Book Review: To Live Again, Robert Silverberg (1969)
July 20, 2011 § 5 Comments
To Live Again (1969) is a flawed work from a very fruitful period of Robert Silverberg’s career. The ideas are original and well-conceived but a downright disgusting strain of misogyny and sexism permeates virtually every page. Bluntly put, I cannot recall a single instance where a female character does anything without the shape, size, and clothed or unclothed state of her breasts mentioned and dwelled on at length. Similarly, each female character attempts to seduce all the men in sight (including relatives). It’s a shame really because our heroine Risa, over the course of the novel, develops and evolves from a headstrong child into an intelligent and self-sufficient women to be reckoned with.
The central scientific concept is a standard one: the ability to transplant the mind of a dead person into a living being. Silverberg expands this trope in a series of wonderful and original directions. A human with a transplant does not lose his own personality. Instead the host consults with the transplants and draws on their memories/personalities. Extremely powerful personalities have been known to overtake their host’s mind if it is weak — “going dybbuk.”
The rich and wealthy procure multiple transplants for artistic reasons (for example, to appreciate sculpture), as savvy business moves (using the mind of your dead rival), or even to increase one’s abilities in bed. The transplants often mature their hosts or drive them insane.
Brief Plot Summary
John Roditis and Mark Kaufmann are fierce business rivals who both desire to procure the mind of Paul Kaufmann, an extraordinarily powerful and savvy individual who has the potential to take over his host. The Scheffing Institute — which oversee the recording of the minds of wealthy/remarkable people when they are still alive to store their personas — refuses to allow Mark Kaufmann the persona since Paul was his uncle and favors Roditis. A large portion of the work concerns the maneuvering of both men (and Mark’s lover Elena) in order to acquire the transplant.
The subplot, which has important ramifications for the central story, follows sixteen-year old Risa and her acquisition of her first transplant. Risa is a headstrong girl who runs around flaunting her body (argh, Silverberg, why?). After she acquires her transplant Tandy she slowly matures. From Tandy’s memories Risa uncovers that her transplant was murdered. Murders are extremely uncommon since the penalty is the termination of Scheffing process recordings and thus no future lives (albeit, incarnated in the mind of someone else).
Silverberg abandons one of his more interesting threads creations about half way through the novel — a bastardized pseudo-Buddhism “religion” expanding rapidly from its California epicenter that incorporates the Scheffing process into its theology. Becoming a transplant in a host after death is a strange form of reincarnation. Sadly, it ends up more as a simplistic plot device by the end of the work.
To Live Again contains multiple well-conceived concepts and an interesting plot but its virulent strain of misogyny overshadows all the positives.