Outnumbering the Dead

Frederik Pohl uses this novella to explore the consequences of immortality. As he is known for doing, he defines and explains his potential future with just enough details to make it plausible. Humans have become immortal through a treatment administered in the second trimester of pregnancy. The operation is successful in the vast majority of cases, but not for the protagonist of OUTNUMBERING THE DEAD, a dancer and actor named Rafiel. The book takes its title from the fact that the living population of ten trillion now outnumbers all of the dead throughout history. Pohl allows for this huge population by introducing intergalactic travel and low-cost, renewable energy.

Rafiel’s unique situation poses problems for him. He cannot make others understand what it is like to face death, and he finds that he must make choices with his time, while others can postpone indefinitely anything they might consider doing, because there will always be time for it later. Pohl none-too-subtly offers the message that a limitless life may have less value than a finite one. Rafiel’s story is one of trying to find meaning in life before it is too late.

There is not much room for plot in such a short work. Pohl wisely chose to explore the emotions of different people in his imaginary world, rather than constructing an intricate plot that would bury his simple but powerful message. Alegretta, Rafiel’s doctor and lover, is portrayed especially well in her struggle with the now-unusual occurrence of the death of both a patient and a companion. There are enough new situations and plot devices to move the story along, but this is definitely more a novel of ideas and emotions than one of action.