In a free-speech nation (as we want to believe ours is), there are many ways for radical thinkers to make a point. Letters to the editor, calls to dial-in radio or TV shows. Shout it out from a street corner, and someone is bound to listen. Write a book, an op-ed column. Get your own TV show.
Few radical thinkers write novels. Thomas W. McCollum III is the exception. In 1995, after years in the medical and pharmaceutical lab business, McCollum was convinced that HIV wasn’t the baffling world epidemic everyone thought it was. He believed it was a fluke retrovirus evilly inflicted upon the unwitting people of Africa, then deliberately injected into the gay world in America’s big cities. A cure was just as possible as the virus itself, but once big money started rolling out to test and treat AIDS, the mob, big business, and big government shared big reasons to keep the truth a secret, he thought.
McCollum talked and talked. Occasionally someone listened. Then he wrote a novel, Tainted Blood, projecting his freak vision into the world. People paid attention. The obscure book made it to the bestseller list. Even some world leaders began echoing McCollum’s claim.
Now he’s done it again, this time with an idea not so conspiratorial but just as radical. After studying the science of cryonics— freezing a just-dead body with the conviction that in decades to come, medical know-how will develop procedures to revive it and give that person extended life— he decided that it’s for him. Not only has he signed up: he wants everyone to sign up with him.
So McCollum III has written another novel. Palmer Lake is a story about the suicide of one of the world’s wealthiest men, the director of a great cryonics research institute. Of course, this guy, like McCollum, has left papers behind instructing his survivors to put him on ice. When his friends and loved ones suspect a murder, not a suicide, lo and behold! a Swiss cryonicist appears on the scene with the formula that every frozen body has been waiting for. The dead guy revives and solves the mystery, pointing his thawing finger at the murderer.
Aside from a speedy beach read, what does McCollum gain from his strategy? He catches readers off guard, in that Coleridgean suspension of disbelief that every good novel evokes in a reader. He tells a good story, zipping from scene to scene, handling suspense and secrecy in a tantalizing way. He gets us hooked— then makes his pitch. Very convincing.
My one fear is that political leaders might learn some techniques here. Or maybe they already have.
Thomas W. McCollum III will visit Barnes & Noble to share Palmer Lake, his new book, on Tuesday, April 16, at 7pm. Barracks Road Shopping Center, 984-0461.