Immortal, by Gene Doucette (40:00)

IOD score cardToday we see that, even when treading familiar ground, a good author can make it seem fresh by adding just a dollop of humor.

What I gleaned about the story: Adam is an immortal who’s been around since Ugg and Ogg hunted nugg-beast with pointed stick. These days though, he’s a homeless booze-hound, just wandering the world, looking for parties. He’s got a raunchy ifrit for a friend, but no other attachments. Sure, there’s this one chick he’s been seeing for years and years. Not dating, just seeing. Like, from across a crowded room. And now I suspect those days of “just seeing” are about to end.

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Kudo #1: Funny turn of phrase

Analysis: Our protagonist, Adam, is telling us about the odd places he’s regained consciousness before: I’ve woken up in haylofts, under a butter churn, on roofs, in a choir loft (twice), under tables, on tables, in trees, in ditches, and half-pinned under a sleeping ox. One time in Bombay, I woke up to find myself lashed to a yak.

Any author who appreciates the comedic value of a good yak reference is my kind of author.

WTF #1: Familiar premise

Analysis: I let this go for a quite a while before the familiarities piled too deep for me to let them pass without comment. Our protagonist is immortal. He’s been making his way in the world since men hunted big beasts with pointy sticks. He has plenty of memories, many of which conflict with modern accepted history, but he didn’t appreciate them as momentous at the time. They were just the events of the day. He changes identities frequently, to avoid the usual questions about his continued youth. And there are a handful of other experiences that are all pretty common stock-in-trade for the “immortal among us” trope.

Where it started to seem a little too close for comfort was when he bluntly outed himself to a group of college kids at a party. Sure, they weren’t professors, and it was in a frat house rather than a remote cabin, but this situation immediately put me in mind of the fabulous 2007 indie film: The Man From Earth.

It’s entirely possible the author hasn’t seen that somewhat obscure film, and even if he has, the similarities are not egregious. They were just strong enough to invoke my “I’ve seen this all before” instinct and make me stop to think about whether or not it was too close. But I decided that this is a much funnier take on that same founding premise, and it goes in completely different directions. So it draws a flag for bursting my immersive bubble enough to consider the question, but now I’ve decided I’m happy and so I’m going back in.

WTF #2: Implausible physics

Analysis: If I tell you that a fish plant has been built on the docks, hanging out over the water so that workers can dump fish guts through a trap door, directly into the water below, how deep do you imagine that water below would be? One foot? Two? Of course not. Any sane person would reason that with shallow water like that, the guts would just pile up and become a stinking, rotting mess. No, any architect worth his blue paper would want to do this in a place where the water was fairly deep, and the current fairly strong as well, so that the dumped guts would float off to become somebody else’s problem. To be plausible for me, the water would have to be at least ten feet deep. I just can’t imagine any fish-plant designer taking a risk on anything shallower. But let’s set that aside, because that’s only part of my problem here.

Now, about that building. If I also told you that when I first saw its overhang, I imagined that the entire building might tip over and fall into the bay, how high up would you visualize it being? Ten feet? Twenty? Good, because that’s what I thought too. I’m so glad we’re on the same wavelength about this.

diving into a glass of waterSo, remembering that ten- or twenty-foot drop we’ve imagined, how would you feel if I escaped a fire in the building by dropping through that fish-guts door? No problem, right? But what if I landed in only four feet of water, still without suffering any injuries? WTF? Frankly, the whole idea sounds a bit…off-base to me. (I avoided the obvious pun there. You’re welcome.)

But maybe you’d be willing to let me get away with it one time. I mean, I suppose it’s possible to drop ten or twenty feet into four feet of water and not be maimed. Maybe if you were really lucky and landed just right. But what if I then had more than twenty people jump with me? All of them in a terrified, OMG-I’m-going-to-die panic to escape the fire. All of them jumping through the same small trap door. All falling 10-20 ft into that same 4 ft of water. And not only are none of them injured by the shallow impact, none of them are injured by colliding with other escapees either.

Unfortunately, this implausibility pulled me sharply out of the story. And it didn’t need to happen. If the splash zone had been ten feet deep, I’d have been satisfied about the shallow impact problem. And give the river a decent current (like, strong enough to sweep fish guts away) and I’d be happy with the human collision problem too. But as it’s written, I couldn’t stay immersed.

Note: That physics problem was a pretty big bump in the road for me, but I was still enjoying the story and still curious where it was going, so I put it behind me and dove back in. And before I knew it, the 40-minute timer was up. So there we have it, another IOD survivor!

Aftermath: After reaching that finish line, I sat down to write up this report, and in doing so, gave oxygen to a background quibble that had been bothering me for a while. The story hinges around our immortal protagonist, who has been alive since the dawn of human existence. (According to the cover, it’s been over 60,000 years.) But right out of the gates, he told us that he has no special resistance to death, other than being immune to all diseases. He’s been badly hurt many times, and believes he is capable of dying; he just hasn’t yet. And that just strikes me as implausible for at least three reasons. First, simply because the chance of dying by fatal accident is already non-trivial for those of us with just a century to look forward to. Expecting that our hero could do so for so many millennia just seems statistically improbable.

death by alcoholBut it gets worse. Having done so much of his living in the era before statistics, logic, and complex reasoning, you’d think that by age 200 or 300, he’d have started to think himself a god, maybe. Or at least believe he was fully impervious to death. So wouldn’t he have begun to engage in ever riskier behaviors, trying to find his limits? Hell, Phil Connors (Bill Murray) in Groundhog Day couldn’t even last a few measly years before trying to kill himself, just to see if he could.

And then, to top it all off, our long-lived-cave-daddy here isn’t exactly a cautious person, is he. He claims to have been drinking heavily since the invention of alcohol, to such extent that he has already regaled us with a laundry list of places he as awakened after being black-out drunk. But none of that ever brought him face to face with the kind of mortality that awaits most addicts, drunkards and fools?

Sadly, I find that the humorous tone was not quite enough to carry me over these last two logic issues. (The water depth and death by misadventure ones). But if logic problems like these aren’t the kind that rattle you, then by all means take it for a spin and see what you think. There’s plenty to like here, and there just might be a clever and humorous story waiting for you if you do.golden thumb awardCredit: And lastly, I need to design some kind of “golden reader award” so I can give it to IOD Scout, Judy Davis for suggesting this one to me. Thanks, Judy.

Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Try the free sample on one of my books or short stories and decide for yourself.
The Jewels of ImmerseOrDie

About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is underqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.