translated from the Danish by Joan Tate
original edition: 1969
translated edition: Doubleday, 1971
grab a copy through your local independent bookstore or library
Anders Bodelsen’s Freezing Down came out in Denmark around the time that Pierre Boulle was publishing science fiction in France (the late 1960s and 1970s). Also like Boulle, Bodelsen was quickly translated into English. And in keeping with Boulle’s wacky and highly entertaining Desperate Games (1971, tr. 1973), Freezing Down features a world sliding into ruin in large part thanks to the scientists who have assumed political power across the globe in an effort to establish a utopia.
Highly focalized through the protagonist (Bruno, a single, young magazine fiction editor), Freezing Down images the results of what later generations would call “cryonics.” When Bruno is told by a doctor in 1973 that he has terminal cancer, he is given the choice of traditional treatment or “freezing down” until some time in the future when his cancer can be cured and he can be brought back to life. Notably, the more isolated Bruno is forced to become throughout the novel, the more this bachelor-by-choice fights against it. Before undergoing the freezing process, Bruno has one last fling with a ballerina (Jenny), whom he met at a recent party. This night with Jenny results in a son, whom Bruno meets when he is thawed in 1995.
From the moment Bruno wakes up in 1995, he realizes just how alien the world has become (see Hal Bragg returning to Earth and finding it an alien world in Stanislaw Lem’s Return from the Stars, 1961, tr. 1980). Now people can choose to live solely for pleasure and then die once their first organ gives out, upon which their other organs are divided among ill patients. Others (mostly wealthy professionals) can choose to periodically be frozen and thawed, as well as fitted with synthetic organs, in order to live, effectively, forever. This world run by scientists manipulating organ distribution calls to mind the dystopian world of Gheorghe Păun’s “Prosthesosaurs” (1983, tr. 1995). A more recent example is Swedish author Ninni Holmqvist’s The Unit (2006, tr. 2009).
Frozen down once more because of his depression about his condition, Bruno is then reawakened in 2022, where life is even more dystopian. Growing depressed and desperate as he is kept mostly isolated, given shapeless food, and denied modern magazines, books, and music, Bruno tries to escape what he realizes is a cruel captivity where existence is prized over everything else. The reader is only able to perceive the world through Bruno’s eyes, resulting in an anxiety-filled experience like that felt when reading Kafka. Freezing Down is a unique glimpse into Danish science fiction during a time when translations were bringing more stories to more readers around the globe. So who wants to read more Danish SFT? I certainly do!