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Immortality Inc. [Mass Market Paperback]

Robert Sheckley
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Nov 1978
This book ties in with the futuristic film, "Freejack", starring Anthony Hopkins, Mick Jagger and Emilio Estevez.
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


Product details

  • Mass Market Paperback
  • Publisher: Ace Books (Nov 1978)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0441368808
  • ISBN-13: 978-0441368808
  • Product Dimensions: 16.8 x 10.4 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,932,734 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By Ghostgrey51 TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
Robert Sheckley's tales were normally laced with quirky humour. This book, originally a series of episodes in a magazine is a dark assessment on human nature when hope and wonder are removed and commercial science tries to fill the gap.
Starting with a driver at the point of death in a car accident, waking up in a future where, amongst other answers to death, it has become possible to transfer a human's spirit into a body whose original personality has been removed by brain-death. A process not without risk as this event proves, the hero's there by mistake.
At first treated as possible advertising material and then left initially to his own devices he journeys through a world horrifically altered by this `break through' in science. Now that death and immortality are in the market place, the poor sell their bodies for the rich to retain life. There are poltergeists, zombies and other creatures of our nightmares, now bi-products of a system not yet perfected. Public suicide booths exist for those who have just given up on the material world, because it has been proven there is `life' after death, if you are strong enough naturally or have paid enough to be strengthened to survive. Bored, decadent rich, hire soldiers of fortune to hunt and kill them, not an easy business since both sides are armed, but no guns, that would be no `fun'. And berserkers ready to kill as many as they can before being killed can appear on any pavement, any time.
The central character's struggle to adapt and survive is almost at times secondary to the terrifying world Sheckley brilliantly portrays. To go beyond this, as it is a short book would give too much away. I can only add, read this enthralling and imaginative work; then ponder how many uncomfortable resonances there are with today.
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Format:Paperback
"Immortality, Inc" is a science fiction novel written by Robert Sheckley (his first in fact) and published (more precisely serialized) in 1959.

Imagine this, Thomas Blaine is a yatch designer, returning from his vacations. He is driving alone in a road at night and he suddenly loses control of his car, crashing into an oncoming car. In his final moments he realizes he's going to die. Or maybe not... And that's the unconventional beginning of "Immortality, Inc".

The rest is a smallish novel put together with notions and experiments of ideas now familiar to the realm of science fiction (time-travel, far-fetched technology, etc, etc).

Thomas, as a character, is rather believable. As he is, a person thrown into such foreign territory can become very unpredictable (I think) and suffer from such "common" dangers without even realizing. Of the rest of the characters, the same can't be said, some are predictable, others depthless and one or two rather mechanic.

The first five/six chapters are great, they're consice, fast, entertaining and without being lengthy give a wonderful insight of the protagonist. After the first chapters there's an obvious steady slow down of pace and even worst, the scope of plot diminishes greatly which turns a story of immortality and time-travels to something rather homely. In nutshell, it slackens.

I recommend "Immortality, Inc" because of its opening chapters, but as a novel it's rather disappointing.

Till next time,
M.I.T.H. (ManInsideTheHelm)
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting idea 2 April 2005
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I loved this book. I can't tell you too much of the story because it would spoil it. Suffice to say that this take on what happens when you die or how to avoid death is entertaining if a bit worrying. It is quite a short book, so I was left wanting to read more at the end. Never boring, fast paced and thought provoking. If you liked the Da Vinci Code then you'll like this.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I think the previous review refers to a different book 8 April 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"Immortality, Inc." is Sheckley's first novel. It has some claim to being his best. For the best part of the 1950s, Robert Sheckley bristled with ideas: he seemed to write a short story every other week, and very few of these fell flat. He wrote this novel in 1959, just as he was slowing down, and in many ways it's the apotheosis of his 50s writing style: slick, just as long as it needs to be, and a little flippant. There's also something serious behind the flippancy.
The story begins in the twentieth century, with the hero's death. He wakes up in 2110 where the afterlife and every aspect of a person's mental life is a marketable commodity - or so it seems at first. The hero has to survive in a very confusing world. This is a Sheckley trademark - one he handles more entertainingly than anyone else - and this is one of the very best bewildering futures he has created.
(I was, I should note, dissatisfied with the ending - not the ending of the story proper, but the tacked-on epilogue. You can forget about these few paragraphs. I did.)
If, by some chance, the previous reviewer is right, and this volume contains some of Sheckley's short stories as well, then it's even more worth getting. Consider yourself lucky.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't let negative reviews fool you!! 26 Mar 2012
By M. Witlicki - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is very fun; it takes directions that you don't expect in the least. Not great twisty thriller type "OMG" moments, but Sheckley focuses on aspects of the future that are not typically written about in speculative futuristic sci-fi...

