The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

Book Review: The Resurrection of Rey Pescador

The world of Rey Pescador has all the familiarity of the Internet, world travel, American cities, and religious beliefs. Yet it feels strangely foreign. Rey Pescador, a Latino poet from Chicago with an ego as big as Lake Michigan, is the most famous person on the planet. And he is the only person on the planet with a human heart.

Readers will recognize their world, all the way down to Chicago’s streets and Catholic accoutrements. Yet reading The Resurrection of Rey Pescador feels like looking through binoculars with two different magnifications. This disorientation keeps readers wondering, and reading.

Rey Pescador’s author, Al Cedeno, offered me a review copy because of my interest in technology. And this being a tech-oriented blog, I want to explore the ways tech is presented in the book. First, a bit of the story’s history.

Starting in the 1970s, people began adopting artificial hearts, and with them the guarantee of immortality. By 1982, the government has mandated that all newborns are given artificial hearts. These hearts have features that filter out cancer-causing agents in the blood and provide annual reports on the health of their host bodies.

For the story’s narrator, a Catholic priest named David, the Robotic Heart Campaign poses new theological questions about life, death. and the state of the human soul. Meanwhile, corollary questions emerge. With humans having installed mechanical hearts, does our understanding of machines also have to change? What about machines that have human organs installed? Where’s the line between human and machine, especially when there are varying percentages of human and artificial? Do machines deserve human rights too?

Cedeno certainly gets it right in this regard: The mere existence of a technology, with its potential to extend human life, presents us humans with basic ethical questions. We can ignore or avoid them, but that doesn’t eliminate their pressing reality. Every new device, simply by existing, poses problems we must decide about. If we can extend human life, why wouldn’t we? Every device forces to answer this question. Avoidance isn’t an option. The best we can do is understand the questions that our devices are asking.

Rey Pescador’s world is so disorienting precisely because it is so similar to our own. It is so disorienting because we lose track of which world is which—where do the similarities stop and the differences begin? After all, artificial hearts already exist in our own world. What Cedeno has done is made them widespread and extended their potential. Everyone has one, and they extend life indefinitely.

His approach is exactly right: “What will this technology do to our society if it is widely adopted?” We have seen our own generation transformed with the widespread availability of the Internet, mobile devices, and the integration of the two. The result is “big data” and the civil rights questions and privacy issues that come from it. Instead of cell phones installed in our pockets, Cedeno installs tickers in our chests. How does the world change? In a world where technology saves lives, what does death mean? And in a world where no one dies, what does resurrection mean?

This is the world of Rey Pescador. The Resurrection of Rey Pescador will leave you with plenty of questions . . . . then again, technology is already posing many of them to us every single day.