Sunday, August 3, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: The Resurrection McGuffin

Your family has an artifact that can bring someone back from the dead. No time limit. Usable only once. Possibly there's a need for some suitable ritual or sacrifice to make it work, but nothing that raises huge moral dilemmas (at least, not in most of your family members). It comes with a "side effects" warning, but it's not clear what these might be. Perfect health and a certain amount of youthening, however, are guaranteed - so even someone who died of a chronic illness or old age would be worth bringing back.

Scenario 1: Anyone in the family can use it, but only with the full consent of all members of the family. Therefore, it is never used; there is always one hold-out. That's a satirical short story about family politics. Perhaps the protagonist is left alone, after a disaster that kills off the rest of the family, staring at the artifact with too many names to choose among.

Scenario 2: Only one person in the family can activate its power, which passes to a new member after the death of the old one. The person with the power right now is your parent. Are you more careless as an adolescent, because of course if you die in a car crash your mother would bring you back? Are you more careful because you are sure she likes a sibling more than you; or because your other parent is in a dangerous occupation and you want the option to be available in case the worst happens? Does your parent routinely warn you that if you die of stupidity she won't bring you back? Do you go into a heroic profession yourself, secure in the knowledge that, if you die pulling children out of a burning building, it'll be all right in the end?

And then you die, and are brought back. The artifact can never be used again. You are ten years younger than you were and the side effects include partial emotional memory loss - you have no sense of any connection to your family, except the one who brought you back.

That's a novel.

Scenario 3: You are in sole charge of the artifact and, in a surge of altruism, patriotism, or sheer fanboyish enthusiasm, you resurrect your favorite historical personage. Who will inevitably disappoint you in some ways. Wacky hijinx ensue. Farce, satire, or deep philosophical humor.

Scenario 4: You learn of the artifact when it comes into your possession on the death of the previous holder, who has left it to you in her will. It comes with a note in which she explains how it works, and why she never used it. Maybe there's a notebook, a kind of mortology, detailing deaths in the family back several generations, with notes in the handwriting of generations of ancestors, from detailed philosophical musings to a cryptic "No," beside each one. A few are labeled "Maybe." For the most part, it's being held against an untimely death, and there haven't been that many in your family since these notes began to be taken. Do you do the same? Or do you have a death in mind, all ready to undo?

Scenario 5: You are holding the artifact when your spouse is reported MIA from a theater of war; or your child goes missing. You hang onto it for years, not wanting to waste the use if this person is still alive - somewhere - or afraid that, if dead, he will be resurrected in the same place that he is lost now, and the unknown side effects will keep him from returning to you.

Scenario 6: ????? You've already thought of Scenario 6, haven't you?


  1. There are some excellent possibilities for "the perfect crime", assuming the family in question is short of cash and not over-burdened with moral sensibilities. The gizmo could be used for a life insurance scam, of course, or to create an unbreakable alibi (you couldn't have committed the crime if you'd just been cremated. could you?). It would help if at least some of the family members are none-too-bright (and/or plagued by mutual suspicions), allowing the whole scheme to backfire in some spectacularly entertaining way.

  2. It'd have to be a really big score to be worth blowing the only shot with it? On the other hand, if the family members in question are none-too-bright...