A glowing review in the Sunday paper gave me high hopes for this book as well as a few misconceptions. I thought it was a love story. I thought it was science fiction. I thought it was going to be good. Instead, I plodded through to the bitter end. (I spent $12.95 on a copy and, darn it, I was going to get my money’s worth.) Unfortunately, I never warmed up to Don DeLillo’s cryogenic tale, Zero K.
Post Format: Straight Talk
The idea behind Zero K is so compelling. Ross Lockhart is a self-made billionaire whose beloved wife Artis is dying. What does such a man do in this case? Why, he helps fund a cryogenics facility so that Artis and people like her can be frozen and stored until future medical technologies develop to cure them. To add to this gripping story line, Ross, a healthy man in his sixties, decides to be frozen alongside her so they can reenter the future together. But after Artis is preserved in a storage pod and it’s Ross’s turn, he chickens out. Two lonely years later, he does return to the facility to join her. But that would be like Romeo bringing poison to Juliet’s crypt, then deciding not to take it right away. Such a twist would have made the tale happier but not fodder for one of the greatest love stories ever told.
I’m partly to blame for thinking the story was futuristic. (It isn’t.) Cryogenics or more precisely cryonics is the deep-freezing of humans who have died of disease so they can be revived when cures are found. I had a vague knowledge of this theory but did not realize that it’s being practiced today! One of the largest cryonics facilities in the world, Alcor Life Extension Foundation, is in Arizona. According to their website, they have 146 “patients” and another 1,075 waiting members. It’s a fascinating example of man trying to cheat death. I wish DeLillo had given more details about his fictitious facility and the folly of those operating it, something the author only hints at.
Finally, Zero K’s plot may be driven by Ross and Artis’ life choices. But it’s told by Jeffrey Lockhart, Ross’s 31-year-old son. Jeffrey’s stream of consciousness narration was just tiresome. There were endless obsessions with names and observations about doors and keys and what not. I’m sure these and other musings had some deep, underlying meaning. After all, DeLillo is considered one of the best writers of our time. But a story is a story. In the end, if it fails in the telling, no amount of clever literary techniques can save it.
QUESTION: Would you like to live forever?
BONUS BIT: Curious about cryonics? Watch this short report on Alcor Life Extension Foundation, one of the largest such facilities in the world.