"Every man is a spark in the darkness, by the time he is noticed he is gone forever. A retinal after-image that fades and is obscured by newer, brighter lights."
In any science fiction or fantasy
series, human beings are the most ephemeral of creatures. Every other sentient species lives at least as long as, and usually far longer than, human beings. The only exception are the brutish races: Trolls, Orcs, or Ogres - they mature faster. Ironically, Humans are one of the longest-lived species of animal on Earth.
Of course, the inevitable follow-on from this is that a humanoid
character may be well over a century in age but only look to be in his early thirties. This sometimes leads to Really 700 Years Old
or, in extreme cases, a Time Abyss
(Interestingly, according to That Other Wiki
mayflies live from around thirty minutes to one day, but the "naiad" stage, before
adulthood, can last from months to years. Also, the only reason they're so short-lived is because the adult phase, being so thoroughly specialized for breeding, has no mouthparts. To a mayfly, it's probably the latter part of the nymph stage that's true adulthood.)
In practice, humans age unusually slowly, compared to other mammals, for well-understood reasons. If an animal has a 90% chance of being killed by predators or disease by the age of three, there's no point in it being able to live to 30: instead, it will typically die of old age at around three. Thus, small animals, which have more predators, age faster, while birds, which are harder to catch, live much longer than mammals the same size, apart from bats, which have a similar lifespan to birds.
Note though, this implies most animals don't die of old age in the wild, which includes humans, and should include aliens too. Humans in the 'wild', without advanced medicine, tend to live 30-40 years, having very few predators apart from each other, but we don't drop dead from old age until 75-100, a figure that hasn't changed much in 50,000 years. The unusual bit is that even large mammals with almost as few predators as humans die of old age decades before humans, with the exception of some whales. Intelligent aliens should be similarly long-lived compared with their near relatives. If they've managed to slow down their aging process (through, say, genetic engineering), their natural lifespan could be long indeed, making this a justifiable trope.
See also Puny Earthlings
, Mayfly-December Romance
, Time Dissonance
, We All Die Someday
. Contrast Rapid Aging
. Compare and contrast Time Abyss
open/close all folders
- Slayers actually builds on this trope, with longer-lived races stating that they're impressed at how fully humans live their short lives compared to themselves.
- Bleach: Shinigami live for centuries, Hollows live forever and humans... well they just loop around through a series of reincarnations.
- The posturing kinda falls flat when you realize that all of these guys are just humans who are already dead.
- It's best not to think too deeply into it. The entire concept of Death seems very vague in Bleach (apart from simply not existing among the main cast anymore). For example, apparently Souls (an intangible concept in real life, and an intangible object in fiction) are susceptible to a physical disease. Go figure.
- It's vague primarily because the concept of an afterlife is so vague itself. Essentially, they're succumbing to diseases that exist in the spiritual realm. Bizarre, but not completely ridiculous.
- Youkai (Demons) in InuYasha (ex. Sesshoumaru, Inuyasha, Naraku, ect.) live far longer than any human, and while they may look spry and youthful, in reality they are many hundreds of years old. How quickly they mature relative to humans seems to vary. Shippo, who looks (and acts) all of five, is apparently around fifty by the human calendar, but picks a fifteen year old human as his mother-figure.
- Judging by Guame's characterization of Cytomander as a "200-years-young fool" in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, we can safely surmise that beastmen live much longer than humans.
- And then there's Viral, who is actually immortal due to not aging and a Healing Factor.
- Subverted in that Lord Genome makes the point that humans are immortal (because they can have children) while beastmen cannot leave any legacy if they die.
- Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou features the short lifespans of humans compared to Ridiculously Human Robots a rather poignant plot point.
- Non-human/animal folk in Mahou Sensei Negima!'s magic world live several times longer than the human species, and it shows up in their aging as evidenced by Princess Theodora. Asuna has been hinted to not be human, instead having been alive for
twenty or thirty years at least a hundred years and probably more while looking four. She only started actually growing up physically until she went to Mahora.
- Namekians in Dragon Ball live for at least 500 years. The Kaioshin live for about 75 million. Saiyans live about as long as humans, but they stay young longer.
- In YuYu Hakusho, the Spirit Royalty live exceptionally long times. Prince Koenma is only recently potty-trained, and claims to be at least 500 years old.
- Tenchi Muyo! kind of has this trope. In the OVA, ordinary alien Juraians live about the same length of time as humans, but members of the Galaxy Police who have undergone "body enhancement" live about three times as long, and members of the royal family who have bonded to Jurai trees can live for maybe 20,000 years. Other characters like Ryoko, Washu, and Kagato can live for thousands of years for other reasons.
- In short, lifespan of a human being (for a wide definition of a "human") in Kajishima's canon is directly corresponding to one's awesomeness. The more ass you kick, the longer you live, plain and simple.
- Invincible both plays this straight and subverts it. Invincible's dad comes from a race of superpowered moustache-wearing aliens that live for thousands of years, but he still gets to meet a race which can live a lifetime in around a year, and yet are very intelligent. He had a kid with one of them, Oliver; Oliver's lifespan is uncertain, possibly an average between those of his parents, but he aged from "infant" to "teenager" in maybe two years
- He also really managed to piss Mark off during their epic battle by comparing Mark's mother to a pet whom he would long outlive.
- The elves in ElfQuest are descended from spacegoing aliens who had overcome aging and disease. However, the Wolfrider elves have wolf DNA, courtesy of their shapeshifting ancestor Timmain, which gives them a finite lifespan - a mere few thousand years or so. The creation of the Wolfriders was necessary in order to make their adopted planet accept the elves as part of its ecology. Furthermore all elves have immortal spirits. Trolls and Preservers are also extremely long-lived, but humans and wolves have normal lifespans.
- It varies depending on the canon, but (at least Post-Crisis) it's generally accepted that Superman is essentially immortal, having stopped aging in his late 20's. He can still be killed in battle (and has been) but as long as he can avoid that, he can live forever. This leads to the unfortunate fact that all his friends and loved ones — including his wife Lois — will turn old and gray while the Man of Steel remains young. Not really an issue thanks to Comic-Book Time.
