите и дните. Богат съм и нямам задръжки. Експериментирах, измислях, смях се, ридах, обичах, мразих, ядох и пих до насита. Опитах от всичко, което може да ми предложи Земята, и реших да си спестя досадата на повторението. Когато бях млад, представях си как тази прекрасна зелена планета се върти загадъчно около пламналото си жълто светило като съкровищница, като меден сандък с наслаждения, неизчерпаеми по съдържание и неизмерими по ефекта си върху неутолимите ми страсти. Но, уви, поживях по-дълго и съзрях края на вълненията. А сега гледам с тихо еснафско благодушие как нашата шишкава обла Земя обикаля на безопасно разстояние и с неизменна стъпка страховитата си, крещящо ярка звезда. И въображаемата съкровищница на Земята днес ми се струва шарена детска кутийка с оскъдно съдържание и мизерен ефект върху нервите, които прекалено бързо закърняват за всяка наслада."

"Днес възгледите за живота и смъртта са променени. Вместо прозаичния съвет на Лонгфелоу, ние следваме сентенцията на Ницше — да умрем в подходящия момент! Интелигентният човек не се вкопчва в последните дрипи от живота като удавник за сламка. Той знае, че телесният живот е само нищожна частица от цялостното ч��вешко съществуване. Защо да не ускори смъртта на тялото с някоя и друга година? Защо умният ученик да не прескочи един-два класа? Само страхливецът, глупакът, неукият се вкопчва във всяка възможна скучна секунда на Земята."

"— Богатството и класата си имат привилегии — леко се усмихна Хъл, — но и задължения. Едно от тези задължения е да умреш в подходящия момент, преди да си станал досаден за околните и ужасен сам за себе си. Но начинът да умреш не признава нито класа, нито възпитание. За всеки отделен човек той е благородническа грамота, рицарско приключение, кралски зов, най-велико дело в живота. И по това, как се преборва със самотното и опасно начинание, всеки разкрива истинските си човешки измерения. — Сините очи на Хъл заблестяха свирепо. — Не искам да посрещна това съдбовно събитие в постелята. Не искам скучна, кротка, банална смърт да се прокрадва към мен под маската на сън. Избирам да умра в сражение!"

"Сигурно в бъдеще хората ще са по-просветени. Бъдещето? Изведнъж Блейн усети, че му се завива свят. Защото това беше бъдещето, в което бе попаднал от идеалистичния, изпълнен с надежди двадесети век. Сега беше бъдещето! Но обещаното всеобщо просвещение все още не бе настъпило и хората си бяха горе-долу каквито винаги са били."

"Освен това мистър Кийн казва, че най-богатите, както и най-религиозните, не биха харесали задгробен живот, където допускат кого да е. Те смятат, че с подходящи ритуали и символи могат да попаднат в по-отбран кръг на отвъдното."

"Първата реакция на Блейн бе жалост. Научно доказаният задгробен живот не бе освободил хората от страха пред смъртта, както би трябвало да се очаква. Напротив, бе засилил тяхната неувереност и бе подхранил стремежа към съперничество. След като имаха осигурен задгробен живот, хората искаха да го усъвършенствуват, да се радват на по-добър рай, отколкото всички останали."

"Ами ако човек можеше да подобри положението си в задгробния живот? В такъв случай нямаше ли най-добре да оползотвори времето си в тоя свят, като работи, за да си осигури по-добра вечност? Разсъждението изглеждаше разумно, но Блейн отказваше да го приеме. Не можеше това да е единствената причина за съществуване на белия свят! Добър или лош, красив или грозен, животът трябваше да се изживее просто защото е живот."

"Такава жена можеше да си представи с ръце на кръста да хока полицай, да тегли рибарска мрежа, да танцува фламенко под звуците на китара, да подкарва стадо кози по планинска пътека с разкопчана селска блуза и широка пола, шушнеща около мощните й бедра. Но не му беше по вкуса."

"Повечето хора не искат цял живот да използуват все едни и същи умения, независимо колко са задоволителни. Човек е прекалено неспокойно създание. Музикантите искат да станат инженери, рекламните агенти искат да станат ловци, моряците искат да станат писатели. Но обикновено в един живот няма време за овладяване и прилагане на повече от едно умение. А дори и да имаше време, слепият фактор на таланта е непреодолимо препятствие."

