X-Message-Number: 2370
Date: 02 Aug 93 13:00:02 EDT
From: "Steven B. Harris" <>
Subject: CRYONICS: CHILLER Book Review

          Book Review:  CHILLER by Sterling Blake

                     Steven B. Harris

    Even dedicated science fiction readers may not know that the
University of California at Riverside houses an endowed science
fiction library called The Eaton Collection, and that the Eaton
endowment fund also hosts a gathering of academic science fiction
people for a scholarly conference on science fiction each year. 
This so-called Eaton Conference goes on for couple of days in
Riverside every Spring, and professors and professional writers
show up for it from across the country.  

   As it happens, the Alcor Life Extension Foundation was the
indirect beneficiary of an Eaton Conference five years ago.  Two
science fiction writers who were guests at the conference decided
then that as long as they were in Riverside, they might as well
visit a place they'd recently heard about in the news, a place
where people were said to actually be freezing bodies for revival
in the future.  That place was the Alcor Life Extension Founda-
tion.  The writers were Sterling Blake (a pen name) and Joe
Haldeman.  Blake and Haldeman thus came to make an appointment
one fine April day in 1988 to see the Alcor labs, and because
they were both reasonably well-known SF writers (for instance,
see a review of one of Haldeman's books in Cryonics Sept., 1990),
Mike Darwin, Hugh Hixon, and I gave them the grand tour of the
facility, doing our best to sound like reasonable people rather
than body-freezing fanatical believers.  Both authors arrived in
what was first a non-serious, touristy, and amused mood; but both
went away somewhat later looking rather thoughtful.  

   Beware when a science fiction author begins to look 
thoughtful.  Sterling Blake began showing up regularly at
cryonics meetings in 1990, saying formally and openly to all that
he was thinking of doing a book on cryonics, and asking if he
could use all of us real cryonicists for background.  We were
flattered, and agreed.  On Blake's part, he soon found that he
wasn't just doing objective journalism for background material
after a while; eventually he became so interested and immersed in
the idea of cryonics that he personally began to think it might
really work.  In due time he joined Alcor as a suspension member.

    Blake was still serious about the book project, though.  The
novel he wrote from his experiences at Alcor eventually ran to
200,000 words.  Blake called it _Chiller_, after what is, in the
novel, a common epithet for a cryonicist in the near future
(_Chiller_ is no relation to the bad TV movie of the same name of
a few years ago).  _Chiller_, the Blake novel, was released by
Bantam in July.  In hardcover, the white dust-jacket of this
rather weighty book has a picture of a lovely woman's sleeping
face behind a plane of ice crystals, in a fashion eerily re-
miniscent of the original 1964 Doubleday dust jacket of R.C.W.
Ettinger's _The Prospect of Immortality_ (although on the cover
of Ettinger's book the woman's eyes are open; make of this what
you will...).  In any case, Bantam obviously was somewhere
convinced to put a fair amount of money into marketing _Chiller_,
and the finished physical product shows it.  

   _Chiller_ is fiction; basically a murder mystery.  It is also
the most realistic cryonics fiction yet published.  It was
written, after all, by a _cryonicist_ with an inside track, and
if you want good cryonics fiction it is easier (and works better)
to turn best-selling SF writers into cryonicists, rather than
trying to teach cryonicists how to write.  If ex-coroner Thomas
Noguchi (with Arthur Lyons) did a hatchet job on cryonics and
cryonicists with their 1990 detective novel _Physical Evidence_
(see review in Cryonics Jan., 1991), Blake more than makes up for
it in this book.  Here, for once, is a major novel where the
cryonicists are clearly the good guys.

    Cryonics insiders will get a kick out of _Chiller_, for Blake
has made few attempts to disguise his characters and his places. 
Blake's Southern California cryonics organization, set in the
near future and called "Immortality Incorporated," is quite 
obviously Alcor, albeit a homely Alcor more reminiscent of 1988
than the Alcor of the present bureaucratized 90's.  Blake's 
Immortality Incorporated is a shoe-string outfit run mostly by a
young idealist named Alex, and an older all-around fix-it man
named Ray.  In the novel, Alex and Ray spend a fair amount of
time traveling around to various used medical equipment supply
houses in an old pickup truck, and it is impossible for those in
the know not to see them as Mike Darwin and Hugh Hixon.  Also
featured as an Immortality Inc. regular (to my personal amuse-
ment) is a physician named Susan Hagerty, a scientist who finds
herself in academic hot water with various oily university
administrators over her association with cryonicists, just as in
real life another physician did, once upon a time at UCLA.*   

*Footnote: The good Dr. Hagerty got my initials and my academic
background, but is missing a few other things...  In Noguchi's
book I am portrayed as an avaricious Greek doctor named Katsilo-
metes; in _Chiller_ my character is a better person, but has been
transformed into the opposite sex. I wonder what cryonics fiction
has in store for me next?    