- In DC One Million we learn that Superman is still alive in the 853rd century. He's spent the last hundred millennia in the heart of the sun, becoming super-charged by its rays to the point that he is essentially a god. All this, just so he can use his new powers to bring Lois back from the dead so they can live together eternally.
- It's implied that Sleepwalker and his race are extremely long-lived, as Cobweb has been ravaging the Mindscape since before recorded time and Sleepwalker has fought him on many occasions.
- The Smurfs are definite long-livers compared to humans — they can live up to 600 years (Grandpa Smurf is a few centuries beyond that) and still remain active and sprightly. In the animated adaptation, it's mostly due to the Long Life Stone which gives the Smurfs their longevity, though its power must be replenished every 1000 years or the Smurfs will suffer Rapid Aging that leads to their death.
- Mentioned by name in one BattleTech novel. The Clans, a faction of humans descended from an army that left the bulk of human-controlled space (the Inner Sphere) behind centuries ago, use a program of genetic engineering to breed new, supposedly vastly improved generations of warriors every five years. Because the superiority of their breeding program is indisputable (to them, at least) a warrior facing warriors two or three generations younger than he or she is will be hopelessly outmatched. Most Clan warrior careers are over by the age of about thirty. In negotiating a truce between the Clans and the Inner Sphere, the Inner Sphere representative, Anastasius Focht, wants a long truce, initially proposing "forever." The Clan representative, ilKhan Ulric Kerensky, is pushing for a short truce (even though he's opposed to the invasion in the first place,) because of the rapid nature of Clan warrior careers. As Focht asks for thirty years, to give the Inner Sphere a full generation to advance their technology (which is hopelessly far behind that of the Clans) and training, Ulric replies that the Clans "are as mayflies to you." The eventually agree on a fifteen-year truce.
- In Animorphs, the guerilla war between the Animorphs and the Yeerk Empire lasted three years and shaped the fates and lives of thousands of sapient creatures. The larger war between the Andalites and Yeerks was on a scale even larger. But in the end, the entire conflict was only a blip so small as to be unnoticeable when it came to the war between Ellimist and Crayak. The kids' war lasted three years, the war between Ellimist and Crayak lasted hundreds of millions or even billions of years, one that continues even after the Yeerk Empire is destroyed. If one looks at the series as a battle between good and evil, absolutely nothing was accomplished. What's one Yeerk Empire to Crayak?
- It's implied that the war is more critical than it seems, for reasons that will only be clear to the mortals of the galaxy a century or two down the line.
- True, considering how much the Yeerk war influenced the budding, new conflict between humans, Andalites, Yeerks, Kelbrid and The One:
"I command this ship," Efflit 1318 explained, "but I serve at the pleasure of The One Who Is Many. The One Who Is All. We are not alone, Rakich-Four-Six-Nine-One. We are not this ship alone. We are the seeds of a new Empire that will far outshine the old, an Empire that will flourish under the leadership and wisdom of The One."
- Inverted and turned Up to Eleven in Dragon's Egg. The neutron-star dwelling cheela live one millionth as long as humans do, but also think a million times faster (so that a thousand years to them is a bit less than nine hours to us). When humans make contact with the cheela, they inadvertently start an industrial revolution. They start transmitting their encyclopedia. It takes the cheela many generations to decrypt and interpret the message, but after six hours they know as much science as the humans do. After twelve hours, they have developed faster-than-light travel, flown throughout much of the galaxy, and transmitted a message back to the humans with everything that they learned, encrypted so that the humanity will only gain knowledge at a rate that we can handle. What happens to the cheela later is not specified.
- Inverted in The Mote In Gods Eye. The humans live about a century and a half, thanks to some advanced biotech. Then they meet the Motie Mediators, who live for no more than fifteen years.
- Played straight and subverted in the The Word and the Void and Genesis of Shannara trilogies by Terry Brooks. Demons ( humans that sold their souls to the evil Void) are very long-lived and possibly ageless (as well as being very hard to kill), while tatterdemalions, frail Faerie creatures made from the memories of dead children, live for only several weeks before dissipating.
- The Dragaerans of Steven Brust's novels live for about 2000 years. Brust does address a side effect of this, however: they take over a hundred years to reach maturity.
- Vlad lampshades this in his early life, remarking that, given the functional life expectancies of members of the Jhereg, he really doesn't have to worry about lifespan differences between himself and his Dragaeran associates.
- One Dragaeran, Sethra Lavode, is around 220,000 years old. She is older than The Empire in which the main characters exist, a country which has been around long enough to have had 289 emperors. Granted, by the point the main plot lines show up, she's technically undead because the Gods feel she's more useful alive, but her technical life was still about a hundred times that of a normal member of her race.
- In His Dark Materials, Serafina Pekkala, the witch Queen, discusses the impossibility of equal relationships between men and witches due to the lifespan issue; witches live for many hundreds of years. Angels in His Dark Materials live even longer; at one point an explicit comparison is made that as human life is to witches', so are witch lifespans to angels'. Pullman also inverts the trope with the Gallivespians, tiny human-shaped people who reach maturity rapidly and die after living roughly ten years.
- Inverted in the Vernor Vinge short story "Original Sin", in which the alien Shimans have such a short lifespan that they have to specialize intensively or risk wasting their entire life becoming educated. For instance, someone trained in a certain scientific process might have relatively little experience in communication, and would thus be unable to explain it to anyone.
- Tolkien worked human jealousy of the unlimited lifespan of the Elves into a plot point in the story of the fall of Númenor.
- However, The Silmarillion reveals that death, far from being a disadvantage of Men, is actually intended by Eru as a gift to the race, allowing them to depart from the world early and go on, presumably returning to existence beyond Middle-Earth, while the Elves are stuck on Middle-earth until its end, thus resulting in their growing wistfulness and melancholy as they see the world around them changing and decaying. Death also allows Men greater defiance of Fate.
