Completed 9/30/2014, Reviewed 10/13/2014
I vaguely remember a TV series called “The Immortals” back from the ’70s. It was listed in the TV Guide as science fiction, but I remember being quite disappointed by it being more of an adventure/hunt down a guy show. In doing my research on James Gunn for the Grand Master challenge, finding what little there was in our library, I thought, what the heck, I’ll try this book, it’s probably better than the TV series. I was thrilled to find that the book is so much deeper than I expected, telling a story of greed and despair in a near future where only the rich can afford health care, while the rest go without or become forever indebted to hospitals. Hey, it’s a story about the present!
“The Immortals” is 5 short stories, four from the ‘50s and one from 2004. They follow the progress of one doctor, Russell Pearce, and the human race as they hunt down the first immortal human, Marshall Cartwright, and his descendants. Getting a transfusion of Cartwright’s blood will reverse all aging, trauma, and disease in a normal person for about 30 days. So the quest begins by the richest and most powerful men to capture the Cartwrights and to turn them into human immortality serum machines.
The first few stories basically begin as adventures, with the main plot being the discovery and pursuit of the Cartwrights’ magical blood. Dr. Pearce makes the initial discovery, tries to track down Marshall Cartwright, and dreams of synthesizing the component that imparts immortality. But the stories evolve into something much more profound. Gunn gives us a forecast of the terrifying future of health care, where hospitals become centers of civilization for those who can afford it, and are under regular attack by the rest of the world which has devolved into sprawling, violent slums where antibiotics have become street drugs and illegal “healers” become the health provider of consequence.
It amazed me that the majority of these stories were written almost fifty years ago. Having had health insurance through most of my jobs, I had erroneously come to believe that health care only became unaffordable in the last twenty or so. Gunn’s stories were already predicting this before I was born. He also foresaw the rise of “healers”, people who take a more holistic approach to medicine. Rather than just treating the problem, healers treat the person.
What’s most surprising about this book is that the basic plot of the Cartwrights is merely a catalyst for the speculation. What starts out as an adventure story becomes an apocalyptic vision of the future. I found myself in awe of Gunn’s imagination and how apropos it is to the current state of our world, fifty years after the fact. Some of the science is a little dated. His 2004 short story attempts to rectify this by bringing in current blood-borne diseases and the concept of DNA. But that it’s easy to let that slide in light of his insight into his terrifying future.
I’m glad I chose this as my first James Gunn book. I now have another author I just have to read more of. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.