"— Все същият общ аргумент е бил издиган против утвърждаването на всяка нова свобода — отвърна Джо с искрящи очи. — През цялата история се твърди, че човек не е достатъчно благоразумен, за да избира религията си, че на жените не им достига разсъдък, за да прилагат правото на глас, че на народа не бива да се разрешава сам да избира собствените си представители, защото изборът ще е глупав. И разбира се, наоколо е пълно с невротици, които биха осквернили дори рая. Но много повече са хората, които ще използуват свободите си за добро."

"Трябва да осъзнаете, мистър Блейн, че човек не е просто тяло, защото получава тялото си по случайност. Не е умение, защото умението често се поражда по необходимост. Не е талант, който се създава от наследствеността и обкръжението в детството. Той не е болестта, към която може да има предразположение, не е и околната среда, която го оформя. Човек съдържа всички тия неща, но той е нещо по-голямо от техния сбор. Той има власт да променя обкръжението, да лекува болестите си, да усъвършенствува уменията — и накрая, да избира собственото си тяло и таланти! Това е идната свобода, мистър Блейн. Тя е исторически неизбежна, независимо дали вие и правителството я харесвате, или не. Защото човек трябва да има всяка възможна свобода!"

"И все пак, независимо колко е банална, смъртта си остава най-интересното събитие в човешкия живот. Блейн нетърпеливо очакваше своята."
Profile Image for Sarah Sammis.
7,237 reviews215 followers
November 25, 2009
Immortality Inc. is the story of a man suddenly in a future New York (2110). He had felt himself die in a head-on car crash back in 1958 and now he's in a new body with nary a scar on himself. His new body though will be harvested again for an aging wealthy businessman. Oh yeah, and there's a zombie after him.

The novel is actually very funny and the future New York and future earth seems plausible. At just under 200 pages, it's a quick read.

Immortality Inc. unfortunately is forever tied to the very cheesy film Freejack starring Emilio Estevez. The film does have some points of similarity with the novel. It has the body harvesting aspect and the time travel aspect. It has the memory bank for the dearly departed. Everything else in the film has nothing in common with Sheckley's novel.

I see another (and much better) adaptation giving to a nod or two to Immortality Inc., namely, Futurama and it's vision of New New York. Here are points of similarities:

Click here to see the table.

I recommend fans of Futurama and aficionados of pulp science fiction read Immortality Inc.
Profile Image for Phil.
1,618 reviews104 followers
May 19, 2019
I really enjoyed this and it has stood the test of time quite nicely. This won a Hugo in the late 50s and I can see why. Lots of subtle social commentary and existentialist probings melded into nice prose and lucid writing. 4.5 stars
Profile Image for terpkristin.
590 reviews58 followers
January 29, 2012
This is a story about a man (Thomas Blaine) who has been plucked from death in 1958 and brought into another body in 2110. It's a story about a future where scientists have figured out how to separate the being that is the mind/soul from the flesh of a person, thereby making immortality a real possibility. It's a story that if you like Futurama, you'll probably recognize parts of (notably, the suicide booths and the "underground" where the zombies are forced to reside).

On the surface, the story takes you through Blaine's adaptation to and experiences in the world of 2110. In this future, the rich can buy a guarantee (well, almost guarantee--it is science after all) of a hereafter and/or immortality. It can also be provided to the poor, if they decide to trade their body in. Blaine suffers the things you would expect through the story: confusion, struggling to fit into the world, trying to justify his actions and understand his true self. He ends up interacting with a cast of characters in all phases of the "immortal" life. He is proof that a being can be transferred from one body to another--he remembers his death, but obviously has a new life in a new body. He witnesses a failed attempt to transfer one being into the body of another. He witnesses the "birth" of a zombie--a being that enters a body after the body death has started, a body that will eventually rot. He interacts with (and in fact befriends...though the friendship started before the man died) a man who has had his body taken and whose mind has gone to the "threshold," an in-between state between life and the hereafter, where beings can communicate with those still alive, even without an earthly presence. He even has an encounter with a ghost, a restless spirit, and has to go through an exorcism of sorts.

