Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Why Call Them Back from Heaven? by Clifford D. Simak

Immortality bites
Why Call Them Back from Heaven?
, the eleventh novel by prolific Grand Master of Science Fiction Clifford D. Simak, was first published in 1967. Though this novel has been translated into several languages, it is a relatively lesser-known book by Simak standards. The last printed edition in English was published in 1988, and no ebook is currently offered on Amazon. The quality of the work belies its obscurity, however, and Simak fans should hunt down a used copy.

In the year 2148, scientists are on the verge of cracking the secret to immortality. Over the past two centuries, billions of people have chosen to have their bodies frozen after death, waiting for a future “revival day” when they will embark on their “second life.” Humanity has become so invested in this idea, literally, that the corporation researching the process, Forever Center, has become the most powerful entity on Earth, holding much of the world’s wealth and influencing the governments of nations worldwide. The promise of immortality has had profound changes on human society and culture as well. People live squalid, eventless lives, scrimping and saving to shore up financial security for their second life. With the promise of immortal life on Earth, the idea of eternal salvation in the afterlife no longer holds as much appeal, causing a precipitous drop in religious belief and practice. The world is already overpopulated, with billions packed into overcrowded cities. How will humanity cope when the billions of dead are revived? Solutions for mankind’s expansion are sought in outer space and even through time travel.

Why Call Them Back from Heaven? is at its best when Simak is exploring these philosophical and logistical implications of revival and immortality. Less successful is the quasi-spy story that runs through the book, in which ostracized Forever Center executive Daniel Frost is persecuted by his former employers. As a fugitive, Frost encounters an underground movement looking to take down Forever Center and return to the values of an earlier time when immortality was an impossibility. This adventure plot concludes with a less than satisfying ending, one that relies on too many coincidences. Nevertheless, the dystopian future in which the story takes place is innovative and thought-provoking.

Simak has been described by some critics as science fiction’s pastoralist for his repeated advocacy of rural life, Midwestern values, and the spiritual value of nature. These are themes that continually recur in his works, and here, once again, Simak takes the reader back to Southwestern Wisconsin, the land of his youth. In Simak’s dystopian future, wild nature and nostalgia for the past provide relief and salvation from the dehumanizing effects of technology and the ever-expanding cities engulfing the globe. Why Call Them Back from Heaven? is a warning cry to appreciate the simpler pleasures of life before it is too late. Our endless technological search for comfort, security, and a longer life span might just make us Icarus flying too close to the sun. In today’s world, with overpopulation contributing to climate change and environmental destruction, this important message is needed now more than ever.

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