Review: Countdown to Immortality


Jim Feast


Countdown to Immortality by FM-2030 (Amagansett, NY: Amagansett Press, 2011)

Review by Jim Feast

I don't mean to be uncharitable but the author of Countdown to Immortality, who was born as Fereidoun M. Esfandiary and the author of such well regarded novels as Identity Card, changed his name to FM 2030 and began preaching that human immortality, based on prosthetic body parts, DNA revitalization and plastic surgery, was just around the corner, seems to have gone off the deep end. I say that because, in explaining his hopes, he spends precious little time on scientific achievements that might increase longevity before launching into his dreams of a world of levitating bodies; rebuilt, super-strong limbs, and intergalactic colonization. To put this in a more positive way, as a work of science fiction, the book is not half bad, but if you take it seriously, you're in trouble.

For one thing, he follows the route, so common in world religions, of saying the mind (or soul) is everything; the body nothing. He writes, "How absurd that such a promising phenomenon as human life with all our potential for infinite growth should still be at the mercy of a liver or a heart – a blob of flesh. "He expounds further – this is all bold in the original but I'll skip that – "Why do we need bones and joints? Why blood and veins and arteries? Why do we need any vital organs? How vital are they?"Or, to sum up his thought, "The human body is overbureaucratized - full of superfluities and obsolescences."

Add to that hatred of the flesh an ethnocentrism that knows no bounds. Take as example, one particularly offensive to me as my wife's family died in the Vietnam war, how, discussing the injuries in wars, he touts the mortality rate of wounded soldiers in Vietnam as only 1.7 percent. He adds, "In the 1970s healthcare administrators began to realize that a critically wounded soldier on a battlefield had a better chance of recovery than a city-dweller injured in an accident."

His statistics of mortality is obviously that of only U.S. GI's, but the vast majority of the deaths were on the other, winning side. The U.S. had about 58,000 deaths while the North Vietnamese lost 1,100,000.  The Communists didn't have the luxury of medivac helicopters, plasma and trained doctors and so couldn't have achieved the life-saving statistic over which he gloats. That is to say, he ignores the real toll of the war.  As this and other passages in his book make clear, his program for saving "humanity"defines that category rather narrowly as consisting exclusively of the Western elite.

Let me change tack now by saying, if the book is taken as light science fiction, it is worth a read. The author does have a rich (if narrow) imagination and vivid style. Take when he describes how once all of "humanity"is flying around with its jet-packs, we still need "highways." "When individual freeflys become popular we could begin to transform our freeways into flyways. (Just as at one time we converted our stage coach trails into auto routes.) We can cover these flyways with some cushioning substance such as foam or rubber or some other resilient material and require people to fly over them. In case your vertical lift craft or jet-pack malfunctions and your emergency parachute does not deploy, your fall will be cushioned."

I've already mentioned his disdain for internal bodily organs. Here he explains how we can get rid of the digestive system! (Again, I will not bold the whole passage as he does.) "Isn't it time we outgrew the crude process of stuffing grub in our mouths to sustain ourselves?... Why fritter away time and resources producing – distributing – consuming food stuff?"Quoting another futurist, FM continues, that we have to "close the nutrient-waste cycle within the body such that no material would enter or leave. The gaseous, liquid, and solid wastes of the body would be reconverted to oxygen and fuel while other wastes would be reconverted into needed structural materials... [all powered by] a compact fuel cell or miniaturized fusion power device."

Now, with a lot of these cumbersome organs gone, who needs a skeleton? "Our bodies will evolve into sleek, ultralight structures. In time to come the body weight of an average six-foot transhuman may be around 80 pounds. Such an ultralight body will not need much of a skeletal framework."  And flesh will also change. "The new skins may be transparent ... for quick access to the body's microcircuitries."

I won't spoil the book by revealing other surprising and often outlandish predictions, but if that's to your taste, get this book. If you want serious reflections on life extension, however, you are going to have to keep searching.