- Even the Númenóreans are long-lived compared to other humans (most Númenóreans can live to 200—the royal line, which has Elvish blood, can live up to twice that). Dwarves have a similar lifespan—they live to about 250 on average. For that matter, so are Hobbits: a hobbit comes of age at thirty-three, and it's not uncommon for them to live well over a century.
- Also appears in the Honor Harrington series, by David Weber. Humanity has a anti-aging drug regimen that must be started as early as possible to be most effective. This also leads to a interesting variation: Being that the regimen (called "prolong") has different versions that were developed at different times, this trope can happen three ways normals -> first-gen -> second-gen -> third-gen, where people that are in their seventies and have a full space-navy career can appear to be in their early teens to those who have not experienced the effects.
- There's profound socio-economic effects too. First Generation Prolong was only discovered around a century ago, and on rich planets like Manticore there isn't anyone physically over 40, and the life span will go for 300 years. 3rd Generation like Honor will go much farther, 500 is possible. For many worlds, the promise of Prolong being administered for free as a Government program is a major plot point. This causes what's practical in governments to change. One Government's Annexation bid will gradually rewrite districts in the new federal government, with the core nation having dominance written in for the next 20 years, and ending fully in 70 years. Given that the prolong makes this nothing on a human lifespan makes it work.
- This trope lent an undertone of tragedy to the early relations between humans and treecats. The 'cats are very long-lived, as in 250-300 years. The first treecat to bond with a human, Climbs Quickly/Lionheart, did so when he was about 50 (a young adult), and she was 11. When she died at about 104 years old, he suicided soon after, having lived only about half of his natural span. Treecats continued to bond, because they considered the results worth the price. The advent of prolong for humans served to remove the Suck from the Blessing.
- James Blish's excellent Cities in Flight series does the same thing, with two drugs - one that holds off aging, and one that prevents almost all disease. Unfortunately, the supply is limited, so only those who can prove their worth to society are ever started on the drugs - and some people are considered just too old to start now.
- Later in the series' continuity, the longevity drugs are used as currency, because they're basically impossible to counterfeit and they can be diluted to make change. This is okay for the planetbound cultures, who just age and die normally. For the Okies, who need them as drugs if they want to survive the journey from system to system, it doesn't work so well.
- The Aurorans and other Spacers in Isaac Asimov's Robot stories are humans who live for several hundred years, in contrast to earthbound and Settler humans, who reject robots and life-extending technology.
- In Robert A. Heinlein's Future History stories, there are a group of humans, referred to as the Howard Families, who live inordinately long lives, in comparison to "normal" humans. One member of the Family, Lazarus Long (among other names) has lived, as of the last work by Heinlein on the subject before the author passed away, about 2,000 years, give or take a century, and is still going strong.
- Although the advancing march of science eventually created a rejuvenation technology capable of working on normal humans, ironically out of the human race's mistaken belief that the Howard Families were hiding the 'secret' of longevity drugs. This sparked a massive planetwide research effort to 'rediscover' the 'secret' after humanity's initial attempt to make the Howards yield the 'secret' up by force obviously failed. The rejuvenation therapies also work on Howards, who routinely use them to extend their lifespans even longer — Lazarus Long would not have reached 2000+ years of age without rejuvenation, although his natural lifespan was unusually long even by Howard Families standards.
- In Heinlein's standalone novel The Star Beast Lummox had been the Stuart family pet for four generations or 120 years, and was still a child by her species' standards. It is also stated that humanity is the shortest lived sapient species in the known universe.
- In Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen most of the non-human races are effectively immortal. This includes the pure-blooded Tiste Andii, Tiste Liosan and Tiste Edur (being invaders from either a different world that is at the same time the origin of Order and magic this shouldn't surprise anyone), the Jaghut, T'lan Imass (who turned their whole people into undead in order to extinguish the Jaghut) and most likely the Thelomen Toblakai and K'Chain Che'Malle matrons as well. Also immortal (unless killed, which happens a lot) is every Ascendant, god, dragon, greater demon or personification of a principle. Add to that age-defying alchemy and sorcery and a lot the characters appearing in the books are significantly older than the current civilizations with a few going up to 500.000 years, or even as old as existence.
- Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time has the Ogier — for them, ninety years or so amounts to young adulthood, while the channelers (magic users) can live as long as six centuries, under the right circumstances.
- The alien creatures in HP Lovecraft's work tend to be nearly immortal, with lifespans of several millennia. And then there are the Great Old Ones and other godlike beings, which are truly immortal. In fact, some of them are actually older than the entire universe!
That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die.
- For the same reason, Carmilla in the Whateley Universe looks upon her fellow students differently. After all, she really is a Great Old One even if she looks like a teenager.
- Iain M. Banks's The Algebraist has (most) of the species of the galaxy divided up into two groups: the slow and the quick. The quick have human-like life spans, the slow live much, much longer (up to a billion years or so). Also invoked when a Culture ship investigates Earth, and the ship tells our narrator:
"Their children's children will die before you even look old, Diziet. Their grandparents are younger than you are now..."
- Played with in the old short story "They Live Forever" where a man is found who has clearly lived for centuries without aging. The immortal brushes off questions saying that he is exactly like everyone else where he comes from. The narrator's grandfather decides to find the planet of eternal youth but their ship crashes on a different planet, killing the entire crew except the boy. Eventually the narrator befriends the natives who live for at most fifteen years. As the story ends he is seventy-four and when a child asks how old he is the narrator realizes the natives don't have a concept of that length of time so he says he doesn't remember. He leaves, depressed, and the child's mother assures the little girl that the narrator is simply immortal.
- Another story with a forgotten title involved an immensely long-lived alien recruiting a team of humans to travel to another planet and help advance the civilization of a sentient species who exist in a blur of speed and whose lifespan is measured in hours. The team quickly learns that being "immortal" is no picnic...
