Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Genre, immortals, human nature

I just finished reading Chasm City. I bought it for 50 cents at a library sale. Don't bother if you don't like sci-fi. If you do, well, it's decent. But Vernor Vinge is better, I think.

So, there are two things that interest me from this book. One is a discussion about genre, and the other is a discussion on human nature and our understandings and misunderstandings about it.

So, first we go to genre. Chasm City is science fiction. That much is obvious. But then we break into sub-genres. It's also space opera (Star Wars, by the way, is space opera, not science fiction). It's also a sort of noir. It's weird that we tell these stories often enough to have names for them. And sci-fi noir space opera is not uncommon. Go figure.

Okay, so a common meme in these sort of books is the "immortal" humans... people who have elongated their lifespans into the hundreds or thousands of years using robotics, genetics, wheat bran, whatever.

Here's the interesting thing. Every single book about the immortals deals with themes of BOREDOM. How boring it is to be immortal, century after century with nothing to do. Interesting, isn't it, that we immediately think of living forever as being immensely drab. Christians say this, too, with pictures of the saints having a thousand year harp concert in heaven. Yeeha! I think that boredom, though, is a sign of two things: immaturity and a life without purpose. When you're young, boredom just means "there's nothing I want to do." As you get older it's a sign of not knowing what you should be doing. I don't think, for instance, that Bono is going to get bored in the next hundred years or so... he's trying to eliminate AIDS and world poverty.

The next thing that happens to the poor, poor immortals is that they start dabbling in completely corrupt pasttimes to alleviate the boredom. Here's where I think the insights into human nature are right on. We default to evil. A bizarre sidenote to this... there just don't seem to be any ancient, wise humans. They might get smarter. They get more corrupt. But they don't get better. Aliens, on the other hand, can be these benevolent, wise, beautiful creatures if they have these long lifespans. I guess they don't have a sin nature. Like Yoda.


  1. Hmmm... Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged dealt with this boredom by deciding to insult every sentient being in the universe, in alphabetical order...

  2. Is that you Luke? I know it's you, you might as well admit it! I knew you were a speculative fiction geek as soon as you yelled "LEMBAS!" at the midyear.

  3. Not only am I not Luke, I'm not Luke's father, either...

  4. I... um. I have no idea who you are.

    You're not *my* dad are you?

  5. Not as far as you know...

    ... however, I'm sure that you will ultimately be able to deduce my identity from my comment contents. Eventually I'll let something slip and you'll go "I know who you are - you're Orson Scott Card!" and then I'll be found out...

    (okay, so maybe not *exactly* Orson Scott Card, but, well, you know, something like that, but less grandiose and almost certainly less famous - you get the idea)