The History of Living Forever

milkboys Books & Magazines Leave a Comment

Jake Wolff’s debut novel The History of Living Forever is a science fiction story, a gay romance, and a Hardy Boys mystery all rolled into one. But the ultimate moral dilemma of its teenaged protagonist almost lifts the book above any specific genre.

At the centre of the story is Conrad, a high school student whose life is upended by the sudden death of his chemistry teacher and lover, Sammy, “the kind of guy who uses semicolons in text messages.”

Conrad was having an illicit affair with Sammy and his passing leaves the sensitive student reeling. After Sammy’s death, Conrad discovers his notebooks, which are filled with disjointed pieces of information about his search for an elixir of life. It is left to Conrad to pull these pieces together and complete Sammy’s work.

What could have been just a page-turning mystery is given poignancy by the stakes Conrad and his friend RJ have in discovering the elixir: each is out to save a family member from dying. The personal stories of Conrad and RJ encourage the reader to consider the ethical side of medicine we struggle with today. Who deserves to live? How much should we sacrifice of our own lives to advance medicine for the benefit of others? How long do we want to live?

Wolff consistently grounds the book in the science of the boys’ quest. He even presents us with case histories of real people, starting with Ge Hong, fourth-century scholar and first practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine. Especially in its second half, the novel is immersed in the experimental details of the potion. For those whose interest in science is limited to the broad strokes of political discourse, these descriptions may seem to bog the story down somewhat, but they’re essential to give credibility to Wolff’s fantastical plot.

Emphasizing science allows Wolff to wrestle with some weighty questions about how we live our lives: Do we follow the hard data of science? Our hearts? We ignore either at our peril, Wolff seems to tell us. Conrad reveals that his mother died when he was ten years old in a house fire caused by a burning cigarette. The fire inspector told the family that she “did everything wrong: she went up when you’re supposed to go down, she traveled toward the heat and not away from it.” The message is that she might have been spared if she had only obeyed the laws of science. And in a witty Author’s Note, Wolff reminds us not to play with science: “Every recipe in this book, if ingested, will kill you. Every single one.” He ends with the cliché, “Do not try this at home.”

In one of Sammy’s journals, we discover that he believes science might well serve the needs of our emotional well-being:

There is some way to treat everything at once…what the Greeks called panakeia, the all healing. My goal is not to live forever but to live happily—to figure out what happiness means.

Luckily most of the time the book manages to address the lofty issues it deals with without losing its ability to entertain.

Review via Lambda Literary

Periodical Political Post *115

milkboys News & Articles 8 Comments

Queer News

Other News

Genetics can have an impact on sexual preference

milkboys News & Articles 3 Comments

The findings of what is being touted as the largest-ever study of the role genetics plays in same-sex sexual behaviour found that genetics plays about a third of the influence on whether someone has same-sex sex but there’s no single “gay gene,” the New York Times and many other outlets reported last week citing findings published in the journal Science.

The influence comes not from one gene but many, each with a tiny effect — and the rest of the explanation includes social or environmental factors — making it impossible to use genes to predict someone’s sexual orientation, the Times reports.

The study of nearly half a million people, funded by the National Institutes of Health and other agencies, found differences in the genetic details of same-sex behaviour in men and women. The research also suggests the genetics of same-sex sexual behaviour shares some correlation with genes involved in some mental health issues and personality traits — although the authors said that overlap could simply reflect the stress of enduring societal prejudice, the Times reports.

The study analysed the genetic data of 408,000 men and women from a large British database, the U.K. Biobank, who answered extensive health and behaviour questions between 2006-2010, when they were between the ages of 40-69. The researchers also used data from nearly 70,000 customers of the genetic testing service 23andMe, who were 51 years old on average, mostly American, and had answered survey questions about sexual orientation. All were of white European descent, one of several factors that the authors note limit their study’s generalisability. Trans people were not included, the Times reports.

The researchers mainly focused on answers to one question: whether someone ever had sex with a same-sex partner, even once.

A much higher proportion of the 23andMe sample — about 19 percent compared to about 3 percent of the Biobank sample — reported a same-sex sexual experience, a difference possibly related to cultural factors or because the specific 23andMe sexual orientation survey might attract more LGB participants, the Times reports.

Despite its limitations, the research was much larger and more varied than previous studies, which generally focused on gay men, often those who were twins or were otherwise related.

There might be thousands of genes influencing same-sex sexual behaviour, each playing a small role, scientists believe. The new study found that all genetic effects likely account for about 32 percent of whether someone will have same-sex sex, the Times reports.

Using a big-data technique called genome-wide association, the researchers estimated that common genetic variants — single-letter differences in DNA sequences — account for between 8 percent and 25 percent of same-sex sexual behaviour. The rest of the 32 percent might involve genetic effects they could not measure, they said.

Periodical Political Post *114

milkboys News & Articles 10 Comments

Queer News

Other News

Murray Hall: The politician who broke 19th Century gender rules

milkboys History & People 1 Comment

He was a hard-drinking, twice-married businessman and politician in 19th Century New York – but Murray Hall had a secret which was only revealed after his death.

Murray Hall had a reputation for hard living – drinking, smoking, playing poker and even brawling with a policeman. He also had an active political career and a business as a bail bondsman.

So far, so ordinary for a man at the time. But one aspect of his life remained a secret until he died from cancer in 1901. That was when it first emerged that Hall had been assigned female at birth.

It was later reported that he had been born in Govan as Mary Anderson. According to a source quoted by the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, he began dressing as a male in his teens, then fled to America when his first wife disclosed his gender to the police. It was there that he took the name Murray H Hall, before marrying for a second time and beginning his business and political career.

Writer and archivist Mel Reeve said there had been a “huge backlash” in the media after his death. “People were very angry and felt like they’d been betrayed, but obviously he was just living his life how he wanted to – which was as a man,” she said.

Newspapers reported breathlessly on the events in articles which reflected some of the attitudes of the times. The New York Times, for instance, accused him of “masquerading” in male attire. It said Hall had a reputation as “a ‘man about town’, a bon vivant, and all-around ‘good fellow’.”

One senator described how Hall used to “hobnob with the big guns of the County Democracy” and said that he “cut quite some figure as a politician”. He added: “He dressed like a man and talked like a very sensible one.”

Read on…