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Longevity City

Published by Five Star ( an imprint of Thomson Gale), this novel is described by John Clute in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction as “… a paranoia-infused vision of a new future world under the almost total control of Big Pharma; the protagonist and his twin – they have been created as twins through invasive genetic engineering – fight back against the backdrop of a planet riven by climate change and other disasters.”

“… a tale of internal politics, global power, ruthless annihilation of resistance, and the struggle of the disillusioned … a tapestry of sub-plots … characters are solid and their motivation clear … realistic actions and reactions make for a plausible story of the not-too-distant future.” – Peter McClean (under the heading ‘A Film Waiting To Be Made’) on reviewcentre.com

Extract from a talk given at Octocon & Greystones and Imagine (Waterford) Arts Festivals:

I wrote the novel LONGEVITY CITY during 1991/1992. It was taken by the English publisher, Orbit, in December 1992. A couple of months later, in early 93, I heard through the friend of a friend (a science fiction writer living in County Wicklow) that Orbit were paring back on their science fiction content. So it came as no surprise when, a couple of months after that, the manuscript was returned to me by the publisher. Getting published is often a case of luck, of being in the right place at the right time. I just happened to submit to Orbit at the wrong time. The novel sat in a drawer then for six years until August 98 when it was taken by a US agent, Daniel P. King. Nothing happened there, because Mr Daniel King is – for reasons that are just too painful to go into – the worst agent in the entire history of the whole world. After another three years in the drawer, an English publisher called Big Engine was keen on it. That was in August 2001. But, as more bad luck would have it, Big Engine went bust less than a year later. So that was that – back into the drawer again in 2002. After ten long years I was beginning to think that the novel was jinxed. Finally, in October 2004, I happened to hit the right place at the right time. The US publisher Five Star – a division of Thomson Gale – a major American publisher, finally bought it. They brought it out towards the end of 2005. The reason I mention all of this is because getting published is often a case of banging your head off the wall. If you have a manuscript you might have to keep banging your head too, because sometimes persistence does pay. I often get asked why I never submitted LONGEVITY CITY to an Irish publisher. The reason I never did is because very little adult science fiction gets published here.

Before reading an extract, I’ll give you the background to the plot. The novel is set more than a hundred years from now. In this future setting the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, long since infiltrated by corrupt politicians and the military, assumes control of global politics. This pharmaceutical company, known as Bio, has developed a drug that becomes the gateway to political power. The drug is called Geminzon, derived from the word ‘gemini’. As the name implies, the effect of the drug is that all human embryos split into two. Everyone is born with a twin. The Geminizon drug creates identical twins with more in common than nature intended. They become mirrors of each other—right down to voice patterns, fingerprints and personality. In short, the drug creates two copies of each individual. Recent developments in cloning, genetic engineering and stem cell research render the central premise of the novel less far-fetched than it might at first seem.

At every birth, one of the twins – the unfortunate one (chosen at random, by the way) is taken and put in a womb-bank where it’s stored until its more fortunate twin reaches old age. Then the banked foetus is ‘activated’, that is, taken out of cold storage and ‘farmed’ until he or she reaches the age of fifteen. Then, when your unlucky twin is fifteen and you’re in your late nineties, your mind is transferred into the brain of your younger twin. Imagine being fifteen again. So everyone gets to live twice, except of course for the unfortunate twins. They get terminated. These doomed children are treated as ‘organic robots’ even though they’re just as human as any fifteen year-old today. They are brought up in huge encampments and encouraged to reach peak physical condition. They don’t realise, of course, what awaits them at age fifteen. The world of LONGEVITY CITY is very evil. To convey just how evil it is, I’ll read a short passage from the opening chapters. This describes the ceremony of Transposition, where the minds of the elders are transferred into the fifteen year-olds.

“At 22:00 hours a team of surgical supervisors stood by as eighteen anaesthetized patients were wheeled into the Transposition unit. They were lined up in two rows; nine elderly patients head to head with nine younger ones. When all was ready, Doctor Ambrose gave the go-ahead and Transposition began.

Scanner-controlled instruments descended from the ceiling as the delicate task got underway. Biosensors embedded antibodies in the membranes between brain cells. Antigen molecules bonded with antibodies, distorting the membranes, releasing chemicals, causing them to flow, making the cerebra communicate easily. Millions of such effects over wide areas of the brain led to large-scale memory transfer. Inter-protein and antibody-antigen reactions, combined with dendril-neurone alterations, replaced the juvenile minds with those of their adult twins, erasing all traces of the originals.

Up in Control, Doctor Ambrose consoled himself with the thought that death for the fifteen-year old minds would be quick, painless and—he hoped—unexpected.

Fifty minutes later, Transposition was complete; the minds of the centenarians transplanted, their bodies ready for disposal as feeding matter to the creatures of the deep. The fifteen-year old shells of the children of the encampment would rest in a deep sleep for twenty hours. Then they would waken with minds ninety years older than the bodies that housed them.”

