Help me populate my immortal world
June 6, 2010 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Fictionfilter: My world is filled with immortals, in my definition this means those people who cannot die. What is your definition of immortal?

I'm writing a short story based on the premise that all of the mortal "people" have gone and the world is populated with only immortals. The story is set in the future about 300 years after the mortals have gone... In my definition "immortal" means those beings (sentient beings for argument's sake) that cannot die. Meaning, they live forever.

My immortals cannot be killed (hence the term immortal and it's explained in the story) but life can become uncomfortable for them (also explained in the story) so they still have rudimentary towns and such for social interaction, trade, and comfort. It's not a post apocalyptic story where everything is laid to waste, but the world is a different place ('cause it has to be).

So far, I've only been able to come up with vampires, old gods, and cursed humans. That's not a whole lot and even though the world is underpopulated, I need other beings.

My google-fu keeps giving me garbage when I try to look up immortal beings, so I'm asking y'all, what beings do you consider immortal?
posted by patheral to Writing & Language (36 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
What about ghosts? By some definitions, they're the "immortal" part of a being once the mortal part is burned away. Might be an interesting contrast to the rest of the cast, since they started with a mortal perspective and are now, well, kinda stuck.
posted by Ys at 12:36 PM on June 6, 2010


Tolkien's elves are immortal in the sense that they have an unlimited lifespan, but can be killed.
Vampires can be killed too, though, can they not? I guess it depends on what mythology you're using, which means that you can probably make any magical being you like into an immortal one. So immortal werewolves, immortal elves, immortal angels, etc etc ad infinitum.
posted by Gordafarin at 12:37 PM on June 6, 2010


What about those rendered immortal by technology before the collapse of humanity? People comprised of 50% repairing nanobots, beings who inhabit cyberspace, or something more exotic. Ghosts? Ancient shamen? Mummies?
posted by cmoj at 12:37 PM on June 6, 2010


Have you thought of creating your own immortal being?
posted by Lizsterr at 12:38 PM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I guess I should explain about the vampires... say, for example, you stake a vampire in the heart and they explode into a cloud of ash. In some tales they will recompose, it takes time, but it happens. Sun doesn't kill them, but it surely makes life uncomfortable (all that burning) and again it takes time to heal. Same with holy water.

Werewolves were never immortal, just cursed to change into wolves. As far as I can tell, they always grew old and died.

I didn't consider angels, devils, or ghosts... but yeah, those are good ideas! ^_^
posted by patheral at 12:46 PM on June 6, 2010


In Neil Gaiman's Sandman, immortals include the Endless.
posted by Brent Parker at 12:47 PM on June 6, 2010


Obvious, but have you read the Wiki page on immortality? Me, I'd work Henrietta Lacks in there somewhere.
posted by Leon at 12:53 PM on June 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


Why do they have to be creatures other people have already written about? Not snarking, it would help to know.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:55 PM on June 6, 2010


Possibly because I was re-reading this freakin' awesome book yesterday, my first thought was of mortals made immortal by the Greek Gods. So I'm wondering, do your immortals stay the same age, like Ganymede? Or do they age forever, but never die, like Tithonos? Anyway, there's a bunch more people like that in Greek mythology - not cursed humans, but beloved humans.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 12:57 PM on June 6, 2010


Might be worth a look through this list. It could be fun to work in some immortal characters from legend--the Wandering Jew, Sir Galahad, Tithonus.

You might also want to read Fredric Brown's classic short story "Letter To A Phoenix."
posted by EarBucket at 1:10 PM on June 6, 2010


DestinationUnknown's comment about Greek gods makes me think about a series of books that I read that used the Titans in Greek mythology to express immortality through several different lenses:

Scientific-ish immortality:
In a Newtonian paradigm, immortality through manipulating matter as in nanotechnology and so on.
In a sort of multi-space-time dimensional paradigm, a character had immortality because she had no real concept of time--she was aware of all times equally.

Magic-ish immortality:
-character that existed in a sort of dream realm, and could will himself into immortality simply by dreaming it, and believing the dream.
-character with more traditional magic, who considered himself more a spirit that was encased in clay than a physical being.

My 2 cents for this question is that to make the immortality/ special powers thing work, the author has to do a good job explaining the mechanism for it. So John C. Wright, who wrote this series of books, was able to make science and magic both plausible explanations for immortality, and had a good backstory for each variety of immortal creature and how the set of rules that governed their abilities made them interact with other types of immortals.
posted by _cave at 1:20 PM on June 6, 2010


There are two ways that word can be interpreted: unkillable and unaging.