A bit deeper, Sheckley takes the reader through the implications of (almost-guaranteed) immortality, of the ability to separate the being from the body. You get people who (with hereafter insurance) want to die in spectacular ways once they're bored of life, creating a market for "hunters" to kill them. You get people who are poor and don't have many options willingly giving up their bodies in exchange for a promise of hereafter insurance and money for the ones they leave behind. These people "donate" their bodies to those who want to live on, but don't have good bodies to live in. You see the rise of a drug market called "transplant" where a being can trade places with or join in the mind of others, to see how other people live and experience the world. Sheckley explores the ramifications for the living, such as the loved ones of those who donate their bodies. The loved ones always run the chance of seeing the body of their loved one, inhabited by a different being. And, poignantly, Sheckley explores what it would be like to put a being into a new body. Can the body remember aspects of its previous owner? When a new being takes over the body, is there a remnant of the previous occupant, one that can infiltrate the new occupant? Or do the actions of the new occupant in the body just demonstrate a previously unknown aspect of their being?

A relatively short book, I quite enjoyed it. I listened to the audio from Audible (which is apparently from Blackstone), narrated by Bronson Pinchot. Pinchot was best known to me as Balki Bartokimus (spelling!) from Perfect Strangers from ABC's TGIF when I was a kid. His narration was on the whole quite good, except when it came to doing the voice for hysterical women. Then it became a little too much "stereotypical NY Jewish mother" and really grated.
Profile Image for Nate D.
1,583 reviews997 followers
October 9, 2012
Another of the $2 vintage sci-fis blind-bought from a street vendor last week.

This one deals with a future in which life beyond death is scientific fact, if a somewhat ambiguous one. Lots of room for discussion of mind/body problems and weird test-case variations, but a lot of this is brushed aside with cursory treatment in favor of action. This, along with the sorta iffy pacing at least at first, really shows that this was written as a serial, which never really works best for novels. And Our protagonist gets plucked into the future from 1958, so we get lots of "OH BOY THE FUTURE IS CRAZY" stuff until he gets his bearings, which is also always a pretty annoying way to be introduced to a setting and context. Seriously, just dump me in head first, I'll sort it out, I promise. I don't need clueless mediator characters asking my questions for me. Still some pretty entertaining plotting, even if it broadcasts a few of the big final reveals from the first.

And the 1958 Bantam cover, which is probably better than the book:

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Profile Image for Paul Ataua.
1,344 reviews124 followers
October 15, 2016
The story of a man, who is killed in an automobile accident in 1958, snatched up by a giant corporation, and transported 150 years into a future in which scientists have discovered the secret of immortality. His mind has been separated and placed into a new body as part of the company’s marketing campaign, but as the plans for the campaign are discarded, his new body is to be harvested yet again and given to a rich and ageing businessman. At its best, when considering the philosophical questions of who and what we are, but slightly tiresome when trying to be funny.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
Author 33 books22 followers
May 16, 2023
this '50s novel really surprised me. I was expecting the usual pulp fiction shit from my experience with Heinlein and Asimov of this time period but this writer really surprised me. and doubly surprised me. with his thinking about the situation. He's not just churning out pulp for a paycheck, he's really thinking about the situation to the best of his ability with a 50s perspective. there are the usual problems which is funny today because these stories come a lot of them from that time, assume that it would take 200 years for something like a tablet computer to be invented, but that was completely beyond their comprehension. like most others at the time, this author imagined that microfiche would be around for centuries. digital was completely beyond their comprehension at the time. and there to be forgiven for this because computers had not yet become a consumer item. in fact, military computers were not even in a public consciousness yet. it was not until the '60s that that became a thing. so that can be forgiven. what would someone in the '50s think of a smartphone today? it would completely boggle their minds. The whole wireless data network would blow their minds. so it's unfair to really demand their imaginations in the '50s to grasp more than the idea of a portable microfiche reader. I mean, in fairness, even back in the '80s a smartphone was inconceivable. or if we did imagine it back then, we grossly underestimated what it would be like today.
Profile Image for Pam Baddeley.
Author 2 books45 followers
August 25, 2017
A 1959 novel, this tells how Thomas Blaine, yacht designer, is transported to the year 2110 after a car crash which it later turns out was deliberately engineered - at least, his mind is transported. He wakes up in the body of another man into a nightmare situation where he has been brought forward as an advertising publicity stunt for the Rex Corporation. Things go from bad to worse when the director of the company cancels the advertising campaign on the grounds that it is now illegal to bring people back from the past - it has been done several times before from different historical periods. The corporation promptly loses interest in Blaine who wanders out into the crazy 2110 New York. This is a world in which life after death has been proven and is available - at a price. The electrical field which makes up a person's mind can be strengthened so that it survives the dissolution often occuring after death, and can go on to an afterlife. Or the rich can have their minds transplanted into younger bodies and extend their lives. When things go wrong, zombies are created - bodies which have other minds in them that are not integrated properly and result in gradually rotting bodies.