My final reading from the novel comes much later in the plot. In this section the central characters Lee, Max and Mandy are on the Japanese island of Hokkaido at a place called Azing Baru where the rebel forces have just liberated a colony of ‘farmed’ children – or they think they have. Lee and Max are twins. Lee is sitting on top of a sand dune with Mandy, who is Max’s girlfriend. Lee is trying to get over his relationship with a girl called Mel and now finds that he is falling in love with his twin brother Max’s girl, Mandy. A little romance goes a long way. The rebel army are known as ‘clandestitutes’, the enemy is known as ‘Bio’. Max, by the way, is a gynaecologist and, as you might expect in this future world, gynaecologists are not held in very high esteem. So here they are, Lee and Mandy, perched on top of that sand dune:

Mandy kept her hand on Lee’s arm. She had also loved a fifteen-year-old to whom something terrible had happened. She wanted to hold Lee close and tell him that she understood his pain, but somewhere in her head a voice told her to hold her emotions back, to keep them buttoned up.

A mist rolled in from the sea. Lee stood up and said, “That’s unusual for this time of year. It doesn’t normally get foggy along this coastline at night. Guess we better get back.”

“Yes,” she said.

He took her hand to steady her as she got to her feet. When she was standing he did not let go.

“Please, don’t.” She forced her hand from his grasp. She turned and sidled down the dune. In the dark night, with the mist rolling in from the sea and her back turned, he could not see the tears on her face. He wanted to run after her, to take her in his arms, but something held him back. She was his brother’s lover and therefore unattainable. And yet . . . These past weeks in Mississippi and the Rockies had wrought in him emotions he had not felt in the empty years since Mel. Right now the last thing he wanted to do was to hurt Mandy—which he knew he would do if he forced her to choose between his brother and himself. He did not want to hurt Max, either. He wasn’t such a bad guy. So what if he was a gyno and a wimp—Mandy loved him and they both were happy. Jesus, why was life so damn complicated?

Lee’s head and heart fought their own private battle on top of the dune, and his heart won. He could no longer help himself—he had to tell her, had to tell her now. “Mandy!” he shouted, propelling himself down the side of the dune. “Mandy!”

She turned and saw him scampering among the dunes. She knew why he was running to her and for a moment did not know what to do. She was standing near the top of a dune two hundred meters from the gates of Azing Baru. She glanced at the colony. Max would be at work in the Activation centre, perhaps wondering where she was at this very moment. There was no way she could betray him. She . . . Her thoughts were distracted by loud voices from the camp. There was something different about them now—a raw urgency in place of the celebration that had been there before. Then she peered at what was happening within the gates and saw people running about. No more singing and cheering, only screaming. Desperate, high-pitched screaming. She turned to Lee.

The look of alarm on Mandy’s face stopped him ten paces from her. She was staring back, not at him but around and above him. Her eyes were wide with terror. He heard a deep, deep rumbling from behind and turned on his heels. “Oh shit,” he muttered at the sight that rose before his eyes—a sight so awesome it rooted him to the spot.

From out of the night came a Mark Two Vindicator. Its camouflaging mist dissipating, it came in off the sea, rising from the shadows between the dunes. Its sheer size blotted out all the stars above. Its powerful engines reverberated deep into the ground, shaking it beneath Lee’s feet, whipping up grains of sand like a desert storm. Lee shielded his eyes and crouched beneath the metal underbelly of the monstrous war machine passing overhead. He saw Mandy still standing—until the guns started firing. Then she too dived for cover behind a clump of sand and grass.

The Vindicator hovered over Azing Baru. All guns blazing, it strafed the colony with deadly pulses. Clandestitute troopers had little time to react—their radar had broken the enemy’s cloaking code less than thirty seconds before its arrival. There had been time only for panic. The children who had been screaming and trying desperately to flee were mown down without mercy. The Clandestitute troopers who did manage to grab their guns found themselves with puny weapons compared to the heavily armoured angel of death hovering overhead.

Within a minute most of those on the ground had been killed. The Vindicator then switched from blanket fire to irregular bursts—no need now for saturation coverage; the attrition rate had been so high that most of the Vindicator’s turrets began to shut down. Those still operational covered the entire colony, sniping at anything that moved.

Mandy crept stealthily toward the gates of Azing Baru. Lee urged her to hold back, telling her she was crazy to go in that way—but she was determined to find Max. “Look up!” he hissed. One look at the Vindicator overhead and she saw the sense in Lee’s suggestion that they avoid the gates. Instead, they jumped through a hole in the perimeter fence and dived into a bunker where a clandestitute trooper was taking cover.

“What’s happening elsewhere?” asked Lee.

“Don’t know,” said the trooper. “Except that it’s bad. Took everyone by surprise. Last thing we heard on the comm, the only thing we heard, was that they were dropping condenser bombs all over, though for some reason not here.”

