Immortality is a recurring theme in many fiction stories. It tends to appeal to the part of us that fears death, or at least wants to hold it off until we’re ready. Immortality, while desirable, is sometimes seen as a bad thing in stories.

Cyberpunk, of course, has its own twist on the subject. Let’s take a look at some examples.

The first example has to be the Dixie “flatline” in Neuromancer. The books don’t go into a whole lot of detail, but the construct is the memories and personality of a dead person, hence the term “flatline”. Dixie was a top-notch console cowboy and helps Case out with his knowledge. Even though Dixie lives on, the stories make it sound like it’s not exactly a great existence; the story refers many times to the unnerving “laughter” of the flatline.

A second example comes from a movie I watched recently called Robot Stories directed by Greg Pak. One of the film’s four stories, “Clay”, is about an aging sculptor who is facing the end of his life. He has an antibiotic-resistant lung infection and the doctor gives him “crit status” to have his brain recorded. This allows people to still benefit from the wisdom of those who have already passed on. The sculptor’s son is eager to have his father get recorded in order to finish a project, but the father thinks that type of immortality is hollow if he can’t feel clay between his fingers. Yet, the father has regularly participated in a “virtual reality” setup with his old lover who had been recorded. One interesting twist is that the son mentions that it is “immoral and illegal” to not have your brain recorded before death.

Finally, a fun example from the cyberpunk role-playing setting Shadowrun. In the metaplot of the setting, magic ebbs and flows on earth over the course of millennia. During the “low tide” magic is impossible and some magical creatures either die or go into deep hibernation. The game is set during a time a little after the point when magic is high enough to support some of the mythological races. Some humans are “goblinized” into orcs, trolls, elves, and dwarves. But, some older entities are now waking up from deep slumber: ancient elves and dragons who were around during the last magical cycle. As these powerful creatures wake up, they take on different roles within the new world. Dragons, in particular, seem to have a knack for running giant organizations and maximizing profit, making them exceptional CEOs of multinational corporations.

In most of these examples, immortality is either a mildly negative thing or simply unattainable. Storing the brain of a person soon to die seems like it’s more to help the living than to give immortality to those about to die. What about the soul or “ghost” to borrow a term from Ghost in the Shell? Is the recording truly perfect? What happens if something gets corrupted? Could that change the person’s personality significantly? Wouldn’t that potentially be more tramautic?

Anyway, what do you think? If you lived in a cyberpunk world, would you want to be immortal? What affect do you think having “flatlines” or “brain recordings” have on our world? What if a loved one got corrupted and seemed to be a totally different person? Lots of interesting issues to consider.