I have always been intrigued by the social space (one plagued by violence and despair or buoyed by the hope of a better future) that the possibility of immortality might generate.
I would argue that the single best example of social effects that the possibility of immortality might create is Clifford D. Simak’s Why Call Them Back From Heaven? (1967). In similar fashion, James Gunn’s The Immortals (1962) takes place in a world where immortals do exist, they skirt at the edge of the narrative, but are hunted by mortals for their “sacred” blood. The possibilities (good and bad) if they are caught are endless. Other SF works try to evoke the repetitive nature of existence of the immortal. I generally dislike novels on this aspect of the theme — for example Raymond Z. Gallun’s The Eden Cycle (1974) is often just as tiring as the “ennui of the immortal” he is trying to evoke.
I’ve organized them by publication date (if they are extensive sequences of novels/short stories I’ve listed as a group) and linked the ones I’ve reviewed.
Walter Besant, The Inner House (1888), (unread)
Laurence Manning, The Man Who Awoke (collection 1975, published 1933)
David H. Keller, “Life Everlasting” (1934), (unread)
Aldous Huxley, After Many a Summer Dies the Swan (1939), (unread)
A. E. van Vogt, The Weapon Makers (1943), (unread)
John R. Pierce, “Invariant” (1944), (unread)
A. E. van Vogt, The World of Null-A (1945), 3.5/5 (Good)
Damon Knight, “World Without Children” (1951), (unread)
Wilson Tucker, The Time Masters (1953), (unread)
Robert Sheckley, “Something for Nothing” (1954), 4.25/5 (Good)
Algis Budrys, “The End of Summer” (1954), (unread)
J. T. McIntosh, “Life For Ever” (1954), (unread)
James Blish, “At Death’s End” (1954), (unread)
Frank Riley and Mark Clifton, They’d Rather Be Right (variant title: The Forever Machine) (1954), (unread)
Jack Vance, To Life Forever (1956), (unread)
Arthur C. Clarke, The City and the Stars (1956), 4/5 (Good)
Damon Knight, ”The Dying Man” (1957), 4.25/5 (Good)
Robert A. Heinlein, Methuselah’s Children (1958), 3.25/5 (Average)
Fritz Leiber, The Big Time (1958), 4.5/5 (Very Good)
Robert Sheckley, Immortality, Inc (1958), 3.75/5 (Good)
Frederik Pohl, Drunkard’s Walk (1960), 3/5 (Average)
John Wyndham, The Trouble with Lichen (1960), (unread)
James Gunn, The Immortals (1962), 4.25/5 (Good)
Clifford D. Simak, Way Station (1963), 4/5 (Good)
William E. Barrett, The Fools of Time (1963), (unread)
Roger Zelazny, This Immortal (1965), 5/5 (Masterpiece)
William Spencer, “Horizontal Man” (1965), 3.75/5 (Good)
Norman Spinrad, “Deathwatch” (1965), 4/5 (Good)
Eando Binder, Anton York, Immortal (collection 1965), (unread)
Jack Vance, “The Secret” (1966), (unread)
Frank Herbert, The Eyes of Heisenberg (1966), 4/5 (Good)
Clifford D. Simak, Why Call Them Back From Heaven? (1967), 4.75/5 (Very Good)
Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light (1967), 4.75/5 (Very Good)
Brian W. Aldiss, “The Worm That Flies” (1968), (unread)
Brian W. Aldiss, “…And the Stagnation of the Heart” (1968), (unread)
Ellen Wobig, The Youth Monopoly (1968), (unread)
Robert Silverberg, To Live Again (1969), 3/5 (Average)
Norman Spinrad, Bug Jack Barron (1969), (unread)
Anders Bodelsen, Freezing Down (1969, trans. 1971), 4.5/5 (Very Good)
David Levy, The Gods of Foxcroft (1970), (unread)
Bob Shaw, One Million Tomorrows (variant title: 1 Million Tomorrows) (1971), 3/5 (Average)
Robert Silverberg, The Book of Skulls (1972), (unread)
Michael G. Coney, Friends Come in Boxes (1973), 4.25/5 (Good)
Michael Moorcock, Dancers at the End of Time sequence (1972)-(1976)
Alien Heat (1972), 3.25/5 (Vaguely Good)
Thomas N. Scortia, “The Weariest River” (1973), 3/5 (Average)
Harlan Ellison, “Kiss of Fire” (1973), 4.25/5 (Good)
Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love (1973), 3/5 (Average)
George Alec Effinger, “How It Felt” (1974), 3.5/5 (Good)
Robert Silverberg, Born with the Dead (1974), (unread)
Alfred Bester, The Computer Connection (1974), (unread)
Michael Moorcock, The Hollow Lands (1974), (unread)
Raymund Z. Gallun, The Eden Cycle (1974), 4/5 (Good)
P. J. Lauger, “Child of All Ages” (1975), (unread)
Marta Randall, Islands (1976), 3.5/5 (Good)
Michael Moorcock, The End of All Songs (1976), (unread)
Joyce Thompson, The Blue Chair (1977), (unread)
Alan Harrington, Paradise 1 (1977), (unread)
Jack Chalker, Saga of the Well of Souls and The Watcher of the Well Sequences (1977-2000), (unread)
Gene Wolfe, “The Doctor of Death Island” (1978), (unread)
Spider Robinson, Mindkiller sequence (1979-1997), (unread)
J. T. McIntosh, A Planet Called Utopia (1979), (unread)
Bruce McAllister, “Their Immortal Hearts” (1980), (unread)
Octavia Butler, Wild Seed (1980), (unread)
Clifford D. Simak, “The Grotto of the Dancing Deer” (1980), (unread)
Frank Herbert, The God Emperor of Dune (1981), (3/5 Average)
Ralph A. Sperry, Status Quotient: The Carrier (1981) (unread)
Kate Wilhelm, Welcome, Chaos (1983), (unread)
Richard Cowper, “The Tithonian Factor” (1980), (unread)
Mack Reynolds and Dean Ing, Eternity (1984), (unread)
