Cyber Life After Death: The Uploaded by Ferrett Steinmetz

The question of what happens when a person dies has been grappled with for as long as humanity has existed. Is there a heaven? A sort of paradise that waits for us after we close our eyes for the last time? Is there eternal punishment awaiting those who did not meet whatever criteria that the paradise demanded? What if there was a way to be sure that you would automatically awaken in that fabled paradise? In his newest novel, Ferrett Steinmetz examines this possibility with great success.

The Uploaded (2017)
Written by: Ferrett Steinmetz
Genre: Science fiction
Pages: 448 (Kindle)
Publisher: Angry Robot

Disclaimer: Novel provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Why I Chose It: I’ve followed Steinmetz’s blog for years and when he began publishing his fiction, I was intrigued. I’ve enjoyed his short fiction, and the chance to get a sneak peek at his newest novel was too good to pass up.

The premise:

In the near future, the elderly have moved online and now live within the computer network. But that doesn’t stop them interfering in the lives of the living, whose sole real purpose now is to maintain the vast servers which support digital Heaven. For one orphan that just isn’t enough — he wants more for himself and his sister than a life slaving away for the dead. It turns out that he’s not the only one who wants to reset the world…

No spoilers.

Steinmetz is a clever writer indeed. He has hidden an examination of one of mankind’s biggest questions (what happens when you die?) in a novel filled with plenty of action, snarky characters, and a lovable pony sidekick. In the future that Steinmetz proposes in The Uploaded, death is a minor inconvenience rather than the totality that it is today. Upon death, assuming that one has lived up to the standards set by those who preceded you into the Upterlife (the name given to the cyber-Heaven created to house the dead), your consciousness is uploaded into a paradise filled with anything that your heart truly desires. You become immortal, alive forever in the greatest playground/video game in existence, without the limitations of real world physics to hinder you. Our hero, Amichai, insists early in the novel that real life is worthy of being more than just a tolerable existence. He is largely in the minority in this opinion. Most of the living have an almost slavish devotion to the Upterlife, and why shouldn’t they? The Upterlife is where one can have a truly perfect life — careers, for example, do not exist for the living: the architects, writers, politicians, musicians, (and every other career imaginable) are jobs that belong solely to the dead. Endless adventures and possibilities exist in the Upterlife.

With that kind of adventure awaiting you, why would you want to stay alive in the first place? The world itself has become very grim. Natural resources are all but depleted. Infrastructure has been allowed to deteriorate. All of the living spend their days working for the ever-present dead, maintaining the servers that house their Heaven. The dead rule the living in a way that is nightmarish when you consider the implications.

The deeper story, beneath the pony, the witty dialogue and the fantastic action scenes, deals with the idea of what it means to live your life here in the present instead of for the future. The question of whether it is better to live with an eye towards eternity instead of firmly in the present lingers in the background of the entire novel. I am not going to get into a deep religious discussion here, but the idea of living up to certain moral standards in order to be rewarded in the afterlife is a theme that is common in many religions. Is there a clear answer to this question?

Of course there isn’t. That doesn’t mean that Steinmetz doesn’t offer an answer or an opinion on the question; the ending, while strong and perfect for the story, leaves things in an ambiguous place for the reader. This is not at all a criticism. I enjoy stories that force the reader to confront and examine their own beliefs. This novel does so beautifully.

If you’re curious, you can read the prologue and first chapter of the novel here. If you like what you read, the book is available on September 5th.

In conclusion: I am glad that I read this. I look forward to revisiting this story. My review of the book is doubtlessly colored by the fact that my own grandfather passed away recently, and the mystery of what waits beyond the veil is very heavy on my own mind. This is a meaty story, if you allow it to be. If you’d rather not ponder such heavy themes, enjoy the novel for the delightful surface story. I do not think you will be disappointed.

1 Comment

  • Kelly McCarty August 31, 2017 at 4:01 pm

    This sounds interesting. Hopefully my library will get it.

    Reply

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