Cryonics in Fiction: More Fun With Frozen Dead People

Creative Commons Photo by Eric, Flickr user Illuminaut.

Cryonic fiction! In case you either just can’t get enough information about freezing your head, or you just keep retyping “Chronic Fiction” into your search engine and are too baked to navigate your way to the right site, the MacNisi blog has a new post from yesterday that’s essentially a rumination on cryonics in science fiction, with a big long random list of stories that feature the theme.

The post is a bit too random and ruminatory to serve as an effective reading list, and divests itself wholly from organizational logic toward the beginning for a detour into all the words that use the prefix “cryo.” But the post does make interesting reading for someone who wants to put together a reading¬† list about cryonics in fiction.

I have absolutely no idea who this MacNisi person is; people who don’t put up About or Bio pages seem to be breeding like bunnies out there in the very scary interwebs. But the starting point in this case is the new Lois McMaster Bujold novel, Croyoburn, which came out in paperback last month (October 19, 2010) from Baen. The book features cryostasis as a way to avoid death, but the post by MacNisi focuses the reading list both on cryostasis of the likely-to-keep-living and cryostasis of the not-dead-yet-but-getting-there.

Science fiction often uses cryonics as a vehicle to span the ages — essentially unidirectional time travel — and as a way to explain the transiting of the vast yawning caverns of space. But the point of contemporary cryonics is as a way to avoid death, which appears far less often in science fiction. When the avoidance of death is the theme in fiction, all does not usually go well.

The reason that using the deep freeze to cheat death seems like a bad idea for most fiction writers is that we’re drama queens; it’s in the job description. The jacking-up of dead bodies and reanimation of them just really, let’s be honest, begs a writer to generate some horrible mishap. Um…”cheating death?” Emily Dickinson much, anyone? Come on, isn’t this the central fact of the so-called human condition? Someone who cheats Death gets Death’s combat boot so far up his or her bejeezus that they spend their very last moments of consciousness picking dog poop from six weeks ago out of their teeth. Otherwise…who gives a fuck? A fantasy about dodging the bullet of death so you can twirl around the future screaming “I’m in the future! I’m in the future!” is not a story.

That’s the key disaster with one of the goofiest cryopreservation novels ever written, Arthur C. Clarke’s 3001: The Final Odyssey, wherein Frank Poole (a character from Clarke’s positively brilliant 2001: A Space Odyssey) just happened” to get cryopreserved by being sucked into space, and wakes up a thousand years later for a Disneyland tour of a totally awesome future.

Does the future Frank have cerulean eyes and raven hair, and is he dating the Galactic President who’s also a fashion model and heart surgeon? Not quite, but it’s close. In my view, futurist fiction is about exploring the problems of the future, not about pleasuring one’s self to fantasies of how unbelievably neat it’s going to be. But then, I’m not known for thinking anything is going to be unbelievably neat except possibly the new Chiappa Rhino .357 magnum, which hardly seems speculative.

Also, speaking of Disneyland, Walt Disney was cremated. Get over it.

If you, as a future head-freezer or merely an interested planning-to-rot type like myself, are looking for a more exhaustive reading list of cryonics in fiction, you can skip Wikipedia’s truly useless “category” page on the matter, and head right to the Cryonics in Popular Culture section of the cryonics article (perhaps after gawking at the creepy picture of a “patient” being prepared by masked surgeons for The Big Brrrr!).

Then you can rent a few movies, get some books from the library, and cuddle up with a space heater, a blanket, and about umpty-seven cats. Trust me, you’ll need them.

Also, I hate suffering alone, so go look at these totally disturbing photos of a kid wearing a frozen head costume, and these ones, and these.  Just understand that if you build your own, you are not invited to my house for Halloween.

Possibly related posts: