Human beings have been searching for the secret to everlasting life probably since we first grasped the concept of death, and speculative fiction writers have been writing about immortality nearly as long.
While writers have come up with many creative ways that we might achieve immortality, what’s even more compelling is the effect that becoming immortal would have on our essential human nature, which is defined by our consciousness of our own mortality. Here's a list of books that have tackled the theme of everlasting life and its ramifications.
by Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels introduced the island of Immortals. Unfortunately, the Immortals continued to age, becoming more demented and debilitated until they were a great nuisance to everyone else. Too bad they didn’t have retirement homes back then.
by Bram Stoker
The immortal vampire was brought to life (so to speak) by Bram Stoker in Dracula. Everlasting youth and life is the reward, but the price is pretty steep: you have to drink blood, you never get to go outside in the daylight and basically you become an inhuman, evil monster. And so the great tradition of vampire fiction began, which continues unabated to this day (as tired as some of us may be getting of it).
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Another type of immortal being, the Elves, are major characters in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The Elf Galadriel falls in love with a human she must inevitably watch grow old and die, a terrible plight indeed (but I think I’d rather be the Elf than the human, personally). The Elves actually envy our mortality, since they can’t ever get away from millennia of bad memories of war and never-ending quests and wizards gone bad.
by Tom Robbins
In Jitterbug Perfume, Tom Robbins‘ characters simply decide to become immortal. They have a regimen that they follow, involving baths, beets and sex, but choosing not to die is the important part. There really is no downside, except getting tired of the whole routine after a while.
by Douglas Adams
The question of what to do with all that free time is brought up in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which the character Wowbagger becomes immortal accidentally. He decides to insult every living thing in the universe, alphabetically. It’s important to have a project.
by Richard Morgan
In Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan, immortality is achieved by downloading all of your memories and knowledge into a new body, preferably a young clone of your old body. The rich have access to the technology, the poor not so much. And criminals may find themselves put in cold storage, only to wake up decades later in a completely unfamiliar body.
by Orson Scott Card
Immortality is achieved in Orson Scott Card’s The Worthing Saga by just sleeping through long periods of life, and waking up for short periods. While living very long lives, these sleepers become disconnected from all meaningful relationships and even from their history and culture. Is it worth it to live a long time if you’re unconscious for most of it?
by Kurt Vonnegut
Finally, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut gives an alternate take on how immortality might work. When Billy Pilgrim becomes “unstuck in time,” he essentially relives his war experiences over and over, in random order. There is no end to it, so no true death as we would think of it, but it’s not exactly an ideal life either. The aliens in the novel view a life as a whole all at once, rather than moving through it linearly.
by Kim Stanley Robinson
In his Mars Trilogy, Kim Stanley Robinson posits a treatment that continuously reverses the effects of aging, enabling people to live hundreds of years. This makes it possible for humanity to complete enormous projects, such as populating the solar system, but there are losses too. Relationships become less meaningful, children are increasingly rare and alien due to population controls, and precious memories are eventually lost. A lot of people get a wicked case of the blues as a result.
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About Shannon Turlington
I'm a voracious and discerning reader, a full-time mother and a part-time blogger. I hope you take a moment to visit my blog, Books Worth Reading.
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