The story goes like this (no spoilers): a man from the 1950's gets "freejacked," if you will, into the future and has to somehow make it on his own, dealing with not only a sense of survivor's guilt, but also with a feeling of total disconnect.

Great story, interesting plot, and it is humorous, but not in a slapstick kind of way. Considering it was written in 1959, it has a very modern writing style that is very readable. This is not a book that will keep you up late, anticipating some shocking culmination; but it is immensley enjoyable, with a satisfying ending. What more could you ask?
4.0 out of 5 stars Immortality/SF Adventure/Satire -- by one of the 50s greats 9 Dec 2013
By Mithridates VI of Pontus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Nominated for the 1959 Hugo Award for Best Novel

Robert Sheckley’s first novel Immortality, Inc. (variant title: Time Killer) (1958) has a somewhat checkered publication history. It was originally published by Avalon books under the title Immortality Delivered (1958) where it was abridged against Sheckley’s wishes. Unless you are a collector of the Avalon publication series I recommend procuring the complete 1959 Bantam Book edition with its gorgeous (and alas, uncredited) cover. Later editions were decked with rather unfortunate covers linking the book to the atrocious film Freejack (1992) (replete with Mick Jagger) which was supposedly influenced by Sheckley’s novel.

Thematically, Immortality, Inc concerns the societal ramifications of the important discovery that death is not the end of existence and neither does the Christian conception of the afterlife exist. As a result of this discovery, previously held supernatural occurrences such as demonic possession, ghosts, etc are explained in scientific terms. The novel is delightfully tongue and cheek in the style Sheckley developed and refined in his short stories of the late 50s — notably the masterpiece “The Prize of Peril” (1958).

Brief Plot Summary/Analysis

“What survives or doesn’t survive after death is the mind. People have been arguing for thousands of years about what a mind is, and where and how it interacts with the body, and so forth. We haven’t got the answers, but we do have some working definitions. Nowadays, the mind is considered a high-tension energy web that emanates from the body, is modified by the body, and itself modifies the body. Go that?” (30)

If you do, then this next step “logically” follows: “death hatches the mind from the body” (30). The mind is transferred after death, if trained correctly or facilitated by a machine, to a vast “switchboard” that rests at a “threshold.” The threshold leads to some state of existence beyond our realm. Before the scientific breakthroughs spearheaded by the incredibly powerful Hereafter Insurance Corporation, ”death trauma” (30) resulted in the mind dissipating or even incorrectly entering someone else’s body in some insane state — i.e. demonic possession. With the techniques developed, Hereafter Insurance Corporation can guarantee, for a substantial fee, the mind’s intact survival after death trauma. If you do not want to immediately head to the switchboard threshold and whatever lies beyond, then for an additional fee a surrogate body can be provided. Hopefully the mind of previous inhabitant has been correctly removed and body supplied willingly…

Into this unusual world Thomas Blaine, our playboy yacht designer hero, is unsuspectingly thrust. As a filmed advertising gimmick for a new type of power generator, the Rex Corporation transports Blaine’s mind after death from the past (time-travel is possible but illegal) into a new body in the future: “this poor bastard has just discovered that he died in an automobile accident and is now reborn in a new body. So what does he say about t? He says, ‘It’s unbelievable.’ Damn it, he’s not really reacting to the shock!” (6). Blaine’s discomfort and extreme confusion is all filmed for an advertising campaign!