- Most of the subsequent species of man in Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men live much longer than the "First Men", in fact after one of several societal collapses the average lifespan drops below 40 (until a long-lived mutant starts a religion and spreads his genes). The Second Men live for over 190 years. The Eighteenth Men live an average lifespan of 250,000 years and do not die of old age. That reads like a logical contradiction, but it's not: they die when the sun turns into a red giant ahead of schedule.
- Inverted in Terry Pratchett's Nomes Trilogy. The tiny nomes have lifespans of just ten years, but live and move ten times as fast as humans. This and their size difference make it difficult for the two species to interact.
- Played straight in Discworld, though, where dwarfs live for centuries, trolls even longer, elves are immortal, and so forth. Again, the only races which appear to have shorter lives than humans are gnomes and pixies.
- Then there are the vampires, who are incredibly strong and almost unkillable by conventional methods, and can be reduced to dust through their weaknesses. One drop of blood on the ashes and they return to life. The only way to knock a vampire out for really long periods of time is to get rid of the ashes somehow, like burying it, sinking it in the ocean, or throwing it off the Disc.
- Or get the bat-turned vampire eaten by a cat
- In Reaper Man one segment is from the point of view of a group of actual mayflies. Their elders reminisce about "the good old hours".
- Turned upside-down in the Ray Bradbury short story "Frost and Fire", taking place on an otherwise habitable Mercury with a very rapid rotation and temperature extremes, and, due to solar radiation, rapid aging effects for the human underground colony that the survivors of a crashed ship formed. Its people live, grow old and die within ten days, at a rate of about a decade a day. When the heroes discover and take shelter in the forgotten ship's sealed interior, they're astonished to find they're no longer growing old, and speculate that without the solar radiation's effects, humans might live to an unthinkable one hundred days old.
- To compensate for the short lifespan, humans were telepathic and learned their language and knowledge while they were in the womb.
- Which wasn't necessarily a good thing. One particularly awful meme that persisted was that you could steal someone's remaining days of life by killing him.
- In Dutch author Paul Harland's novel Water to Ice, one of the protagonists is a many-thousands-of-years old man who was made immortal by aliens. His particular variation is interesting: Like Dorian Gray, his "aging" is transferred to a transcendental "painting" of him. After so many centuries, he wants the thrill of being able to die back, so he placed the picture in a vault, which is then sunk into the corona of a star. It could go at any moment, but it's impossible to predict when. However, he also describes an encounter he once had with a species of electromagnetic beings, which exist for only fifteen minutes at a time before dying forever, and how their joy and wisdom is a constant soothing memory to him. Unfortunately, when he meets his original benefactors - aliens who see it as their holy mission to banish mortality from the universe - they inform him casually that they have since bestowed immortality on aforementioned ephemeral beings. He then triggers his vault to open.
- Non-alien example: Because the life expectancy is so bad for their time period, Vlad Tepes and Elizabeth Bathory of Count and Countess consider their lives to be halfway over by the time they've hit twenty.
- All of the Barsoomian races in the John Carter of Mars series can live for centuries, potentially millennia if nothing kills them (though with Barsoom being a Scavenger World and most of its societies are of the Proud Warrior Race persuasion, this is fairly unusual).
- Most Barsoomians voluntarily undergo a pilgrimage upon reaching the age of 1000 (at which time they're still physically in their prime) down the River Iss to what their legend tells them is paradise (they're actually eaten, either by beasts or by the Therns, at the end of the journey). Ras Thavas, who doesn't believe in any such mystical claptrap and avoids physical confrontation, is pretty close to dying of old age when first encountered ... he's probably about 2500 (Barsoomian years, so around 5000 Earth years).
- The Kantri of Tales of Kolmar can live around two thousand years, and it's mentioned that it's not unheard of for individuals to spend fifty years at a time meditating in solitude. These Kantri have lived away from humans on an island for five thousand years; it soon becomes evident that when around humans they regain some ability to think and experience life short-term, seeing and enjoying more.
- "Naturals" (humans who haven't been Caught Up in the Rapture and given glorified bodies) in the Millennial Kingdom in the Left Behind series book Kingdom Come can live up to a thousand years — provided, of course, that they have put their faith in Christ, thus averting the Death's Hourglass age limit of 100 set up for nonbelievers. During that time period, the "naturals" age very slowly, so that those who are around 100 years old are like teenagers and young adults.
- In Voltaire's Micromégas, Sirians live to be on average 10.5 million Earth years, and Saturnians live to be on average 15,000 Earth years. Both races still bemoan the ephemeral nature of their lives, however.
- Skeeve from Myth Adventures is mentioned to have a much shorter life expectancy than his various non-human friends. His Pervect mentor, Aahz, has even justified how hard he pushes Skeeve to succeed, on the grounds that his student won't have very long to build his skills or career.
- Many of the immortals and gods from the Tortall Universe have incredibly long life-spans, as you would expect from their names. This only ever really comes up around dragons. It must be strange for Daine to raise one from birth, knowing that Kitten will outlive her by centuries or millennia.
- Mohandas, the protagonist of Dancing With Eternity, is a human from the distant future where humans can live for essentially forever by "re-booting". He himself is at least 1,600 years old. During the course of the story, he and other characters encounter an planet where people on it live an Amish-like style of life, where re-booting technology is not used, so people die in fewer than 100 years. Mohandas is surprised that these people can enjoy their lives in—from his perspective—such a short span of time.
- Vladimir Vasilyev's The Big Kiev Technician series is an Urban Fantasy taking place in the distant future, where all major cities have become Mega Cities (Big Kiev is roughly the size of modern-day Ukraine) but Modern Stasis is in full effect. The biggest changes from modern times include various fantasy races living side-by-side with humans and various pieces of technology being alive and having to be tamed instead of built. All fantasy races live for centuries, if not millennia. Humans have a normal lifespan and resent it. Even worse, a community of a Human Subspecies called Longers was found in Big New-York that have a lifespan roughly double that of normal humans. They were slaughtered by normal humans who couldn't bear to have other humans live for so long. However, several characters (members of other races) admit that this means that humans are more likely to make advances and change the status quo due to their short lives.