Robert Silverberg, Sailing to Byzantium (1985), (unread)
Brian M. Stableford and David Langford, The Third Millenium (1985), (unread)
Robert A. Heinlein, To Sail Beyond the Sunset (1987), (unread)
Brian N. Stableford, Empire of Fear (1988), (unread)
Poul Anderson, Boat of a Million Years (1989), (unread)
Frederik Pohl, Outnumbering the Dead (1990), (unread)
Greg Egan, “Learning to Be Me” (1990), (unread)
Frederik Pohl, The World at the End of Time (1990), (unread)
Orson Scott Card, The Worthing Saga (various publication dates 1979-1990), (unread)
Greg Egan, Permutation City (1994), (unread)
Brian N. Stableford, “Mortimer Gray’s “History of Death” (1995), (unread)
Andreas Eschbach, The Carpet Makers (1995), (unread)
Robert Silverberg, “Death Do Us Part” (1996), (unread)
Robert J. Sawyer, Starplex (1996), (unread)
Bruce Sterling, Holy Fire (1996), (unread)
Charles Sheffield, Tomorrow and Tomorrow (1997), (unread)
Kage Baker, Company Sequence (1997-2009), (unread)
George Zebrowski, Bute Orbits (1998), (unread)
James L. Halperin, The First Immortal (1998), (unread)
Brian Stableford, Inherit the Earth (1998), (unread)
Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, The Light of Other Days (2000), (unread)
Jack McDevitt, Infinity Beach (2000), (unread)
Wil McCarthy, Queendom of Sol series (2000-2005), (unread)
Hannu Rajaniemi, The Quantum Thief (2000), (unread)
Robert Reed, Marrow (2000), (unread)
Alastair Reynolds, Chasm City (2001), (unread)
Greg Bear, Vitals (2002), (unread)
John C. Wright, The Golden Age (2002), (unread)
Richard Morgan, Altered Carbon (2002), (unread)
Neal Asher, The Skinner (2002), (unread)
Scott Westerfeld, The Risen Empire (2003), (unread)
Scott Westerfeld, The Killing of Worlds (2003), (unread)
John C. Wright, The Phoenix Exultant (2003), (unread)
Walter Jon Williams, “The Green Leopard Plague” (2003), (unread)
John C. Wright, The Golden Transcendence (2003), (unread)
Cory Doctorow, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (2003), (unread)
Steph Swainston, The Year of Our War (2004), (unread)
Charles Stross, Accelerando (2005), (unread)
Robert J. Sawyer, Mindscan (2005), (unread)
Charles Stross, Glasshouse (2006), (unread)
Charles Stross, Saturn’s Children (2008), (unread)
Alastair Reynolds, House of Suns (2008), (unread)
Sarah Zettel, Bitter Angels (2009), (unread)
Cory Doctorow, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow/Now Is the Best Time of Your Life” (2010), (unread)
Drew Magar, The Post Mortal (2011), (unread)
Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow, The Rapture of the Nerds (2012), (unread)
18 thoughts on “Science Fiction Novels/Short Stories about Immortality”
Re-reading Stross’s “Accelerando” right now. Great stuff.
No thanks. Really really really dislike Stross…
That’s quite a list! I think I’ve only read ‘Altered Carbon’ and ‘The Trouble With Lichen’ of all those titles – both good (in VERY different ways!).
Nice list, very comprehensive. What about the Kim Stanley Robinson Mars books–would you include those here?
I read the first two (not a fan) — did the third include immortal characters!?
I have to confess that I never got around to reading the third either. Icehenge deals with this issue too, although the characters are just very long-lived, not truly immortal.
It’s definitely not a strong theme in the first two books. But then again, I read them quite a long time ago and found them forgettable at best.
I love Sci-Fi books and immortality is certainly an interesting topic (even though I’m more into robots/androids and aliens), I’ll have to look into a few of these books!
One does not preclude the other…. Especially when you’re writing vast scope-type space opera.
Which book would you reccomend first?
Well, again, I do not read “vast scope-type space opera” that often. Do you like that type of SF or not? Because, my preferences might be substantially different than yours. I like literary/inventive/New Wave-esque 40s-70s SF. And, I’m not sure immortality produces the best SF of the era either.
My list based on rating might be the best place to start. Read a few of the reviews and see if any strike your fancy.
Now that I think about it, Clifford D. Simak’s Why Call Them Back from Heaven? (1967) might be a good place to start.
Thank you. 🙂 I’ll let you know what I think of it 🙂
I’ve just thought of Iain M. Banks’ THE HYDROGEN SONATA (2012) – one of the characters is extremely long-lived, if not immortal, and the notion of memory and its importance is considered particularly. Citizens of the Culture are pretty much as long-lived as they want to be, though most tend to be Stored after a certain time, and can be woken up if needed…
The Immortality Game was 2014. I really couldn’t handle Stross either.
Thank you! Will update the list — obviously, my site is more geared towards older SF so I’m missing a lot of newer works on the topic.
I’ve recently read Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt (1975) again. Though it is marketed as a children’s book it can be read as a morality tale.
Yes, but would you classify it as science fiction? (this is a SF list).