Mankind’s first Science-Fiction, tales of visionary quests, let humans tread the pathways of the Immortals, gods and heroes. More recent varieties of SF have often focussed on the not-too-far-off here-and-now, but Big Stories and big themes lure even the hardest of hard SF writers back towards the eschatological and metaphysical. All sorts of “after-lives” have been imagined by SF writers, great and small. Alan Boyle, at his Cosmic Log, has pointed readers to the curious little collection of AfterLife tales by neuroscientist David Eagleman, Sum: 40 Tales From the After Lives. Other After-Life possibilities have been described…

(i) Resurrection as a Cyborg – One of the earliest versions of this SF trope, aside from “Frankenstein”, is a curious set of short stories about a Professor Jameson, by Neil R. Jones, who orbits his coffin in space and is revived by intelligent robots some 40 million years in the future to join them in a series of adventures. “Brain in a Vat” stories have followed ever since.

(ii) Resurrection on another planet – Most famously the late Phillip Jose Farmer‘s Riverworld series, upon which 36 billion people are resurrected via high technology – though no one at first knows this – and struggle to survive-in-style by taking charge of the resurrection machinery. Humans have ‘souls’ called wathans, but these are non-conscious when detached from the body, which has to be reconstructed by mass-creation technology that converts energy into matter.

(iii) Resurrection via Time-Travel – The Light of Other Days, a mind-blowing collaboration by Stephen Baxter and Arthur C. Clarke, uses wormhole-based time-viewers to record the lives and DNA of every person who has ever lived, and every foetus ever miscarried or aborted, and then nanotechnology to ‘resurrect’ them. Fortunately the human race, enhanced by wormhole direct-neural links, has figured out how to move en masse to other planets, to accomodate the resurrectees.

(iv) Souls as particles – Bob Shaw, in his Orbitsville trilogy and several short stories, pondered the possibility that the ‘soul’ might actually be a new kind of particle, a ‘mindon’, created by complex living matter. In the Orbitsville trilogy this idea has cosmological implications that explain much of the mystery of the alien Dyson Spheres.

(v) ‘Soul wave’ – SF is about asking “what if…” and David Brin rather cleverly asks “what if the old Jewish myths of ‘golems’ could be for real?” in his book Kil’n People. Duplicates of living people in clay, animated by a high-tech copy of an individual’s “soul-wave”, have transformed society. One Person can now do the job of a multitude, though with the drawback that one’s ditto only lasts for a short time before turning back into inert clay slop. And what’s the status of a ditto whose flesh-and-blood original has died? Are they legally alive? And where do “soul waves” go after?

(vi) What if “Death” is some kind of predator that only you can see – and avoid? Or the Angel of Death is an alien? Ian Watson poses these conundra in his tale Deathhunter, which is now 28 years old, but still enjoyable, especially the twist at the end. Nothing is as it seems in Watson’s AfterLife.

(vii) End of the World as Gateway to the Other World – which has several variants. On the one hand is the Omega Point scenario, in which the collapsing Universe allows an infinite number of experiences to be experienced in a finite ‘time’. William Shatner (James T. Kirk to “Star Trek” fans) has written a series of novels (“Quest for Tomorrow”) in which the protagonist has a direct line to the Omega Point, who may (or may not) be God. Thus Heaven is in the final fractions of a second – yet infinite in experienced time – of a collapsing Cosmos. Alternatively, the Big Crunch might be hostile to life, and Life might need to escape this Universe to live forever, as in Charles Sheffield’s tale Tomorrow and Tomorrow.
Another variant is the idea of the End of the Earth as a Gateway, which features in Brian Stableford’s The Walking Shadow. A complicated tale, which sees Paul Heisenberg, a professional ideologue, “jump” unexpectedly through time by becoming a silver statue in a kind of time-stasis in front of a whole stadium of people. This causes others to follow suit, ultimately journeying to the end of all life on Earth as-we-know-it billions of years from now, then travelling beyond it after Earth has been taken over by “Third Phase Life”.

More to come…