- In the Black Jewels series Ladens and other short-lived races are view as 'flash in the pan' beings living only a handful of years compared to the hundreds of the Blooded races. Undead guardian of Hell, Saetan, is over 50,000 years old and even he is considered young when compared to the ancient dragons like Lorn.
- In M.C.A. Hogarth's Paradox universe all of the Pelted races with life spans listed on the author's wiki commonly live over a century. With the Naysha (150), Glaseah (150 or 260, depending on source), and Phoenixes (620?) being the longest lived. Eldritch of course can live over a thousand years barring the violence or diseases that are all too common on their world. And the completely alien Faulfenza live about seven hundred note
Live Action TV
- Star Trek is a prime example; in order to reuse characters from the original 1960s series in the various sequels and movies, every race has been given a lifespan at least double that of humans (which by the 24th century is already well over 100). Some — like the Vulcans — started out that way, but others were RetConned in decades later.
- Trill Symbiotes are fantastically long-lived, but to different ends: to permit the body-changing premise, and to allow Dax's various funny "three hundred years old" lines. Trill themselves aren't indicated to be particularly long-lived.
- One notable exception is the Ocampa on Star Trek: Voyager, whose lifespan averages nine years.
- Sometimes Star Trek subverts this trope. By the time the series takes place, human lifespans have increased. In Next Generation, Doctor McCoy is 137 years old.
- Taken to its logical extreme in Star Trek, when Leonard Nimoy's Spock travels back in time at the age of 155 and is still healthy enough to go marching 14 kilometers across an Ice Planet.
- Also in the latest film, Scotty explains that he believes he was sent to the federation outpost as punishment for attempting interplanetary beaming with 'Admiral Archer's prized beagle' - Word of God has confirmed that this is, in fact, Jonathan Archer from Star Trek: Enterprise, which would make him well over 140 years old.
- Porthos. (Who, sadly, didn't get to reappear on the transporter pad at the end of the film as planned. Well, the series is still young.)
- In Star Trek: Enterprise when we meet T'Pau she is already an adult with some influence among Surak's followers. A century later, she appears as a sort of matriarch of Spock's family in the original series. It seems the Vulcans are consistently meant to be long-livednote , and McCoy living to 137 would be an exception.
- In the episode of TNG in which he appears, McCoy is clearly very old; it's not like "137 is the new 50", more like "137 is the new 110."
- Scotty shows up in TNG as well, but he's been trapped in some kind of suspended animation since, apparently, shortly after the events in the beginning of Generations, so he's not physically as old as the calendar would imply.
- In the Expanded Universe, T'Pau is still alive in the Next Generation era. She's ancient even by Vulcan standards, though.
- The Doctor from Doctor Who, who is over 1200 years old. Actually, he looks younger in his later incarnations than he did his earlier ones. One of the Tie In Novels points out the problems this can cause if a Time Lord ends up on one planet for a long period of time.
- The new series also features an inversion: The Family of Blood, otherwise advanced and powerful aliens, can only live for a few months.
"Three months and they die. Like mayflies
, he (The Doctor) said."
- Also inverted in a way, in that the Doctor, for all his longevity, does not disrespect other races:
Wilf(after the Doctor reveals his age): We must look like insects to you.
Doctor: I think you look like giants.
- And to Amy, when he reveals that his companions have just as enormous an impact on him as he has on them, in a different way:
Amy: We're all such tiny parts of your life, aren't we? All the friends you make just flicker in and out. You must hardly notice us.
- The Twelfth Doctor does see humans as short-lived:
Doctor: You're running out of time.
Girl: For what?
Doctor: Everything. Human beings have incredibly short lifespans. Frankly, you should all be in a permanent state of panic. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
- And let's not forget the Daleks, who are Omnicidal Maniacs who can live for millions of years, with the help of their life support systems.
- The Tomorrow People featured a time traveling character who, despite being over 100 years old, looked about 12. In typical Tomorrow People style, when they speculate on how old his (physically elderly) grandfather is, the best guess they can come up with is "older".
- In the Stargate Verse, most aliens (except for Human Aliens, who really are human, taken from Earth long ago) are a few thousand years old.
- This is accomplished in almost every instance by body swapping. The only exceptions are the Wraith and humans who are immune to all illnesses.
- Also, an early episode dealt with Humans who were taken off-world and injected with a virus that caused them to live out their entire life-span in about 100 days. They were understandably surprised to learn that most humans live many tens of thousands of days.
- Farscape plays this straight in the case of most of the crew: Sebaceans like Aeryn can live for up to 200 cycles- assuming they don't get killed first; Rygel has apparently lived for centuries, though he's only ever admitted to having spent 130 cycles in prison; at the start of the series, Zhaan is over 800 cycles old, D'Argo is 30 and considered a teenager by his species standards; Pilot's species can apparently live for over a millennia- unless they're bonded to a Leviathan, in which case they share the Leviathan's lifespan of 300 cycles.
- This isn't usually addressed in-series, though, with the exception of the time Crichton found out he was going to be turned into a statue for 80 cycles.
John: Humans do not live as long as Sebaceans - or Hynerians, or Delvians. When I get back, everyone - my Dad, DK, my sisters - Cameron Diaz, Buffy the Vampire Slayer - WILL BE DEAD!
- In ALF, the incredibly long lifespan of Melmacians is often used as a running gag, like when ALF shows off pictures of a relative's 250th birthday party, which resembles a five year old human's. It's sometimes played for drama, though, as ALF gradually comes to realize that he's going to outlive the Tanner family by a huge margin.
- In the Power Rangers universe, aliens tend to be tens of thousands of years old. One season avoided this, having a race of human-looking magical beings age normally (which some viewers found jarring), but the next returned it with a vengeance, featuring a hero known to be active at a time when the continents of Earth were one, making him at least 250 million years old. In most cases, we don't know the true age of these characters — just how long ago some event they took part in was. Any of them could possibly be older.
