Architects of Emortality

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Brian Stableford: Architects of Emortality (1999)

Contributed by Sarah Herbe

Six scientists, whose discoveries have contributed to the creation of the New Human Race, are bizarrely murdered. The murder-mystery plot of Architects of Emortality serves to outline the changes which the population and topography of the Earth have undergone by 2495. Due to mass sterility among humans after the Plague Wars, and ecocatastrophes caused by the Greenhouse Crisis of the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries, natural procreation has been entirely substituted by life-engineering, supported by the invention of an artificial womb. Scientific advances have made it possible to extend life indefinitely, but by the end of the twenty-fifth century, this so-called "emortality" is still elitist.

Author

Brian Stableford, also known as Brian Craig, was born on 25 July 1948 in Shipley, Yorkshire. Having studied at the University of York, from which he obtained a B.Sc. in Biology in 1969 and a PhD in Sociology in 1979, he lectured at the University of Reading before he became a full-time writer in 1988. With over seventy published books in the realm of science fiction, Stableford is regarded as one of the most prolific British science fiction writers. Indeed, his immense opus is accompanied by a number of contributions to various collections, translations, anthologies, and other non-fiction. Stableford has been duly accredited for his achievements in the science fiction genre. His novels have been nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award (1989), the Hugo (1995), the Nebula (1996), and the Bram Stoker Award (1997). He is also a prolific critic of science fiction and fantasy literature and won the Distinguished Scholarship Award of the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts (1987) and the Science Fiction Research Association's Pilgrim Award for his contributions to science fiction scholarship (1999).

Selected Publications

Series

Dies Irae (The Days of Glory, 1971; In the Kingdom of the Beasts, 1971; Day of Wrath, 1971); Hooded Swan (The Halycon Drift, 1972; The Paradise Game; 1972; Rhapsody in Black, 1973; Promised Land, 1974; The Fenris Device; 1974; Swan Song; 1975); Daedalus Mission (The Florians; 1976; Critical Threshold, 1977; Wildeblood's Empire, 1977; The City of the Sun, 1978; Balance of Power, 1979; The Paradox of the Sets, 1979); Asgard (Journey to the Center, 1982; Invaders from the Centre, 1990; The Centre Cannot Hold, 1990; Asgard's Secrets, 2004; Asgard's Conquerors, 2005; Asgard's Heart, 2005); David Lydyard (The Werewolves of London, 1990; The Angel of Pain, 1991; The Carnival of Destruction, 1994); Genesys (Serpent's Blood, 1995; Salamander's Fire, 1996; Chimera's Cradle, 1997); Emortals (Inherit the Earth, 1998; Architects of Emortality, 1999; The Fountains of Youth, 2000; The Cassandra Complex, 2001; Dark Ararat, 2002; The Omega Expedition, 2002)

Novels

Cradle of the Sun (1969); The Blind Worm (1970); The Challenge Chaos (1972); Man in a Cage (1976); The Face of Heaven (1976); The Mind-Riders (1976); The Realms of Tartarus (1977); The Last Days of the Edge of the World (1978); The Walking Shadow (1979); Optiman (1980; aka War Games); The Castaways of Tanagar (1981); The Gates of Eden (1983); The Third Millennium: A History of the World: Ad 2000-3000 (1985; with David Langford); The Cosmic Perspective (1985); The Empire of Fear (1988); Slumming in Voodooland (1991); Young Blood (1992); The Innsmouth Heritage (1992); Firefly (1994); The Hunger and Ecstasy of Vampires (1996); Year Zero (2000); The Eleventh Hour (2001); Curse of the Coral Bride (2004); Streaking (2005); The Wayward Muse (2005); The Stones of Camelot (2006); The New Faust at the Tragicomique (2007)

Collections of Short Stories

Sexual Chemistry: Sardonic Tales of the Genetic Revolution (1991); Complications: And Other Stories (2002); Salome and Other Decadent Fantasies (2004); Designer Genes: Tales of the Biotech Revolution (2004); Sheena and Other Gothic Tales (2005); The Cure for Love: And Other Tales of the Biotech Revolution (2007)

