Suicide Club by Rachel Heng
It’s New York sometime in the future but it’s not a future that we’d recognize, at least not most of us. Society has evolved into an obsessive embrace of health and beauty. Children are genetically tested and marked after birth. They are sub-100 or above. Those with the higher results are welcomed into an authoritative regime where they receive all the augmentation possible to prolong their lives. People can now reach the age of 200 due to the Second Wave of technological advancements.
Organs for the elite are mechanized and virtually indestructible. They have ‘Diamond skin’, a self-repairing biological creation that ensures vitality and youth. Human blood has been replaced with a super-substance that enhances the body. The Third Wave is approaching and with it will come the possibility of immortality.
With such ‘gifts’ comes huge responsibility. The Ministries who run the US (which is well ahead of the rest of the planet in this technology) are determined that only the most deserving receive these valuable benefits. To this end, the elite must adhere to certain lifestyle edicts. They are all vegetarian, exercise regularly, get sufficient sleep and attend regular government check-ups where they are graded upon their compliance. Failure to comply will result in removal from the elite and the opportunity to live forever will be lost.
The rest of the population exist almost as normal, with the exception of those who get black market augmentations. The greatest problem, however, is that the overall human population is in decline. Therefore, achieving human immortality for the chosen few appears necessary to ensure the survival of the species, even if that species is drastically changed as a consequence.
But not everyone in the elite wants to live forever. Some are strongly opposed to the very idea and the way in which it is being forced upon the selected sector. These people have banded together to become a group known as the Suicide Club. Their members eventually take the drastic step of ending their own lives. Given that their bodies are almost indestructible, even without the Third Wave, it’s no mean feat to kill yourself. They are forced to extreme measures such as self-immolation and acid baths.
It is in this environment that 100-year-old Lea exists. She has a great job, a lovely company apartment and a younger boyfriend (only 70!). Lea’s life is good and she will be a strong candidate for the Third Wave. It all comes to a screeching halt, however, on the day she sees her absent father for the first time in more than 88 years.
Lea’s perfectly balanced life becomes slightly off-kilter and this is enough to draw the attention of the Ministry who place her under observation. It all goes downhill from there. Quickly Lea realizes that she might never get her life back on track. There is also a part of her that doesn’t want to. She begins to question the society she has committed to. Her father, a free-living spirit always, is influential in her changing thought patterns as Lea struggles to square the circle of her mundane life.
Suicide Club is an intriguing look at a dystopian future that may already be developing. The current preoccupation with food choices and lifestyle is cleverly exaggerated into something totalitarian. The excesses of some, today, become the norm for the elite of tomorrow. Sadly, this is not such a stretch.
The story is less concerned with the mechanical advancements of society, and more focused upon the psychological approach towards biological augmentation. We see how those who are not destined to live forever learn to enjoy life more. Those with longevity exist in a banal form shying away from all types of true enjoyment. Lea discovers a new world previously closed to her. It’s one with grilled steaks and jazz, as opposed to Nutripacks and muzak. She is conflicted.
We also get to meet Anja, a ‘lifer’ whose mother lives in a vegetative state due to the indestructible nature of her heart and blood, but which are ‘misaligned’ with the rest of her. Anja must watch as her mother lies, alive but dead, with no clear end in sight. The two women meet and form a strange relationship as both ponder the options available to them.
This is a delightful novel if only for its originality. It runs in the same vein as Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451 and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It’s not as dark as The Road but does raise serious questions about the over-the-top advice and recommendations being spewed out today by so-called experts. We are left wondering if it is better to live for ever but have a grey existence, or enjoy life to the full but die much sooner. It’s a formidable existential question and Suicide Club does introduce it admirably. Whether or not it answers it is another matter and the reader must decide that for themselves.
The character of Lea is a strange one. Although the lead protagonist, Lea is not likable. It is hard to sympathize with her. She comes across as initially selfish and self-obsessed, as is standard for the elite that she is a part of. As she begins to open her eyes, and as we learn more about her childhood and background, we understand that while she is less self-involved, she is nonetheless still a questionable person. Lea presents as somewhat sociopathic.
It’s difficult to know exactly what the author was trying to achieve with this character. Was Lea, even as a child, supposed to have seen through the futility of the plastic life on offer? Was she traumatized by her childhood? Or is she simply a very disturbed person? Lea does have some redeeming aspects to her character but they run in conflict to the rest. If there is one flaw in this book, it’s the depiction of Lea, although perhaps this reviewer has missed the point.
In any event, Suicide Club is well worth the read. It’s different. There are only so many crime thrillers that one can read in a row before the genre grows stale. It’s refreshing to encounter one that is unique. Rebel Voice got the feeling that it would be no stretch to imagine Lea meeting with Eve Dallas from the wonderful JD Robb ‘In Death’ series. Both environments have similarities. Suicide Club could be viewed as a cross between Thelma and Louise, Blade Runner and Cosmopolitan; The Movie.
Sult scale rating: 7.5 out of 10. This is an original and well written cautionary tale about the ideal of ‘perfect people’ taken to the extreme. We glimpse the vacuous culture currently being promoted by Hollywood, with augmentation becoming SOP (pun intended), as it evolves in our future.
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