- Most famous and familiar is Zordon. As usual, no clue is given as to his age, but he was an old man in a flashback to when he was put in a can 10,000 years ago. If anything, he's lost wrinkles since.
- In one episode of Smallville, Clark Kent meets and befriends a Kryptonian named Dax-Ur, who had moved to Earth and given up his powers over a hundred years ago. He only looked middle-aged.
- Some characters taunt Clark about the fact that any woman he chooses to be with will eventually be dust while he will look exactly the same as he does now.
- An episode of Andromeda called "Dance Of The Mayflies", about a race of parasites which has been changing hosts for 50,000 years. They are giving a nice speech on the subject. The heroes are not convinced.
- On Fraggle Rock, Junior Gorg is 473 years old, and Ma and Pa have been married for over 500 years.
- In Babylon 5 Minbari live 120 years, Centauri up to 150, pak'ma'ra 255 years, and Vorlons might be immortal.
- In Kamen Rider Gaim, when Kouta is captured by the Yggdrasill Corporation, DJ Sagara visits his cell and gives a little speech about how human lives are short, fragile, and insignificant...but says that's a good thing, since it inspires them to make the most of their lives. Sagara asks why Kouta wants power, and Kouta responds that he wants to protect the innocent because Yggdrasill won't; the answer pleases Sagara enough that he gives Kouta the key to his cell and a Mid-Season Upgrade, saying "As long as you keep impressing me, I'll keep helping you out."
- VNV Nation's entire musical output is based on this trope. Several songs take on the view that all of humanity's efforts to deify itself are futile, as our lifespans are brief and no-one will see our great works later on. Especially hammered home in the song "Carbon".
Mythology and Religion
- The basic Dungeons & Dragons character races are all longer-lived than humanity, with the exception of half-orcs, whose average lifespan is about 40 years. However, the nonhuman races all take longer to mature, as well - a "young adult" elf is 100 years old, while a dwarf takes forty years.
- Elans are arguably the prime example of this here. They can sustain themselves indefinitely without food or water, and are incapable of dying of old age. However, they're actually humans that have been altered through a "mysterious psionic ritual."
- On the other end, there are the Thri-keen, a race of psionic insect-people. Their maximum age? 29.
- Half-orcs have a shorter lifespan because their non-human parents, orcs, have a shorter lifespan. Indeed, most of the "evil" "brute" races tend to have a slightly shorter lifespan, ranging from dying in their 60s to dying in their 40s.
- Early D&D editions give gnolls a life expectancy of 35 years.
- One of the domains in the Ravenloft setting's Burning Peaks cluster was inhabited by humans who aged at twice the speed of regular humans, the better to keep its tyrannical darklord's armies stocked with fresh troops.
- In Warhammer 40,000, Eldar are virtually immortal (Eldrad Ulthran, one of their leaders, was alive and active at the time of the Great Crusade, 10,000 years ago), and Orks only grow stronger as they age; thus, they have the potential for immortality (but due to their violent natures, they seldom live long). On the flip side, Tau and Kroot have natural less-than-human life expectancies (around 40 year in the Tau case, though Kroot can prolong their lives by assimilating the DNA of longer-lived creatures). Humans themselves, due to things such as gene treatment, cybernetics and the odd effects Warp travel has on aging, have the potential to live for several centuries— or at least, Haves do. Space marines, being Super Soldier humans, also have the potential to live for centuries (or even forever, as none has ever died of old age). Chaos Marines, due to the power gained by being card-carrying members of the Legions of Hell and living in a Negative Space Wedgie, live for thousands or tens of thousands of years, and the Necrons have been around since before the dinosaurs went extinct.
- Being skeletons in SPACE, the Necrons don't really count for this, but their Star Gods, the C'tan, who have lived for billions of years, do.
- Played with in the Necron's backstory, the Necrontyr had short lives and were really jealous of the Old Ones who lived for very long times, the C'tan got the Necrontyr to transform their bodies with living metal, the transformation dulled their minds and senses, and thus we have the Necrons, Warrior-Robots of the C'tan.
- The C'tan are hinted to be born at the birth of the Galaxy, making them the oldest beings in the universe with no exceptions (predating even the Chaos Gods, although that can be contested due to the laws of the universe not working in the Warp).
- The fact that both the Necrontyr and the Tau have/had such short life expectancies has led to some interesting Epileptic Trees.
- There's also Asdrubael Vect, leader of the Dark Eldar, who is supposedly old enough to have remembered the founding of Commorragh and to have witnessed the birth of Slaanesh (making him one of the few, if not only, mortals older than a Chaos God).
- His backstory has since been retconned, as it's flatly stated there were many older than him and he was not the founder of Commorragh, as he was but a mere slave even after it's founding.
- Craftworld Eldar skirts on this since that their "death" is simply being sealed inside a stone so their souls are not devoured. They are fully capable of being "reanimated" when placed in Wraithbone armor (although in doing so the spirit can never be put to rest again). Farseers in particular become gigantic walls of sentient crystal, meaning they could live forever so long as their craft world isn't destroyed.
- Warhammer plays this trope pretty straight. Humans have the standard 50-100 year lifespan we are used to (albeit with medieval or early modern levels of health and medicine, and the concurrent reduced average life expectancy), while Dwarfs can live for many hundreds of years and Elves for many thousands. The Slann and their Lizardmen servants are older still. Ogres and Halflings tend to have lifespans similar to those of humans. Indeed, the comparative briefness of human life is why only man has pursued and developed Necromancy - magic to extend life and cheat death is of little use to already virtually immortal Elves. It is suggested that the humans of ancient Nehekhara tended to live about two or three times as long as modern ones, though all of this long-lived breed have been wiped out and rendered undead. At the other end of the scale are the Skaven - chaotic rat-men who generally only live for twenty years (though their leaders can extend that to a couple of centuries using dark magics). The lifespan of Orcs and Goblins has not really been touched upon, though given the race's penchant for perpetual violent warfare it is unlikely that many of them ever get to find out either.
