A few years ago scientists discovered what has since been called the aging gene. It’s a simple thing really, a gene that controls the rate at which our body matures from infancy to adolescence, adulthood, and beyond. From an evolutionary perspective, aging makes certain we cannot reproduce until we are developed enough to be responsible, while providing adults with a sense of urgency to have children while we are still capable.
However, its potential applications in science fiction are endless – beings with an aging gene that has been shut off or that works in reverse, stops or pauses at various points would make for interesting stories. And writers have not avoided it. The idea has been used once in recent memory, last year as a main part of the movie In Time, but its scope was so limited and the theme (while an excellent use of the science fiction genre) interfered with an exploration of the topic. Still, that it is the only movie based on such a cornucopic idea seems like a great waste. I know of several other ageless beings in science fiction, presumably who also had deactivated aging genes. In order of appearance they are Flint in the Original Series of Star Trek, Vandal Savage of DC comics, Apocalypse from Marvel, and the main characters of the Highlander franchise. But these, too, are limited in their scope. Flint leaves Earth in search of death and love. Vandal Savage makes for an interesting villain against Superman because he has lived long enough that he has learned to predict threats to his mortality and has developed enough wealth, power, and influence to have his hands in anything he chooses. Apocalypse is perhaps the most interesting being of all. Because of his condition he has developed a sense of separation from the human race. Using foreign technology he stumbled upon, he periodically tests our species to verify its continuing right to exist. The concept behind the original Highlander is intriguing, but the movie only touched on the concept’s true potential and each sequel simply reinvented the same universe. The series made some use of what could be done, but was so focused on morality, life-and-death swordplay, and simple plots that there was no underlying exploration of the concept of agelessness.
Then there are the rare occasions where the issue is skirted entirely. My single complaint about Battlestar Galactica is that we are given nothing about the Final Five’s perspectives on the last few thousand years. Or Avatar, where the planet itself is aware and ancient beyond reckoning. Two-way communication with that entity would be incredible. I truly hope that is an aspect that is explored in some of the coming movies.
Despite the lack of attempts, there is so much more that could be done with the idea of the aging gene. How about beings who helped to shape our civilizations. The inspiration for the first pantheons? Perhaps a secret society, manipulating world events from behind the scenes for centuries? An individual with this condition could be an excellent historian if he chose to be. Perhaps an exploration of immortals socializing with each other, or the perspectives of an immortal observing mortal lives and interests (The Eyes of Heisenberg would make for a good reference in exploring that possibility). Even something more substantial about the views on mortal lives could be intriguing in the right hands. Or something mundane, like a person who thinks he’s a freak and disappears to the streets on the day he realizes he isn’t aging.