Few children's books touch on the theme of death. This is partially because our society deals with death as a dangerous and taboo topic. Many people feel they want to protect young minds from thinking about death at all. There is, however, a social movement afoot that treats the topic of death differently. Transhumanists believe that in the near future they will be able to eliminate death via the use of advanced medicine, science, and technology. Rather than fear or avoid death, they aim to fight directly against it.
As a transhumanist, I was pleased to discover the nonfiction children's book Gennady Stolyarov II and his wife Wendy Stolyarov recently created and published. It's called Death is Wrong. Mr. Stolyarov is the author, and Mrs. Stolyarov is the illustrator.
B. J. Murphy, an advisor for the Lifeboat Foundation and a well-known writer for the respected think-tank Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET), recently wrote a review of Death is Wrong. Speaking of conquering death in his review, Murphy writes:
I believe this wonderful children's book, provided by the Stolyarovs, is a very grand step forward in achieving this. Not too grammatically complex, and not too excruciatingly simplistic, Death is Wrong is a blunt dose of reality, quick to the punch and holding nothing back. This is the book I wish I'd have read as a young child.
I agree with Mr. Murphy's review. I thought the book was fun to read and important in what it tries to accomplish.
Yesterday, I contacted Mr. Stolyarov to do an interview with him about his new book. He has a long history with writing and artistic creation. His biography reads:
Gennady Stolyarov II is, above all, an individual who seeks to use ideas to change the world. He is an actuary, philosopher, amateur mathematician, composer, poet, and futurist. He has published The Rational Argumentator, an online magazine for world-transforming ideas, since 2002. Mr. Stolyarov’s thousands of published works include articles, short stories, poems, videos, academic study guides, musical compositions, audio recordings, and fractal artworks.
Q. Gennady, what made you want to write this children's nonfiction book? How long have you been thinking about it?
A. In a way, this project was incubating in my mind ever since I committed myself at the age of five to the struggle against senescence and death. Over the past several years, I have been deliberating about unique ways that I could improve the prospects of radical life extension in our lifetimes, despite not being a biologist or doctor. I realized that everyone learns about death as a child, yet there are virtually no resources explicitly enabling children to recognize that the first reaction of horror and sadness at the injustice of death is fully correct and should be a motivating force to remedy that injustice. This, combined with the fact that I happen to be married to the most talented illustrator I know, made the creation of this children’s book a logical step to take.
Q. What is the main message of the book?
A. Death is wrong, and we should do all we can to fight it using reason, science, and technology. Life is wonderful, and there are amazing opportunities people can have only if they live much, much longer than they currently do. Moreover, the scientific facts suggest the feasibility of achieving major increases in longevity during our lifetimes, so that some of us might never die at all.
Q. Why should we worry about death? Why should we teach our kids that we can overcome it?
A. Death is the obliteration of one’s very being – an entire universe snuffed out forever, with everything lost and not even a memory of one’s experiences, thoughts, emotions, or achievements remaining. If life – each individual’s life – is the greatest good, as is self-evident to me, then death, the opposite of life, is the greatest evil and should be fought with all our resources, since we lose everything if we lose life. It is especially important to communicate this message to children before they are inculcated with all of the excuses, rationalizations, and evasions about death which have been built up over millennia of human history in order to alleviate the understandable and justified anxiety that people have about their mortality. Because, unlike in earlier eras, radical life extension can become technically feasible in our lifetimes, we need as many children as possible to grow up being passionate about pursuing it, instead of excusing death or distracting themselves from its ever-looming threat.
Q. What ages do you feel the book is best for? Is it also for adults?
A. This book is great for most children ages 8 and older – but I am aiming to encompass as young an audience as I can. I am especially eager for ambitious, talented younger children to discover it. It would have been treasured by me when I was four, and even several precocious children who embrace the prospect of indefinite life extension can radically improve all of our chances. This book is certainly for adults as well, particularly those who have never stopped questioning the way things are and who continually try to improve the world in paradigm-changing ways.
Q. Where can readers find more about your book and more information about you?
Because the illustrations in the book are a critical and enjoyable element, I also wanted to ask Wendy Stolyarov a question. Mrs. Stolyarov is an illustrator, designer, and voice actress. While Death is Wrong is her first children’s title, she has published several other works in conjunction with the Center for Transhumanity. Her art can be viewed here.
Q. Wendy, I really enjoyed the pictures you drew in Death is Wrong. Do you draw what your husband writes, or vice versa? Or do you collaborate together beforehand?
A. We collaborated beforehand and worked together on the artwork as the book progressed. Once Gennady had the book's framework in place, we decided together what scenes would make good illustrations. Gennady chose the philosophers and quotes for the inset portraits himself, however. It was a pleasure to work in concert with him.
Zoltan Istvan is an award-winning journalist, philosopher, and activist. You can find him on Twitter, Google+, Facebook,and LinkedIn. Zoltan is also the author of the recently published #1 Philosophical bestseller novel The Transhumanist Wager. Available in ebook or paperback, the controversial novel is a revolutionary reading experience. You can check it out here.