The First Immortal

The First Immortal

4.6 5
by James Halperin

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In 1988, Benjamin Smith suffers a massive heart attack. But he will not die. A pioneering advocate of the infant science of cryonics, he has arranged to have his body frozen until the day when humanity will possess the knowledge, the technology, and the courage to revive him.

Yet when Ben resumes life after a frozen interval of eighty-three years, the world is

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In 1988, Benjamin Smith suffers a massive heart attack. But he will not die. A pioneering advocate of the infant science of cryonics, he has arranged to have his body frozen until the day when humanity will possess the knowledge, the technology, and the courage to revive him.

Yet when Ben resumes life after a frozen interval of eighty-three years, the world is altered beyond recognition. Thanks to cutting-edge science, eternal youth is universally available and the perfection of cloning gives humanity the godlike power to re-create living beings from a single cell. As Ben and his family are resurrected in the mid-twenty-first century, they experience a complex reunion that reaches through generations—and discover that the deepest ethical dilemmas of humankind remain their greatest challenge. . . .

Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Ann Welton
Given the option of living forever, young and in good health, who would not jump? What if the possibility existed now, at a high cost and with some risk involved? Would one still pursue it? What are the spiritual implications of immortality? Halperin poses these questions in a carefully researched, readable narrative. His protagonist, Benjamin Franklin Smith, born in 1925, is an exuberant man who loves life. After surviving horrible experiences in a Japanese POW camp during World War II, Ben returns to Boston, marries his high school sweetheart, goes through medical school, and becomes a highly successful gastroenterologist. The only clouds on his horizon are his hostile relationship with his only son and his reluctance to die. After the death of his beloved wife and his own first heart attack, Ben begins to research cryonics-the suspension of the body at the point of death, frozen in liquid nitrogen, until medicine advances to the point where diseases can be cured. Eventually, Ben chooses to be suspended, creating a trust to pay for his revival and the suspension of other family members. The remainder of the book traces the Smith family through the next two hundred years, as cryonics gains acceptance, the quality of life improves, Ben is revived, and immortality becomes not only feasible, but standard. What allows this book to transcend its potboiler, charmed-life plot, Hollywood characters, and occasionally gushy style are the well-researched discussions of cryonics, nanotechnology, and theology. The ability of scientists to create microscopic machines which could repair DNA and counteract the effects of aging has featured in science fiction works for at least a decade. Halperin's explanation of the workings of these nanomachines is clear and convincing, and his fictional tracing of the development of the technology is believable. His argument for cryonics as a viable option is equally convincing. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this novel is its utopian view of the future, a utopia built upon the foundations of our current world political situation and achieved through sometimes violent laws. Read in tandem with such classic dystopias as Orwell's 1984 (New American Library, 1961) or Huxley's Brave New World (Heritage Press, 1974), The First Immortal provides ground for debate, discussion, and optimism. It includes a detailed, annotated list of cryonics organizations and a Web address at which the author can be contacted. VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Broad general YA appeal, Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
Library Journal
Dr. Benjamin Franklin Smith suffers a fatal heart attack one day in 1988, but his remains will not be buried or cremated because he has made plans to have them frozen and placed in a cryonic suspension facility. On his 147th birthday, in the year 2072, Smith is revived. This novel is the story of his life before his 1988 "death," including a harrowing stint in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp and a painful estrangement from his son; through the years of his suspension, when a legal wrangle between his heirs threatens to have his body thawed and autopsied; to his reawakening into the brave new world of the late 21st century. It is a world where crime is virtually unknown and death has been undone. But not all is perfection in this scientific paradise: growing numbers are addicted to virtual-reality machines, and some people still question the ultimate meaning of things, especially when it is revealed that large comets are approaching on a collision course with the earth. More a passionate brief in defense of cryonics than a really engaging and satisfying novel; best for sf collections.Charles Michaud, Turner Free Lib., Randolph, Mass.

