Livia is a young woman who lives in the manifold of Westerhaven, on a miniature ringworld-like structure orbiting the sun near Jupiter. Westerhaven isn't a place; it's a set of attitudes and preferences--a customization of Livia's senses that she shares with its other 'citizens.' But Livia is different from her peers; she has seen the world of unfiltered reality, and suffered deep trauma from the experience.
Still, Livia's strong. She benefits from having a very different view of what it means to be human, than we or our ancestors have had. She doesn't view herself as a single thing--a unified person--but rather as the the sum of a very large collection of parts: thoughts, actions, effects in the world, even other people are part of her, as far as she's concerned.
Livia's view of her self is enabled by high technology that's just becoming available to you and me. But she doesn't view this mediating technology as a cheat--as something that gets in between her and reality. She thinks of it as something that makes reality more accessible, while to do without it--to revert to "crippleview" and use only the naturally-evolved senses available to us since the ice ages--would be to lose much of herself.
One way to look at how Livia thinks is to consider the problem of mortality--of death--and her people's answer to it.
Serena Elesz, the expedition’s leader, briefed them before they set out. “The last drummer died a week ago,” she said from her perch on the step of the lead carriage. “Officially, their consensual reality ends with that death. In reality, everyone who shared some of their values carries a template of the drummers’ manifold with them, and these templates still have some authority over inscape and the tech locks. It is up to living representatives of those values to decide the fate of this manifold and its physical manifestations.” She meant the land and those aspects of the city that were physically real.
There are a number of immortal characters in LOM: Raven, Maren Ellis, and Choronzon, to name the most prominent--and possibly Livia Kodaly herself. As well, in Westerhaven, there are no elderly people; one's apparent age is a matter of personal style, like how you wear your hair.
So far this is a standard science-fictional future. At first glance Westerhaven looks a lot like Iain Banks's Culture. In that and similar SF universes, humanity has eliminated senescence except as a personal choice, and permanent death too is voluntary. Uploading technologies, genetics, nanotech etc. are the enablers of this future. Its aim is the immortality of the individual consciousness, sometimes achieved at the expense of transfering that consciousness into a non-biological medium.
This is a likely future. It's also an extremely modern future. --And if you've been reading my stuff lately you'll know that I use the word 'modern' as a pejorative, similar to "Oh, he's so medieval!"
When I say that the immortality of consciousness is a modern idea, I mean that it preserves the essential alienation of modernism. This vision of immortality identifies the person with the subjective 'I', which by necessity exists in opposition to everything else. There's me, and then there's the rest of the world; the subject versus the object, if you will. Science fiction pushes this dichotomy until it becomes almost a parody: 'I' becomes only some vaguely-defined principle of consciouness which is separable from the body (soul, anybody?) and in fact separating the 'I' from the body becomes not only reasonable, but inevitable. Martin Luther's 'Brother Ass' is left in the dust as we ascend on wings of data into the rapture of the nerds.
The logic of this process leads us inexorably to devalue the material world--indeed everything other than consciousness--or, to put it another way, perpetuates and infinitely intensifies the traditional loathing of the physical that we've inherited from our Sky-Father religions. A horror of the body; a loathing of matter that's not been transformed into 'smart matter' by nanotech; a hatred of the vast silence of the cosmos; a terror of losing one's carefully nurtured identity--these are the sensibilities that the merely immortal will inherit.
If your aim is to preserve your consciousness forever and at all costs, eventually you will come to perceive the entire universe as your enemy, for it exists in permanent opposition to your 'I' and is eternally trying to destroy it. You, or the universe: one has to go.
"The point is I want to live forever," said Aaron. "Livia, I don’t want to die.”
She looked puzzled. “You don’t. We don’t.”
“Ah, but we do. You and I have both seen it first-hand.”
She winced. “But Aaron, that was only the death of the body. The person is more than that; the Self gets smeared out across the world just by being in Societies, having anima...”
“So they tell us,” he said. “I don’t believe it.”
Shocked, she stood and went to stand next to him. “Are you denying your anima, your presence in other people’s Societies--all your accomplishments?”
He hesitated, and in that hesitation she saw his answer.
Livia Kodaly does not live in a modern future. People of all ages die in Westerhaven all the time. Nonetheless, she considers herself to have access to a real immortality, partly because she has a different view of who and what 'she' is. Livia's 'I' is radically extended into the environment around her by her implant technology, the tech locks, and inscape. Her identity is smeared across time and space by a suite of technologies and a philosophy of identity that tells her that she is her accomplishments in the world. Her consciousness is one of the precious things she's accomplished, but she knows she has had many effects on the world unconsciously. Her agents--the 'anima' who represent and pretend to be her--are just as much a part of her as her own thoughts. This is because they act in and have influence on the real world. Those parts of her that are 'out of sight' are no less real than the parts within her consciousness.
Livia's view of herself contrasts the bad faith of the modernist version of the Self--specifically, the modern Self's suspicion that the real world doesn't actually exist. Livia knows that she is real to other people and that her actions are real to them--even actions taken on her behalf by her agents. Just as words of support written in a letter to a friend become an objective part of the world that is also a part of you, her agents partake in the identities of both her Self and the world. What is important is the Livia that lives in the world; her accomplishments are Livia Kodaly. Livia's consciousness is a particularly precious and privileged accomplishment, but it is not the only one she can lay claim to.
Scientifically, Livia's idea of the Self dovetails with the extended mind concept championed by Andy Clark and others. It's far from being vague or mystical. It is her acceptance of the fact that her consciousness is integrated into, and a function of, her environment, that gives Livia a different and new vision of what immortality means. It's not just 'living on through your works' though that's how I've characterized it so far; it also involves Metzinger's idea of 'being no one'--the idea that the separation between Self and World is a neurological accomplishment rather than an objective fact. Westerhaven's implant and inscape technologies allow Livia to partially lift the veil and look behind the cognitive sleight-of-hand that makes her consciousness seem separate from the objective world. The result is a kind and degree of self-knowledge that we moderns can't even imagine (I know we can't, because there is no literature out there describing it.) This one-two punch of a different philosophy of the Self and new enabling technologies gives Livia an experience of immortality that doesn't crudely equate to perpetuation of consciousness, but also does not preserve the I/world split. Nor is it mystical, but utterly concrete.
(Major spoiler follows)
By the end of Lady of Mazes it is no longer clear whether Livia's consciousness is still alive. That which Livia considered her Self still exists, however, and may be temporally immortal.
This idea is neither an attempt to define our way out of using technology to achieve physical immortality--because that also exists in Westerhaven--nor is it an attempt to revive some older religion's notion of immortality in a new disguise. As Brian Cantwell Smith says, "No direction leads out of the world." In Westerhaven, technology and philosophy make clear what that fact means. That is all, and that is all that Livia needs.
“Follow me, follow me,” Livia sang, as she walked backward in front of him. She sang of change and growing old, and of new life and children. The song was about losing things, and rediscovery. It was about accepting the overwhelming abundance of the world, not trying to reduce it to one thing, one place or one law.
And as she sang she began to fade; and as she faded into the bright air, the song faded with her. The last words Doran heard were, “But I will come back to you. For whatever you cast into the sea, in the turn of its long years the sea will cast it up again.”
Then she was gone, leaving him alone with the whirring of the bees.