- Exalted: The process of Exaltation greatly expands a person's life span. The Dragon-Blooded, who get the short end of the stick, typically live for several centuries, and the Scarlet Empress was around for close to 800 years before she disappeared. Solars and Lunars can typically live up for several millenia; Ingosh Silverclaws, one of the oldest-lived Lunars in the setting, died of old age at somewhere around 3100. The Sidereals, who get even greater longevity, can live for close to 6,000 years; there are Sidereals still around who remember the Primordial War. Needless to say, when you live that long, mortals swiftly fall out of your peer group... and possibly your notice.
- The Abyssal, Alchemical and Infernal Exalted also fit this. The first two are immortal, due to being undead/robots respectively, while the Infernals replace the Dragon-Blooded in being the shortest lived Exalted, with a lifespan of only 150 years.
- — That is, unless they acquire perfect timelessness by breaking the themes of their masters, which they draw upon, combining them into the means of their own ascension
- In Shadowrun, it's known that humans are longer-lived than trolls and orks (both can live to about fifty-sixty). Metabolic testing has shown that elves are mortal, but in the 70 years since they appeared none have shown visible signs of aging. Dwarves seem to be similarly long-lived. Since numerous dragons are confirmed to have survived since the Fourth Age, they're all assumed to be The Ageless. A small number of elves are also fourth world survivors.
- In The Frogs, Dionysus's wife, Ariadne, died because she was mortal. He, as an immortal god, laments that "She was young, so was I, surely she was much too young to die."
- An exception: In TwoKinds, the Keidran only live about twenty years. Humans are the elf-like ones.
- The Nemesites in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! have been established to live at least for centuries—which is a very useful trait for members of an interstellar civilization in a universe without faster-than-light travel.
- In Circumstances of the Revenant Braves, ethereal beings like ancient spirits and vices can live forever, where their human counterparts come and go.
- In Tales of the Questor, elves used to live longer then humans, but a long time ago an elf king had a powerful salamander grant his wish that his people never grow old, accidentally turning the elves into a race of mayflies.
- Well, the exact truth of how it happened has gotten very muddled over the years (Sam herself notes that there are at least three versions). In each version, however, the king also went back and got a chalice that would avert this. Typically, the chalice has been lost for centuries - Sam herself has no hope (or any real desire) of finding it in time to avert her own death. However, now that she's with a Questor like Quentyn, there's a chance now.
- It's not entirely clear how long other species live in that 'verse, though Racconnans like Quentyn are implied to live a couple hundred years.
- The Elves of Errant Story can live for untold millenia- unfortunately for them, by the time of the story, no pureblood elf was born in over a thousand years, and they are now confined to a single city after a great war with humanity. They don't help their case by many being insufferable jerks, so much so that even the order of human magic-wielding warrior-monks they'd created as protectors decided to tell them where they can stuff it.
- Corporal Vog of Schlock Mercenary is about 12 million years old. He says 'about' because there is a margin of error converting to human timescales. The margin of error in his math covers more time than the existence of the human race.
- More recently Xinchub admitted that humanity wasn't very well suited to pursuing immortality like the "Project Lazarus" he'd been in charge of because we're one of the shorter-lived species in the galaxy.
- The longevity of manticores in Darwin Carmichael Is Going to Hell is initially used as part of a punchline. But then there's what happens when the characters are forced to confront their worst fears . . .
- Played with by the trolls in Homestuck. Their lifespan is determined by their position on the hemospectrum: the lowest-blooded trolls are lucky to make it to 24 sweeps (about 52 Earth years), while the empress has lived for millenia.
- In Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures Beings are the local human equivalent in terms of lifespan. Creatures tend to live for several centuries, 1500 years for Angels and Demons, 3000 for Cubi (longer if they eat souls), Dragons outlive civilizations and Fae are essentially immortal until they choose to die (and their view of time is a bit different.
- Most Cyantians, of The Cyantian Chronicles, have lifespans of 120 years, whether that's earth years or slightly longer Cyantian "rots" isn't really specified. In addition genetic Elites of some species can live for centuries, as of Akaelae Alpha is over 750 and has had a number of different wives and cubs.
- Never actually stated in Terra, but indicated by the birth dates of alien characters in the codex. Sovereign Northazul Kalar, the oldest Azatoth character we have data on, is 160 in the present day and looks to be in the equivalent of late forties/early fifties judging by his graying hair, and most of the other Azatoth characters are somewhere in the range of 40-60 years old and look to be in their thirties at most. Eve Arlia, a Varelien, is 72 and looks twenty-something. Meanwhile the oldest human character, General Winters, is 58 and looks his age.
- This is the in-universe reason Wallas gives for not caring about his Glamour Failure on the mere human heroine in The Color Of The Crystal. He is not only Really 700 Years Old member of the Witch Species but also kind of Genre Blind.
- In an extreme example, the titular Transformers may very well be incapable of dying of old age, so long as they remain properly nourished. Indeed, throughout the entire franchise, no Transformer has ever been observed to die of natural causes, on or offscreen. The characters from the first series went into suspended animation four million years ago, and when they woke up, all their old acquaintances were still fighting the war. They're rarely shown as being affected by old age (except for one character, Kup), and one character, Vector Prime, may very well be nearly as old as time itself.
- The movies add Jetfire to the list. Apart from being one of the first Transformers to ever live, his aging is explained as from being starved of energon. He even comments that his father was the first wheel. He might just be going senile. The Fallen, one of the original Thirteen, is even older and is still spry from better care over the years.
- The Nibblonians from Futurama have very long lifespans. Nibbler is at least 1000 years old and still seems "youthful" for his species.
- Inexplicably, the Nibblonian race itself is seventeen years older than the universe.
- You don't need much of an explanation when you're able to swallow yourself out of existence.
