Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Forever Formula by Frank Bonham (1979)

I used to own this; but I have no idea where my copy has gone to over the years.  It could be in one of two large tubs of paperback books in our attic.  I checked out a copy from the library - I had them interlibrary loan it from San Diego Public Library actually.

The book and its ideas about the future have really stuck in my head over the years.  Bonham definitely has portrayed a dystopia.  It's not of the Hunger Games variety; although clearly some sort of Hunger Games type of event has happened; Bonahm's characters hint of  climate collapse devaluing of the dollar as a result; essentially the United States has morphed into something else, with Los Angeles as the capitol.  The extra fly in the ointment is that a drug has caused people to live for hundreds of years; because of this, a permanent underclass of juveniles (meaning anyone from child to centenarians) work for the luxury of the upper class of Seniors.  

Bonham explains in his afterword that he was "intrigued by the problems inherent in hyper-longevity that seems to be our destiny, including the economic and political implications."  He worked on the novel for five years, which means as early as the mid-1970s, he was future thinking and worried about this.  Although the book can become a bit "Morris the Explainer" at times, setting scenes and explaining about historical events through what people are telling each other (it helps that an boy from the past ignorant of the future is there to be on the receiving end of these history lessons), the book is still pretty exciting (it was exciting enough for a sixteen year old teenager to remember it pretty vividly 25+ years later).  

What's frightening about the book is how prescient Bonham is.  There is a worry about a permanent older class living longer and longer, taking resources from the younger class that work to keep them happy and healthy (I think this is already beginning to happen in Japan, and other countries with aging populations and low birthrates; the United States is headed this direction as well).  His ideas about a climate change are spot on as well; I think of worries about climate change as a "now" sort of issue, but he was thinking this through 30 years ago.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Frank Bonham started writing this book 40 years ago, eventually publishing it in 1979.  The main character, Evan, is a teenage boy from 1984.  Yet the book doesn't feel dated at all.  Bonham was extremely prescient about the future; he's written a dystopia almost of aThe Hunger Games variety, but more a thinker rather than full of action packed violence.  His ideas about a permanent older class living longer and longer, with a younger class working to keep them happy and healthy, and dropping birthrates adding to this problem, is something that's happening now in several countries throughout the world.  His changed climate crashing down upon the earth, devaluing the dollar and changing the politics and economies of the world, was also eerily farsighted; this is beginning to happen as well. All of this thought provocation in a 181 page book, with an actually riveting adventure little thriller as a backdrop. 25+ years ago, my 16 year old self enjoyed this book, enough that I remembered parts of it vividly all these years later.  With a new cover, I think this could come back into print and sell pretty well.  It's still very good!

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