The Transhumanist Wager by author Zoltan Istvan is a thrilling and frightening futurist romp that takes the reader on a complex journey into the mind and methods of a transhumanist thinker: main character Jethro Knights. For those unfamiliar with the concept of transhumanism, the novel offers a stunning introduction to the current non-fictional radical human life extension movement. For those already versed in the inevitable coming Singularity, the book confirms a number of significant fears and boldly does nothing to assuage people who wish to maintain their current non-enhanced human lives. Nonetheless, it is an important literary work and one that everyone should read.
When the audience is first introduced to Jethro Knights, he is sailing around the world in a small boat, accompanied only by books and basic supplies. The audience quickly realizes that Knights is a physical powerhouse and an equally tough-as-nails thinker and philosopher with a dogmatic, totalitarian viewpoint about his belief in transhumanism and the obliteration of death via technological enhancements to the human body.
Knights completes his journey and shortly thereafter begins embarking upon his vision—to promote transhumanism at all costs. He meets his literary foil, Zoe Bach, a brilliant physician who later becomes his wife. Bach contrasts with Knights in that she supports his transhumanist views, but she also believes that death is a natural and even necessary part of the human experience. Bach is compassionate and caring; through her, Knights comes to realize he is capable of deep love and passion.
Whatever tempering effect Bach has on Knights does not last long, however—she is gruesomely murdered in the middle of the story; the victim of a bomb blast. As an added reminder of Knights’ refusal to accept the more human elements of life, the baby Bach was carrying—Knights’ child–dies along with her in the most graphic and horrible way imaginable.
Unencumbered by his wife and baby—and the ties to humanity they represent—Knights proceeds with his plans to create a master race of enhanced humans by securing funding from an investor and building a floating city he calls “Transhumania.” He hires the world’s top scientists and philosophers to live on Transhumania and work on experiments that will bring the next stage of human evolution to fruition.
Knights works tirelessly toward his goal of transhumanism, never remarrying or even having a relationship, intent upon one day reuniting with Bach through the power of technology. Toward the end of the book, the reader begins to realize that Knight’s totalitarianism is not a cautionary tale, but rather a complete and extremist celebration of the ideals of he espouses. He ends up, literally, taking over the world through bombing all religious buildings and governmental structures. He then forces all people of the world to embrace and work toward transhumanism or be killed.
There is resistance to Knights’ ideas in the book, of course, and the novel’s antagonist, a Christian fundamentalist preacher, is behind much of the fight against transhumanism and radical human life extension. Toward the end of the book, Knights has a lengthy conversation with this preacher, and is totally blind to how very much alike they are: totalitarian, dogmatic, extreme and completely convinced they are each right, and that this “right” makes it perfectly acceptable to impose their ideas on others by bloody force.
One of the more disturbing sequences in the novel takes place when some of Knights’ staff members are deciding who to give grants to so that the person can come to Transhumania for medical treatment. A staff member reviews one application from a woman with brain cancer who lives in a trailer park and has many children. He laughs, indicates that the woman is a loser, and throws the application in the trash. Another staff member remarks that they should give her a gun so she can kill herself because she is so worthless.
Missing entirely from the book is the secular objector. The conflict is presented solely as a conflict between those who are deeply religious and those who are transhumanist thinkers. In the non-fictional world, there are many secular and middle-of-the-road objectors to transhumanism. There are millions of people who value having the freedom to live as they want to live, and to let others do the same, without being forced to accept anyone else’s ideas. Some readers may surely be left wondering if there will be a place for them in this probably inevitable future, or if there could come a time when human genocide is perpetrated on those who reject the idea of merging with machines.
The Transhumanist Wager is a thrilling and frightening futurist romp. It features incredibly tight writing, richly drawn characters and plenty of information about transhumanist philosophy. It is important to note that many of the concepts espoused in the book may reflect the current real-life ideology of futurists and transhumanist thinkers, and for that reason, it should be on everyone’s must-read list without exception.
Opinion by: Rebecca Savastio