What price immortality? The central question in Dean Warren's Growing Young grows from a popular science fiction what-if: What if science uncovers a way to "cure" age? What will the socio-economic ramifications be, and how might
the ensuing class struggle play out? The Last Underclass, another novel by the same author,
pondered the same issue within the plot confines of a different sort of "cure"
-- rich folks plundering the ghettoized welfare class for young bodies to host
their aging brains -- but did so in an ultimately more satisfying fashion for
readers in search of a thought-provoking and thrilling read.
Langer, an elderly ex-World Health Organization doctor, gets the line on a
mysterious genetic age cure when a dying billionaire (Harold Hull, who has
already had his brain jumped to an impetuous young nephew's body) summons him to
a secret meeting. The unscrupulous Hull has heard rumors of a microbiologist's
success in turning back time's clock in the human body, in rejuvenating both
body and mind. Mark is repulsed by Hull's attitude, but intrigued by the
possibility of youth regained. He goes in search of the elusive microbiologist
and geriatric MD Sue Bastian on his own, after rejecting Hull's request and
enlisting the help of his old flame, the twice-Nobel nominated June Visic.
What Mark finds in southern California is a sequestered enclave of VIP
oldsters who Sue Bastian, herself young again, has successfully treated against
age. But Harold Hull has sicced the ultra-conservative PPP militia on the San
Angeles megacity Institute, and Mark barely has time to get treated himself
before the soldiers storm the building, killing and injuring some of the newly
young. The rejuvenated scatter, meeting up once more to decide how best to break
the news of the age cure to the world. Some want to hold out for the highest
bid, but Mark insists that they approach world governments with a pledge to
carefully limit the number of people who will receive the cure, to include the
poor in that number, and to guarantee against an untenable population explosion
by putting fertilization suppressant not only in Welfie drinking supplies but in
everyone's -- Achiever, working class, and all.
Sue Bastian, rocked by the violent initial public reaction to the cure,
throws in with Mark and the two become lovers. Mark approaches leaders on
home soil first, speaking for Sue, but is essentially imprisoned when he refuses
to reveal her whereabouts. He manages to escape, and, aided by a street-smart
young Welfie named Rosalind, convinces the leaders of the megacity ghettoes to
fight for their right to eternal youth. Hull, whose brain is dying, hires a
rejuvenated Asian mobster to hunt down Mark and Sue, but he's the least of the
worries of these newly young. Revolution threatens the regional governments of
the world as society and its leaders desperately try to come to grips with a
world where "human" has been irrevocably redefined.
The notion of an "age cure" is a ripe one for science fiction, as in reality
human lifespans grow longer and longer and the attendant pressures put on finite
resources exert themselves. Award-winning author Kim Stanley Robinson's "Mars" books (Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars)
put the issue forth against an epic backdrop of human colonization of the Red
Planet, and in more detailed and gripping a fashion than here.
Growing Young is too often hamstringed by awkwardly polemical
dialogue ("The world trembles on the lip of a precipice," opines a frustrated
Mark Langer near story's end. "I've got to drag it onto firm ground."), leading
female characters who are almost always no better than jealous and catty (given
to over-usage of the word "bitch" in reference to their sexual rivals), and the
same repetitive use of "bastard" that marred The Last Underclass, although that
book and its hero were better able to sustain it. Warren pilfers much of this
novel's milieu from himself via The Last Underclass (same staple terminology for the "Welfies," same rigid
overarching class-structure) and ends with a similarly too-pat happy denouement
for the main character. Still, the topic of what many today see as the
inevitable achievement of unnaturally long life is a compelling one, and readers fascinated by the topic
who've read out existing books on the theme (a variation on which includes James Halperin's pro-cryogenics novel The First Immortal) will likely be happy to add Growing Young to their libraries.