In one of the plot holes of the novel, the Rex Corporation’s purpose for brining Blaine from the past is never brought to fruition due to the fact that they are too worried about the illegality of the transfer. Regardless, Blaine, once a tall lithe man is placed in a short beefy boxer-like body. He soon meets to the architect of the botched Rex Corporation campaign, the icy but lovely Marie Thorne… She forces him to sign a paper agreeing not to bring the corporation to court due to their “unauthorized saving of his life in the year 1958 and the subsequent transporting of that life to a Receptacle in the year 2110″ (10) and he is soon thrust, ignorant of the ways of this new world, onto the street.

A series of adventures follow, he is unable to find a job building/designing yachts so he joins the hunters — armed men who hunt the wealthy who own Hereafter Insurance and want to die spectacular an memorable deaths. He is exposed to the rhetoric of fanatical religious movements, attempts to join a show as a primitive man from the 19th century, meets colonies of humans whose minds incorrectly entered new bodies and thus move and think more akin to zombies, he finally finds employment designing vintage yachts all before the main plot threads, concerning another mind that wants to steal his body, come to fruition.

Final Thoughts

As with his short from the same year, “The Prize of Peril,” where the participants risk sign away their lives to the whims of the audience in a futuristic television program, Sheckley’s ruminations on death are fascinating. Because death lacks the same import and uncertainty that it once held societies opinions of it are transformed — it becomes a spectacle by the wealthy who want to go out in style, hunted by armed men on their lavish estates. Life is simply a intermittent period where enough money can be gathered to guarantee the survival of the mind. And for those who simply cannot find the funds suicide booths line the streets… Hopefully your mind is strong enough to withstand death trauma.

With the technology of the Transplant, where you can move your mind momentarily to a new body, Sheckley postulates all the new thrills one can experience: “Transplant is the new switch game, buddy. Are you tired of living? Think you’ve had all the kicks Wait ’til you try Transplant. So see, farmer, folks in the know say that straight sex is pretty moldy potatoes” (24). But even with all the new thrills (sexual experience, elaborate suicides) and benefits generated by the new technology, the world is in no way a better place. The standard SF trope of the primitive man from the past thrust into the utopian future is adeptly subverted. Sheckley conception of technology does not exude the stereotypical 50s naivete. And this pernicious tone despite the pulp trappings that makes Immortality, Inc. a rather unsettling experience.

Despite lacking cohesion and a rather run-of-the-mill action plot, Immortality, Inc. not only touches on some thought-provoking ideas but is told with the same appealing vigor as his short works. Although I am not altogether convinced that Robert Sheckley’s talents transfer to the novel form as brilliantly as they do to the short form, Immortality, Inc is recommended for all fans of 50s SF.
5.0 out of 5 stars The Superstar of SF Satire 14 Sep 2013
By Alan Conrad - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
As one of those who took part, as a reader, in the 1950s - 1960s golden age of SF, I've often wondered why writers like Asimov, Heinlein, A.C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, etc have continued to command the attention of the SF reading public, while almost no one now has heard of Robert Sheckley.

Sheckley was at the leading edge of futuristic satire, maybe its most dazzling star. No one could combine dark and light humor in the same lively way as he could, and nowhere did he do it better than he did in Immortality Inc.

Just imagine what the world would be like if science established that the afterlife was real, but not easy to get to, and the biggest beneficiary of the situation was the Life Insurance industry, which offered policies that would pay for the treatment that would make successful passage almost guaranteed. Meanwhile, the working class lines up at suicide booths just to get a few dollars out of dying.

It's hardly less topical today, is it? Yet where, outside religion and new age culture, is there any interest now in afterlife phenomena? There's lots of evidence for it, but it gets almost no attention. Could it be that death has become taboo in a culture that believes only in making money, fashionable travelling, and endless partying? Maybe that's why we've forgotten this unforgettable book.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Bad reader 12 Mar 2012
By socko008 - Published on Amazon.com
I would not recommend the audio version of this book. The story was good enough, but it would have been much more enjoyable if I were reading it myself. It sounded like the person was reading it for the first time, his sense of when to pause was terrible (continuing like there was going to be another sentence at the end of each chapter!), and he sounded distracted at best during the entire book. I feel like he had more fun just doing the voices of the characters, which were enthusiastic, but also very annoying at certain parts. I don't know how this man got the job for this, but I feel like he destroyed what should have been a much more suspenseful and enjoyable book.
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