Immortality is one of the things I explore in my books. I've always been fascinated with the idea of living forever.
But how do I parlay that into writing in a way that's interesting? Immortality is one of the hallmarks of a fantasy Mary Sue character. If a character literally cannot die, how do you get the reader invested in their struggle? A lot of writers avoid this, or leverage caveats, for exactly this reason.
Captain Jack Harkness in Torchwood had that ability with a nice twist-- he could die, he'd just come back a little while later. It's a much more interesting, and tactile approach. He's not invulnerable and does feel pain, so there are stakes in the conflicts he faces. I take a similar approach in my book.
One thing that's helpful in writing is to imagine myself, or a relatively ordinary person I can relate to, with that ability. What if every time I died I came back to life the next day, no different than I was yesterday? What would change? How would the world react? What would I do?
If I can't truly die, a lot of pressing concerns become trivial. I certainly don't have to worry about fitness or smoking or alcohol abuse. Safety in general would be less of a concern although since I could still feel pain. That might be enough to keep me from running into burning buildings, but I'd be pretty calm during airplane turbulence.
Since, in this example, I live in a non-magic world it would be a much bigger deal if I came back from the dead publicly-- which given our legal system is almost guaranteed. Religions have started over less.
I could also end up in some government laboratory... but I truly don't believe that the government actually has that kind of laboratory. And though the military is open minded about the paranormal I doubt that anyone in those divisions has any experience dealing with it.
The laboratory I'd probably end up in would be pharmaceutical. I could fast track human trials for a boatload of prescription drugs and experimental procedures. My organs could also be harvested safely and I would just resurrect the next day perfectly intact. Suffice it to say I could make money pretty easily. Not to mention that I'm immortal, which would be advantageous to study in itself.
Which is good because... Immortality is expensive. The only reason human beings retire is because there's an end to life. I would need to think on a much longer term scale. I would technically live long enough to see every dollar I have turn into a million.
But that's assuming there's even going to be banks that far in the future. Suddenly I'm less concerned with having a sixth glass of wine with dinner and more about the continuity of Western Civilization. And that global warming? That's a problem.
There could be mass extinction and ecological collapse. I don't see all of humanity dying out. They say roaches will survive a nuclear holocaust-- so will humans in some form or another. We're too well adapted and genetically diverse to be wiped out by anything short of a global event that rendered the earth uninhabitable to any life.
As a hypothetical immortal, that's the next worry on my mind. I may only be able to live for a fraction of a second when the sun burns the Earth's atmosphere off, but for me all those seconds will be contiguous. It would be like being burned alive for all eternity. Not fun.
Some time between now and then I'd need to figure out a way to get off the planet or concoct some crazy scheme worthy of a James Bond villain-- start a religious cult to fund my private space program. Dangle the carrot of eternal life and possibly build a new race of immortals (but if they were like me could I trust them forever?) At least I'd have time to work out the details.
But the point is changing how one thing works, changes the fundamental ways a human mind could work. It alters priorities and things that sound silly, suddenly become very serious.
I think the trick in writing about things that could easily be wish fulfillment is to look at them from as many angles as possible.
Obviously the ideal case would give you an out at some point. If you could stay young and healthy for as long as you wanted, what point would you call it quits?
Mike bode is the author of The Queen of Lies Opens in a new window, the first installment in the ongoing series, Architects of the Grand Design. His next book comes out October. Sign up for the mailing list for more info.
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