Mandy was halfway out of the bunker. “Max!” she screamed, her voice lost amid the deep rumble of the Vindicator’s drive system. The sound of gunfire and the screams of children hiding and dying in the wreckage of dormitories and recreation buildings also made her voice inaudible—but not to the man running out of the shadows of what was left of the Activation center.

He sprinted in zigzag fashion across the grass, jumping over charred and maimed bodies. Somehow, through the dark and the smoke and the panic, Mandy had recognized him even when he was but a silhouette against the bright flames of the Activation building.

“Max!” she screamed, one foot out of the bunker, ready to run—Lee grabbed her and held her back. “It’s him!” she yelled. “Max! Over here!”

A pulse-burst hit the grass centimeters in front of Max. He tumbled to the ground and rolled over twice. On his feet again he sprinted straight for the bunker.

“Zigzag for Chrissake!” roared Lee, but Max could not hear him through the din. On and on he ran, getting nearer and nearer.

Mandy could hear the thunder of his boots in her ears—but her worm’s eye view from the bunker had foreshortened the distance between them.

A pulse from the Vindicator caught Max high up in the chest and sent him sprawling. He fell forward, face downward, less than two meters from the edge of the bunker. This time there was no holding Mandy back. Lee went with her as she clambered out to haul Max in. They grabbed his arms and pulled him along, expecting a pulse gun from above to shoot them at any moment. None fired.

A glint of metal a short distance away caught Lee’s eye—Max’s gun. As soon as they had pulled him to the edge of the bunker, and the trooper reached up to grab Max, Lee ran for the gun, snatched it off the grass and dived back into the bunker, again expecting to be shot—again getting away with it.

All thoughts of why they had not been fired on were banished from Lee’s mind when he hauled himself to his knees in the bunker. Then he saw Max. The hole in the chest was deep, wide and squirting blood. Mandy tried to stem the flow with what was left of his shirt but it was like trying to stop a flood with paper. She held him in her arms then, sobbing quietly. Max stared glassy-eyed at his brother, then turned his pale sweat-soaked face to Mandy.

Lee did not know what to say or do. He felt like a stranger intruding in a very private moment and wished he could be some place else, anywhere else. His mind was like a slow-motion jackhammer thrumming with wave after wave of anguish. Time seemed to stand still. All the noises now—the hum of the Vindicator, the sounds of gunfire, the screams of children—were blotted out by the intimacy of Mandy holding Max. Lee heard no sound except his brother’s ragged breathing and Mandy’s quiet sobs. Lee looked up at the Vindicator’s callous underbelly. It seemed so cold, so unreal, so oddly two-dimensional. It was like looking at an old-style overhead movie screen. Beyond this bunker the world ended. So did reality. Lee wondered why a weird thought like that should enter his head at a moment like this. Something brushed against his midriff.

Max’s hand reached up. He tried to say something but the sound he made was the gurgling of blood in his throat. From the corners of his mouth came a frothy liquid. It varied in shade from clear to crimson, and alternately spurted and trickled down his chin. The hand reached almost to Lee’s heart, then trailed down forlornly across his ribs. With each passing rib, Max’s life edged slowly away. Lee grasped the hand and held it tightly.

Max looked at him. Then his eyes rolled over to Mandy and back again. Once more he tried to speak but his throat was full and his chin awash with blood and saliva. He looked up at Mandy and his eyes blinked languidly before closing for the last time.

He went limp, a dead weight in Mandy’s arms. In that moment Lee’s body shuddered as if a thousand volts had seared into his brain. He felt as if he had been riveted to the side of the bunker; his whole body racked by something interminable that throbbed and rattled up his spine. His mind went blank. His eyes went blind. The spasm ended as quickly as it began, and Lee’s body and mind were restored to normality as the world intruded again.

The Vindicator was revolving slowly above the colony. People resumed screaming. Pulse-bursts and gunfire started to fill the air once more. Mandy cradled Max’s corpse as Lee stared hatefully at the death-bringer overhead. He knew that its scanners must have recorded Max’s run from the Activation center. They must have seen how they had hauled him into the bunker. Why then the delay in targeting them? Realizing that there was no time to lose, Lee grabbed Max’s weapon and barked instructions at the trooper. Then he turned to Mandy. “Go with him—I’ll cover you,” he shouted as he climbed out of the bunker.

He ran a crooked line, firing at the Vindicator as he went. He fell and rolled over. Glancing back, he saw an obedient trooper pulling a reluctant grief-stricken figure away from the bunker toward the perimeter of the camp. There was a chance that they would get away if he could distract the war machine overhead.

Still no pulse rays came at him, or anywhere near him. “Fuck you!” he cried, unleashing his paltry weapon at an enemy that seemed to be playing with him the way a cat plays with a mouse.

The stun-ray hit him like a bolt to the brain. It knocked him out before he even hit the ground. Within seconds, a spindly retrieval arm had him in its all-embracing grip, lifting him high in the air, straight into the arms of Bio.

(End of Extract)

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