The Norse gods were unaging; they did not grow old, but they could die violently e.g. Baldur.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:22 PM on June 6, 2010


Robots. See bicentennial man.
posted by rglasmann at 1:33 PM on June 6, 2010


I've often thought of a world where authors live in perpetuity until the last words they've written disappear from the earth ie the last Edgar Allen Poe book gets burned or finally rots to nothing and he's in this other world and he just melts away, maybe in mid-conversation with another author.

Or maybe they know that there is only one copy of one of their books left, and they watch it closely, and know when their time is coming, I've thought of that also. But mostly the idea of them just wavering off into nothing, and Marcus Aurelius says to Twain "Well, there goes Poe, and he still owes me five bucks, the bum" or whatever....

Or really any sort of artist, could be a painters last paintings disappearing, never to be seen again, I've thought lots of that, here's Vermeer, three hundred years and fourteen years from now melting off as a hurricane or fire takes his last painting.

I guess the point being that they are still alive -- and this I truly do believe is true -- they are still alive if they are continuing to touch people through their art. Or even if there is still a possibility of someone being touched by their art ie if there is still a book or painting left that might be found, these artists are still alive in this other, perhaps finer, world.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:35 PM on June 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


In classical mythology, becoming immortal usually involved passing through fire in some way. Heracles became immortal after climbing alive onto a funeral pyre after being agonizingly poisoned by a cloak. Demeter tried to make the infant Demophon immortal by anointing him with ambrosia and placing him into the fire every night.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:43 PM on June 6, 2010


Another vote for robots.

They made us too smart, too quick, and too many. We are suffering for the mistakes they made because when the end comes, all that will be left is us.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:03 PM on June 6, 2010


In classical mythology, becoming immortal usually involved passing through fire in some way.

This is also the basis of the Jennifer Fallon Tide Lords series of books, which treated immortality in an interesting fashion.

Also good (is she ever not?) was the treatment of immortals one of the short stories in Ursula Le Guin's Changing Planes.

Typically, Gods and the Undead are treated as immortal unless destroyed by violence. The former cannot die as their powers prevent it, the latter cannot die as they are... already dead.

There are those that never age, such as Dorian Gray, Peter Pan.

There are those who aquire immortality through objects, such as the Philosopher's Stone or through bio-technology.

And there are those that discover immortality through their first deaths, such as the Highlanders (though there can be only one).
posted by Neale at 2:26 PM on June 6, 2010


Joe Haldeman's recent book, Marsbound, (SPOILER WARNING) deals ultimately (SPOILER WARNING) with a race of extremely ALIEN aliens. They are so very advanced that, because of their life span and the distances of the vast reaches of space, their perception of time stretched out into centuries, not seconds. They are alien beyond understanding. They're briefly described as almost like continents of lichen spread across planet surfaces. Any contact and communication with them happens in the form of messages they sent/left/seeded centuries ago and the people in the story are just now receiving. It's a fascinating take.

Not sure this has any bearing on the actual world you're building. But it could be interesting to write from the point of view of immortals who have been immortal for a while already; not just people who are new to it.
posted by carlh at 2:45 PM on June 6, 2010


The Q from Star Trek are a science fiction type of immortal who sort of exist 'beyond time'

They are immortal by any conventional standard, though they can harm or destroy one another.

Immortality is only cool when no one else has it. It may be difficult to give your characters a sense of urgency when they literally have all the time in the world. Of course, this is probably part of the fun.
posted by device55 at 3:08 PM on June 6, 2010


I think about a possible future of immortal humans from time to time. Here are some random thoughts (some of them no doubt influenced by various sci fi I've read):

A prevailing issue is that after living for a certain number of years (hundreds), and with no possible end in sight, all humans become crazy to varying extents.

Technology has progressed to the point that nobody NEEDS to work, and can take on whatever physical form they like.

The biggest struggle is against boredom.

People can procreate, but never die, so the human population is forever exponentially expanding.

Since there are SO MANY people, who have been alive for SO LONG, there are pockets of communities living in just about any way you can think of (vampires, greek gods, hunter/gatherers, dom/sub societies, suicide fetishits - who try to kill themselves a different way every night, only to wake up regenerated the next morning, etc...). It's all role-play, in a way.

People wander between these communities, moving on when they get bored, leaving loved ones and enemies behind. People accept this, as everyone is in the same boat, and everyone knows that even the prettiest harem of submissives gets dull after about 300 years.

There is no "racism" - the concept of race is long-extinct - but there is "age-ism". The earlier, oldest immortals look down on the younger ones.

