display | more...

"To Live Forever" is a 1956 science-fiction novel by Jack Vance. Being released in 1956, it was one of his earlier novels to be published, although he had been publishing short fiction for a decade. Unlike many of his other works, this is a standalone story, not taking place in one of his other worlds.

The story, as the title suggests, concerns immortality. On a future earth, some thousands of years in the future, a society has perfected the technology to increase lifespan, perhaps indefinitely. To deal with the threat of population increase, only a certain amount of people are granted immortality, with most of the population being "terminated" when they reach the end of their granted years. Those who wish to live forever must strive to create cultural innovations, which earn them points towards the greatest rank. All of this is background information, described in the first few chapters and then illustrated as the book progresses. Along with the social changes of immortality, the book features the story of one "Grayven Warlock", also "Gavin Waylok", an immortal who has nevertheless ran afoul of the law and is trying to weasel his way back to respectability. Like many of Vance's protagonists, Warlock is hardly heroic, although also not totally villainous. In his attempts to regain his place in society, we learn a lot about his society, and if we read between the lines, a lot about the society of the 1950s, as well.

Jack Vance manages to present a vast array of ideas and characters in a relatively short book (my edition is under 200 pages). He explores the social ramifications of life expansion with a deft touch. As I said after reading Showboat World, I am impressed with the lack of polemics in Vance's writing. The social changes aren't overstated more than they need to be: for example, even though the legal system of immortality involves euthanasia, it is a voluntary system: people can and do opt out of it. The dialogue is also light and natural. I can imagine that if Robert Heinlein was writing a book with the same premise, at some point we would have a two page long speech given on man's unquenchable need to transcend his environment, etcetera. Here, we have characters with mixed motivations trying to come to terms with the world around them as best as they can.

The one fault I did find in the book was the plotting, which was episodic and scattered. Also, the conclusion of the back felt somewhat tacked on, seeming to be an artificial conclusion to the book that didn't truly resolve the themes. However, these don't detract from the overall quality of the book.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.