Another Neglected Sci-Fi Gem: The Immortality Option

Posted: October 17, 2014 in Book Reviews, Science Fiction
Tags: , , , ,

 

The Immortality Option by James P. Hogan cover(The Immortality Option, by James P. Hogan. Gallantine, 1995, 323 pp.; out of print, but commonly available in used bookstores and also available as an overpriced e-book)

 

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

 

This is the sequel to Hogan’s amusing and insightful Code of the Lifemaker, which we reviewed in June. It takes up where Code of the Lifemaker leaves off, with the Taloid mechanoid civilization on Titan, the mutant spawn of a damaged interstellar alien probe a million years ago, temporarily saved, but still under both internal threat from religious and political authoritarianism, and under external threat from GSEC, a rapacious Earth-based corporation.

The cast of characters is mostly the same as in Code of the Lifemaker. Like that book, this sequel is a combination of hard sci-fi and social sci-fi, and the political and social subtext is essentially the same: that science, free inquiry, and free expression are essential to progress, and that religion is  inimical to progress, and its practitioners often irrationally and sadistically cruel.

What’s new in The Immortality Option is the revelation of where the interstellar probe came from that set off the explosion of mechanical evolution on Titan: the Borjilans, an avian-descended race from a star a thousand light years off. The description of that race and their ultra-competitive civilization is highly amusing. From reading it, I strongly suspect that Hogan was at least somewhat familiar with avian behavior; here, he focuses almost exclusively on its negative,  darkly comedic aspects.

The one real problem with Hogan’s description of the events leading up to the launching of the probe is that it hinges on a cover up of an existential threat to the Borjilan home world that would be impossible to hide in any even remotely open society. That’s unfortunate, because there were ways Hogan could have avoided this implausibility. But he didn’t, and at least the chapters on the Borjilans are so intricate and amusing that it’s fairly easily to overlook the implausibility of the pivotal cover up.

Without giving away too much, The Immortality Option deals largely with the encoded personalities of one the Borjilans (especially Sarvik, the primary Borjilan character), the pompous scientist (Weinerbaum, a new character) who discovers them, GENIUS, an AI created by Sarvik, and the machinations of the Borjilans and the Taloid priests and authoritarian politicians, and their rational foes among the Taloids and “Lumians” (humans).

While probably not as good a book as Code of the Lifemaker, The Immortality Option is still a lot of fun in its own right.

Recommended — but do yourself a favor and read Code of the Lifemaker first.

* * *

Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel and on an unrelated sci-fi novel.

Free Radicals front cover

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Comments
  1. sjhigbee says:

    Reblogged this on Brainfluff and commented:
    I enjoyed this enthusiastic review of a neglected book, so wanted to share it with you. What books have you read that you consider overlooked masterpieces?

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    • Thank you. The best sci-fi books often are not the most popular, the most popular are often not the best, and it’s good to give credit where it’s still due — even if it’s decades late.

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      • sjhigbee says:

        I wholeheartedly agree! There have been several books very much lauded recently that I frankly found unreadable – while there are some wonderful books that NEVER get their due. One of the most scandalously underrated series is the late, great Kage Baker’s Company novels… The last two had moments of silliness, but the earlier ones are the best of the best…

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      • Yes. Agreed again. It’s unfortunate Baker died so young. I read one of her “Company” novels a couple of years ago (can’t remember which one–I read 30 to 50 sci-fi books annually) and enjoyed it.

        As for the ones receiving undeserved plaudits, I dissected two currently popular ones recently–one absolutely awful, the other deeply flawed. I prefer writing positive reviews, but while bad books are popular and good ones go unrecognized, I think there’s value in pointing out what’s wrong with the bad ones.

        Liked by 1 person

      • sjhigbee says:

        Oh yes, I do agree – I have NO problem with reading critical reviews. I just HATE writing them… Mostly if a book is a real dog, I don’t finish it. And if it is really lousy then I just want to forget it… But there is definitely real value in a balanced, valid criticism of any book. Sadly a few successful writers seem to get sloppier, rather than better…

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I can think of a few authors among former favorites who fit that description.

        BTW, I don’t follow sci-fi news at all (just read novels and short story collections), and heard that Kage Baker was only in her early 30s when she died. If you know, please let me know what happened to her. Thanks.

        Liked by 1 person

      • sjhigbee says:

        She was 58 when she died – still far too young – after a long, brave battle with cancer.

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  2. […] The Immortality Option (1995), sequel to Code of the Lifemaker, is also worth reading — but be sure to read Code of the Lifemaker first. […]

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  3. […] Another Neglected Sci-Fi Gem: The Immortality Option […]

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  4. […] Another Neglected Sci-Fi Gem: The Immortality Option, by James P. Hogan […]

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