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Immortality may be one of the oldest dreams of mankind. One of the oldest recorded myths, that of Gilgamesh, from ancient Sumer, over six thousand years old, deals with the idea of immortality, and it's an idea that has threaded its way through mythology and folklore ever since, from the Greek myth of Tithonus (perhaps the first tale to caution us that eternal life is no good without eternal youth as well) to folk traditions about the Wandering Jew, and on into the dreams of the Twentieth Century, in movies and TV shows such as Highlander and The Immortal, as well as in print SF. Immortality was one of the secrets searched for by the medieval alchemists, and one of the dreams of some modern scientists is to achieve an immortality of sorts by "downloading" our personalities and memories into a computer. The concept of immortality has fascinated writers from Swift to Shaw, and certainly the thought of what it would he like to live forever is one that must occur to all of us as we age and realize that the days ahead of us are numbered.

Many religions, of course, offer the immortality of the spirit in the Afterlife, but what we're talking about here is corporeal immortality, immortality achieved right here on Earth, in our own physical bodies—and, since we're dreaming, we insist on the kind of immortality where we're eternally young and healthy and vigorous as well. And that's the kind of immortality we deal with in this anthology.

With the exception of George Bernard Shaw's Back To Methuselah, most of the perspective on immortality to be found in mainstream literature has been overwhelmingly negative, with immortality seen as an intolerable burden, something that would smother all creativity, innovation, and joy in the human spirit. Even within the science fiction genre itself, opinion on immortality has been sharply mixed. Until recently, most SF stories about immortality have been cautionary tales, warning us against the cultural and evolutionary stagnation that immortality would bring. In recent years, however, the pendulum has begun to swing, and we are beginning to get more stories from writers who obviously approve of the idea of "living forever"—or at least for a very much longer amount of time than people get to live at the moment. ("Immortality," of course, is usually short-hand for "greatly extended life-span," with just how greatly extended varying from author to author, from hundreds to thousands of years, with a few of the more greatly daring even suggesting life-spans of millions of years.) Although we present stories here from both the positive and the negative perspectives, your editors themselves tend to agree with T.H. White, who said "You can learn astronomy in a lifetime, natural history in three, literature in six. And then, after you have exhausted a millard lifetimes in biology and medicine and theocriticism and geography and history and economics—why, you can start to make a cartwheel out of the appropriate wood, or spend fifty years learning to begin to learn to beat your adversary at fencing. After that you can start again on mathematics, until it is time to learn to plough." In other words, those who talk about the deadly tedium of immortality are those without much in the way of inner resources or imagination. No, just go ahead and give us an extra thousand years of life, and let us worry about finding interesting ways to fill the time! (It may be worth noting that from the perspective of ages past, when most people were old or dead by the age of thirty, most citizens of modern Western urban civilization are already living greatly extended lifetimes—both your editors would be ancient village gaffers by the standards of some eras—and I'm sure that a lifespan of a thousand years would seem just as "natural" to people once they got used to it; in fact, you'd probably soon get people lamenting that they had only a thousand years in which to do everything that they wanted to do.)

Whether viewed as a blessing or a curse, though, the idea of immortality seems to call out the utmost in imagination and ingenuity in science fiction writers, and has always appealed to SF's most visionary authors and to its most profound thinkers—as you'll find amply demonstrated in the stories that follow.

So open up this anthology and begin reading. Hurry up! You don't have forever to do it, you know! (At least, not yet . . .)

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