John Axleton seems like a nice enough elderly gentleman. But he’s decided he’s not quite finished living yet. There are new, proven technologies that allow the transplant of human brains from one body to another. He checks his savings and then looks up an old friend. A former student and chess partner, Phil Douglas owns a highly successful law firm that is famous for successfully arguing the merits of potential recipients.
Because, therein lies the crux of the novel. The technology is now ready, but the demand for healthy “donor” bodies far surpasses the supply. Even after passing laws requiring that any eligible body must be donated, there simply aren’t enough. A new segment of the legal system is developed, one that is specifically designed to prove – or disprove – the merits of a potential recipient. it is for this purpose that John retains Phil’s services.
Author William H. May has a gift for description. An attorney by trade, May gives us thorough but blissfully simple descriptions of the new legal system. He also does an admirable job of what I call “world making,” or imagining a new society and then effectively communicating the reality of that world and what it’s like to live in it. He explains how the world becomes a “better place” when everyone realizes that being a good citizen just might, someday, be factored into a decision whether or not for them to be awarded the opportunity to have the life-extending benefits of a brain transplant. Even so, May leaves room for the reader to ponder just how perfect the world will continue to be when the reality sets in that never, ever, will there enough donors, and self-serving altruism is an oxymoron.
If I have any complaint about this book, it’s that the author is not even-handed in his character development. Some characters, such as witness for John’s case, are quickly established in distinct personalities. Others reappear regularly, yet never develop any depth at all. The most present example I can think of is Myra, Phil’s live-in girlfriend. Although they seem to have a loving, supportive relationship, we gain few glimpses into Myra as a person. She’s little more than window dressing. She does accompany Phil on one of his trips through the mountains – which, incidentally, are described in far more detail and more lovingly than Myra ever is.
Finally, I want to point out an aspect of The Pursuit of Time that struck me, and that is often lacking in current science fiction books.
It’s not scary. So much of science fiction deals with exploration and expansion of our human knowledge. That knowledge comes from learning new things, and new can be scary (at least until the end of the story). Frankly, The Pursuit of Time is so positive in its outlook, it’s downright utopian. I’m not ready to give up my affection for the post-apocalyptic, but this was a refreshing change.