On Immortal Men

Note: Every now and then, in the course of promoting a book, things are written for submission to publications, and these things are meant to be a combination of topical, conversational, and self-promotional.  And every now and then these things are not picked up by the targeted media source.  This is one such piece.

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I don’t know how old I am. My earliest memory is something along the lines of ‘fire good, ice bad,’ so I think I predate written history, but I don’t know by how much. I like to brag that I’ve been there ‘from the beginning’ and while this may very well be true, I generally just say it to pick up girls. But it has been a very long time, and considering I’m not invincible or super-strong, that’s nothing short of miraculous.

–Adam the immortal man

Some time back I was trying to get a blurb from an established fiction writer for my novel Immortal.  He made a very reasonable request for a short synopsis and a few chapters before deciding to look at the entire manuscript, and after reading those bits came back to me with a list of things that were wrong with my main character, a 60,000 year old man.  Surely, he felt, someone who lived that long would be wiser, or better, or in some other dramatic way an exemplar of the human race.  For with all that time on earth, would he not have “figured things out”?

Rather than argue the point, I thanked him for his input and we agreed that this was maybe not the book for him to be endorsing, and we went our separate ways.  What I did not say but sometimes wish I had, was: “when you write your own immortal man you can do what you want but this is mine.  And mine happens to be an alcoholic.”

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I didn’t fully realize how popular and common the concept of immortality was until I set about creating my own version and then spent a tremendous amount of time hearing my essential conceit compared to Heinlein, or Bova, or The Man Who Fell To Earth– not to be confused with The Man From Earth—or Stephenson, or Gaiman.  And on and on.  It turns out there are a lot of immortals out there.

And everyone has their own edition, with the most common being the theoretically immortal vampire, moving on down to the “perpetually resurrected by way of some sort of mysticism” and my personal favorite, “brought back to life as an anomalous temporal singularity by a grieving friend briefly possessed by the heart of a time machine.”  (I know: cliché!)

Most of these immortals, once they’ve reached a certain age, attain the same kind of worldliness and wisdom—coupled with a degree of inscrutability—my prospective blurb-writing author had in mind.  These are mostly unknowable characters, often presented through the eyes of other people.  And if we run on the idea that the older we get the wiser we get, ad infinitum, then this makes sense.  But I operated under a different assumption: maybe this is all there is.

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There is a fallacious assumption made by most modern people—modern being “whatever ‘now’ you are currently enjoying”—in which it’s assumed that history moves in a positive direction.  People “now” are de facto more intelligent than people “then”.  Or society “now” is more advanced/liberal/holy/whatever than it was “then”.  But while there is a clear upward trend in terms of technology and a clear downward trend in the likelihood of a violent death, a lot of the metrics by which we may judge ourselves look more like a sine curve than a steady climb.

In short, we’re still figuring out a lot of things.  And it seems to me that someone who has lived through the whole of human history would be just as semi-evolved in this regard as the rest of us.

So my immortal man drinks, he gets depressed, he is sarcastic and clever, and he is deeply, deeply bored a tremendous amount of the time.  The only higher truths he has access to concern an appreciation for historical precedent, and while he could philosophize with anyone, at the end of the day he appreciates that the important thing will always be finding something to eat and a place to stay.

Put more simply my immortal man, despite his incredible lifespan, is entirely human.  And that is what makes him so interesting to me.

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