21 Best Immortality Science Fiction Books

Concept art from the movie The Fountain

Concept art from the movie The Fountain

If there’s anything that people want more than love and money, it’s long life. However, true immortality (or even super-long life) would undoubtedly present a host of unexpected consequences, and no good story can be summarized They Got Everything They Wanted And It All Turned Out Fine.

 

21
Holy Fire
by Bruce Sterling – 1996

As usual, author Bruce Sterling offers up more intellectual than action fare, which can be a challenge for the casual sci-fi reader just looking for a good laser battle.

At the end of the 21st century, Mia Ziemann is a 94-year-old medical economist in a world ruled by a “post-human” gerontocracy. Life-extension technology is the world’s major growth industry and Mia, like many of the elderly, has invested everything into qualifying for new and experimental rejuvenation techniques. After undergoing one of the most radical such procedures, Mia can now pass for 20 but is borderline psychotic.

Holy Fire is considered one of the more literary cyberpunk books of the 90s.

“Brilliant . . . fascinating . . . exciting . . . a full complement of thrills.”
-The New York Review of Science Fiction

20
The Eden Cycle
by Raymond Z. Gallun – 1974

Author Raymond Z. Gallun is best known for his pulp sci-fi from the 1930s-50s, and The Eden Cycle is generally considered his best work.

A combination of the movies Contact and The Matrix (but predating both by decades), The Eden Cycle is a carefully written, slow-moving study of humans who, having received from aliens the gift of immortality and a capacity to reinhabit various epochs of world history (via virtual reality), find themselves less and less capable of responding to their experiences.

19
Welcome, Chaos
by Kate Wilhelm – 1983

Lyle Taney is a disenchanted historian with a knack for photography and nature study. After being approached by a mysterious undercover agent named Hugh Lasater, Taney becomes involved with scientists who possess an immortality elixir.

Welcome, Chaos involves more landscape description and internal psychological exploration than most sci-fi, so prepare yourself for a gentle float down a river instead a plunge into action-packed rapids.

“An excellent and thought-provoking read.”
-School Library Journal

18
To Live Forever
by Jack Vance – 1956

To Live Forever was one of the first sci-fi novels to break away the juvenile space-opera stories that dominated at the time. It’s intelligent, but possibly a little slow-moving for the reader looking for exploding spaceships.

Garven Waylock had waited seven years for the scandal surrounding his former immortal self to be forgotten. He had kept his identity concealed so that he could once again join the ranks of those who lived forever. Then he met a certain girl who had the power to screw up his present, and possibly his forever.

17
Diaspora
by Greg Egan – 1997

In the 30th century, few humans remain on Earth. Most have downloaded themselves into robot bodies or solar-system-spanning virtual realities, escaping death—or so they believe, until the collision of nearby neutron stars threatens life in every form.

Author Greg Egan is often hailed as a genius, so you’ll get some fascinating ideas, but might miss the robust drama of stories by other authors.

“[F]ans of hard SF that incorporates higher mathematics and provocative hypotheses about future evolution are sure to be fascinated by Egan’s speculations.”
-Publishers Weekly

16
The Hollow Lands
by Michael Moorcock – 1974

The book is currently the pinkest sci-fi book I know of. Beyond that, reviewers often describe The Hollow Lands with words like “silly,” “ridiculous,” “delirious,” and “romantic.” It’s the second book in the Dancers at the End of Time trilogy, where Jherek Carnelian, one of the small population of hedonistic immortals remaining on earth at the end of time, is wildly in love with Mrs. Amelia Underwood, a reluctant time-traveler from Victorian England. After narrowly escaping death in nineteenth-century London, Jherek is separated from his love by several millennia. And so he begins a new, headlong campaign—seesawing through space and time regardless of risk or consequence—to reunite with Mrs. Underwood.

15
The World of Null-A
by A. E. van Vogt – 1945

Author A. E. van Vogt was a giant among 1940s sci-fi writers, and this is his most famous novel.

