Aspen Times Weekly book review: ‘Zero K’
274 pages, hardcover: $27
Don DeLillo long ago earned his place as the oracle of American letters. In his novels of decades yore, he predicted reality TV, he understood how terrorists and lone gunmen would come to control our society through fear, he portrayed the Great Recession and Occupy Wall Street before they happened.
That well-established record of cultural prognostication makes what he has to say about the future of death and the uber-rich in “Zero K” acutely discomfiting. Because it’s coming from DeLillo, you can’t dismiss it as pure science fiction, though you may wish you could.
“Zero K” imagines a not-so-distant world where, for those who can pay to live forever, “Death is a cultural artifact.” The billionaire Ross Lockhart and his wife, Artis, travel to an underground compound called The Convergence in the former Soviet Union, where a cult-like group is promising to cryogenically preserve bodies and minds until the day cures are found and immortality is made possible (for a price). The trip is narrated by Lockhart’s under-employed son, Jeffrey, who is skeptical but fascinated by the odd goings-on at The Convergence.
Terminally ill, Artis is frozen. Then Ross – though he’s still healthy – begins thinking about joining her. For a man who can buy anything, an immortality pod could be “a final shrine of entitlement.” As Jeffrey fights with his dad over the idea, the narrative moves between The Convergence and Jeffrey’s familiar, disconnected 21st century life back in the U.S. – where he, not unlike the frozen bodies of the Convergence, seems to be in a state of animated suspension.
“Zero K” is as creepy as it sounds. But it’s also consistently funny, in DeLillo’s well-honed deadpan style. And the moral questions DeLillo deftly ponders in this masterly work of fiction may soon be more than hypothetical. After finishing the book, my quick Google search turned up stories of several tech billionaires – Peter Thiel, Sergey Brin and Larry Paige among them – spending millions in search of cures for aging and death.
You can’t take it with you? Well, not for now.
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