THE BLOG
06/06/2013 03:48 pm ET | Updated Aug 06, 2013

Cheat the End

Death's an industry that's more lucrative than iPhones, politics, and taxes. Android's an option, elections clean house regularly, and clever people don't pay taxes. Revenue fluctuates in these industries, but morticians and Medicare providers have a sure thing.

Terms like "android" are slipping through the back door. We don't fluster if the real definition of our phone is "a robot with human appearance." Put "trans" in front of words however, and reactions vary; transact, trans-fat, transform, transvestite, transhuman... only one failed spell-check. Take a guess.

The most lucrative industry of the new century we don't talk about because we don't know how. No definition yet, but transhumanism is our current reality. The Earth is flat again for those comfy with status quo and picket fences. For "believers" however, somebody just ran off with the fence, and religion, ultimate sacrifice, rapture, virgin recipients, chastity, Lucifer, Kali, heavenly hosts of Dieties, and Mary Baker Eddy are in hot pursuit.

Several of my posts reference transhumanism. In "Leonardo was a Transhumanist", the drawings of Da Vinci were dispersed after his death but a handful disappeared. He drew several transhumanist inventions, and documents claim their were seized by the Vatican. Leonardo's inventions weren't created until the new century. Some were radically life extending.

Recently a cardiac surgeon implanted an artificial valve, inspired by Leonardo's drawing in a dying patient, thereby creating a transhumanist. DNA evidence routinely saves lives of innocents in homicide cases. War veteran's robotic arms and a brain chip transmits their thoughts to move the arm. Neurologist Kathleen Taylor researches the mind processes of radicals. Brain scans like fMRI are new tool for diagnosing chemical or genetic misfires in the brain that result in successful treatment.

These medical trans-advances are hailed, not stoned. But suddenly they are. You'd think we've had enough time to adjust to a round world. Angelina Jolie's been called a bio-hacker for using clinical tests to target BRCA 1 in her DNA to save her from an 87% chance of dying.

Zoltan Istvan was pounded with hate mail when he released his novel "The Transhumanist Wager". Religious fundamentalists hurled projectile-vitriol all over his adventurous suspense-filled semi-sci-fi about sailing, love, and life extension. They were not imbued with hope they'd live to see the grandkids grow up. Rather, they thrashed gasping for air.

In Istvan's novel, Jethro Knights loses his trauma surgeon wife with cryonics lab ties to a terrorist blast. Pressure-cooked up by religious fundamentalists, she's too damaged for cryonic preservation, so he harvests her DNA and records the recipients of her intact organs for future retrieval.

A billionaire Russian loses his wife and son to terrorists and offers Knights cash to bring them back from somewhere in a parallel dimension. Knights declines, that one's way down on his list of future goals. He gets billions anyway because you never know. He hires an architect who designs oil platforms, picks a patch of sea, and instructs her to build one for the first City of Transhuman Science.

An assortment of similar utopianesque cities have been built, like Biosphere, Arcosanti, and Eden Project. Environmental experimentation thrives unfettered, but human improvements are not on the menu, reflecting a compulsion to sustain human life in birthday suit condition, with a debatable beginning and unassisted end. Amazon's proposed Biosphere and Phil Pauli's floating city don't go there either.

The idea that the US would end up at the top of the political defector list is a novel approach by Istvan. Scientists exhausted by sanctions defect their brain trust offshore to Knights' platform. Offshore banks avoid taxes, so Knights parks his billions on the platform and launders like crazy. Then he throws indefinite life extension into the mix, knocking out the final certainty in life.

Techno-brains now run free on the platform doing their thing. Adolescent geeks with flaming red hair set up the Ultimate Firewall for proprietary technology. Others perfect nano-brain chips that upload thought and metabolic status into Big Data. BD downloads back to the implant faster than speed chess.

Knights waves farewell to the faithful who continue practicing for The Big Payoff at The End, and play God to save God. They're now stuck with ailing relatives and a President's mother literally dying of a broken heart. Scientists just defected to Knights' start-up with all the heart transplant technology.

Knights isn't prepared for a plot the faithful hatch, yanked along by a flawless stereotypical lobby-smooching "Man of Cloth" whose narcissism requires several white Pope-mobiles. The military is happy to help with every roboto-droned gadget they've got, and a war is declared on the platform as a hostile foreign country.

Terminator chip-equipped, Knights flies to New York and walks into the United Nations to reason for peace and collaboration without killing anybody. Antagonists urge "tried and true" methods of "measured, reasonable, rational, fair and balanced, cautious, contemplative, gradual" . . . Knights thinks this is lame and is "detained" immediately in a sound and bombproof subterranean interrogation chamber, then taken out by the Man of Cloth . . .

Istvan's finding it takes guts to self publish. His Indie fiction has somehow been confused with him. The hate mailers make the same mistake; Istvan is the enemy, not his novel. I read several reviews critical of Istvan's character resorting to the antagonist's fundamentalist religious tactics to win. Authors have the right to a less than squeaky-clean hero, but critics chastise Istvan for not whitewashing his brain to give them one.

Other reviewers tag the fictional transhumanists a cult, no different than the religious cult hunting them down. They might be missing the point, which could be the unavoidable radicalization of opposing beliefs escalating into war that destroys the world they're obsessed with preserving.

Istvan is saved from further assault by making the top seller list in philosophy, not religion, politics, or medicine, indicating some reviewers have the novel in perspective. I have a hunch Istvan's hate mail suggests how fearfully slow some are on the uptake while mothers die, Iceland drowns, immuno-viruses float in the soup and mental institutions patient-dump on the streets of adjacent States.

If transhumanist scientists are life-set on creating this probable future, who wouldn't grab on when no one was looking? Istvan's hate mail reflects a schitzy status-quo contingency of pro-life/pro-deathers that weren't at all measured, reasonable, rational, cautious, or contemplative in their sentiments. Why fix it if it ain't broke, but it is.

In "Do Less, Achieve More", Chin-Ning Chu reassures the weary "death will come to your rescue", whereas Etta Clark's "Growing Old is Not for Sissies", cheerleads us to workout like hell and fight to the end. Living on and on might not be for sissies either.

I enjoyed "Transhumanist Wager" as much as Michael Wolff's nail-biting and sadistically funny "Burn Rate", another juicy suspense-fest-page-turner of being eaten alive by an internet start-up. I won't leak the end of Istvan's book, other than how he did it:

The End.
(it isn't)