It is the year 2650 and Earth has become a world of non-Aristotelianism, or Null-A, and the Games Machine, made up of twenty-five thousand electronic brains, sets the course of people’s lives. Gilbert Gosseyn isn’t even sure of his own identity, but realizes he has some remarkable abilities, including a kind of immortality, and sets out to use them to discover who has made him a pawn in an interstellar plot.

14
The World at the End of Time
by Frederik Pohl – 1990

Wan-To was the oldest and most powerful intelligence in the universe, a being who played with star systems they way a child plays with marbles. Matter occupied so tiny a part of his vast awareness that humans were utterly beneath his notice.

The colonists of Newmanhome first suffered the effects of Wan-To’s games when their planet’s stars began to shift, the climate began to cool down, and the colony was forced into a desperate struggle to survive.

Viktor Sorricaine was determined to discover what force had suddenly sent his world hurtling toward the end of the universe. And the answer was something beyond the scope of his imagination—even if he lived for thousands of years…

13
Accelerando
by Charles Stross – 2005

It is the era of the posthuman. Artificial intelligences have surpassed the limits of human intellect. Biotechnological beings have rendered people all but extinct. Molecular nanotechnology runs rampant, replicating and reprogramming at will. Contact with extraterrestrial life grows more imminent with each new day.

Struggling to survive and thrive in this accelerated world are three generations of the Macx clan: Manfred, an entrepreneur dealing in intelligence amplification technology whose mind is divided between his physical environment and the Internet; his daughter, Amber, on the run from her domineering mother and seeking her fortune in the outer system as an indentured astronaut; and Sirhan, Amber’s son, who finds his destiny linked to the fate of all humanity.

About the title: in Italian, accelerando means “speeding up” and is used as a tempo marking in musical notation. In Stross’s novel, it refers to the accelerating rate at which humanity in general, and/or the novel’s characters, head towards the technological singularity. The term was used earlier in this way by Kim Stanley Robinson in his 1985 novel The Memory of Whiteness and again in his Mars trilogy.

12
Wild Seed
by Octavia E. Butler – 1980

Doro is an entity who changes bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflex—or design. He fears no one—until he meets Anyanwu. Anyanwu is a shapeshifter who can absorb bullets and heal with a kiss…and savage anyone who threatens those she loves. She fears no one—until she meets Doro. From African jungles to the colonies of America, Doro and Anyanwu weave together a pattern of destiny that not even immortals can imagine.

11
Chasm City
by Alastair Reynolds – 2001

A strong follow-up to impressive debut Revelation Space, Chasm City is about a city overrun by a virus that attacks both man and machine, while an agent pursues a lowlife postmortal and uncovers a centuries-old atrocity that history would rather forget…

“Reynolds transmutes space opera into a noirish, baroque, picaresque mystery tale… Think of a combination of the movie Blade Runner and one of Jack Vance’s ironic SF adventure novels.”
-Publishers Weekly

10
The Boat of a Million Years
by Poul Anderson – 1989

Nominated for a Nebula Award, The Boat of a Million Years follows eleven undying humans, making their way through history over thousands over years. Stories take place anywhere from 310 B.C. to centuries in the future.

It’s a nice break from the usual tales of immortality bequeathed by either drugs or virtual reality.

9
The Worthing Saga
by Orson Scott Card – 1990

It was a miracle of science that permitted human beings to live, if not forever, then for a long, long time. Some people, anyway. The rich, the powerful—they lived their lives at the rate of one year for every ten. Some created two societies: that of people who lived out their normal span and died, and those who slept away the decades, skipping over the intervening years and events. It allowed great plans to be put in motion. It allowed interstellar Empires to be built.

It came near to destroying humanity.

After a long, long time of decadence and stagnation, a few seed ships were sent out to save our species. They carried human embryos and supplies, teaching robots, and one man. The Worthing Saga is the story of one of these men, Jason Worthing, and the world he found for the seed he carried.

