Holy Fire (1996)


Given the current political climate and development, it doesn’t look like our world is heading the direction of Sterling’s Holy Fire, but maybe we’re just right before the mass upheaval and megadeath phase. The future depicted in the novel is one that is both dystopian and utopian at the same time, depending to a large extend on your age and also personal inclinations.

It’s a meditation of the impact successful longevity treatments have on society, and how a world where old people have most of the power feels like. Sterling could have gone for easy targets here. It’s pretty clear where his sympathies lie, but you never get the feeling that the gerontocracy is cardboard evil. It’s the outcome of a likely future history where the survivors of years of plagues and death have developed a stance toward personal responsibility (regarding health) that makes sense but still feels incredibly cold.

Funnily enough, I would fit rather well into the gerontocracy, as I’m rather risk-averse and security-prone. But even I can see the drawbacks of such a system. The gerontocracy has plateaued, which is okay in the short and even medium term, but forever is a long time. With such a time-frame, out-of-context problems will crop up, and to at least have a chance of surviving them requires a different attitude. You need dreamers and risk-takers, the weird and the strange ones willing to go where nobody else has gone.

Even if that doesn’t happen and the gerontocracy of the book manages to keep the reigns of power and exist for a very long time, it’s easy to see why it doesn’t look much like living. Risk-aversity and forethought are not a bad thing per se, but as in many things there needs to be a balance. If all you do is focused on prolonging your life, at some point you’ve forgotten what actually living means. There are fates worse that death.

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