The Cure for Death: Fantasies of Longevity and Immortality in Speculative Fiction

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Anxiety about old age and mortality, a constant and cross-cultural reaction to the finitude of life and evanescence of youth, has fed multiple fantasies of immortality that frequently also incorporate the triumphant regeneration of the body. But while in the nineteenth century these fantasies, ungrounded on any scientific possibility, focused on the social and psychological disorientation and disruptions of the defeat of death and ageing, the late twentieth and twenty-first century fictions, invoking possible extrapolations of contemporary scientific and technological knowledge, have used the tropes of immortality and the rejuvenated body to serve either dystopian visions related with problematics of distribution of power, or to signify the utopian techno-optimist promises of trans-humanism. This paper will discuss these creative imaginings of the defeat of embodied decay using three speculative novels that position themselves as signposts along this spectrum: Walter Bessant’s The Inner House (1888), a conservative anti-utopian reflection on the social and cultural costs of immortality; Bruce Sterling’s Holy Fire (1996), a cyberpunk novel where access to permanent health and youth acts as a social divider between deserving elites and the masses condemned to grow old; and Cory Doctorow’s Down and out in the Magic Kingdom (2003), a post-singularity satirical novel where in a post-scarcity future society all enjoy the possibilities of body and life plasticity.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIntelligence, Creativity and Fantasy
Subtitle of host publicationProceedings of the 5th International Multidisciplinary Congress (PHI 2019), October 7-9, 2019, Paris, France
EditorsMário S. Ming Kong, Maria do Rosário Monteiro, Maria João Pereira Neto
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherCRC Press
Number of pages6
ISBN (Print)978-0-367-27719-2, 978-0-429-29775-5
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Event5th International Multidisciplinary Congress PHI 2019: “Intelligence, Creativity and Fantasy". - Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris, France
Duration: 7 Oct 20199 Oct 2019
Conference number: 5


Conference5th International Multidisciplinary Congress PHI 2019: “Intelligence, Creativity and Fantasy".
Abbreviated titleIntelligence, Creativity and Fantasy
Internet address


  • Immortality
  • Dystopia
  • Longevity
  • Singularity
  • Speculative Fiction


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