This is a reprint of an original article I wrote for Slice of SciFi in August, 2008. Unfortunately, as it seems to be with many sites, the original article suffers from the appearance of extra characters and symbols dispersed throughout the text, making it hard to read. Fortunately, while Slice of SciFi retains ownership of the article, I retain the right to reprint it on my own site. That would be this here fine example of a blog.
I am reprinting it here mainly because the next post references it.
Posted at Slice of SciFi on August 24, 2008
My last piece dealt with the pursuit of information putting ever-increasing claims on what little time encompasses the span of our lives. It is easy to envision a time, if it’s not already here, where the amount of information available to an individual easily exceeds their ability to even look at it, let alone absorb useful amounts of it. And I’m not even talking technical stuff.
It got me thinking, and looking, at current efforts to extend human life. There are many who believe human mortality is nothing more than a disease like any other. A disease that is “curable”. We are learning, seemingly daily, more and more about the degeneration of the body associated with advancing age. At the same time, we are rapidly advancing medical repair procedures increasing the survival rate of humans involved in accidents or afflicted with various illnesses. The combination of the two areas of research holds an exciting promise for significant advances in longevity. And it is longevity not limited to sitting and watching the world go by. It’s the promise of an active life well beyond what most of us can currently reasonably expect.
Some say immortality is the eventual progression of what we are discovering today, but others dispute it. Some take a different approach and suggest one day we will be able to “store” ourselves in hardware; a computer, if you will. We might even live in a virtual world while machines maintain the infrastructure in the real world. Virtual immortality, if you will.
It’s the stuff of science fiction, fantasy, and speculation dating back to earliest recorded history. With that in mind, I decided to examine the various versions of immortality we have been exposed to throughout the years.
Greek mythology gave us some of the earliest examples. The Immortals present us with the added bonus of being revered as gods. At first glance, this seems a pretty good option as far as immortality goes. Heck, one would not even have to check the Internet; as gods, you would just “know” stuff. But wait . . . a closer look reveals something more along the lines of a soap opera than an idyllic life spanning the ends of time and space. Bickering, lying, cheating, rewards, punishments, and curses: it seems hardly an improvement on the life we have now, except it goes on, and on, and on, and on . . . no thanks.
One could look at what seems like a more enjoyable form of immortality. Peter Pan. Off to Never-Never Land, not a care in the world save some wacko looking to skewer you with a sword or a hook. Again, at first glance, this sounds ideal. You can even fly, for Pete’s sake!! And that Tinkerbell always looked hot to me. Err. . . let me clarify I mean “hot” as in temperature. But really, save for the occasional swordfight, it’s a pretty boring existence. Not really conducive to expanding one’s knowledge and exploring the universe. In fact, learning itself is shunned and the main goal seems to remain as one is; to not improve at all. It sounds a little bit like many of today’s college students.
Then there are vampires. Excluding the occasional encounter with blonde cheerleaders or brooding ex-vampires, it’s a pretty sweet setup. Women seem to like bad boys, and vampires are the ultimate bad boys. Except . . . that whole blood thing . . . it’s kind of messy. The fangs are cool, but man, biting your tongue becomes a seriously major event. Plus, one is not in control of one’s self. And I’m still not sure about the living-at-night thing. Sure, you’re a prince of darkness, but when would one get to golf? And them vampires-wanna-be, the familiars; why is it always sniveling guys with bad comb-overs? Plus, I like garlic in my food. Come to think of it, I like food . . . I guess giving up food would be a deal-breaker.
Lazarus Long seems to have a balance of interesting things happen, beautiful women, adventures, and . . . oh wow!! . . . wait, he does what? . . . really? It gets pretty weird there after a while. Heinlein in later years seemed to have relished traveling off the beaten path. I admit I don’t know if Lazarus ever meets his end. The whole premise, according to his life-line, is that he does not. As I said, Heinlein got weird, so I stopped reading his later books. I would hope Lazarus is still out there, traveling in his ship that is a lot larger inside than it is outside, but again, not the life for me.
Highlander. I could get myself a muddled accent, wear a skirt, and find out if they wear anything under there . . . I’m pretty sure I would. Wear something under the kilt, that is, because I’m just not cut out to emulate Brittany’s exploits. Back to Highlander . . . the catch is you have all these other people who want to take a little off the top; your top. And even if you endure, what’s the payoff? . . . mortality. It seems counterproductive; you fight to stay alive, keeping others from killing you just so you will be able to die. Methinks that fails to qualify as immortality.
Really, there are only a couple of options I can think of as being somewhat reasonable and attractive.
The first one is the Elves. Besides being forever thin, being able to see something as small as a fly a quarter-mile away, hear dwarfs trudge through the forest a half-hour away, and smell Orcs miles away, you also get to spout cool stuff like “Dark clouds . . . someone served Calamari tonight!!”. Also, female elves are not too shabby looking . . . “What, hon? What am I writing? . . . err . . . I’m writing about The Man From Earth . . . What’s that? Oh yeah; great movie!”.
Well, there you have it. By process of elimination, I come to John Oldman, from The Man From Earth. To me, he appears the most desirable version of an immortal. He approaches the fortunate turns of events as an opportunity to live many lives. Even with traveling the world over, and seeing many things, there is never an end to what he can learn and see. For humanity is not static. Places he previously visited, people he previously lived amongst, all change through the passing of multiple normal lifetimes. I like his attitude as well. He does not flaunt his fortune to others. He does not rub their noses into their mortality. He moves on. He starts anew elsewhere. He is the ultimate Renaissance Man, able to accumulate expertise in many fields.
The thing is, there is no clue as to how it happened. No mysterious light, no enchantment, no technology. His body just forgot how to age. That is very much unlike my own body, who appears to have caught a glimpse of the finish line, and is gathering its second wind for a final sprint. All I can say . . . come on medical research!! . . . go, go, go!