Tech Heaven by Linda Nagata
357 pages, 1995, Bantam Spectra
Review score: *** out of *****
Science fiction is sometimes described as speculative fiction, since it allows the author and reader to explore ideas about the future. I read Linda Nagata's book Tech Heaven because it explores cryonics. Cryonics, as defined by the CryoCare Foundation is
[...] an experimental procedure in which dying patients are preserved at ultra-low temperature for possible treatment in the distant future. Human cryopreservation is not reversible today. The practice of cryonics is thus based on the speculative possibility that advanced future technologies, such as nanotechnology, may be able to revive today's cryonics patients in a future era of rejuvenation and unlimited lifespans.
For a hefty fee (ranging from around $50,000 for a "neuro patient", where just the head is frozen, to $120,000 for a "whole body patient"), CryoCare or another company, Alcor, will freeze a "patient" in liquid nitrogen when they are declared legally dead.
The idea of cryogenically preserving a recently dead person until some time in the future when they can be resurrected has been around since 1964, when it was proposed by Robert Ettinger in his book The Prospect of Immortality. Cryonic preservation has captured the imagination of science fiction writers, including Larry Niven, Robert Sheckley, and Robert Silverberg. Charles Platt, a science fiction author (see my review of his book Protektor), is a vice president of the CryoCare Foundation.
Cryonics is controversial. It has attracted a certain number of fringe people. At one time there were rumors that Walt Disney had arranged to have his body cryonically preserved. Cryonics can be viewed as the modern version of the Egyptian preservation of the of the dead. Where the Egyptians prepared the dead pharaohs for their trip into the afterlife, cryonics prepares the modern dead for a trip into the future, where technology can cure death.
Cryonics also raises a host of questions. Will the technology to resurrect the dead ever actually be available? If the technology were available, would the cryonically preserved "patients" be resurrected? It is not likely that future will have any shortage of people, since over population will probably be more and more of a problem. Then there are the religious issues. If one believes that the soul goes on to something else after death, then what happens to the soul of someone who is cryonically preserved?
Linda Nagata's book Tech Heaven provides some interesting speculations on these questions. At its heart, Tech Heaven is a love story. Katie Kishida has persuaded her husband Tom to sign up for cryopreservation. At the time, both of them thought that this would be something that would happen in the distant future. When Tom is critically injured in a helicopter accident Katie refuses to give him up to death and has him cryonicly preserved.
In Tech Heaven we see Katie Kishida as a complex person. She is strong willed in her refusal to give up Tom. But Katie's decision to cryonically preserve her husband has many ramifications. Since she believes that Tom will be resurrected in the future, how does she go on with her life? Katie is a young woman when Tom dies. Can she remarry? And how should their two daughters view their father? Should they consider him dead? There are also a host of political issues. In a society where we are already rationing medical care, how will people look on applying scare resources to resurrecting the dead.
Tech Heaven is a memorable book, but it is not without its flaws. The central character in the story is Katie Kishida and Linda Nagata seems to have felt that she needed a nemesis, which Ms. Nagata provides in the form of Roxanne Scott. Katie and Roxanne are old friends who grew up together. Roxanne is also a friend of Tom's. But as sometimes happens with two sisters who are close in age, the love between Katie and Roxanne is colored by discord and jealousy. Roxanne grows into an almost omnipresent menace. Since Katie must grapple with many personal and political problems in her quest to resurrect the man she loves, the opposition provided by Roxanne is an unnecessary and in some cases results in some silly plot twists.
Ian Kaplan - 6/96
Rat Study Revives Hopes for Cryonics; Then Interest Cools
Firms that keep bodies on Ice Nab Publicity, Not Clients; Skin Flakes in a bed sheet
by Michael Moss, The Wall Street Journal Jan 31, 1996
Techies go for ice-cold afterlife by Jessica Guynn and Ellen Lee Contra Costa Times, August 4, 2002
Page updated on August 8, 2002
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