It’s a deceptively simple bit of wordcraft: you take the word “mortal,” stick a two letter prefix on it, and you get a word which raises a dizzying variety of possibility. Mortality is every bit as metaphysical a concept as the human race has managed to conceive. What is it to be alive? What does it mean to die? And what does it really mean to be immortal?
Samuel Peralta decided to find out. His latest addition to his Future Chronicles series is out today, titled (no surprise) The Immortality Chronicles. It’s a staggeringly diverse collection of short works about the concept of life-without-death.
Many of these stories focus on an individual who’s rendered non-dying, but some apply the concept more broadly: D.K. Cassidy’s “Room 42,” and Thomas Robbins’ “Eternity Today” are riffs on the entire human race’s sudden conversion to undying status. E.E. Giorgi’s heart-wrenching story “The House on the Cliff” tells of a man made immortal by means of his own cancer cells. “Legacy,” by David Bruns, describes a driven CEO’s effort to live forever by replacing himself with bionic parts over the course of centuries. “Rememorations,” by Paul B. Kohler limits his protagonist’s immortal status to his ability to pay for it–and his willingness to forget pieces of his past. And John Gregory Hancock’s “The Antares Cigar Shoppe” stood out for the old school A.E. Van Vogt vibe that it brought to the table.
But the award for Most Unintentionally Horrifying Story About Immortality has to go to Gareth Foy, who penned “The Essence of Jaime’s Father.” This piece manages to be the most abstract yet gut-wrenching bit of work in this volume, and I’m not entirely sure how Foy pulled it off. I’m not even sure he intended to do this. All I know is that this story opened up a pit of despair in my soul that I generally only feel when engaged in Facebook discussions about religion and foreign policy.
In a nutshell, Jaime is a young man experiencing the beginning of Earth’ death throes, as the sun expands to swallow the inner solar system. Science has bought the Earth a few extra thousand years, but red giants are inevitable and physics is a harsh mistress. His father, however, has an answer: convert humanity to beings of pure energy and let them wander the universe until time itself grinds to a halt. Jaime and billions of others are looking forward to this, but Jaime’s father has decided not to go through with the transition. Not because he’s afraid of his project’s implications, but because he feels the need to stay behind to let those who fear a permanent existence know that death is still possible in that state. Eventually we learn that Jaime’s old man has already done this countless times, and has lived through countless versions of the universe.
That’s where I started freaking out. Of the great stories in this collection, Foy’s is the only one that addresses the utter tedium of watching the universe roll out, expand, breed life, destroy life, and collapse, over and over again. Worse, every time the cycle resets, it’s the same universe unrolling in the same way, right down to the people who are born (and die), and the order in which they appear and vanish back to the dust whence they came. It’s like being trapped in a drive-in movie theater with the same four double-features forever. Sure, it’ll take a while to memorize every line of every film, but eventually you’re going to want to slit your wrists, except you can’t because you’re made of pure energy. (It works out in the end, but…Gah!)
The collection is available on Amazon and the proceeds go to First Book, a not-for-profit that has supplied over 130 million books to kids in the U.S. and Canada. As a librarian, I can think of no higher cause. And if you’re on Facebook, you can click here for an invite to the Immortality Chronicles launch party which starts tonight at 5.30pm EST.