Deities, vampires, demons, elves, artificial intelligences, cyborgs, genetically enhanced humans, sentient ships, aliens.
I love reading about inhuman aliens, about immortal characters, about the other that is, in some deep way, truly other. And so I am always more than deeply disappointed when the alien is merely a human with purple skin and the 400-year-old vampire prince has all the personality of a petulant teenager with pointy teeth. I am looking at you, urban fantasy. You, space opera. You, paranormal romance.
Immortality, like any story decision, deserves to be more than a cursory afterthought. What happens when immortality is granted to someone who would otherwise be human?
The questions are endless: What is it like to still be healthy and alive after a hundred years? In two hundred, how much has society changed and what is your role in it? In two thousand, how do you see time and the people around you? Does your perception of time continue speeding up, or do the days drag by? How has your religion changed, if it’s even still around? Is the passage of time oppressive or inspiring? Does living forever mean disengagement and bitterness, or compassion and patience? Do people still understand you when you talk? Which languages do you choose to learn and how often? What up with science? Have you upgraded your rotary phone yet?
Ever try talking to an older uncle about things you care about? Image your uncle grew up in ancient Mesopotamia. Or was a nomadic shepherd on the Asian continent. Or a British sailor on a whaling ship. Now he asks you what you’ve been up to. Probably in ancient Chinese.
Immortals in romantic subplots
Is that a 475-year age gap I see? Is that a teen dating an octogenarian?
Immortal love interests are ubiquitous in the romance genres. They often come with troubled pasts – history is no cakewalk, after all. They demonstrate the weight of history through outbursts of anger, their iron-clad control, their impassive countenance, their pushy, alpha-male tendencies.
Where are all the ancient alpha males who grew up in more egalitarian societies or encountered the hard, no-nonsense women running households and businesses?
I always feel vaguely cheated. Is that it? Is that all? You’ve lived for hundreds of years, and all I get is a foot-stamping romance-novel trope, muttering “mine” uneasily under its breath? Or else you are my immortal heroine acting with all the self-possession of a teen high on red bull and sugar. Continue reading →