Friday, January 19, 2007

The Propeller in my Head

'Credibility is an expanding field...,' wrote Tom Stoppard in Jumpers, '...Sheer disbelief hardly registers on the face before the head is nodding with all the wisdom of instant hindsight.' Conversations about my book - the most recent being Nightwaves last night on Radio 3 - always start from a position of rank incredulity that the technology to extend our lives is ever going to happen. 'This is all science fiction,' people routinely say. In fact, bits of the technology are falling into place every day. Here, for example, I read of the development of a 'microbot', a tiny machine with a propeller which will fly through the veins and arteries in my head. This is not to say that the procedure that will deliver medical immortality is imminent. But it is to say that there is enough going on to convince perfectly sane people that it could be. This is why, I suspect, we shall see more and more people pursuing radical regimes - 250 supplements a day, very low calorie intake, constant monitoring of blood chemistry - intended to keep them alive long enough to benefit from immortalising technology. To die the day before it arrived, as one scientist put it to me 'would suck'. Meanwhile, sheer vanity demands that I draw your attention to the lead review in The Spectator this week. William Leith is a man of depth, wisdom and extraordinarily refined judgment. The only words I object to in his article are 'at times' in that first paragraph.


  1. I stalk the postman every morning. Alas, just more bills today. I could be run over by a bus before your book arrives. And John Ashbery should be hot on its heels. I'm also ordering the two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary after yesterday's woes -increase my vocabulary and give the postman a hernia. I think that's a good deal.

  2. Bryan, after all your puffery, I think that William Leith's review might finally have persuaded me to buy your book.

    Immortality really doesn't sound like a lot of fun, does it? Mind you, leave out the 't' and you might be on to something...

  3. why would anyone want to live forever? i seem to remember William Burroughs writing that we'd get bored of our personalities after a while. To live forever would suck, surely; also bear in mind that the Earth may be more or less uninhabitable in a hundred years, thanks to pollution and chavs and wotnot. Why is everyone so down on death all of a sudden?

    I have seen with my own eyes the Sibyl hanging in a jar, and when the boys asked her "What do you want?" She answered,
    "I want to die."

  4. All this could be possible if we had the energy to carry on the pursuit of radical science. It takes oil to keep science moving.
    What happens in maybe 30, 20 or even 5 years time when oil prices are extortinate?
    Maybe living in western comfort makes us stupid to an extent, we think we'r more powerful than we are because we'v temporarily shielded ourselves from the imparmanence of reality. In terms of history all the luxuries we have(living to 80,free healthcare, electricity, new york in 3 hours etc) are complete anomalies.

  5. I recommend reading an Anne Rice novel or two to see various viewpoints on immortality (her vampire novels, I mean).

    Anyway, it's not immortality people want, it's youth.

    Who has seen "Venus" with Peter O'Toole? That's what he is after.

    Lastly, I read that review by Leith and it's very positive, Bryan. Don't quibble!

  6. Purely a comedy quibble, Susan. The novel to read by Anne Rice is Memnoch the Devil. Fortuitously it contains a discussion of my book Understanding the Present. I haven't read the whole thing of course.....