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Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
4.22(w) x 6.88(h) x 0.89(d)
Age Range:
15 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

June 2, 1988

Echoes tumbled through the ambulance. Squeals, rattles, and torsion-bar sways came at him in waves, magnified and ominous. The attendants standing over him seemed blurry, even extraneous. What mattered was the beeping monitor and all-too-familiar stench of emergency medicine. And every single sensation blended with the mundane smell of the rain-soaked streets beneath him.

Benjamin Franklin Smith, my great-grandfather, knew he was about to die.

The morning had delivered Ben's third heart attack in six years—worse than either of its predecessors. This time his chest felt vise-tight, more constricted than he'd imagined possible. His blood-starved muscles sagged like spent rubber, so weak he could barely feel them twitch, while a cold
Novocain-like river prickled his left arm from shoulder blade to fingertips: numb but so heavy.

Oh, Christ! he thought, remembering his first seizure on that flight to
Phoenix in 1982. He should have known better. If he hadn't stayed on the damn airplane, they could've given him treatment; minimized the damage.

Now he was dying. Him, of all people. Ben snorted. Absent his pain and fear, it might have been a laugh. Well, why in hell not him? He was sixty-three years old.

God, just sixty-three? Is that all I get? Please Jesus, spare me this. Not yet...

Two ambulance attendants wheeled Ben through the hospital emergency entrance, past check-in and dozens of less critical cases, sprinting straight for intensive care. All ignored them except one nurse who,
recognizing the too-familiar patient, merely gaped. One of the attendants whispered to her, "Looks like myocardial infarction. Probably massive."

Still half conscious, Ben wondered if they realized he could hear them, or if they cared. He wondered whether these professionals tasted the same empathy for him that he had so often experienced with his own dying patients.

He also questioned his rationality.

His preparations over the previous half decade had included an oath to himself that he would betray no ambivalence about the unusual instructions he'd left. This despite understanding that his chances of staving off death remained slight.

And that if he succeeded, he might end up envying the dead.

Before surrendering consciousness, Dr. Benjamin Smith managed to whisper:
"Call Toby Fiske." These words would set in motion all his plans—irrevocably changing the nature of his death. Then the rush of unreality gathered speed, and as his awareness faded, his subconscious mind began to play back the most important moments of life, as if by giving these experiences a new orderliness, he might somehow absolve himself of, or at least comprehend, his mistakes.

Images assaulted him of his parents, his children, and the first time he ever made love to his wife Marge. She was just a teenager then. How fiery and resilient she was. They were. Then he remembered sitting at her bedside when she was dying. For six weeks he had fed and bathed her,
consoled her with stories and recollections, held her hand, and watched helplessly as the cancer consumed her body and mind.

Now would he finally rejoin her?

Ben Smith also knew the world would keep turning without him. So at the end of things, he pleaded to his God, praying that once he was dead, his only son might finally forgive him.

My great-grandfather was an only child. And despite his birth into near-poverty, his genetics and early environment favored him with certain critical advantages. But timing was not among these: He was born in 1925.

His attempt to become immortal is a tale of character, luck, and daring.
Benjamin Franklin Smith's story might have befallen any person of his time—that era when death seemed inevitable to every human being on earth.
Inevitable, and drawing ever closer.

CHAPTER ONE: January 14, 1925

My great-great-grandmother stared into a spiderweb crack spreading through the dilapidated ceiling paint, its latticed shape taunting her as if she were a fly ensnared in its grip. For several hours she'd been lying on their bed, shivering and convulsing, in that drab and tiny apartment. Now she felt a scream welling in her chest, like a tidal wave drawing mass from the shallows. Alice Smith was only twenty years old, but she knew something was deeply, perhaps mortally, wrong.


She shut her eyes, trying to focus on something, anything, other than the pain-fueled firestorm raging inside of her. But there was only the tortured stench of her own sweltering flesh. A single tear found its way into the corner of her mouth. It tasted of pain and fear, but she was surprised to discover another flavor within it: hope and a coming of new life.