Blaine is soon mixed up in various misadventures due to his ignorance of contemporary dangers. He has to be rescued by the woman whose publicity campaign was cancelled. Being written in the 1950s, this then necessitates that she not only becomes his love interest, but eventually throws up gainful employment in favour of being wife and homemaker. Meanwhile, Blaine goes through various dangers in his attempt to find some kind of work he can do, finally settling on being a designer of custom job antique yachts - but then his past catches up with him and he has to go on the run. I won't say more about the plot, but the ending is rather cheesy and unconvincing for me.

A lot of the story is a discussion of the philosophical and religious aspects of reincarnation, life after death etc, and how having those things become actualities have distorted society. For example, poor people sometimes voluntarily commit suicide to donate their bodies so that their families can benefit, while bored rich people engineer elaborate deaths for themselves being killed by hunters.

I found it a rather rambling affair and couldn't really relate to the characters, so for me a 2-star rating.
Profile Image for Ty Wilson.
269 reviews41 followers
April 13, 2014
Where am I? Who am I? What am I?

Thomas Blaine died in a car accident in 1958. He is brought back to life in a new body in 2110. The book is Blaine's adventures in the future, and as he explores the world he finds himself in, he ponders often on those three questions. Where, who and what am I? This is a good example of old school science fiction with quasi-scientific sounding explanations for things, but it's really an excuse to examine what it is to be human. Blaine's encounters are numerous: with the large corporation that brought him back to life, the smiling procurer that dopes him up to steal his body, various zombies and ghosts that inhabit the fringes of future society, as well as hunters, sailors, and businessmen of many stripes. Through them all we see a future for humanity that is eerily possible and at times very likely.
Profile Image for Cărăşălu.
239 reviews71 followers
June 18, 2015
A great and short novel, where the protagonists is snatched by a corporation from 1958 and awakens in a new body in the 2110s, a world where life after death is scientifically proven and, ironically but unsurprinsingly, commercialized. Oh, and ghosts and zombies are real. Not only that, but normal, everyday occurences. Actually, two of our hero's best friends are a ghost and a zombie. The book is both fun and smart, as it explores the implications of scientific afterlife on society and individual psychology alike. But it's also a great adventure and, at times, thriller. I have to admit, however, that I hoped for another kind of ending, but I won't spoil it.
55 reviews3 followers
December 4, 2014
I like to read sci fi written in the 50s because all the forward thinking in the world cannot wrap their mind around women in the workplace lol. In this future, women did work but his love interest longed to be a housewife of the 50 s. lol
Profile Image for Shan.
600 reviews31 followers
October 27, 2020
A re-read, inspired by an offer to get the Audible version free. I dug the 1978 paperback off my shelf to read along with the last few chapters. Bronson Pinchot narrates the audio, and he gives added creepiness to the zombie and the querulous old man ghost.

Tom Blaine dies in a car crash in 1958 and awakens in 2110 in a different body as a publicity stunt for the company that's invented the time traveling technology. It's already common to transfer minds to other bodies, and the afterlife is also available for a price--if you buy afterlife insurance, you have life after death; if you don't, you might have what religion promises, but who knows? Suicide booths are everywhere. Sometimes things go wrong, and you get zombies and ghosts. And of course there's a lively criminal economy in supplying bodies. There's a bizarre thing where people (men--it's always men) heading for the afterlife want to make their deaths exciting.

It's Robert Sheckley, so it's funny. It was written in 1958, so it's saturated with pre-feminism attitudes and expectations for women (and a throwaway joke about Chinese laundries, a common trope back then). Sheckley explores a bunch of ideas, like how much of behavior and personality comes from the body and how much comes from the mind, and how society would change if death isn't death anymore. It was interesting to read it in 2020 after watching Upload and The Good Place and Russian Doll. The afterlife seems to be having a moment on Netflix.
Profile Image for Noah Goats.
Author 8 books20 followers
September 9, 2020
Immortality Inc. is an amusing novel by Robert Sheckley (who also wrote the hilarious Dimension of Miracles). It’s about a man who dies in a car accident in 1958 only to find himself alive again in 2110 where a powerful corporation has whisked him through time and brought him back to life as a publicity stunt. The corporation grows tired of him almost immediately and he is released into a world where death has been banished (for the rich at least) but complications have resulted. These complications include an increase in zombies and poltergeists, nihilistic berserkers who randomly kill as many people as they can, and immortal eccentrics who pay people to hunt them for sport.

