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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Immortality, part 2

Here's hoping I can pick up where I left off. I've slept since then.

First, some explanation. It was pointed out to me I was using geek jargon in yesterday's post. STNG is Star Trek Next Generation, the one with Picard. It is my favorite version of Star Trek, even if the first couple of seasons were excruciatingly dull the majority of the time and only survived because we fans believed they could do better.

The Trill are slug-like creatures that live very long lives inside of the bodies of humanoids from the same planet. The name "Trill" applies to both races, but the Trill we happen to meet on the show are "joined" Trill, meaning a slug and its host. The STNG episode where we meet them has Dr. Crusher falling in love with a Trill without realizing it's a slug, then finding out, then the slug has to join with Riker to complete a treaty negotiation, and...well, the soap opera goes on from there. But it was the first time I remember thinking "Who wrote this?" about a Star Trek episode with a sense of awe.

"Photokinesis" is the ability to manipulate light. Amy can not only create laser beams from her hands (which she almost never does, actually), she can absorb radiation without harm or subsist on sunlight like a plant. These are useful skills to have when traveling with the Doctor. "Mechanical empathy" is the psionic ability to understand and communicate with any form of machine. It came in very handy with the TARDIS, the Doctor's biomechanical spaceship. See, I stole Big Brother's Marvel Comics Role Player's Handbook and took it to heart. If you can find a copy, I highly recommend it.
On with today's post.

The human fascination with immortality is one of the reasons I believe death itself is a cheat. If humans weren't immortal, we wouldn't mind death so much. And, boy howdy, do we mind.

The new Doctor Who is having a real go 'round with this idea of singular immortality. The Doctor has faced it with meeting an "old" Sarah Jane (the original actress is 40 years older and looks great, by the way), by admitting to Rose that he will ultimately abandon her because she will age and he will not, and by meeting a woman who lives life so fully she dies at 43 from exhaustion. Actually, this makes the season sound like a downer. It isn't. I've enjoyed every moment. I've even logged out of FV to watch.

When I created Amy, I wanted a creature that had the lifespan to interact potentially with every incarnation of the Doctor. I've written blurbs of her with Doctors 3 - 6, and I want to write some with the new Doctors but I'll refrain. I have other uses for my writing now.

In fact, I liked Amy so much, I ended up modifying her just a bit and adding her to one of my worlds. Should I ever write A Star to Sail By about Jessica Travis the Illushan Orphan, Amy makes an appearance in book 3, The Longest Voyage.

My point, I suppose, is that we long for characters that can live forever but we also see the severe disadvantages to doing it alone. Elfquest writers Wendi and Richard Pini knew this when they made the Wolfriders the only mortal elves. Anne Rice suspected this problem in her novels about the vampire Lestat. Buffy and Angel, anyone? How could that possibly work?

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (or The Restaurant at the End of the Universe - I honestly can't remember), Douglas Adams introduces us to one of the handful of the only Truly Immortal Beings in the Universe. This guy was mortal and through a freak lab accident becomes immortal. Adams tells us it was Sunday afternoons that did him in, "that long, dark teatime of the soul when you've taken all the baths you can usefully take for the day" but it isn't yet time for dinner. To give his life purpose, he decides to insult the entire universe personally and in alphabetical order. He insults Arthur Dent twice. I would say Adams has found the trick to immortality. You have to have something to do. What's the point of living forever without a purpose? It would eventually get boring, like an unending vacation.

In Elfquest, the Wolfriders' mortality makes them strong. In Anne Rice's world, the vampires who survive are those who continually adapt to a changing world. Buffy and Angel break up - although that could have been because Buffy was changing networks.

The Doctor solves it by focusing on the positives - the endless ingenuity of the human race and his unfailing ability to get into and out of trouble.

Writers who choose to create immortal characters, I caution you. Your readers may love you for it, but we as a culture have become quite familiar with the "boredom of eternity." Even immortal creatures will need some troubles.

I feel I should also point out as a Christ-follower, I don't fear immortality. If God can create this world I love so much with all its flaws, I have no doubt He can create something that will keep me interested for eternity.

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