TT: Live Long and Prosper

ALAN: Do you want to live forever?

JANE: Depends.  Do I get to stay relatively young and healthy?  Does everyone I love get to keep living, too, or do I need to watch all of them die?   Immortality is a lot more complicated than just not dying.

Long Term Fiction

Long Term Fiction

ALAN: And considerations like that make immortality a fascinating subject to investigate in fiction.

We’ve been telling stories about living forever for as long as we’ve been telling stories. The Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest story we know. It dates from about 2100 BC and part of it tells of a hunt for the secret of eternal life.

It’s a popular idea, and it’s a story that we’re still telling today, in one way or another.

JANE: It’s worth noting that The Epic of Gilgamesh (which exists in several variations) deals with all of my concerns.  In one of the most common versions, the reason Gilgamesh goes looking for the secret of immortality is because his best friend, Enkidu, dies.  Gilgamesh learns the secret, but – being merely mortal – does not succeed in bringing the gift back to humanity.  The secret of eternal youth (and presumably health) is a separate deal.

So there we have all of it: not dying, staying young (and healthy), and the dread of loss wrapped up in one tidy package.

ALAN: Tidy indeed!

It seems to me that there are three basic story lines belonging to this theme. We have the search for immortality (the Gilgamesh Gambit, if you like). You can also use an immortal protagonist as an observer who watches, and comments on, the passage of history. And finally you can have a protagonist whose immortality gives him the experience to cope with whatever crisis or conflict he is currently facing in (probably) the modern day or the near future.

I have examples of all of these from both SFF and the mainstream, one of which was written by a certain Jane Lindskold… The story line of your novel Changer is a perfect example of the last category I mentioned. What made you decide to write the novel in this way?

JANE: Damn…  I hate to do this to you, but I didn’t decide.  The story decided.  I started what would become Changer relatively soon after I’d come to Santa Fe to live with Roger Zelazny.   Twenty years ago, Santa Fe was less self-consciously touristy, more a place where people lived and tourists came, in part because of the people who lived there and the things they made.

One of the things that I encountered one day when Roger and I were walking down to the Plaza to have lunch was a section of concrete sidewalk where someone had drawn a magic circle, complete with a few little crystals embedded in it when the concrete had still been wet.

Roger walked right over it without deeming it worthy of comment.  At that moment, I resolved to write a story set in New Mexico before I, too, took such things for granted.  Changer and the athanor began to take shape that day.  But I didn’t sit down and say, “Well, I think I’ll write an ‘immortals among us’ story.”  It just happened.

Doubtless the fact that I am a life-long reader of myth and legend had something to do with my choices, but I wasn’t at all conscious of making them.

ALAN: You may not have been conscious of it, but I think you were well aware of what you were doing on a deeper level. When I was reading Changer, I was interested to come across this sentence:

“There are turtles,” Eddie says, “like the one that Salome had in Viereck and Eldridge’s novel.”

The reference here is to a trilogy of mainstream novels from the late 1920s by George Sylvester Viereck and Paul Eldridge. The first, My First Two Thousand Years was the autobiography of the Wandering Jew and is a perfect example of the second story line that I mentioned before, in that Viereck and Eldridge use the myth of the Wandering Jew to comment on the passage of history. The other novels in the series (Salome and The Invincible Adam) continue the theme from other points of view. They are rather obscure books and for a long time I thought I was the only person in the world who had read them.   So I was pleased to see your little aside. Clearly you were also familiar with the books – something else that we had in common!

How did you come across them and how influential did you find them to be?

JANE: I was given my copies by Roger Zelazny.  Once Roger and I started corresponding regularly, he’d send me books, often ones that he’d loved and wanted to share.

When he sent me my copies (which I still have), he said, “When I was growing up I read the 2000-Year Trilogy (each volume told from a different viewpoint) many times, & was doubtless influenced thereby in my own writing.”

As for how influential I found them?  In one way, not at all, except that they were good books.  However, I’d already encountered the motif of “immortals among us” through the works of many writers – including, no great surprise, Roger Zelazny.  However, in that Viereck’s and Eldridge’s novels had an impact on a writer who, in turn, was a great influence on me, I suppose you could say they had a tremendous influence.

Influence is all a matter of timing…

ALAN: I think you might have just said something quite profound.

There’s still a lot more to say about this subject. Shall we look into it again next time?

JANE: Absolutely!  After all, you came up with three general types of immortality stories and we’ve barely touched on any of them.  Let’s explore the secret of immortality together.

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7 Responses to “TT: Live Long and Prosper”

  1. Peter Says:

    I think I’m going to print “Influence is all a matter of timing” and hang it over my desk (beside Picasso’s famous “Good artists copy; great artists steal.”)

    As I get older I’m increasingly of the opinion that art is an ongoing conversation the future is having with the past.

    • janelindskold Says:

      “Art is an ongoing conversation the future is having with the past.” That’s great and really appropriate for a show I’m going to this weekend. Expect to be quoted next Wednesday!

  2. Sally Says:

    I think I have a fourth sort of tale: one that deals with the implications of immortality for society once achieved. As an example I can only offer Kate Wilhelm’s Welcome Chaos, a favorite book of mine.

  3. Louis Robinson Says:

    Got curious and looked up the 2000 year books in the TPL catalogue. Which leads to 2 observations:

    The Merril Collection has them, along with other titles by both authors. Given the obscurity, it wouldn’t surprise me to find that they actually came out of Ms Merril’s library, which would be interesting.

    According to the library computer, Mr Eldridge is still alive. He may well have known of what he wrote 🙂

    Make that 3: when I entered ‘my first 2 thousand years’ in the search engine, the 2nd and 3rd items returned [Salome was 1st] were a King’s Consort CD set of ‘The complete secular solo songs of Henry Purcell’. I’m still trying to figure that one out – I may have to borrow it and listen to them!

  4. Barbara Says:

    Can’t wait.

  5. henrietta abeyta Says:

    Does anyone who speaks repeatedly on this official website of Jane’s get entertained by vampires????? A fiction wolf named Chap got me into reading one of the rare unique sagas that includes them.

    Chap’s thoughtful like Blind Seer. Chap’s just busier.

    So vampire fans, and vampire studiers the Noble Dead Saga by Barb and J. C. Hendee is likely to be considered enjoyable or useful to your kinds.

    Blind Seer with Firekeeper, Chap with Magiere these are two different Science Fiction wolves who support other characters with the most ancient facts and current problems that seem continuous almost everywhere.

    And the underground cave trips from these two long saga sets aren’t the same at all either. Living, Undead, and Dead divisions shared in both and Magic is in both as well. The kind of cast you’ll meet is the biggest difference. Noble Dead Saga books take you closer to the sea, various cultural ships everywhere stop and go.

    Artifacts, and Forgotten History issues in this Noble Dead Saga, Firekeeper mostly had to learn about her homeland so she’d have more accurate ideas of who she was, kind of like The Last Unicorn herself. I Know What I Am and Where I come from But Who Am I within??????????

    Jasmine Olson sharing information about a saga she’s been reading slower than Jane Lindskold’s entertaining Firekeeper Saga.

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