Her husband, Samuel, entered her consciousness as if to provide an outlet;
a cathartic conversion of pain to anger. Like Alice, the man was a second-generation American. He was a grocer by trade, and, also like herself, from Wakefield, Massachusetts. He had always been a hard worker and steadfast in his tenderness. But he was not there! She was in agony,
while he was stacking cans of peaches!

Just when, she asked herself, had he judged his work more important than his wife? and soundlessly cursed him with words women of the year 1925
weren't supposed to know.

Why did she need him there, anyway? To share her torment, or to seek the comfort of him? All Alice knew was that right then she hated and loved her husband in equal measure, and if this ordeal was to kill her, she needed to see his face one last time.

To say goodbye.

No! she decided, as if her circumstance had been caused by nothing more than a failure of will. She had to raise and love this child. She would not allow herself to die.

Alice's membranes had ruptured twenty-six hours ago, yet she had not given birth. She'd once read that in prolonged labor, omnipresent bacteria threatened to migrate inside, infecting both mother and child. Even the hunched and hoary midwife, though ignorant of the danger in scientific terms, seemed well aware of peril, per se; Alice could sense a fear of disaster in the woman's every gesture.

Where in the hell was Sam?

Even in anguish, Alice understood this rage against her husband was misplaced. It had somehow become a societal expectation that women should bear children with stoic grace. And it was absurd. A keen student of history, she knew that anesthetics had been used for many surgeries since the 1850s, yet had found little acceptance in obstetrics, the pain of childbirth considered by doctors to be a duty women were somehow meant to endure.

Still, it could have been worse; Alice was equally aware that her odds had improved. A hundred years earlier, doctors would often go straight from performing autopsies to delivering babies, seldom even washing their hands. No wonder it had been common back then for men to lose several wives to complications of childbirth. At least now, sterilization was practiced with some modicum of care.

Her nineteen-year-old sister, Charlotte, and the midwife stood at Alice's bedside. The older woman's facial expression evinced kindly resignation,
as if to say, It's all we can do for you, dear, as she held a wet towel,
sponging Alice's forehead. Charlotte Franklin's intelligent eyes and sanguine aspect seemed to magnify the midwife's aura of incompetence.

"Just breathe through it," said the midwife, who'd already told them that the suffering and peril of delivery were "natural," God's punishment for the sins of womankind. "It's in our Lord's hands now," she now added, as if these words held some sort of reassurance.

Alice felt her mind shove aside the hopeless bromide.

"You'll be okay, Alice," Charlotte whispered nervously, gently massaging her sister's shoulders. "You're doing fine."

"Quick now, fetch the boiling water for the gloves," the midwife ordered.
"Won't be much longer."

Alice screamed again, and Sam burst into the room. The snowstorm dripped its offerings from his clothes onto the stained wooden floor. He shivered.

Thank God, Alice thought, her rage forgotten. Sam would see their child be born.

"Am I in time?" he asked stupidly.

His question went unanswered. "Head's about through. Now push, girl!" the midwife shouted.

Alice pressed down. Slowly, painstakingly, Charlotte and the midwife managed to extract a perfect baby boy.

Though bleeding heavily, Alice rallied a wan smile of optimism and hope,
qualities she intended to convey to her son, assuming she survived.

Charlotte cut the cord. The midwife spanked the infant's bottom. They washed him with warm water. He wailed, but soon rested contentedly in his mother's arms. His father gently stroked his back. The caresses, tentative at first, easily progressed in loving confidence.

"Benjamin Franklin Smith," Sam declared, as if in the ritual of naming,
his wife's pain might be banished to memory.

The next few days would be difficult. Having barely survived the ordeal,
Alice sustained a dangerous postpartum infection of the uterus and tubes.
Her fever would reach 105 degrees, often consigning her to the mad hands of delirium. She'd live through the illness, but not without loss: She would never bear another child.

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