Dean Warren, |
The long-range effect of immortality is a frequent science fiction subject. (One of the best novels with a long-lived hero is This Immortal by Roger Zelazny.) A typical plot features people who are already hundreds or thousands of years old. Authors have fun fantasizing about how that longevity would affect the thoughts and interests of their characters. What businesses or empires could they develop and sustain? How would they avoid boredom? Could a love affair last a thousand years -- however often you tell your spouse, "Of course it would."
Dean Warren's Growing Young takes on the less frequently considered problems of a transitional period just after an aging cure is discovered. Set about 100 years in the future, it raises all the right questions. How would societies decide who gets the cure? How fast could it be rolled out? What would the economic impact be? Would it be necessary to put a tight control on birth rates? With a little thought, you could add a dozen or so additional questions without obvious answers. Fertile soil indeed for a sc-fi plot, and Warren takes full advantage.
As the novel opens, the elderly Dr. Mark Langer is beginning to succumb to a serious cardiac condition. He soon comes across a cure for his heart problems, and much more. Although we get descriptions of the cure and its personal effects, Growing Young is mostly about the larger issues. Langer is a prime candidate for addressing those issues since he has recently retired as head of the World Health Organization. He is a humanitarian who hopes to distribute the aging cure as fairly as possible and also use it as a catalyst to correct existing societal inequities. But his approach comes into conflict with powerful politicians and businessmen who want to maintain the status quo while using the cure to expand their power.
The plot, though overly ambitious in trying to solve all the world's problems, is filled with action and does hold a reader's interest. In addition, the main character is engaging and the villains are worth disliking. As is often the case in the genre, however, characters are too one-dimensional and the writing style lacks polish.
Growing Young won't make you forget Zelazny, but it's worth reading. It sketches plausible, enlightened answers to the short-term questions raised by substantial life extension -- and science fiction has few more fascinating "what ifs."