The logistics of being immortal?
April 27, 2020 12:21 PM   Subscribe

Seeking books and other reading that deal with the realistic, day-to-day challenges/details of living more-or-less forever.

I have friends who think living forever would be fantastic. Me, otoh, react to the idea with a sickened "Why?" But, I also sometimes ponder the How part of the idea.

• Living forever (or insanely abnormally long) should be something the subject wants to keep secret. Immortality should not be a regular thing.

• The writing needs to deal with being immortal through modern times. It can start in the 1200s, but the character needs to be dealing with a contemporary world. Especially in the 20th century forward, given things like income tax, social security, ID requirements, etc., it would seem to me to be a very difficult thing to live forever and not draw attention to oneself.

• No ocean of money with which one can hide from the world. I mean, sure, if you've lived since the 1200s, you'll probably manage to collect some amount of wealth. Maybe. But, keeping your wealth that long would be really difficult considering world politics and whatnot.

• I'm especially interested in how one goes about establishing an identity, maintaining it, and (possibly) having to "kill" it off, take on a new identity, and repeating this over and over. Would you necessarily have to move elsewhere every 30 years or so before people start noticing your very, very slow ageing? How do you create a new, legit identities that pass the smell test by the powers-that-be?

• Do you ever marry? How many spouses do you bury before people start asking if you're the deceased's offspring, and not the spouse? What is the making and losing of friends like?

Basically, I'm interested in the story of a normal person, working a 9-5, who gradually realizes they're living forever, and the deep logistics involved in maintaining legitimate identities while staying under officials' radar in order to not be hauled away and used as a lab rat. Fiction is very much preferred, but any good writing on the subject is welcome.

posted by Thorzdad to Grab Bag (21 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
The Boat of a Million Years, by Poul Anderson, deals with exactly this subject. One of my favorite SF novels... I've probably read it 8-10 times.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 12:26 PM on April 27, 2020 [8 favorites]

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is something like this. In that he lives the same life over and over. Claire/Catherine has a few more on this general theme. He does become a lab rat in one of the lives and so she spends some time with the mechanics of avoiding that fate again. It's a great book.
posted by rdnnyc at 12:27 PM on April 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

Star Trek (original series) has an episode called Requiem for Methuselah that deals with this. The writer of that script, Jerome Bixby, also left a screenplay which was made into the movie The Man from Earth in 2007, which proposes a similar idea. It's a static, stagey movie in which a group of friends at a gathering gradually comes to grips with the knowledge that one of their number is an immortal. Has its moments.

On a shorter time scale, John Wyndham's Trouble with Lichen (1960) ponders aspects of what would happen to human cultures and institutions if we even doubled the human lifespan. He thinks people wouldn't settle for the jobs and mates that they currently do – and I think some of what he foresaw has already begun to happen.
posted by zadcat at 12:29 PM on April 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Time Enough for Love, by Robert Heinlein has some of the stuff you're talking about. I'm not certain I'd recommend it, but there's a discussion of other people's impermanence given his long life, as well the protagonist makes decisions to keep his condition a secret.
posted by Carillon at 12:48 PM on April 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Tananarive Due has a series called African Immortals, the first book of which is called My Soul to Keep. It's about a woman who finds out her husband is immortal and 400 years old, and the rest of his immortal brotherhood want him back. It only deals with a little of what you're looking for--you don't get details about how he gets a new identity or anything--but it does address his decision making and her side of the equation.

I have not read the rest of the series; I don't know if it gets into more of what you're looking for.

I know there's a little bit in Twilight about how they manage their immortality and lack of aging (and explaining why ancient creatures still go to high school; you couldn't pay me enough), and it's not a book, but the TV show Highlander touched on this stuff a lot.
posted by gideonfrog at 12:56 PM on April 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Highlander (the Series) covered a lot of this territory in bits and pieces along the show's run. The tie-in novels for the show (I've read a couple) are mostly set in one time period each, but they do offer more details about how Duncan MacLeod and his immortal friends and enemies go about their indefinitely-long lives.

They never did come up with a better way to depict the tragedy of losing your mortal friends and lovers over and over again than to reprise the Queen song from the original movie: "Who Wants to Live Forever?"
posted by asperity at 12:57 PM on April 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

If fanfic is OK with you, then you could check out Archive of Our Own for Highlander fiction. I don't have any particular recs and not all of the best made it over to the AO3 archive, but I'd start with Kat Allison's works.
posted by beaning at 1:02 PM on April 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

There's the classic novel Tuck Everlasting that deals with immortality.

The Twilight saga also dealt with some of the practicalities, including accumulation of wealth. I believe one of the vampire's superpower was prophecy, so they were able to make out big in the stock market.