Non-Fiction

Glorious Perversity: The Decline and Fall of Literary Decadence (1968); Clash of Symbols: The Triumph of James Blish (1969); The Mysteries of Modern Science (1977); Masters of Science Fiction: Essays on Science-Fiction Authors (1981); Future Man: Brave New World or Genetic Nightmare? (1984); Scientific Romance in Britain: 1890-1950 (1985); Algebraic Fantasies and Realistic Romances: More Masters of Science Fiction (1986); The Sociology of Science Fiction (1987); Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction; and Getting Published (1987); The Way to Write Science Fiction (1989); Opening Minds: Essays on Fantastic Literature (1995); Outside the Human Aquarium: Masters of Science Fiction (1995); Teach Yourself Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction (1997); Yesterday's Bestsellers: Journey Through Literary History (1998); Slaves of the Death Spiders: Essays on Fantastic Literature (1998); The Dictionary of Science Fiction Places (1999); Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction Literature (2004); Historical Dictionary of Fantasy Literature (2005); The A to Z of Science Fiction Literature (2005); Science Fact and Science Fiction (2006); Heterocosms and Other Essays on Fantastic Literature (2007)

Main Characters

Charlotte Holmes: young mortal; UN police detective sergeant, out to make a name for herself; often insecure about her actions

Hal Watson: data-crunching inspector with the UN police; Charlotte's boss

Oscar Wilde: mortal, around 130 years old; has already had three "rejuves"; geneticist and Creationist with his own island, designs flowers; highly intelligent expert in literature; conceited aesthete who imitates the speech and mannerisms of his nineteenth-century namesake

Michael Lowenthal: a Natural (= "emortal"); MegaMall special investigator; reports regularly to his employers on the progress of the investigation

Gabriel King: born 2301 in Australia; 194 years old; member of the last generation of mortals; decivilizing contractor for the MegaMall

Magnus Teidemann: director of the Seventh Biodiversity Survey in central Africa; loathes the MegaMall although they fund his research

Michi Urashima: pioneer in the field of encephalic augmentation turned criminal; conducts experiments in cyborgization on himself

Paul Kwiatek: worked with Urashima as a scientist; designed "suitskins"; VE (virtual experience) junkie out to break down the threshold between reality and virtual reality

Walter Czastka: 194 years old; has created Jafri Biasiolo with Maria Inacio, who was surprisingly fertile, with the aim of designing an immortal human being; a geneticist and Creationist with his own island; recluse who has made his fortune designing mass-market flowers; accused of being uncreative in his art by Oscar Wilde

Stuart McCandless: world-weary professor of History; lives on Kauai; ex-Chancellor of the University of Oceania; University of Wollongong graduate

Jafri Biasiolo (alias Rappaccini/Gustave Moreau): geneticist and Creationist with his own island; has made his fortune designing and marketing funeral wreaths with his company, Rappaccini Inc.; creates the Woman and her wig to kill all involved in his own creation; investor in encephalic augmentation research

the Woman /Julia Herold: a clone of Biasiolo's mother; genetically engineered to be controlled by a virtual entity that inhabits a specially designed wig

Setting

Architects of Emortality is set in the late twenty-fifth century; to be precise, in the year 2495. The action starts in Manhattan, but in the course of the novel it switches to San Francisco, Italy, central Africa, and Hawaii. The Earth's ecosphere and topography are vastly changed by the ecocatastrophic Crash and by their ensuing reconstruction that has led to the creation of new islands. The world is ruled and controlled by the MegaMall, an omnipotent, worldwide corporation.

Summary

In Architects of Emortality, the architects of "emortality" – scientists involved in the creation of the New Human Race – are killed one after the other by an extraordinary murder weapon: flower seeds specially designed to devour their flesh, transmitted by the kiss of an attractive young woman who visits the men, bringing them exotic bouquets, each of which is accompanied by a condolence card bearing poems by Milton, Baudelaire, or Wilde.

The first victim to be found is Gabriel King, a contractor for the MegaMall, who is working on a "decivilizing" project with the goal of erasing the skyscrapers of New York with bacteriological agents and replacing them with a new, more streamlined city. The first victim, who is only discovered after some time due to his reclusive lifestyle, is Magnus Teidemann, director of the Seventh Biodiversity Survey responsible for cataloguing plants and animals in central Africa. He has already had two rejuvenation treatments, but generally shuns all kinds of technology. The next victim is Paul Kwiatek, who has designed his own partially inorganic suitskin to control his VE (= virtual experience) in an attempt to expand consciousness and to overcome the separation between reality and virtual reality; he is followed by Michi Urashima, an experimenter in cyborgization.

