Cryoburn - Imperial Auditor Vorkosigan investigates the cryonics industry

by Perplexed1 min read9th Nov 20106 comments


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I just completed "Cryoburn", Lois McMaster Bujold's latest novel in the Vokosigan Saga series.  The subject is cryonics. 

Our hero Miles is dispatched to the planet Kibou-daini to investigate the cryonics industry there.  A Kibou company is planning to expand its business to Komarr, and Miles's Komar-born empress is supicious of financial chicanery.  Miles himself has undergone freezing (military medical emergency) and more-or-less-successful revival, but the notion of geriatric cryonics is a topic not previously explored in Bujold's universe.  It is explored reasonably well here.

Although some of the cryonics companies in this book are corrupt, Bujold's take on cryonics is mostly positive.  She is very much in sympathy with the human desire for immortality or at least serious life extension.  But she points out and explores some practical problems.  Revival is not a problem in this book.  That one is pretty much solved.  But cryonics is not a cure for old age, it is at best a way of allowing more time for a cure to be found.  Naq pbairavragyl, gur Qheban tebhc frrzf gb unir pbzr hc jvgu n erwhirangvba gerngzrag (jryy, abg rknpgyl erwhirangvba - zber yvxr er-zvqqyr-ntr-vsvpngvba).  Ohg gur gerngzrag vf abg lrg grfgrq, naq ZIX Ragrecevfrf vf pbafvqrevat gur chepunfr bs n jnerubhfr shyy bs sebmra cnhcref nf n cbgragvny fbhepr bs grfg fhowrpgf.

Another problem explored is political.  On Kibou, people are generally frozen before death, so as to maximize the chances of a successful revival.  So, since they are not really dead, they still can own property (in trust) and they still have the right to vote (by proxy).  The cryonics companies hold those proxies and control those trusts and hence have political and economic control of the planet.  And of course, they don't particularly want to revive their clients and give up that control.

And then there are technological problems.  Vg gheaf bhg gung bar oenaq bs pelbavp syhvq (oybbq-fhofgvghgr/nagvserrmr) juvpu jnf jvqryl hfrq n srj qrpnqrf ntb unf fbzr fgnovyvgl ceboyrzf.  Juvpu zrnaf gung n pbhcyr zvyyvba bs gur cynarg'f uhaqerqf bs zvyyvbaf bs sebmra pbecfrf ner arire tbvat gb jnxr hc.  Ubj qbrf gur pbzcnal vaibyirq qrny jvgu gur ceboyrz?  Uvag: ubj qvq Nzrevpna onaxf qrny jvgu gur zvyyvbaf bs zbegtntrf gurl uryq gung jbhyq arire or cnlrq bss?

All in all, it is a reasonably fun read, but not one of Bujold's best.  I review it here only because of the local interest in cryonics.  I don't read a lot of SciFi other than Bujold's so I can't compare to how the subject has been treated elsewhere (well, I guess I could compare to Niven, but that was a whole different generation of SciFi.)

There is another review and some more comments in another posting




6 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 1:00 PM
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Whoops. Missed that. I wouldn't have posted my review if I had seen yours.

Not a problem-- you had a somewhat different angle on the book.

And my review. I wasn't vastly impressed with it compared to the rest of the series. But it is space-opera fluff, after all.

It's more a set of postulates: (a) cryonics works reliably (b) age hasn't been cured. That is, all controversy about cryonics stems from it working. Then work out the consequences and use the Vorkosigan characters to do so.

Note that what she's calling "cryonics" seems to bear no resemblance whatsoever to the thing that is done now called "cryonics." (Except perfusion on preservation.)

Being through Baen, who have discovered that giving away the text increases sales, there's a CD of the whole series included with the Cryoburn hardback, and you can read the whole thing online.

And Word of God confirms that "work out the consequences and use the Vorkosigan characters to do so" is precisely what the book is.

Yeah... We might term this "soft cryonics" where the damage-prevention process is a solved issue and revivification is thus relatively trivial. Common in sci-fi, and most people's idea of the future has room for it.

In current-day "hard" cryonics, the damage can't be prevented so much, but there's the additional postulate that, at some point, lots of damage can be repaired. Any method of doing so would most likely make curing aging look easy by comparison -- but it still isn't ruled out by any known theoretical consideration. The treatment of patients with a "bad prep" as being irreversibly dead in the book was disappointing to me. (But then given the context of the series as a whole it wasn't particularly out of place.)

Abg cerccvat Neny ng gur raq jnf n qvfnccbvagzrag tvira gung vg jnf Pbeqryyvn'f qrpvfvba (jub jnf irel ceb-yvsr ng gur ortvaavat bs gur frevrf), ohg vg qvq fhvg uvf punenpgre gb abg jnag gb or cerfreirq.

Vg jnf nyfb fgenatr gb frr Zvyrf pbafgnagyl ersreevat gb nyy gur cngvragf nf "gur sebmra qrnq" naq abobql pnyyvat uvz ba vg. Ur'f na rk-pelbcngvrag uvzfrys, sbe pelvat bhg ybhq. Ur rira frrzf gb guvax n jbzna jub jnf bevtvanyyl cerfreirq va cresrpg pbaqvgvba (ab pyvavpny qrngu jungfbrire) unf orra oebhtug onpx sebz gur qrnq.