To understand this book one must understand its author. Joel Garreau is what is known, and possibly he himself invented the term, as a “cultural revolution correspondent” for the Washington Post. He has a broad vision ranging from the development in the last century of what he calls “edge cities,” or ex-urban adjuncts to urban centers, to what he now perceives as the intriguing and possibly dangerous implications of “enhancement.”
You have only to do some targeted channel- or net-surfing to see that Garreau’s beast is already stalking towards Bethlehem. One way of describing it is the “Heaven scenario”: dumb matter will be tweaked to produce godlike beings with the chance to live ideal lives for a protracted timespan through technology. If hearts can be transplanted, and faces, why not brains? Demons of capitalist ambition urge us not to settle for less, not to be satisfied with the body, the stamina, the genes, that God gave us. Gone are the dark days of the 1950s when “birth defects” were still large on the statistical charts, when menopause, if it didn’t kill you, made you wish you were dead, when men had to cope with not getting it up each and every time the fit came on.
Drawing on many sources, from Bill Joy, the “Edison of the Internet,” to Huck Finn and Jaron Zepe Lanier, the “inventor” of virtual reality, Garreau leads us through the thicket of evolutionary possibilities in a format somewhat like a textbook of futurism. Consider that, as one pundit points out, World War II was a pivotal point in evolutionary progress: “the war was won with devices that were not invented when the war started.” Then recall, if you’re old enough, the first computers – banks and banks of lights and slots, room-sized noise-makers that required an extensive staff of anxious care-takers, from the Alpha Plus programmers to the Beta Minus card stackers. Fast forward fifty years – in Earth’s historical terms barely the blink of an eye – to palm pilots and murder by cyber contract.
Garreau postulates a world composed of the Enhanced (physically, mentally, psychologically perfected, heir to and able to pay for perfect teeth and hair, complex transplants and implants, optimal health for an optimal lifespan), the Naturals (those who for reasons of politics, religion or just plain persnicketyness prefer not to be enhanced), and the Rest. The Rest we have always with us, as even now millions of people reside on Starship Terra who will never own a refrigerator or a CD player.
I figure I’d be a Natural – it has a vaguely hippie, kooky appeal. Of course, I won’t live to see the day, but the prospect seems a very real one. Controversial, compelling, irritating – Garreau’s nouveau-science will not appeal to everyone, but will make for great late-night debates among all but the Rest.