(Cover picture courtesy of KurzweilAI.)
Philosopher, entrepreneur, and former National Geographic and New York Times correspondent Zoltan Istvan presents his bestselling visionary novel, The Transhumanist Wager, as a seminal statement of our times.
Scorned by over 500 publishers and literary agents around the world, his indie philosophical thriller has been called “revolutionary” and “socially dangerous” by readers, scholars, and religious authorities. The novel debuts a challenging original philosophy, which rebuffs modern civilization by inviting the end of the human species–and declaring the onset of something greater.
Set in the present day, the novel tells the story of transhumanist Jethro Knights and his unwavering quest for immortality via science and technology. Fighting against him are fanatical religious groups, economically depressed governments, and mystic Zoe Bach: a dazzling trauma surgeon and the love of his life, whose belief in spirituality and the afterlife is absolute. Exiled from America and reeling from personal tragedy, Knights forges a new nation of willing scientists on the world’s largest seasteading project, Transhumania. When the world declares war against the floating city, demanding an end to its renegade and godless transhuman experiments and ambitions, Knights strikes back, leaving the planet forever changed.
[Full disclosure: I received a free print copy from Zoltan Istvan in exchange for an honest review.]
I usually steer away from reviewing books on controversial topics, but this one is definitely the exception. I was so interested from the blurb that I couldn’t pass up a chance to read it. So what did I think of The Transhumanist Wager?
Well, I can say that I don’t really feel one way or the other about it. It’s fascinating from a philosophical perspective because it combines libertarianism, liberalism and conservatism all together to create transhumanism. If you like what I call ‘philosophical thrillers’ I would recommend The Transhumanist Wager. And while I know a little bit about philosophy, I’m far from an expert so that angle didn’t work for me.
This brought along the obvious problem with this book: it really, really, really tries hard to promote transhumanism. There are pages of transhumanist rhetoric that the main character, Jethro Knights, thinks and says. Sure, it’s interesting from a philosophical standpoint as I said before, but as a regular book it’s boring. In fantasy books I don’t like heroes or villains going on big moral rants. In science fiction books I don’t like pages and pages of explanations for technology. So would I put up with pages and pages of philosophy for this sci-fi/philosophy thriller? Not really. There comes a point in time when it stops being interesting and starts getting boring.
The Transhumanist Wager was supposed to be a novel but I think it would have done much better as a nonfiction manifesto. The main character Jethro Knights is generally unemotional and utterly dedicated to transhumanism. He barely has doubts along the way, something that I find a little unbelievable. I mean, doesn’t everyone question their beliefs once in a while? The only thing I found sympathetic about him was his love for Zoe. Despite his beliefs he tolerated her spiritual beliefs and eventually placed her beliefs over his because he knew it would have been what she wanted.
Considering how slow the beginning started out I was surprised that it actually picked up at the end. Zoltan Istvan got off to a pretty shaky start with Jethro’s backstory and his transhuman beliefs, but I did appreciate that the plot gradually picked up later on. It wasn’t exactly a fast-paced thrill ride, but it wasn’t mind-numbingly boring. If he had cut out some of Jethro’s long speeches the plot wouldn’t have dragged in places, but I think the philosophy of transhumanism was more important to him than the pacing.
Overall I’d have to say that The Transhumanist Wager is a good book if you focus more on the philosophy than on it being a book that’s supposed to entertain you. If you’re interested in transhumanism, go ahead and read it. But if you’re looking for a science fiction novel you’re meant to enjoy for its plot, characters and world-building I don’t think this is the right book for you.
I give this book 2.5/5 stars.