Immortality Inc. is brisk, creative, funny, and well worth reading. If you like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy then you might like this.

I listened to the audiobook which was well narrated by Bronson Pinchot. Pinchot’s name sounded vaguely familiar, so I googled him and it turns out he’s the guy who used to play Balki on Perfect Strangers. He does a fantastic job with this novel, milking it for all the comedy it possesses.
Profile Image for Olga.
414 reviews12 followers
March 21, 2021
Classic sci-fi. Fun.
In the future immortality is big business!
$$ and crime abound.
Profile Image for JM.
894 reviews924 followers
May 19, 2022
Much like Philip K. Dick's "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" is the basis for the movie "Total Recall" but except for a key idea they don't really have much in common, this one's the basis for the movie "Freejack."

A dude from the 1950's dies in a car crash and wakes up in another body in the far future after a corporation used illegal time travel to save him for their own purposes, and goes through the shock of realizing he really doesn't understand this future society that has become desensitized to violence after finding a scientifically proven way to reach the afterlife, so he keeps getting in trouble. There's a bunch of ideas here that are basically the seed of things that would come later in SF, especially Cyberpunk, and even of things that actually happened in real life, while still retaining a lot of the classic "pulpy" feel.

It was interesting, for sure.
Profile Image for Ari Brin.
3 reviews2 followers
October 6, 2016
I haven't read any Sheckley for a decade, so this was a pleasant surprise. Imaginative, original writing, that manages to effectively satire science fiction itself. Tom Blaine, an uninventive junior yacht designer, is killed in a car accident in 1958, but he is resurrected in the year 2110 by the powerful Rex corporation as a "gimmick in a marketing campaign." That falls through, and Blaine finds himself alone in a changed world. Here, the secret to the afterlife has been scientifically discovered, rich men form suicide pacts when they grow bored of Earthly life, and hire professional "hunters" by whose hand they will die-- the more dramatic the death, the better. Yet not much is known about this afterlife, and Sheckley uses the mystery to dredge up a fine collection of supernatural characters: the friendly ghost, the decaying zombie, the poltergeist-- with slivers of scientific justification. He has fun with all this.

It's an entertaining, short read. You have to remember that this book was written almost 60 years ago, however. Sometimes it shows. I'd say the attitudes towards women are painfully outdated. Doting, deferential, flat characterizations... this one's a skip if you're especially sensitive to stereotypical gender roles. Unfortunately, if you love 50s SF like I do, you'll have to groan and bear it.

Ultimately, I liked it. Sheckley plays around with visual teleportation, and creates an intriguing future with a plausible scientific backstory. He deals with subsequent moral quandaries that come with such a world. The laws surrounding murder have completely changed, and violence is much more visible. The technology that allows access to the afterlife is unevenly distributed. The poor have to sell their bodies that the rich may continue in on Earth... there's some heavy stuff here. But it's never fully exploited, and instead we are left with an unsatisfactory ending that squanders the opportunity to really blow our minds. 3/5 stars
January 1, 2016
A man dies in the Fifties and is resurrected one and a half centuries later. He wakes to a world of suicide booths, of a Mars colonised by China, of entire plant ecologies that devour themselves for the entertainment of restaurant patrons, of mindswapping, of zombies and poltergeists and werewolves, and of frustratingly antiquated gender roles.

I didn’t like this book. I thought Robert Sheckley was meant to be funny, but this book was earnest. There was a tacked-on romance that felt completely gratuitous. The woman was an official at the company the resurrected the man, and the first person he saw in the future. She’s described as being formal, unemotive, stiff, and I have to say, what’s wrong with that? The man decides to romance her out of spite, and predictably she gives in.

Still, the suicide boothes and overall plot were likely to have inspired Futurama, and that was great show. Plus, my edition says that there’s a Mick Jagger film based on it. Everything I’ve read about the movie makes it sound awful, so of course I have to see it.
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