Posted by: Jodi | February 18, 2015

LTUE: The Culture of Immortality

HighlanderDuncan4

One of my favorite immortals, Duncan MacLeod from Highlander: the series.

Here for your reading pleasure is another summary of a panel presented at this year’s “Life, the Universe, and Everything” science fiction and fantasy symposium. Today’s post centers around a panel titled “The Culture of Immortality.”  On the panel were Howard Tayler, Track Hickman, Virginia Ellen Baker, and personal friend Paul Genesse.

This topic caught my attention because my own work in progress has a secret society of immortals. Yay!

Here we go!

Who are the the immortals?

Generally speaking, most immortals are beings who cannot die by normal means, sickness, age, etc.  Popular immortals include vampires and elves, but there are others as well. They can be killed by violent means.

What are some of the worldly effects of immortality?

If everyone were immortal there would be an immediate population boom, which explains why most fictional immortals cannot physically have children, or if they can they do so with reluctance. The population boom would bring violence when the food supplies could no longer support the people. Should everyone be immortal, say if medicine advanced to that point, then children would become the privilege of the elite, or those who could afford them.

Why do people like immortals?

Immortals are especially appealing to teenagers because they are becoming aware of their own mortality and it scares them to death. Vampires solve that problem to an extent. However, some vampires, like those created by Ann Rice, endure a torturous life and are miserable.

What are some of the problems that immortals face?

Change is a huge problem. Living a very long time means that there is a long time to become accustomed to one type of living. Innovations and political changes force change, and that change is especially painful for those who have lived in one particular way for so long.

Also, to be immortal there must be some sort of cost, it should never be free. Sometimes that cost is watching everyone you love die, and fearing that finding love again would mean watching them die. Sometimes it is enduring boredom, nothing is ever new or exciting after you’ve tried it several hundred times.

Do immortals become senile?

Good question. If someone lived for a very long time they would have a long chain of memories. They would have time to master many different fields of study. In essence they would all eventually turn into Doctor Who. Having the potential of losing their mind is very real, too many memories, especially painful ones, might trigger forms of mental illness.

There is also the factor of not creating any new memories day in and day out for weeks on end simply because they have done the same thing so many times their brains no longer feel it necessary to record the experience. The brain simply indexes that experience against existing memory.

Are humans meant to be immortal?

Humans are fragile creatures, being forced to live the centuries being forced with loss makes them lose their humanity.  So, the answer is – not really.  There aren’t that many perks to living forever.  After a few hundred years when everything has been done and they have seen too much then suicide would become a viable option.

What about Tolkien’s elves?

Tolkien’s elves lives are long and monotonous. When cool stuff happened, that’s when they woke up and took action. Other than that not much changed. Their architecture doesn’t evolve over the years because they believe they have reached the pinnacle of beauty. Each group of elves have their signature look, but it is a look that they have not changed for millennia.

The reason for this rests with Tolkien himself.  He hated the industrial revolution and did not what to see things change or evolve. The Lord of the Rings is a post apocalyptic society, read the Silmarillion for proof.

Tolkein’s elves are very sad, they have seen so many sad things and have lost so many. They don’t have the capability for dramatic change. There needs to be a cycle of growth and rebirth and death so that there is always something new to learn and master.

Short lives mean more intensity, because there are limits that need to be reached.  It gives more incentive to work towards something. Not having limits mean it always will take longer to accomplish anything. Tolkien’s wizards and elves remark about this when talking about men and hobbits. They admire the trait.

Serene, majestic, and only slightly boring.

Serene, majestic, and only slightly boring.

What’s Howard Tayler’s take on immortality?

In Howard’s graphic novels, immortality is a matter of advances in technology where stopping the aging process has become possible. The brain material has been edited to retain meaningful memories.  Technology has also made humans more durable, which is not necessarily for the better. It now becomes important to be able to kill a character in a way that they actually stay dead.

What about Tracy Hickman’s  “Immortals”?

Tracy takes a different, more philosophical approach to immortality where it’s not about physically living forever but being remembered after you die. His story is about a dystopian future where there are disease concentration camps to contain the new violent (and currently fictional) VCID, which stands for virus counter-immune disease. The people living in these camps know that when they die they leave no trace of their existance unless they find a way to preserve their memories.  How do I survive my own death, preserve who I am? Immortality doesn’t have to mean living forever – It can mean leaving a legacy behind.

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