Getting Old Gracelessly

Getting Old Gracelessly

If current events seem confounding, wait 60 years or so. Are you ready for trillionaires who live to be 127 and still long for longer life?

Are you ready for a world where bald eagles are extinct but Segways are thriving — after a civil war, when a giant corporation led by a handful of miserly moguls rules America? When science has evolved but homo sapiens have devolved into “homo digitalensis” with Wi-Fi implants behind the ears?

This scary new world, circa 2076, awaits — at least according to Stanley Bing, author of "Immortal Life: A Soon to be True Story." Bing is the pseudonym of Gil Schwartz, a best-selling novelist, business writer and CBS executive.

Bing’s unsettling account of the future is leavened with wry humor and satire. His job is not to be a seer but rather to conjure an entertaining narrative, one that periodically lends itself to commentary on the planet’s present plight.

For example, centenarian Arthur Vogel is not only working toward life everlasting, à la PayPal’s Peter Thiel: He also aspires to be the supreme mogul and “to make the (unnamed) Corporation great again.” (Nevermind that it already controls virtually the entire U.S. economy.)

Vogel is singularly despicable in mind and body, a “desiccated nugget of flesh” who is plotting the ultimate unfriendly takeover: to inject his personality and consciousness into the ardent anatomy of an amiable but unwilling persona named Gene. (If you’re guessing pun intended, you’re right.)

Gene is a nice if somewhat vacuous young male, although not entirely human. He is the offspring of a scientist, Dr. Bob, and his extremely advanced 3D printer, and Gene's creation is for the express purpose of becoming a hunky vessel for Vogel 2.0. The only problem is that Gene takes a shine to living, especially hanging with his main squeeze — named, appropriately enough, Liv.

The plot revolves around this binary struggle over which personality will dominate not only Gene but America itself, or what’s left of it.

Gene and Liv and fellow travelers flee north from Silicon Valley to one of the ungoverned, off-the-grid “Green Zones” in the former state of Washington. The free socialist republic of Vermont is another enclave of resistance to corporate oppression. (The geopolitical divide is roughly along red state/blue state lines.)

In hot pursuit are Vogel and his private army — including his younger consort, 86-year-old Sallie, who looks 40ish, and her precocious pet Lucifer, a chatty green lizard synth.

It all makes for a rattling good yarn, even if implausibility abounds. For example, the Cloud controls everything by this time, of course, but its massive computer complex, located on an abandoned missile base, is guarded, conveniently enough for plot purposes, by a single “mannequin sentry.”

Bing’s prose also can wax too prosaic, to wit: “Mort strode away, albeit with very short strides.” Strides, at least in 2017, are long steps. The meaning of silence apparently has morphed, too: as in “reverberating silence” or “It was very silent except for the sound of the Cloud.”

Grammatical nitpicking aside, Bing has produced an engaging and cautionary tale about the direction in which spaceship Earth is hurtling. If some of it seems improbable, much of it doesn’t.