Charlotte Holmes and Hal Watson, the UN police officers who investigate the murders, are supported by Michael Lowenthal, a UN official, and Oscar Wilde, a designer of genetically engineered flowers. Together they establish a possible connection between all the murder victims: they all went to university together. From an early stage, Wilde suspects Jafri "Rappaccini" Biasiolo, a rival flower designer specialising in funerals, of having planned the crimes, as the killer flowers bear his signature. Wilde is convinced that he himself is central to solving the mystery, because the French original of a Baudelaire poem is written on the card that accompanied the flowers found in King's apartment, and Wilde is one of the rare twenty-fifth-century specialists on nineteenth-century poetry. Wilde also discovers that the killer seeds were genetically modified to consume only the victims' flesh and thus do not constitute a biohazard for the rest of the population.

The hunt for the murderer takes the investigators to the Californian wilderness, whose ecosystem has undergone no repair since the Plague Wars. There, they are shown a theatrical lightshow that turns out to be a parody of Salomé, featuring the Woman herself. In the culminating scene, she displays heads of Rappaccini's victims on a platter. A sim (=simulation) of Biasiolo as King Herod appears on an ornate throne spewing pompous, pre-recorded vitriol. Shortly afterwards, the investigators learn that Biasiolo has been dead for weeks, so they concentrate their efforts on capturing the Woman.

Stuart McCandless, whose head is among those displayed in the strange lightshow, does not heed Hal's warning that he may be on the murderer's list (he, too, attended university with the other victims), and is in turn killed by the Woman, who poses as his assistant Julia Herold. Having discovered through the investigation of DNA records that Rappaccini's father is Walter Czastka, a geneticist and Creationist, the investigators fly to Czastka's island in order to protect him. Czastka is not killed by the Woman, but she succeeds in spreading out artificial spores that destroy the ecosystem of his island and thus his life's work.

The investigators finally manage to apprehend the Woman on Moreau's Island, Rappaccini's habitat, which is filled with fantastic, inventive, illegally engineered flora and fauna. They discover that her murderous actions were meticulously planned, and were actually controlled through "brainfeed equipment" in the disguise of a wig, pre-programmed by Jafri "Rappaccini" Biasiolo. The Woman is the modified clone of Biasiolo's mother: her brain has been designed to interface with the wig. The investigators can only speculate about the motive for the murders, but they guess that Biasiolo intended to kill all those involved in his creation. They believe that, while at university in Wollongong, Walter Czastka set up an experiment to create an immortal being by genetically engineering an embryo when it became obvious that nanotechnology would not lead to immortality. Moreover, in their opinion, Biasiolo was determined to kill him and the others either because they failed to achieve their aim, or because they stopped trying hard enough after that one failed experiment. As she was not in control of her actions, the Woman will not be charged with the murders, but she will be studied closely, as she is the living proof that, with the help of brainfeed equipment, individuals can be perfectly controlled and turned into dangerous weapons. The illegal creations found on Moreau's Island are destroyed by the UN.

Interest Areas

Life Extension

Treatments called "rejuves", or rejuvenations, modify the body at the cellular level, enabling humans to live well over 200 years. The human body can usually withstand only two rejuves, because the third carries a high risk of the "Miller effect", which refers to the undesirable fact that when brain tissue is renewed, the mind is wiped clear as well. Oscar Wilde, having undergone three rejuves at a relatively young age, is an exception. Rejuvenation is the process to which only the last generation of mortals is submitted.

Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is responsible for rejuvenation. Each human body has an IT (= internal technology) component doing part of the body's work and, as a result, many ailments are attributed to IT failures. However, nanotechnological rejuvenation is only a superficial process: the hopes that earlier generations put in nanotechnology as a path to immortality have been disappointed.

Immortality / Emortality

In contrast to the last members of the old human race, the members of the New Human Race are "emortal" due to the so-called "Zaman Transformation". This means that they can live forever if they are not killed in an accident or commit suicide. The mortals, who engineered the New Human Race, are aware of this fact and of the fundamental biological difference between the product of their ingenious engineering and themselves. This gap is suspected to be at the central motive for Rappaccini's revenge.

Death

Oscar Wilde muses that, as death will become virtually extinct with the progression of emortality, it will eventually become "a matter of aesthetic choice".

Beauty

In addition to rejuvenation, it seems that any part of the body can be modified; wrinkles can be removed effortlessly and facial features moulded to conform to the latest trends. Seven female and seven male face archetypes, which meet the most popular aesthetic demands, have been designed, and everyone undergoing beauty treatments is modelled along these lines, making extreme beauty the rule and not the exception.

Life Creation

After the Plague Wars of the twenty-first and twenty-second centuries had caused an epidemic of sterility in humans, an artificial womb was invented that could carry a baby, produced from stored eggs and sperm, to term. This revolutionary technology provides the basis for the creation of the New Human Race. The idea of the artificial womb, then called "exogenesis", can already be found in J.B.S. Haldane's almost prophetic "Daedalus; or, Science and the Future" (1923).

