It’s a trope in Science Fiction. An outgrowth of the rise of technology that it eventually overcomes mortality. I remember a comment in a book once, where one character explained that aging was a curable disease. And they had. He was fifteen or twenty thousand years old at that point, and well on his way to living forever.

I imagine the next major iteration of humans will face that question. Do we want to live forever? There will be narcissists and sociopaths galore who answer yes, but they are individuals, and not a species. While we are trapped in one system, we have a stark upper limit to the number of people an ecosystem can support. Dr. Norman Bourlag made it possible for us to transition through the latter half of the twentieth century without having to explore some of the darker themes of science fiction first hand. Because of him, the planet was able to survive a major surge in population without the limits of Malthus.

Today, we are watching first hand what happens as previously-marginal societies discover growth and development. Places that were once hells on earth are now able send their children to school instead the field to work. Women are being educated and becoming entrepreneurs. Whole societies are moving out of poverty and are ready to begin contributing to the advancement of the species, the arts, and the planet. At the same time, fewer women are dying in childbirth and more children are living to become adults.

This is a good thing.

So a century hence, will we see a population decline naturally? (I leave out the possibilities of the sorts of destructive warfare that might radically cull the species. I mean a peaceful future where women have one child, the world over, and we slowly come down to only a few billion human citizens.)

In science fiction, taking cues from historical precedent, there is always an assumption that population pressures drive exploration and exploitation of strange new lands. The Falkenburg’s Legion books, regardless of your opinion of their politics, make a really good exploration of this concept. And it holds water, to some extent. If we suddenly opened up an empty galaxy to exploration, terraforming, and colonization, we would probably see a population spike, as people would be able to expand, and might need to to fill empty lands with people to work. It is a story as old as humanity.

The reason that this is high in my mind right now is that I have sent off the third Jessica Keller novel, Last of the Immortals, to my support team for review and correction. They make my books better.  Lots.

At the same time, I have just shifted gears back into something new. Over the last few days, I have re-read The Science Officer and The Mind Field as I re-immerse myself in that stage of history to prepare for the third Javier Aritza book. (No, I’m not sharing the title yet, but I did get one thousand words done this morning, so we’re off and running.)

During Last of the Immortals, Suvi points out to someone that she is just over six millennia old (6,015 specifically). As I read the Science Officer, she’s 121 years old, much of that as a fairly primitive AI probe-cutter with a hull number but no name. Javier spends his spare time programming her to be more like the kind of woman he wants, smart but submissive. (There is a reason he has two ex-wives.) So far, he’s had about five years of tuning and tweaking, much of it setting her up to be able to make herself better later on.

Humans at both ends of the Alexandria Station end of the universe are not immortals. Not like the AIs will be. Those creatures are limited mostly by hardware, and when they destroy Earth and most of the more industrial worlds, suddenly could not replace the hardware that their existence depended on. During The Librarian, Suvi is faced with her own mortality, as her systems  are starting to break down, and would have failed entirely in another century or so, were it not for Doyle Iwakuma rescuing her.

But as I work, immortality niggles at the back of my mind. Suvi will outlive Javier. She had, after all, script immunity, no matter how you want to look at it. She has outlived Doyle and Piper. She has outlived Henri Baudin. She will outlive Jessica Keller when I get around to writing the story set far enough in the future that people can talk about the fall of Imperial Aquitaine. (That one’s coming soon.)

For Suvi, loss of the people she loves is a major factor in how she grows and evolves over time. It is always there in the back of her mind, watching people she knows age and die, and other generations come up to replace them. Because of Javier, she does not turn sour and grumpy, as some AIs do. Nor does she fall victim to the god-complex problems that will eventually plague humanity when they start building every-more-powerful AI battleships and sending them off to do war with one another.

It will be one of those robot starfleets that decides the best way to eliminate Earth as a threat is to simply bombard the planet with asteroids and small moons until they pretty much wipe out all larger landforms. In the process, they add so much matter to the planet that what used to be one standard gravity at sea-level is no longer. And they hit the planet hard enough, enough times, at the right angle, to actually speed it up as it turns, reducing what used to be a twenty-four-hour cycle to something less.

They can do this because they are not complicated and messy organic creatures with families. They have no ethics except what has been programmed into them, and that does not consider the possibility that some actions are so evil that it would be preferable to lose a war rather than move forward. They are guns. Nothing more. You point them and pull the trigger. When they kill a person or a planet, they have no more culpability than the asteroid that landed.

You pulled the trigger. You decided to make a killing machine that did not ever wonder if it was doing the right thing. You decided implacable was a feature, and not a bug.

So now you have this ancient being who looks like a young officer in the Concord Navy. A woman in her early twenties, hard and professional, but still young. She is the villain in a thousand movies and radio dramas, because she is one of THEM. But she’s not. She’s a young woman who was programmed to be better than that, by a goofball ex-Concord Fleet officer turned pirate who nobody would believe was like that.

Today, she is functionally still a teenager, going through all the growing pains a young girl does as she tries to figure out who she is, what she wants, and where she is going to go with her life. And she can take her time, because she is not plagued by a biologically-imperative death. So she’s a goof. A snarky, smart-alec teenage girl (and not the kind that are the most evil creatures on Earth, either), with a snarky, smart-alec uncle in Javier. It is a buddy comedy of sorts, their life together.

But there will be life for her after Javier. I don’t know when or how they will part ways. They haven’t told me yet, as many other stories as they have shared. And you know what? I don’t really care. I want to explore and adventure with them, as long as they will let me.

shade and sweet water


West of the Mountains, WA