SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Death is the great leveler, if you please. All of us - kings, peasants, beggars and billionaires, saints and gnats will all die. It's the one certainty we share, even if we differ on the fine points of what happens thereafter.
But what if someone set out to circumvent death by having themselves essentially suspended - technically dead, but ready to be revived? Frozen in some secret location, body and had insulated separately against that day a technology is developed to regenerate them, with some memories, others cast away?
Such an enterprise known as convergence is at the center of Don DiLillo's new novel called "Zero K." And Don DeLillo, one of America's premier novelists, winner of the National Book Award for "White Noise," the PEN/Faulkner and PEN/Bellow Awards and a many-time nominee for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, joins us from New York. Thanks so much being with us.
DON DELILLO: Glad to be here.
SIMON: Let's set your - the scene of your novel a bit. Jeffrey Lockhart is summoned to this place called Convergence by his father Ross who's a famous billionaire. He is very devoted to his second, younger wife Artis and he wants to join her. How does this story proceed?
DELILLO: I think the essence of the novel is that Ross Lockhart wants to join Artis even though he is not on the verge of dying himself. Artis went into the cryogenic process because she was near death anyway. But he is a healthy man in his 60s. This is an incredible development, of course, in his life and in his son's life. The point is that this is a completely illegal process and takes place in the deepest physical levels of the Convergence, in an area known as Zero K.
SIMON: And do you write about this because you think we're on the course - in human affairs?
DELILLO: Science and technology are on that course. And I think they have been for quite a while. I can only expect that it will continue, perhaps, in a more refined manner. But I ought to add that I did not do a great deal of research. I did what was necessary.
SIMON: This place Convergence, which you sketch in so beautifully, raises the most essential questions of human existence. And I don't mind saying - as a reader, it can be a little creepy. But can I get you to read a section? These are twins whom Jeffrey names - or renames, I should say - who are sharing some of the questions.
DELILLO: (Reading) This is the first split-second of the first cosmic year. We are becoming citizens of the universe. There questions, of course. Once we master life extension and approach the possibility of becoming ever-renewable, what happens to our energies, our aspirations, the social institutions we've built? Are we designing a future culture of lethargy and self-indulgence? Isn't death a blessing? Doesn't it define the value of our lives minute-to-minute, year-to-year? Many other questions.
SIMON: I also found myself wondering - are the people in the Convergence project trying to avoid death or life?
DELILLO: Well, in general, I think what they hope to accomplish is a return to life in 20, 30 years or possibly less. The question ultimately is - what kind of life - what kind of mind does an individual possess after spending 20 years in a cryogenic pod? But they do expect that an individual at the end of the process will have an identity resembling his or her original identity.
SIMON: There's a line in the book that I'm still running through in my mind. It's the things we forget about that are what tell us who we are.
DELILLO: I think this is a line that I myself have forgotten about.
SIMON: (Laughter) Well, contact us when you read it again at some point.
DELILLO: I will.
SIMON: Let me throw one of the questions that you suggest in your book at you. If we can even entertain the idea of being on the verge of living forever - and as you know, deaths will still occur. People will get run over by something. What happens to poetry? What happens to art?
DELILLO: I think this is a major question. Do I know the answer? I think it would have to affect novels and poems and stage plays and every other form of art. But to what extent? And would it create an urgency that would benefit the creator of various kinds of art? I don't know the answer.
SIMON: And have you (laughter) - have you come up with, if not an answer, anything that gives your mind peace to the answer - what happens to us when we go?
DELILLO: I think peace happens in the sense of being submerged beneath whatever difficulties, complications and unrests are part of our lives. In essence, I think nothing happens. But I could change my mind.
SIMON: (Laughter) Don DeLillo, one of the great ones, his latest novel "Zero K." Thanks so much for being with us.
DELILLO: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.