Immortality and Speculative Fiction

What If We Could Become Immortals?


Immortality means living forever. Never dying. Eternal. Deathless. Everlasting.

Speculative fiction is about imagining the impossible, what is not but could not be. Hence, what if we could become immortals?

Is it possible? It is not scientifically possible. Death is inevitable. Indeed, death is the most democratic human limit. We all die.

Death does not distinguish between rich and poor, beautiful or ugly, it does not care about religion, ethnicity, age, nationality, gender, or any other category.

Being human comes with an expiration date. And yet, no one wants to die. Death scares us. It scares me.

image: Taringa

Unsurprisingly, immortal characters and the quest for immortality feature prominently in speculative fiction. Furthermore, Death itself is often a character.

Vampires are immortal. Ghosts are dead, and yet, still alive after a fashion. Magical creatures like fairies and dragons are usually immortal (although they can be killed).

Similarly, science fiction stories also have characters who, if not immortal, live for centuries. See, for example, Heinlein‘s Lazarus Long (Time Enough for Love, 1973).

Rejuvenation drugs and life-extending procedures are almost mandatory in space operas. Otherwise, how could those characters live to the end of light-years interplanetary trips?

Still, is it worth living forever?

The Burden of Immortality

image: Deposit Photos

Living forever sounds like the ultimate wish fulfillment. Don’t we all want to beat death? Wouldn’t it be awesome?

Leave it to speculative fiction to turn awesomeness into something depressing. Or show us its downsides.

Good speculative fiction writing is about taking a premise and showing us its repercussions. So, what is so bad about living forever?

  • What if you live forever but everyone you love dies? Is it worth it?
  • What if everyone lives forever? Overpopulation is currently a huge environmental issue.
  • What if you don’t age but everyone else does? What happens?
  • What if you can live forever but still die? Would people become less adventurous?
  • What if living forever means becoming bored and jaded?

    Would you agree to cryogenic hibernation if it meant living forever? image: Tumblr

  • Would you like to live forever if you are still poor? Or if your life is a mess?
  • What about relationships? Till death do us part takes on a different meaning when death cannot come between you?
  • What if eternal life means more chances to make mistakes? Old age and death make people reconsider their life choices, repeat, and make peace with those they care about.

Also, there is the issue of how to achieve immortality.

For instance, a Faustian bargain, a magical object, or some ritual can have terrifying consequences.

Moreover, downloading your consciousness to a computer program or a mechanical body sounds good until someones turn off the program or unplug the machinery.

Again, drawbacks and repercussions.

Would You Like to Live Forever?


Despite our speculative fictional fantasies of eternal life, it is a precondition of human nature to die. We are not eternal. Immortality is a dream.

Modern science, diets, exercise, modern medicine, and better living conditions have extended the average lifespan.

While scientists are seeking ways to delay death, perhaps live past one hundred years or more, we all must die.

Nevertheless, we can fantasize about immortality. There are hundreds of novels and TV shows exploring it. We read and watch them for a reason. They give us hope.

We humans are frail, weak, and mortals. Like Agatha Christie‘s novel, Death comes at the end.

Corey Servier as the god Apollo in the film Immortals

Religion gives us hope of either an afterlife if Christian or Muslim, or reincarnation if Buddhist or Hinduist.

Those stories about vampires and ghosts? About necromancers and zombies? They play with our fears of death.

We want to live forever. But we don’t want to live alone.

An afterlife without our friends and family? Without our loved ones? Without our pets? No, nobody wants that. Nobody.

If the price of immortality was a lifetime of solitude, most people would decline.

If you are interested in reading about immortality, I highly recommend:

partial cover of The Invisible Life of Addie Larue (2020)

  • The Invisible Life of Addie Larue (2020) by V. E. Schwab
  • How to Stop Time (2017) by Matt Haig
  • To Live Forever (1956) by Jack Vance
  • Agyar (1993) by Steven Brust
  • The Worthing Saga (1990) by Orson Scott Card
  • The Postmortal (2011) by Drew Magary
  • Buying Time (1989) by Joe Haldeman
  • The Immortality Game (2014) by Ted Cross

These are just a few recommendations. Brust‘s novel gives you the perspective of an immortal being. Haldeman‘s reads almost like a cautionary tale about the power of corporations.

Immortality is not possible but fortunately for us readers, in speculative fiction, the impossible does not exist.

Reader, would you like to be immortal? Yes, or no? And what is your favorite novel dealing with immortality? Share in the comments.

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February 2023