Biotechnology

Genetic engineering is a ubiquitous facet of life in the twenty-fifth century. Modifications are applied to both people and nature. Anything can be engineered, because all "gentemplates" have been discovered.

Cloning

The Woman, who is charged with murdering the scientists, is herself a clone, though a modified one, illegally and secretly created by Biasiolo.

Cyborgization

Many scientists conduct experiments to expand the consciousness and experience of human beings through interfaces with machines, attempting to augment their intellect and imagination. Extending life-expectancy and preserving beauty with the help of cyborgization is illegal, but nevertheless experimentally conducted by some people.

Body Transformations

The victims' corpses are bizarrely transformed by the killer flowers, or rather, the seeds that eat their flesh. This is explicitly referred to as "metamorphosis".

One of the most extreme and, simultaneously, most advanced and condemned transformations is encephalic augmentation - the in utero manipulation of the foetus in the hope of creating the superhuman.

Critical Commentary

Brian Stableford first tried to get Architects of Emortality published in 1987, when it was still entitled Fleurs du Mal, but could not find a publisher then. A novella-length version of the novel, still under the original title, was nominated for the Hugo Award in 1995, before the full version of the novel, now entitled Architects of Emortality, was finally published by Tor, an American publisher of science fiction, in 1999, as the fourth part of a future history comprising six volumes and spanning more than a thousand years. Stableford suspects that one of the reasons why he could not find a publisher in Britain was his unpopular approach to (human) biotechnology.

Stableford often refers to J.B.S. Haldane's "Daedalus; or, Science and the Future" (1923), in which the pioneer geneticist outlines how humans have always been products of biotechnology, and how all applications of biotechnology (among which he ranks the domestication of animals or contraception) were first seen as a perversion before they became 'natural' in the course of time. Like Haldane, he swims against the ideological current of seeing human biotechnology as predominantly, or exclusively, menacing and harmful. This attitude is not limited to Architects of Emortality: Stableford regularly emphasises that he is generally unwilling to join the wholesale demonization of (human) genetic engineering. In reviews of Architects of Emortality, the unpopular audacity to imply that there might, after all, be a positive aspect in genetic engineering has been applauded, along with Stableford's breaking out of conventional genre tropes (there are neither spaceships nor aliens in this instalment of the "Emortality" Series).

Still, Stableford's promotion of (human) biotechnology does not fail to illuminate possible negative consequences, which saves his works from becoming a one-sided celebration of a biotech utopia. That engineered organisms can be used as effective weapons is more than vividly illustrated in Architects of Emortality. Also, the conflict between the different generations, or rather species, of humans, between the Naturals, who have already been genetically modified before birth in order to become emortal and those who, despite having contributed to making this innovation happen, cannot live forever and can only be rejuvenated every so often, while witnessing the birth of the New Human Race is central to the work, and constitutes the source of many conflicts.

Apart from concentrating on biotechnology and the creation of life, Stableford brings into focus several issues that have already been established as critical in the late twentieth century and continue to gain in importance in the early twenty-first century. Indeed, eco-catastrophes, the green-house effect, and the eventual collapse of nature – concerns that have occupied many science fiction writers in the last decade – are treated in vivid detail in the novel. Furthermore, there is the idea of an absolute capitalism, in which the entire world economy becomes the property of one corporation, and the whole population virtually depends on its judgment of profitability.

The novel does not rely exclusively on detailed expositions of hard science to engage the reader's interest; it is, as the author himself has pointed out, "cast in the form of a detective story". Stableford has also referred to it as a "mock thriller", satirising genre conventions, not least by calling the investigators Charlotte Holmes and Hal Watson. Moreover, he draws heavily on Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter" (1844) and the English and French Decadent Movement for characters and ideas, as well as making use of their aesthetic theories in order to present genetic engineering as a form of art.

Critical Bibliography

Reviews

http://www.paulkincaid.co.uk/Reviews/stableford-emortality.htm (26.06.08)

http://www.emcit.com/emcit056.shtml#fleurs (26.06.08)

Links

http://freespace.virgin.net/diri.gini/brian.htm (Brian Stableford's homepage)

http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/s/brian-m-stableford/ (Brian Stableford at FantasticFiction)

http://www.strangehorizons.com/2001/20010312/brian_stableford.shtml (Strange Horizons interview with Brian Stableford, 12 March 2001)

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