Outnumbering the Dead • 1990 • Transhumanity novella by Frederik Pohl

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

 

Synopsis: Humanity cured the age sickness, all babies are treated to become immortal. The living outnumber the sum of all dead men.

Rafiel is a 90 years old famous singer-dancer and very special, being one of a few whose prebirth treatment failed. Coming out of a rejuvenation, he feels like twenty again. His last role will be Oedipus in a modernized adaption of Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex.

Rafiel slowly feels his body failing, and he wants to be with Alegretta again, his lost love, former doctor, now chief engineer on space habitat Hakluyt which will soon leave the Solar system towards Tau Ceti.

Alegretta visits Rafiel unexpectedly, disclosing to him that he wants a child from him, granting him the traditional form of immortality. 

Review: Frederik Pohl is a wonder of an author, spanning more than 70 years of fiction from 1939 up to 2010. One can truly say that he’s seen and lived through everything SF. I don’t even want to count his endless nominations and award wins. Reading his works never failed to entertain me. Check out for example his novel Gateway (review), or short story Day Million (review).

This novella treats the clash between humans and transhumans as has been told very often – the confrontation with a freak (in this case the sole human), the contrast in culture and the adaption to the circumstances are profoundly analyzed. Pohl gives us a straightforward narration in tight third person, concentrating on the relatable journey of Rafiel through glory as an actor, rediscovering love, up to his ending – unlike like the play a happy one. As professional as it is told, the story’s plot is too predictable to be ultimately moving my emotions. 

Some tropes are just incredulous, like letting cows carry human foetus to term. Others were over-the-top, like continuously adding loanwords from several European languages in one single sentence of direct speach. Why no Chinese words?

Silverberg’s Sailing to Byzantium (review) touched a similar subject and I liked it better than this one.

Meta: isfdb. Available online. I’ve read it it in the anthology Best of the Best Vol.2.

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2 Responses to Outnumbering the Dead • 1990 • Transhumanity novella by Frederik Pohl

  1. Jeanne says:

    I remember reading this one because it’s necromancy-adjacent. I like the way you put it, about having a child being “the traditional form of immortality.”

    Liked by 1 person

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