Recalled to Life

by Robert Silverberg
Reviewed date: 2007 Aug 29
Rating: 2
238 pages
cover art

How would the world react if a medical breakthrough made it possible to bring a recently dead man back to life? That's the premise of Recalled to Life. The problem is that Silverberg's conception of the social and political impact of the discovery are wildly unrealistic.

Initial announcement
When the lab announces its breakthrough, the press and the public believe immediately and wholeheartedly. The lab is mobbed by reporters, and is inundated by letters from the public. In the real world, crackpot scientists and scam artists make wild claims all the time, and nobody pays attention.

Negative reaction
The reactions are almost uniformly negative. The public believes the new reanimation technique unnaturally interferes with the process of death. Come on, Silverberg. In the real world, people would view reanimation as a glorified form of CPR.

The Catholic Church
The worst part of Recalled to Life is Silverberg's offensive portrayal of the Catholic Church. First he offers some throwaway comments about the Church reversing its position on birth control, as if the Church had no integrity in the face of public disapproval. Then he offers this reasoning for the Church's objection to reanimation:

"In such a case [as your reanimation procedure] there has been a definite discontinuity of the life processes, and a clear-cut separation of body and soul. You say your scientists have given no consideration to reuniting body and soul, and I see no way they could do so in any event."
"Wouldn't the restoration of consciousness imply a restoration of the soul as well?"
"Can we be sure that it's the same soul that the body possessed before death? Or are we getting into questions of reincarnation, perhaps drawing souls out of a floating pool of spiritual matter of which we have no revealed information, offering a body a change of souls--which would be theologically impossible? It sounds like the devil's work, Jim."

A floating pool of spiritual matter? This is what Silverberg thinks is good Catholic theology? But wait, Silverberg doesn't stop at making up theology: he accuses the Church of wholesale hypocrisy.

"I've had conversations with Rome. I have it on good understanding that when your technique is perfect--that is, when you have the capability of restoring body and mind every time--the Church will lift its ban on reanimation."
"You have to be joking."
"No. You can't imagine the extent of the debate that's raging. The prevailing feeling in Rome, though, is that we mustn't let ourselves be caught on the reactionary side of a technological development ever again."

Great. Let's skip the theology, forget trying to do what's right, we're going to do what's politically and socially expedient. Robert Silverberg, you make me sick.

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