    By far the most complex and horrifying character in 
_Chiller_ is a near-genius serial killer known simply as George. 
George will kill for a number of psychotic reasons, but he has a
special taste for killing cryonicists, and does so with such
success that the unsuspecting reader of _Chiller_ is in for a new
experience in artistic despair.  It's no fair killing main
characters!  But there is a silver lining: the tug-of-war between
Immortality Incorporated and the minions of the State over the
bodies of murdered cryonicists gives Blake plenty of room for
musing and debate over the central issue of "When is dead really
DEAD?" which has plagued the thinking of real cryonicists from
the very beginning.  To the police and coroner of _Chiller_, a
murdered cryonicist is just a piece of evidence to be sliced and
diced as necessary.  To Blake's cryonicists, by contrast, a
"murdered" cryonicist is a very sick patient, in desperate need
of quick help.  In Blake's novel, for the first time in litera-
ture, this particular dilemma in point of view is presented to
the reading public.  The result makes for a substantial amount of
dramatic irony and literary tension.  There is, satisfyingly, a
certain amount of body smuggling by the good guys in _Chiller_,
in the fine tradition of the classic (but still not widely
published) Dave Pizer novel _Ralph's Journey_, and of course the
case of the real Dora Kent.

   _Chiller_ is obviously being targeted by Bantam as a main-
stream novel, but there is no doubt that it is science fiction:
the last few chapters of the novel are set more than 40 years in
the future.  A character in the novel muses that the 19th century
was dominated by the discoveries of chemistry, the 20th century
by the inventions of physics, and the 21st century is destined to
be dominated by the fruits of control of biology.  And so it is:
houses can be grown from seeds in Blake's future, and some
cryonic suspensions can be reversed.  Hospital rugs are living
ciliated artificial organisms that live on skin dander and the
occasional unlucky cockroach.  People live longer in Blake's
future, due to medical advances suspiciously like nanotechnology,
and in fact when the future arrives at the end of the novel, the
dismayed reader finds that George is still around and doing fine,
thank you.  To kill people irreversibly in the 21st century, it
naturally turns out that one must do a much better and more
thorough job than simply drilling them full of holes with a
firearm.  George knows how.  

    Will cryonicists enjoy _Chiller_?  Undoubtedly.  _Chiller_ is
technically up to standard in both cryonics and medical detail
(the result of the author's careful solicitation of manuscript
technical detail advice by a wide variety of knowledgeable
people).  _Chiller_ also gives us nearly every cryonics cliche,
from a vision of Walt Disney frozen in a can, to the slogans on
Alcor T-shirts.  _Chiller_ offers crazy TV preachers, unscru-
pulous noncryonicist body-freezing con-men, uncaring coroners,
giant South American cockroaches, computerized medical care,
cyanide guns, psychopathic computer hackers, romance, and even a
certain amount of sex (note: major artistic license here--
Blake's cryonics workers are suave, heterosexual, and get laid
often; it's sometimes easier to believe in the cockroach-eating
rugs).   Cryonicists will surely like the story, but we can only
hope that the general public will also feel the same about _Chil-
ler_, and buy the novel in mass quantities.  Although Blake is
not overly preachy, it's impossible to read _Chiller_ without
gaining some sympathy for the cryonics point of view.  What more
could we ask for?  Not much: the Alcor mailing address is
thoughtfully listed in the book's acknowledgements at the end. 

                                          Steve Harris

Postscript:  Insider cryonicists may have some idea of who
"Sterling Blake" is, but the author has asked me to post a formal
request and plea that this information not be posted to the
Internet if you know it.  CHILLER is aimed to be a mainstream
novel; any connection with a hard SF writer may hurt sales, and
therefore hurt cryonics.  Many thanks on behalf of Sterling


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