The Immortality Factor could be either TV movie-or-the-week or A Few Good Men (but with science) . . .

According to a recent report in Fantastique magazine, Ben Bova’s production company, B-Four Productions, in partnership with Red Giant Media, will bring Bova’s novel, The Immortality Factor to the big screen. The screenplay has been entrusted to Kevin Fox (The Negotiator).

The Immortality Factor is an extended and updated version of a Ben Bova novel titled Brothers. (Yeah, we would have changed the title as well . . .) In his preface Bova writes that “this is not a science fiction novel.” Well, there’s science in it (loads in fact!) and it’s fiction - so we don’t know what that would make it then.

As the earlier title let on the book is indeed about two brothers. The one is Arthur Marshak, a brilliant scientist working for a large multinational corporation. The other brother is the younger Jesse, a medical doctor who dedicates his life to all kinds of philanthropic causes such as working at a hospital in a low-income area or doing a volunteer stint at a UN refugee camp in a troubled African country (which one isn’t?).

The proverbial shit hits the fan when Arthur falls becomes engaged to a woman named Julia and Jesse “steals” her from him . . .

Luckily this clichéd “two brothers fighting over the same woman” storyline is only a subplot in The Immortality Factor. The real focus is on Arthur’s leading edge research involving stem cells. Arthur thinks up a gene therapy method whereby organs and even limbs might be grown back to replace old or damaged hearts, lungs, legs, and so forth. (Smokers will no doubt rejoice at the prospect of growing a new pair of lungs!)

The implications are staggering: it means that people can technically live “forever” – just re-grow all the human bits and parts that grow old with age. One can just also imagine the implications if people can live for centuries as regards anything from health care insurance to pension funds. It can bankrupt entire nations!

"We root for Arthur because science is such a groovy thing!"

Arthur believes that he is a scientist and that the broader implications of his discoveries aren’t his problem. It’s a bit like going, “sure, I’ve invented the atom bomb, but what you do with it is your problem, not mine.” His brother Jesse is however opposed to the potential treatment: only the super rich would able to afford the expensive treatments and it would make the disparities between rich and poor even worse.

The novel’s backbone is a court case, a so-called “science court” in which some of Arthur’s peers must decide whether there is scientific validity behind his theories and whether his research should continue. The story is told in flashback. The court is supposed to stick to the scientific facts, but since it is a public court it soon strays from the science alone and becomes a media circus and Arthur’s work is jeopardized. (Jesse’s issue isn’t really with his brother’s scientific work, but with his personality. The man is a know-it-all pain in the butt. But worse than that, he is a successful know-it-all pain in the butt!)

The science court of course attracts the attention of the religious fringe who mistakenly believes that Arthur will use stem cells from aborted fetuses (he won’t). Soon a loony televangelist and a shady U.S. Senator ask Jesse to help destroy his brother and his work. Will Jesse help them?

With its “science vs. religion” themes The Immortality Factor rather reminded us of Carl Sagan’s Contact to a degree. Action-wise not much really happens except for scene in which Arthur tries to stop some animal activists who try to steal some lab chimps. It is all rather talky, but Hollywood lives for onscreen court cases so one can easily imagine how the court case will form the backbone of any movie adaptation. In the hands of the right actors and screenwriter it can make for compelling viewing. Or it can be the sort of cheesy disease-of-the-week TV movie that makes you quickly skip to another channel. It all depends.

The book itself is an exciting page-turner. As I’ve said the two brothers squabbling over the same woman plot is a tired cliché, but the excitement lies in rooting for Arthur to successfully complete his research. Not because one would like to see people live forever (imagine Paris Hilton living forever!) but because, heck, science and technology is such a groovy thing! Where would we be without our mobile 3G connections, our air-conditioning, our chronic asthma medication? Arthur may be the sort of person we’d automatically hate, but he’s fighting on the right side here . . .


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