William Campbell’s Dead Forever novel series takes a different approach. Campbell seeks to utilize the concept of everlasting physical life—and the knowledge associated with it—as a way to deepen the intrigue and raise the stakes in a battle between individual freedoms and hegemonic domination. The first novel in the series, Awakening, mostly succeeds in this goal, but is hampered by a somewhat sluggish plot arc and character dialogue that could have used some refinement.
As the story opens, the chief protagonist “Carl” has just awoken once again to the dreary existence he has known from his first memories, which aren’t all that long ago due to an apparent accident which has left him with amnesia. He lives as a homeless drifter, sustaining himself with cheap diner eggs and odd day labor in a rainy, gray cityscape seemingly devoid of cheer. One day a slip of the tongue brings him to the attention of The Association, the fascist political entity that controls the planet and values conformity over all else. He is apprehended, examined by the ruling council, and sentenced to die. However, things are not as simple and dreary as Carl has been led to believe, and he is rescued by a team of rebels, including a beautiful woman who seems to behave entirely too familiarly around him.
As they escaped the hostile planet, it is revealed to Carl that his name is in fact Adam, and these renegades have been friends with him his whole life—in fact, many lifetimes. In the universe inhabited by these characters (which at this point still has ambiguous provenance), death of the physical body is simply an occasional hurdle to overcome, no different than retiring a comfortable old car for a new model. Reincarnation is treated as an ordinary part of life, and everyone maintains a supply of replacement bodies, produced by bio-engineers on large “body farms” (one of the most revealing and compelling scenes in the novel takes place at one of these production facilities, more Garden of Eden than assembly line). Adam’s friends—the too-fresh Madison, pilot Dave, and tech expert Matt—have been looking for him for months, since The Association captured him and suppressed his memories, including those of previous rebirths. They are key members of the rebellion fighting to break The Association’s stranglehold on the lives of everyone it has conquered. There was also once a fifth member of the team, who meant a great deal to Adam. However, no one is very forthcoming with information, citing the need for Adam to retrieve the memories on his own.