- Inverted in the ThunderCats (2011) episode "Song of the Petalars." The Petalars, a race of Lilliputian flower like creatures have incredibly brief lifespans compared to the titular Thundercats, only living for about a day before they wither away, but as Cheetara points out, this is entirely relative. Thanks to perceptual Time Dissonance, to a Petalar, that single day is an incredibly rich, full and meaningful lifetime.
- There is also the bird Filburt had Rocko watch over in Rocko's Modern Life at one time where it turns out that Turdy (the bird's name) and its species only live for weeks, though it's subverted in a way for Turdy when it's revealed that Heffer accidentally sat on Turdy, killing him.
- A short stop motion film called "Das Rad" involved two perspective of time between two sentient piles of rocks named Hew and Kew, and the humans who, over thousands of years, progress from cavemen to building a future metropolis which rot and fade away at the end of the film. Being rocks, Hew and Kew act and talk so slowly that centuries pass during their conversations and the humans who pass by (which are barely visible to the rocks due to the Time Dissonance) see them as ordinary piles of unmoving rocks. At one point, Kew picks up a broken wooden wheel discarded next to him by a human pulling a rickshaw passing by and inspects it in curiosity before it rots and biodegrades into nothingness.
- Inverted in Adventure Time: it's heavily implied that Finn the Human and Jake the Dog were infants at the same time, Finn's canine adoptive parents died of old age leaving his older brother (now approaching middle age while Finn's barely an adolescent) to raise him. On the other hand, it's unclear just how rapidly Jake actually ages. Their dad Joshua did not die of natural causes he was killed by a monster in a dungeon he built for his sons' training. Jake isn't exactly an ordinary dog either, since he's the result of a shapeshifting alien creature implanting an egg in Joshua's head.
- In the BIONICLE storyline, although there are no humans with which one can compare lifespan, almost everything lives for undetermined amounts of time. Every Matoran on Mata Nui has been there for one thousand years and lived on Metru Nui for who-knows how long before that, Toa Lesovikk has been wandering for at least 100,000 years, and Karzahni is almost as old as the universe itself. Toa do not seem to age, but instead turn into somewhat more decrepit Turaga after sacrificing their Toa energy (sort of an example of Evolutionary Levels).
- Understandable, since they were only partly organic Mechanical Lifeforms. When mostly organic characters have been introduced with a similar lifespan, things got weirder. Some, like Gresh, were still seen as youngsters by others, despite being at least 100 000 years old!
- This concept is the main feature in the Older Than Dirt legend, The Epic of Gilgamesh.
- Star Wars. Yoda: "When 900 years old you reach, look as good you will not."
- The Danbooru pool Tragedy of Long Life is about the heartbreak of long-lived characters outliving friends and loved ones. You may need tissues. (NSFW due to ads)
- In Real Life, some species of tree can live for thousands of years. The oldest known tree on Earth is Methuselah, which is estimated at 4,841 years old. To put it into perspective, it predates almost all but the very oldest surviving written records, it predates almost all of the surviving religions, and (barely) predates the construction of the pyramids. Before Methuselah claimed the title, Prometheus was the world's oldest tree, at over 5,000 years old, until it was chopped down in 1964. As a protective measure, Methuselah's exact location has not been revealed to the public. The most bizarre part is, Methuselah is still fruitful, producing viable seeds each season.
- At least one other tree in Methuselah's grove has been found to be older, but its exact location was never revealed for the exact same reason.
- Clonal colonies of aspen trees, coral polyps, and fungal mycelia can potentially live as long if not longer, if the deaths of individual trees/polyps/patches are disregarded and the lifespan of the colony as a whole is considered. Some networks of fungal strands are thought to date back to the end of the last Ice Age, when the forests with which they share a symbiosis first became established. One such plant, Pando, the ''Trembling Giant'', dates back 80,000 years.
- King Clone, the creosote bush that's estimated at over 11,000 years old.
- There was a ginkgo tree in Kamakura (at the Hachimanguu Shrine) that was over 2,000 years old. The tree was uprooted and destroyed in a storm in March, 2010.
- Another tree, also named Methusaleh, spent nearly 2,000 years as a seed before it was planted and grew, to the astonishment of the botanists studying it. Why such a big deal? It was the last surviving specimen of Israeli Date Palm, which was previously thought to be extinct.
- Although they're very poorly studied, it's been estimated from their growth rates and metabolism that blue whales can live well into their third century.
- At least one bowhead whale was killed recently that was found to have part of a harpoon from the 1800s embedded in its body.
- Many sea creatures can live a very long time thanks to their slow metabolic rates.
- Some claim the jellyfish Turritopsis nutricula is essentially immortal. After reaching adulthood and reproducing the jellies can then revert to childhood and do it all over again. So far, no one really knows how many cycles they can go through; theoretically, an endless amount.
- Some species of turtle can live for more than a century, and there are claims of twice that.
- Same goes with the tuatara, a reptile from New Zealand.
- The oldest surviving bacteria are 250 million years old. (Although they've been frozen their whole lives.)
- If one considers the two bacteria that result from a bacteria dividing to be the same bacteria, all bacteria on Earth date back to almost the beginning of life.
- Due to a quirk of their genetics, lobsters cannot die of old age. As they age, they just grow larger and larger. Being too large is a serious disadvantage when it comes to competing for food supplies against other, tougher predators, so few lobsters live past 15 years. Theoretically, though, there could be centuries-old gigantic lobsters scuttling about on the bottom of the ocean floor.
- Saying that lobsters cannot die of old age is not true. Due to the Square/Cube Law, it'll eventually reach a size where it can no longer function properly.
- Deep-sea tubeworms about methane "cold seeps" have been calculated to live for more than 200 years, based on their glacially-slow metabolism and the time it takes them to build up the structure of their tubes.
- There's a potted cycad in Kew Gardens that's older than American Independence.
- Undersea bacteria living in seafloor sediments have rates of division so slow they divide once 1000 years or more.