“Dio,” Damon Knight, 1957 — (Alternate title: “The Dying Man”) The world is composed of two immortal classes–the pampered Players and the responsible Planners and their students. Their lives of hedonism and leisurely scholarship, respectively, are progressing as planned until one man, Dio, begins to age due to a rare susceptibility to disease. His ex-girlfriend, Claire, is drawn away from the vacuous world of the Players to learn more about the concept of death, about the bio-engineers who gave humanity “homeostasis,” and about real attachment and intimacy.
Dio becomes an object of study for the Planners, a hidden spectacle. His new sense of mortality deepens his appreciation of his work, time, and history, as well as artifacts, tangible objects, and tools that break and shape the material of his sculptures. Even as his obsesses at his work, Dio is plagued by a feeling of something “very huge, and cold” coming for him on the horizon. He gradually falls into a melancholy and becomes an architect of “Avoided Places.”
At times, Claire feels a desire to connect with Dio, perhaps even have a child, if that were possible. She has an urge to run, to take Dio away, as this is a Player’s usual response to unpleasantness; but, as Dio reminds her, they can’t outrun time. Something is coming for him. Dio’s friend, a fellow Planner, convinces her to leave Dio for his own good, to save his pride and to let him age in peace. Claire leaves for a time, but her memories compel her to return. She finds that Dio is somewhat terrified of death. “Perhaps if I had grown up getting used to the idea, it would be easier now.” He implores her to leave, as he is just a man and she an “immortal goddess.”
Dio passes. A quote from Empedocles is inscribed in his tombstone:
Weak and narrow are the powers implanted in the limbs of men; many the woes that fall on them and blunt the edge of thought; short is the measure of the life in death through which they toil. Then are they borne away; like smoke they vanish into air; and what they dream they know is but the little that each hath stumbled upon in wandering about the world. Yet boast they all that they have learned the whole. Vain fools! For what that is, no eye hath seen, no ear hath heard, nor can it be conceived by the mind of man.
Claire finds it difficult to accept his death, and often expects him to return. Her thoughts are drawn to questions that her society never asks aloud, questions such as, what happened to her parents? What happens to all the people in her world who simply disappear? Do they all reach a point at which they can no longer endure life? At the conclusion, she dreams of Dio’s smiling face and hears him whisper to her: “Some day.”
Comments: Read in Time of Passage. Themes of youth, mortality, history, beauty, homeostasis, bioengineering, difference, death, suicide, artists.
Author: Wikipedia: “Damon Francis Knight (September 19, 1922 – April 15, 2002) was an American science fiction author, editor, critic and fan. His forte was short stories and he is widely acknowledged as having been a master of the genre.”