What is a life worth living? Speculative Fiction and Eternal Life
Despite numerous post-apocalyptic storylines, many science fiction texts are a celebration of life and seek ways of prolonging it, whether artificially or by providing warnings against our current behavior in order to preserve the life that already exists. The fact that death and potential immortality are so frequently featured throughout the genre underscores our preoccupation with overcoming the limitations imposed on our bodies by nature, while seeking means to go beyond what is currently possible.
Such an interest has informed a broad literary fascination with immortality and rebirth, particularly in nineteenth and early twentieth century fantasy and science fiction, with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, H. Rider Haggard’s She, or Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Ring of Thoth” being prime examples. These concerns persisted into the late twentieth century, especially in the aftermath of two world wars, and continue to intrigue us in the twenty-first.
Moreover, we look towards modern technology to grant us invincibility, and these developments have been foreshadowed through a variety of texts from Ovid’s Daedalus in antiquity to Bruce Sterling’s Holy Fire, Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, and Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy in the modern era, to name but a few. As such texts interrogate what a world might look like in which human and/or non-human beings experience immortality, or versions of it, they address questions such as what constitutes the human soul, individuality, and our relationships with others as well as the planet over periods of time beyond a single human lifespan.
For our panel at the 2024 MLA conference January 4-7 in Philadelphia, we welcome 250-300 word abstracts for 15-minute papers focusing on the extension of life in science fiction or fantasy, with topics including, but not limited to the following:
- Human enhancement
- Monstrosity and reconceptualization of the human body
- Digital consciousness
- Carnality and bodily experience
- Bodily commodification
- Immortality pros/cons
- Death as a character
- Life-extending instruments and technology
- New perspectives on death, immortality, and rebirth
- Theological afterlives
- Time travel