Robert Sheckley is one if my favourite short story writers, not just limited to science fiction. He just has a truly tremendous ability to present a wonderful idea and spin a story from it in just a few pages. This is a widely held view, indeed Neil Gaiman said, “[He was] Probably the best short-story writer during the 50s to the mid-1960s working in any field.” Sheckley was known to be unpredictable, with a absurd sense of humour, resulting in some wonderful stories of which Immortality, Inc. is one. It was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel.
One of the things I most enjoyed with this book was the remarkable concept behind it. Thomas Blaine was driving home one day when he is involved in a fatal collision. Years later he wakes up in a different body to be informed that has died. But that’s not a big deal as he is alive again. For in the year, 2110 science has discovered how to transfer one’s conscience from body to body – resulting in Blaine’s mind being snatched from his time of death to be placed in a vacated body. Along with this it was proven that there is a reality after death. Only problem is that one can only go it if one undergoes long years of spiritual conditioning. Or you could pay money for a rather expensive treatment that stimulates the brain to achieve this conditioned state. You see guaranteed immortality does exist, but it’s controlled by corporations and requires enormous funds. One of these corporations decided to show of their new “point of death” technique with Blaine, planning to use him as a marketing tool. However now that he’s in the future the higher ups have decided against using him. And so he is left to fend for himself in a harsh future where heaven can be bought and suicide is rather fashionable.
There are 3 possibilites when a man dies. First his mind can just explode, scatter, dissipate; and that’s the end of him. Second his mind can hold together through the death trauma, and he finds himself in the threshold, a spirit. Third, his mind breaks during the death trauma, but not enough to cause dissipation. He pulls through into the threshold. But the strain has been permanently disabling. He is insane. And that is how a ghost is born. They’re filled with twisted hatred, anger, pain.
The writting is witty and snappy, thoroughly enjoyable, and is an excellent example of Sheckley’s skill. The deft, sarcastic dialogue and the many interesting and unpredictable concepts that the book holds is wonderful and expectedly leads to an enjoyable read.
Corpses shouldn’t be forced to answer questions. Death was man’s ancient privilege, his immemorial pact with life, granted to the slave as well as the noble. Death was man’s solace, and his right. But perhaps they had revoked that right; and now you couldn’t evade your responsibilities simply by being dead.