In both of these scenarios, there's a lot of moving around so nobody notices your lack of aging and not being able to form close bonds with anyone outside the immortal community (or bringing them into it).
posted by DoubleLune at 1:02 PM on April 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig deals with a lot of these issues. In the book there's a secret society of immortals helping each other with the logistics.
posted by beandip at 1:13 PM on April 27, 2020

The Doctor Who episode The Woman Who Lived deals with much of this as in the prior episode he saved a young girl's life and made her immortal, only to find her again hundreds of years later a very different person. The aspect that I found most intriguing was that even though she was immortal she was still human and could not retain all the memories of her very long life so she had an expansive library of diaries which she could read almost as if they were novels written about someone else.
posted by acidnova at 1:32 PM on April 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

This is part of the plot in the novel Jitterbug Perfume which is mostly not an SF novel.
posted by jessamyn at 1:50 PM on April 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

The Postmortal addresses the darker side of this, for both individuals and society at large. Immortality is achieved via "The Cure", which stops the aging process.

Not my favorite Drew Magary book (The Hike, on the other, but if you're into contemplating immortality, this is worthy of adding to your list.

On preview--doesn't meet parameter one, as it's not a secret, but still could lend some interesting insights.
posted by Fuego at 2:09 PM on April 27, 2020

Locked in Time, by Lois Duncan - explores what it's like to be thirteen forever, and how that family resolves the issue of being locked into their ages. According to Wikipedia, there's a modern re-issue that updates it to include stuff like cell phones.
posted by toastyk at 3:18 PM on April 27, 2020

It isn't present day, but Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time series certainly takes the idea of immortality to it's (il)logical conclusion. I realize this doesn't answer the question as asked, but I think you still might find it interesting.
posted by Literaryhero at 3:31 PM on April 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Edward Savio series "Battle for Forever" with "Alexander X" and "Ancient Among Us" both narrated by Will Wheaton! I really, really liked listening on Audio Books to these and thought they were really well thought out. I don't want to give any spoilers, but I think it matches your requirements. Secrecy, including current times, let's just say limitations to what you can do even if immortal and family troubles. Can't get any more specific without ruining things.
posted by forthright at 3:51 PM on April 27, 2020

For the practical new identity part... back in the '70s and '80s the goto place for various muckraker information was Paladin Press. Seems they closed down in 2018, but that's where you find those sort of books on dangerous topics. So, there's Acquiring New ID: How To Easily Use The Latest Technology To Drop Out, Start Over, And Get On With Your Life: Benson, Ragnar: 9780873648943: Books. Browsing PP books is not for the faint of heart. But you'd find the sorta criminal underground ways old and new of maybe pulling off a new identity.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:20 PM on April 27, 2020

Have a kid of the appropriate gender every ten years or so and keep duplicate copies of their identification. Break up with their other parent and decline custody. Emigrate to a new country using a copy of the kid's ID once your appearance makes using their ID plausible. If you look like you are thirty you'll probably want to start using your kid's ID's when they are twenty-five and keep using that identity until you are about thirty-five. Whenever you are granted citizenship or landed immigrant status in the new country you will be issued new ID and can stop using the ID's from the country you left. Your kid in the States will get to use their SSN for work as you won't need that in Portugal once they issue you a new National ID card. Your kid will work and pay taxes in the US while you work and pay taxes in Portugal. Get married and have another couple of kids in Portugal, and then move on from there at the appropriate time, going to another country without close ties to the last one, such as South Africa.

If you are immortal you can get trained in a numerous different skills that lead to a decent income stream. An obvious one would be to become fluent in multiple languages. Another skill would be driving trucks. But you don't need to work once you have income generating property. Whenever you can buy land and rent it out, transferring the ownership of the land to your new identity when you move on. For example, you might have owned land in the UK since 1840, with the ownership passed down since then every ten to fifteen years to your newest identity. This will provide a steady income that you can live on if you're not fluent enough to work in whatever country you've ended up in. If you are successful you can buy more income generating real estate in every country where you live. But you only want enough to be secure, as you want to be invisible so you don't want to own big impressive amounts of property and you will probably want to use some of your income to maintain those kids. You don't want anyone trying to hunt you down for child support.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:06 PM on April 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

Have a kid of the appropriate gender every ten years or so

generally I'm pro-living forever but since this strategy requires you to never get your tubes tied or be permitted to reach menopause, then I must say Thanks, I hate it

why not just buy fake IDs/bribe programmers to switch out fingerprint etc. records as the need arises and take your years in fraud prison as they come, considering them to just be part of the deal? as long as you don't get a life sentence for anything it'll never be too bad

as for being found out, people have been making tedious jokes about keanu for twenty years now and I don't know that he's ever even denied it. people just don't mind immortals in real life they way they do on television
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:09 PM on April 27, 2020

The Vampire Lestat
posted by latkes at 5:50 AM on April 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

There was a whole arc in Sandman about a guy who just didn't age or die. He had to change his identify about every thirty years. There was some angst but in general, he kept refusing Death's offer to check out.

The Kim Stanley Robinson Mars books had a medical treatment that greatly extended life span. But people in general only recalled the most recent 80 years, so they might forget a former spouse or skill set. The idea being the human brain just wasn't robust enough to hold that much memory.
posted by emjaybee at 3:24 PM on April 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

This takes it a somewhat different way, but Isaac Asimov's The Bicentennial Man (and the expansion of that short story into the novel The Positronic Man by Robert Silverberg) deals with that theme from a different perspective.

[[Spoiler alert]] Long story short, the protagonist finally has to agree to become mortal and die in order to be fully accepted as a human.
posted by flug at 4:53 PM on April 28, 2020

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