also known as: What football will look like in the future, by Jon Bois
I came across this speculative multimedia science fiction story quite by chance. A post congratulating 17776 on its second birthday popped up on one of my social media accounts, and I wondered what it was about.
It's a simple story, told through various forms of visual media, about the nature of life, time, death, and uncertainty. (And American football.) It takes place in the far distant future, after the end of the world, when no one ever has to die, or age, or change.
Eternity has come, in other words. And it is boring. So people do what people have always done: they find ways to pass time.
But how do you pass the time when you have an endless supply of it?
The main point of view we have is through the 'eye' of a space probe that has been hurtling through deep space for so long that it gained sentience. It's not the only one - there are three others (though we mainly have the voices of two others; Hubble makes a cameo), and they can communicate with the rest of Earth or watch the games unfolding over millennia.
I found this story incredibly compelling because it is full of questions, set in an age when no one wants to find out any more answers. What makes a person a person? Why do people watch pointless games? What is the Bulb? What would you do if you have all the time in the world and then more of it? Imagine: when there is no more disease, or death, or decay, the mere existence of doubt and uncertainty is all that's left to drive people to keep going. When nothing dies, nothing changes, nothing grows. How much further can you push yourself to make your mark, when you don't feel the edge of Death's scythe on the back of your neck?
It reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Terry Pratchett: "What don't die can't live. What don't live can't change. What don't change can't learn. The smallest creature that dies in the grass knows more than you." (Lords and Ladies)
So few of us like to think about the inevitability of death. Yet, it is the prospect, the gift of death, that gets us to truly live. While 17776 ends on a note of hope - that despite the millennia that they have lived, humanity will still find new connections - I find the prospect of eternity truly bleak.
To paraphrase another of my favorite pieces of media, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Death is a gift.
Death is our gift.