In an unchanging city in the far future people have perfected remembering their past lives, to the extent that one lifetime is just one of an unbroken chain lasting for hundreds of generations. Feuds and loves last; Lergran and Pertito kill each other in every single incarnation, and it is thought a novelty when in one incarnation they have reason to commit mutual suicide instead.
Into this world is born Alain, who has no past lives, but everything is new to him. His mother cautions him to take things carefully his first few lives, to not do rash things or make bitter enmities. Instead he finds himself in the throes of first love with a woman who has lived hundreds of lifetimes and is only amused by his passion.
Consider this line early on:
“So keenly did they recall that now mere infants did not cry, but lay patiently dreaming in their cradles, or, waking, stared out from haunted eyes, grazing into mothers’ eyes with millennia of accumulated lives, aware, and waiting on adulthood, for body to overtake memory.”
The story is beautifully told, elegant and elegiac, and it was with great difficulty that I refrained from quoting the entire thing. The repeated reincarnation is a strong idea and captures one of the best examples of the boredom of immortality I’ve come across.
The Only Death in the City by C.J. Cherryh
Available: Free online, print
Word count: 6,500
First published: Sunfall, collection, 1981, DAW Books
Where to find it: It is available for free from Lightspeed magazine here
The Collected Short Fiction of C.J. Cherryh, collection, 2008, DAW Books