X-Message-Number: 28996
From: "Mark Plus" <>
Subject: Guardian review of Appleyard's book
Date: Sat, 20 Jan 2007 19:15:29 -0800

Re: Bryan Appleyard's "How to Live Forever or Die Trying: On the New 



Wake me up in a hundred years

Bryan Appleyard's How to Live Forever or Die Trying offers an intriguing 
look at the geeky, freeze-dried, pill-popping world of people who want to go 
on and on

Peter Conrad
Sunday January 21, 2007
The Observer

Buy How to Live Forever or Die Trying at the Guardian bookshop

How to Live Forever or Die Trying
Bryan Appleyard
Simon & Schuster  12.99, pp320

I belong, like Bryan Appleyard, to the first generation in human history to 
regard mortality as a personal affront rather than a biological destiny. 
Born in the late Forties, we grew up in a world that promised a cure for all 
diseases, along with a barrage of labour-saving gadgetry that freed us for 
the pursuit of pleasure. In the Sixties we cultivated the self, 
psychedelically liberating it from the constraints of reality. In subsequent 
decades we concentrated on streamlining the body with gym subscriptions and 
faddy diets. Now, despite our precautions, we can't help noticing the 
evidence of decay: fogged-up senses, mastiff-like jowls, creaky joints. Our 
response, inevitably, is to cruise the internet in search of a remedy for 

Sceptical but as anxious as the rest of us to have the sentence commuted, 
Appleyard investigates the industry that caters to what he calls 'human life 
extension' (which sounds to me as if a lengthened lifespan were somehow 
related to those straggly synthetic fronds that Victoria Beckham weaves into 
her hair). The Greeks saw human beings as creatures defined by their 
mortality, which is why they invented tragedy. Gods do not need to die, and 
animals do so without knowing about it in advance; it is the special 
prerogative and the demoralising curse of our species to spend life in the 
anticipation of an end. So a society that more or less indefinitely 
postpones death or seeks to outwit it, whether by dosing us with 
pharmaceutical nostrums or by cryogenically freezing cadavers to await 
resurrection, is experimenting with a future that will be somehow 

We are advancing into territory staked out by science fiction. 'I got killed 
twice in two hours,' brags a clone in Roger Spottiswoode's film The 6th Day. 
'Oh, we've all been killed before,' shrugs a resurgent colleague. But if we 
can continue forever, how will we combat tedium? Arnold Schwarzenegger in 
The 6th Day is dismayed to meet a copy of himself. 'Kinda takes the fun out 
of being alive, doesn't it?' growls the cloned, unkillable Arnie to the 
original. In the cerebral Utopia at the end of Shaw's Back to Methuselah, 
the deathless beings who frolic in Eden can change the shape of their bodies 
at will, but find it harder to tinker with the soul.

The would-be immortals encountered by Appleyard at academic conferences and 
in obscure American research institutes turn out to be not so much 
transhuman (which is how they define themselves) as transcendently geeky. 
One of them, Appleyard reports, is 'aggressively scruffy with tangled, 
heavy-metal hair and jeans barely clinging to his hips'. Another has 'a huge 
beard' and hair tied back in a ponytail, and gives monologues in a shrill, 
hectoring register. A third, so skeletal that his neck looks like a stalk, 
scuttles off to meditate while standing on one leg and nervously consulting 
a watch to see when he has to swallow his next handful of life-preserving 
pills. Unruly hair, an uncoordinated body and a wretched dress sense are, of 
course, the unmistakable indices of intellect, as every senior common room 
in Oxford testifies. But would you really want to share eternity with freaks 
like these?

Appleyard himself seems unsure. Personal testimony about his childhood 
dreams and adolescent traumas make clear his dread of death; nevertheless, 
the experts he interviews are shysters. The immortality they peddle is a 
specifically American fantasy, the product of a culture infatuated by 
newness and hostile to the very notion of history. The explorer Ponce de 
Leon named Florida after the fountain of youth which he expected to find 
there, and the Jewish retirees who dodder through Miami on their Zimmer 
frames appear to believe they have located that sacred source. The pity is 
that they're more like Swift's Struldbruggs in Gulliver's Travels, a race 
whose immortality is merely a protracted, impotent, useless senescence. At 
the very least, the cryonics company Alcor, which charges $150,000 ( 76,000) 
to deep-freeze a body, nominates Florida as a good place to die: a trained 
response team can soon be on hand to drain your blood and prepare you for 
your refrigerated vigil.

Though Appleyard writes with his customary acuteness, his book seems to be 
something of a hasty assemblage. He cannibalises magazine assignments, and 
when the material runs thin he wanders off into digressions on spirituality, 
alchemy, 9/11 and blogging. Some anecdotes and bits of data are irritatingly 
repeated: poor editing, careless proof-reading, or - I wonder - early signs 
of the entropic softening of the brain that we baby boomers all nervously 

Appleyard has a good head. I hope he also possesses the  40,000 that Alcor 
will charge him to chop it off and preserve it in a vat of liquid nitrogen 

Valentine's Day -- Shop for gifts that spell L-O-V-E at MSN Shopping 


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