8
The Immortality Virus
by Christine Amsden – 2011

In the mid-21st century, the human race stopped aging. Those who know why aren’t talking, and the few who are brave enough to ask questions tend to disappear. To an elite few, The Change means long life and health, but to the increasing masses, it means starvation, desperation, and violence. Four centuries after The Change, Grace Harper, a blacklisted P.I., sets off on a mission to find the man responsible for it all and solicit his help to undo The Change—if he’s still alive.

7
This Immortal
by Roger Zelazny – 1965

Conrad Nomikos has a long, rich personal history that he’d rather not talk about. And, as arts commissioner, he’s been given a job he’d rather not do. Escorting an alien on a guided tour of the shattered remains of Earth is not something he relishes—especially since it is apparent that this places him at the center of high-level intrigue that has some bearing on the future of Earth itself.

This Immortal won the Hugo for Best Novel in 1966.

6
Pandora's Star
by Peter F. Hamilton – 2004

The human race has had wormhole technology for over 300 years and has colonized several hundred planets.

Over one thousand light-years away, a star vanishes. It does not go supernova. It does not collapse into a black hole. It simply disappears. Since the location is too distant to reach by wormhole, a faster-than-light starship, the Second Chance, is dispatched to learn what has occurred and whether it represents a threat. In command is Wilson Kime, a five-time rejuvenated ex-NASA pilot whose glory days are centuries behind him.

Hamilton’s exhilarating new opus proves that “intelligent space opera” isn’t an oxymoron.
– Publishers Weekly

5
Immortality, Inc.
by Robert Sheckley – 1958

A man from the 1950s finds himself in 2110, having been “freejacked” into a new body. It was made into the movie “Freejack” in 1992, starring Emilio Estevez and Mick Jagger (15% on Rotten Tomatoes!)

Futurama fans will also find parts of this story familiar. No more hints.

4
The Immortality Game
by Ted Cross – 2014

Moscow, 2138. With the world only beginning to recover from the complete societal collapse of the late 21st Century, Zoya scrapes by prepping corpses for funerals and dreams of saving enough money to have a child. When her brother forces her to bring him a mysterious package, she witnesses his murder and finds herself on the run from ruthless mobsters. Frantically trying to stay alive and save her loved ones, Zoya opens the package and discovers two unusual data cards, one that allows her to fight back against the mafia and another which may hold the key to everlasting life.

3
The Postmortal
by Drew Magary – 2011

John Farrell is about to get “The Cure.”

Old age can never kill him now.

The only problem is, everything else still can . . .

Imagine a near future where a cure for aging is discovered and, after much political and moral debate, is made available to people worldwide. Immortality, however, comes with its own unique problems—including evil green people, government euthanasia programs, a disturbing new religious cult, and other horrors.

“A darkly comic, totally gonzo, and effectively frightening population-bomb dystopia in the spirit of Logan’s Run, Soylent Green, and the best episodes of The Twilight Zone.”
—Neal Pollack, author of Alternadad and Stretch

2
Altered Carbon
by Richard K. Morgan – 2002

Not since Isaac Asimov has anyone combined SF and mystery so well. A very rich man kills himself, and when his backup copy is animated, he hires Takeshi Kovacs to find out why.

Morgan creates a gritty, noir tale that will please Raymond Chandler fans, an impressive accomplishment in any genre.

1
Gulliver's Travels
by Jonathan Swift – 1726

Yes, Gulliver’s Travels. In one of the travels, Gulliver encounters humans in the nation of Luggnagg who are born seemingly normal, but are in fact immortal. However, although these “struldbrugs” do not die, they do nonetheless continue aging. Swift’s work depicts the evil of immortality without eternal youth. At the age of eighty, they are declared legally dead, cannot own property, and everything they own goes to their heirs.

It’s impressive that a story almost three hundred years old has a more radical approach to dealing with immortality than many modern novels.


 

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6 thoughts on “21 Best Immortality Science Fiction Books

  1. Thanks a lot for the list! Can you guys tell me a few SF books that grapple with the question of ageing? Something along the lines of Rainbows End.

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