Gunn’s novel falls within a tradition of science-fiction stories and novels about immortality, many of which question the benefits of eternal life. Written early in Gunn’s career, this novel presents a medical dystopia. The novel was published shortly after The Joy Makers (1961) and preceded The Dreamers (1977), both of which also concern dystopias.
The lust for eternal life creates a world of medical abuses. Besides writing a novel of adventure, Gunn satirizes a future medical system gone awry. In this world, the rich establish a secret organization to locate and control the life-giving blood. Class systems arise wherein the wealthy receive medical treatment and the poor wage guerrilla warfare against walled medical centers of privilege and power. Cities decay. Doctors forget or ignore the Hippocratic oath. Citizens who fail to pay their health care premiums are killed for organ harvesters. In the end, the system becomes as sick and bloated as Weaver, the sluglike creature who would breed his own daughter for blood and power.
Courageous and ethical men and women retain their decency in their struggles against this evil. Pearce flees the system to care for the underclass and remains vital through self-control of his bodys systems. Cartwright risks his life for more than twenty years to protect his daughters safety. Flowers learns that medicine means serving the poor, and Elliott gives up a chance for immortality when he fights the corruption. In The Immortals, the true gift of life comes from heroes who take risks and care for others.