That's all I've got for now.
posted by Diag at 3:22 PM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I consider an immortal to be a regular human who doesn't die due to age. If you're throwing in any special powers or imperviousness, then another term could be necessary.
posted by greenland at 3:30 PM on June 6, 2010


Peter Pan?
posted by amtho at 4:00 PM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Piers Anthony wrote a series called The Incarnations of Immortality - a similar sort of idea to the characters in Neil Gaiman' Sandman series.

Neil Gaiman also does an interesting take on the old Gods in American Gods, and Anansi Boys. It'd be an interesting avenue to explore in your writing - how do the gods exist if there is no humans around to belive in them?

What about Cthulhu?
posted by robotot at 5:21 PM on June 6, 2010


Ooo, how about Dispensationalist Christians living out the 1000 year reign of Christ in a kind of theocratic city-state?
posted by flechsig at 5:35 PM on June 6, 2010


People who can pass their soul onto another person/animal at will, like Being John Malcovich or that horrible movie with Mick Jagger and Emilio Estevez.
posted by monkeymadness at 5:45 PM on June 6, 2010


You can't really have a world where only immortals remain with The Wandering Jew showing up. Also, the Fey Folk are immortal in some legends.
posted by 256 at 5:48 PM on June 6, 2010


Human mutants/superheroes that were previously underground but have no come out of the woodwork now that regular humans are gone?

I also like exploring the idea of immortality... the points Diag makes are good, but if your story is only 300 years into the "immortal world," how much of these feelings or ideas would have set in yet? Maybe beings would still be reveling in unbridled hedonism after 300 years, and only after thousands do they start to get bored with it all. Interesting idea to explore from the perspective of the different types of immortal beings.

Be sure to let MetaFilter know when you've finished your story!
posted by joshrholloway at 6:17 PM on June 6, 2010


Why do they have to be creatures other people have already written about? Not snarking, it would help to know.

Mostly because the story is set on Earth and to me that means it should be populated by people/beings that reader are familiar with. Basically, it explores what happens to immortals *after* the mortals are gone.

A prevailing issue is that after living for a certain number of years (hundreds), and with no possible end in sight, all humans become crazy to varying extents.

This is exactly one of the issues I want to deal with, that and the boredom. But in my immortal world, the immortals cannot procreate either due to their nature (Gods usually cannot, nor can vamps), their curse, or lack of partners.

I also like the idea of superheros... but will have to think on that one. I've considered elves and other fey folk, but am still debating them because they *can* be killed. They're still on the table though because of their incredible life spans and low levels of procreation.

Robots... hmmmm
posted by patheral at 7:16 PM on June 6, 2010


Oh, I forgot to mention the age thing... It depends on the curse. If they're cursed to age and live forever, that's what happens. But really, the human body can only age so far before it stops so if that's the case then it will get to a point and then they'll be locked into that age forever. If they're cursed with life everlasting, well, they are locked into one age forever.

One of the main characters is a cursed woman who's locked into her late twenties forever.
posted by patheral at 7:21 PM on June 6, 2010




Surprised there's no mention of the Count of St. Germain yet. See also: List of people claimed to be immortal.
posted by shii at 7:47 PM on June 6, 2010


Some traditions have Casca/Longinus walking the earth until the second coming.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 8:21 PM on June 6, 2010


there's always (mooning sigh) Capt Jack Harness who is a fixed point in time and space. he regenerates.

i really hope that's not a spoiler for anyone. it doesn't really ruin the show to know that, IMO. ( i just wish a certain other person on that show is shown to have some sort of reincarnation abilities. they just seemed so happy together. (yes i just watched the entire on netflix in like a week. what gave it away?))
posted by sio42 at 6:54 AM on June 7, 2010


Thanks everyone for your answers. There are some great ideas here!

I know about the Wandering Jew, Dorian Grey, St. Germaine (on of my favs actually) Ganymede, etc... they all fall under "cursed humans" and there aren't really enough of them to fill a world. I have studied most of the lists of people claiming to be immortal, but I was kinda hoping that there were other types of beings that would fall under the category (like ghosts, angels, demons...) that I hadn't thought of.
posted by patheral at 11:51 AM on June 7, 2010


There can also be beings who can swap bodies whenever they find a vessel that is stronger/younger. e.g. Ginyu in Dragonball Z

Wikipedia: Body swap appearances in media
posted by jayne at 1:10 PM on June 7, 2010


jayne: That's what I was going for. I had no idea there would be a Wikipedia article on it!
posted by monkeymadness at 2:02 PM on June 7, 2010


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