Tuesday, July 05, 2011

What a drag it is getting old.

In fantasy novels with non-human races, typically all of them are longer-lived than humans. Naturally, this is a Tolkien thing, which pretty much everyone seems to have adapted. If they aren't longer-lived, then they're assumed to have pretty much the same lifespan as humans. I don't think China MiƩville specifies the life expectancy of any of his many Bas-Lag races, but if he does, I'm quite sure none are ever less than that of humans.

Why is this? Why NOT short-lived races? I mean, surely someone has done fantasy (or SF) along these lines, but it's certainly not the dominant thing. Several reasons, I think: first, because it lends to non-human races a mythic, legendary quality; we're just brief candles and like that, but they just go on and on. Second, because it provides a certain obscure comfort to imagine that while we're done after a century on the outside, there could be other people for whom that isn't so. There's a li'l wish fulfillment here, I think. And finally, and relatedly, the idea of people destined to die "young" is just discomfiting to us, even if it's not "young" for them. We have trouble conceptualizing that as anything other than a major bummer for them. We may not be able to conceptualize the other way either, but that's not important: we're pretty sure we'd like it, and that's all we need to know. This points out a certain laziness in our thinking.

I can only think of two examples of short-lived races (though, again, I'm sure there must be many more). First, there are the gnome-people in the third area of Quintet's SNES game Soul Blazer. If I recall correctly, they're only supposed to live a year or so (but they make the most of it!). Given that we're talking about an old, not-super-sophisticated videogame with a questionable translation, I think this is actually handled rather well. Second, there's Kes from Star Trek: Voyager, whose race was I think only supposed to live to ten or thereabouts. I don't remember anything even remotely interesting being done with that--certainly no real, sustained effort to imagine what such a thing might be like--but then, that could've been Voyager's tagline: "Never doing anything even remotely interesting."

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

I think the Jem'Hadar in DS9 also typically died in battle before reaching the age of ten, but yeah, that was actually intended to be shocking and horrifying to the audience.

SK

1:26 PM  
Blogger Tavis pontificated to the effect that...

Ray Bradbury's 'Frost and Fire' features humans who live for only eight days. They spend most of their time crying about it.

5:16 PM  

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