56) Frank Herbert – The Eyes Of Heisenberg
Short sf novel from 1966 about a far distant future where genetic engineering has brought longer lives for all and immortality for a minority — but at the cost of genetic engineering being both compulsory and necessary, as humans no longer reproduce naturally. Many are naturally sterile, and for the rest, there is the contraceptive gas that ensures that only the chosen few with a potentially viable gene mix are allowed to try their luck at creating a zygote for the gene surgeons to improve. The immortal Optimen have ruled, largely by consent, since not long after the first of them was created some eighty thousand years ago, but there are challenges to their rule.
This is one of the sf books I first read as a teenager, and was hoping would still hold up. I had occasional problems with suspension of disbelief, but it’s staying on the keep pile rather than going into the Oxfam box. The opening sequence with a genetic surgeon preparing to cut a new embryo with Optiman potential, and finding that it is something even greater and forbidden — that still has the power to evoke sensawunda for me. The rest of the novel doesn’t quite hit the same heights, but there’s still a worthwhile story about the price and effects of immortality. And while this short novel doesn’t have the same depth of world-building as Dune, there are still some lovely little details, such as the hand-pressure language used by the Parents Underground to communicate secretly in public.