Thoughts on Thunderhead: Does Mortality Give Us Meaning?

I’m currently reading the novel Thunderhead, the sequel to Scythe which I’ve previously read and reviewed, and as it’s set in a world which has achieved immortality, amongst other things, a lot of questions were raised throughout, and some of them particularly interesting.

The lives the people lead in the universe are generally similar to the ones of any standard person in a first world country nowadays. The have jobs, have families, go to school, all the regular stuff, but with one key difference, none of it really matters. The researchers aren’t learning anything that hasn’t already been discovered, shop workers fill in the roles of machines, doctors are barely needed due to each persons so called healing and pain nanites. The role of a job is to give an individual a sense of purpose, and no more. The only new role is that of a ‘scythe’, highly trained killers meant to ‘glean’ in attempt to curve the growth of the human race, as since revival is possible, death doesn’t really exist, so gleaning is given as a way and message for that person to stay dead.

Another difference between this world and ours is the ‘Thunderhead’. The Thunderhead is a collection of (nearly) all knowledge, open for public access and to top it all off, has a consciousness which communicates to everyone apart from the Scythes, as the two aren’t allowed to interact. The Thunderhead controls everything from CCTV to hospitals to overseeing the law, it controls the weather and earthquakes but also relates to everyone on a personal, intimate level. Because technology has advanced so far no one feels pain anymore, no one dies, sadness and depression can easily be rid of, criminality is dealt with before it even begins. It seems like a perfect world, or one would think.

The recurrent problem is the monotony. How can you quantify happiness if you’ve never felt immense sadness? How can you thrill seek when there’s no consequences? The people in the universe have seemingly everything, but maybe that’s one of the biggest errors. At various point the characters express a lack of confusion over things from the ‘mortal age’, the time where we live now; they look at the art and watch our plays and don’t understand them. They ponder over things such as why do so many plays end in death, and how the paintings from the past make them feel so much more, and it really made me think of how much suffering contributes to our lives.

Now, that’s not a thought many of us think about in depth, as obviously no one likes to hurt, whether it’s emotionally or physically; if given the choice to be rid of it a lot of us would immediately say yes, until we thought about the question some more. It’s something that Neal Shusterman, the author of the novel, has spent a lot of time thinking about, and his reflections on it, contained within the novel, I find really interesting. Those reflections alone are probably one of the best encouragements I can give for you to read it.

If you look at a famous tragedy, for example Romeo and Juliet, would the ending be so moving or emotional if the two of them hadn’t died? Of course not, and I think living in a world without death, without consequence, would bring about shallow emotions, and living a life with less to live for. As when everything is achieved, health isn’t something to worry about and everyone will always be there for an indefinite amount of time, what is there to live for really? I think we can find much more meaning in a finite lifetime, where there’s still so many unknowns to debate and things to discover, despite all the pain and suffering, as I think it’s that which gives us meaning. A weird concept I know, but I think only through hardships and our short lifetimes that we can appreciate what we have, and if we can’t appreciate that, what’s the point?

I hope you found my thoughts interesting and please share what opinions you have on the matter in the comments below. Would you like to live forever? Or do you also think that immortality comes with its downfalls as well?

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