Arc in F&SF

Aliette de Bodard does this really cool thing where she posts story notes on her blog as new stories are published.

I’m going to steal the idea from her and do something similar from now on.

“Arc” is out in the current (Sep/Oct) issue of F&SF.

F&SF Cover Sep 2012

Spoilers below, you’re hereby warned

Lena Auzenne, the protagonist, is an artist who works with plastinated bodies (like the Body Worlds exhibits). Then she learns about a new medical procedure that puts the aging process on hold. And for her, the two become inextricably entwined in her life.

I wrote this after reading 100 Plus, by Sonia Arrison (the book has a very search-engine-friendly, super-long subtitle which I’ve cut out here for the sake of aesthetics). To simplify somewhat, the book is a discussion of the many implications of the longevity revolution, when many individuals in the West will be able to live long past the age of 100 and stay healthy and vigorous for the bulk of that span.

Arrison discussed some of these ideas at the Volokh Conspiracy, which was how I first heard about the book. You can get a sense of her writing style and the content of the book by reading those posts, which I think are fascinating.

A second source of inspiration comes from US Patent 4205059, “Animal and Vegetal Tissues Permanently Preserved by Synthetic Resin Impregnation,” and US Patent 4302157, “Method for Preserving Large Sections of Biological Tissue With Polymers.” These are the “plastination” patents issued to Gunther von Hagens, and they describe the process behind the Body Worlds exhibit and other similar artwork made from preserved tissue.

Plastination simulates life with death, and this becomes a central metaphor for Lena as she enters suspended life.

It’s a cliché in fiction for someone offered a chance at immortality to either suffer terribly or to refuse it — indeed Arrison ridicules this pattern extensively in her book. The notion that death gives life meaning is a failure of imagination.

For the first time in history, we’re at the cusp of a technological leap that will make possible at least a very long and healthy life, if not quite immortality. I tried very hard to write a story where Lena chooses to be an immortal.

But we mere mortals seem incapable of envisioning a happy, meaningful life as an immortal, as those who critiqued my story at the Cambridge SF Workshop noted. I rewrote this story many times, trying to get Lena to be content with living forever, and the story just would not work.

And so I ended up with this story: Lena goes through her life, learning many lessons about herself and about others, but never having One Ultimate Revelation. She muddles on, much as the rest of us, and makes choices that are understandable, if not always sympathetic. In the end, she decides to shape her life into an arc, because giving our lives a pattern is what we mortals yearn to do.

While others may enter the promised land, Lena would stay behind.

Lest you think I really come down on the side of “no immortality,” “Arc” has a companion piece …

I hope you like the story.