The Immortals

James E. Gunn
The Immortals Cover

The Immortals


These loosely linked short stories appeared in magazines in the 1950's, formed the basis of a TV series in the 1970's, and have apparently undergone some rewriting by Gunn in the past twenty years or so. I read a 1962 Bantam paperback, so I assume that I got something pretty close to the original version of this material.

Marshal Cartwright sells a pint of blood for $25. When it is administered to a dying millionaire, the patient has a remarkable recovery. Cartwright's blood contains a hemoglobin that can defeat death, although a steady supply is needed. So the chase is on to track down Cartwright and his descendants. Much like some other early work by James Gunn, The Immortals opens with a scenes that could almost come from a crime novel rather than a science fiction story. Private detectives are hired, people are on the run, evil rich men will do anything to get what they want, no one can be trusted.

This is all pretty standard 1950's material until we jump ahead a few years, and Gunn reveals a dystopian vision of the future brought about partly by the frantic search for the Cartwright bloodline but also by the industrialization of the medical profession. The cities have turned into enormous medical compounds, guarded by armed militia, and slums. Amazing things are possible on the medical front, for those who can afford them. Gunn's vision of the medical industry could come from the platform proposals of the Republican National Committee, although some there might blanch at the thought that deadbeats who failed to pay their medical bills became residents of organ farms where they bodies were picked clean of usable parts until there was not enough reason to keep them alive.

Gunn writes suspenseful scenes and creates memorable images of destitution and corruption. Sixty years after it was written,The Immortals remains a grim but enjoyable read.