publication: the Sudbury Star
story title: Singer + Song-Writer: Kevin Closs explores high cost of immortality
author: by Keith Dempsey
After 6 years of writing, Sudbury singer + song-writer Kevin Closs recently released a new novel.
The novel is titled Omagee— the story centers on character Lia Larkin, who is 72 years old and learning about life for the first time. After decades spent dreaming in the care of an artificially intelligent computer program called iLiFE — Larkin has un-docked to say goodbye to her aged mother.
But something happens while she is disconnected from the network. The nanobot colony that keeps her alive fails and she is left stranded in a world she has never known. Now she must make a choice. Find a way to reboot her iLiFE existence and embrace immortality, or stay in bioLiFE and discover if she has what it takes to become truly human.
“It’s about trying to imagine an immortal existence of desire without limits and about trying to make a case for life on the universe’s terms,” Closs said. “I’ve borrowed ideas from many of my favourite sci-fi and fantasy stories, and used many well-used tropes to tell my tale. But I think I’ve managed to carry my initial question through to the end and hopefully added something original to the conversation.”
The inspiration for this novel, Closs said, came from reading a book called The Singularity Is Near by Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil is a futurist and inventor who argues that in the near future (he suggests 2045), computers will surpass us in intelligence and become sentient. Beyond this singularity, Kurzweil says it is impossible to predict anything, but he imagines a world where people no longer need their biological forms, but rather live forever as disembodied minds inside virtual worlds of their own imagining.
Having grown up Roman Catholic, Closs said he has done his share of musing about immortality. But it always strikes him as being impossible to comprehend a thing beyond reality as we know it — a spiritual reality.
“But The Singularity is Near was compelling in that it suggested a technological immortality,” Closs said. “Rather than living a mortal life, dying, then passing on into an unknowable spiritual realm, Kurzweil says we will soon simply transfer our minds and personalities into powerful computers and create our own deathless yet intelligible realities.
“Furthermore, Kurzweil’s post-Singularity world implies an immortal realm still fettered to mortal desires. Paradise, Nirvana, Tian, Moksha, whatever you call it, has always been described as being beyond desire. But Kurzweil seems to suggest that, rather than leaving our mortal desires behind, we will fulfill them, indeed multiply and expand them, riding the might of infinitely powerful computers.
“The idea that one will soon be able to simply trade one’s mundane existence (along with disease, suffering and death) for a new, unlimited life of desire suggests many incredible questions. Will we have access to our friends and families in this new reality or will we be essentially alone? Will there be an age of consent for immortality or will newborn babies simply be transferred directly to iLiFE?
“Will we need any biological life experience to even be able to imagine this new deathless reality? Or will we borrow other life experiences? Or will our lives and experiences be constructed for us? Will we be able to move back and forth between worlds or will we have to leave our bodies behind? And on and on.”
Most importantly, Kurzweil’s book challenged an idea Closs had always (admittedly out of necessity) held dear — that life, including suffering and death, was meaningful in itself, that our mortality somehow defined us, or at least placed us in a comprehensible universe.
Suddenly, Closs found himself wondering if life was worth living at all, “especially if everything I had ever desired would soon be only a thought away.
“I realized that Kurzweil’s book, whether he knew it or not, was about choice,” Closs said. “Do we, as human beings, roll the dice and live the brief lives that the Universe has given us, be they pleasurable or painful, fulfilled or futile? Or do we cash out, leave our flesh behind, and live forever in a dream world of our own choosing, where anything is possible? What is the ultimate meaning of bioLiFE and what is the cost of iLiFE?”
Rachael Charbonneau helped with editing Omagee, while the Ontario Arts Council provided a small grant that allowed Closs the time to write the first draft.
A book signing for Omagee will be held at the Greater Sudbury Public Library on Makenzie Street on March 9, from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m., then at La Fromagerie, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.