Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane, August 2015, I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. This is event #4084. The link is provided below…
Super Science Saturday: The Future of Aging
Will stem cells and nanotechnology have an impact on how we age? If we live longer, will the quality of our lives be better? Will we really be able to eliminate the diseases attributed to age? Or will they still be around? Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe
“Dr. Schmitter-Edgecombe…a professor in the Department of Psychology at Washington State University…Ph.D. in clinical psychology with specialized training in neuropsychology…adult learning disability, ADHD…traumatic brain injury, dementia, multiple sclerosis, cerebrovascular accidents…the consequences of cognitive impairment, management and treatment planning, and treatment effectiveness…rehabilitation…research with…dementia populations…”
So…is science fiction dealing with aging? Yes.
Is it dealing with aging WELL? I’m not sure it is…
As a near-sixth-decade “big, old, fat, white guy”, I can safely say that I have been dealing with aging since I turned 20 – the age at which the brain, lungs, and skin stop getting better and better. In the 30s, the hair, muscles, fertility, and bones begin their long slide into decay. The 40s see the decline of the eyes, heart, and the teeth…after that, it pretty much is a wash. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1035037/Old-time-When-body-really-starts-going-downhill.html)
The most obvious look at aging is John Scalzi’s OLD MAN universe novels. All of them are superb, but I would actually raise the concern that they don’t so much deal with aging as sidestep it. From the Wikipedia summary: “…a 75-year-old… joins the Colonial Defense Forces...Following…psychological and physical tests…[the] mind is…transferred to a…younger…self…enhanced musculature, green skin…cat-like eyes…enormous strength and dexterity, nanobot-enhanced artificial blood, enhanced eyesight and other senses, and…a neural interface that, among other capabilities…”
Oddly, if you do a search on Google for “science fiction and aging”, you come up with mostly Golden Age Science Fiction…hmmm…I tried “science fiction and old age” and I come up with immortality and rapid aging…HORRORS! (Remember the STAR TREK: Original Series episode, “The Deadly Years”? Kirk, Scotty, and McCoy get old fast – and then are rescue and become young again! In “Miri”, the ultimate in terror is reaching puberty and turning into a elderly MONSTER!)
The online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction has hundreds of entries, from “10th Planet” to Zoos and looking at everything from Women in Science Fiction, Apes in Science Fiction, Psi, Dream Hacking, Galactic Empires, and something called “Pariah Elite”…but no aging, or senescence anywhere.
I managed to hook Stephen King’s INSOMNIA, Brian W. Aldiss’ GREYBEARD as relatively "current" novels that have aging as part of the theme…but that’s pretty much it.
The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Volume 2 (2005, Ed by Gary Westfahl) notes, “…old age surely merits more examination in science fiction and fantasy than it currently receives.”
Again, I note that while there is a plenitude of SF out there that deals with immortality, the Singularity, age reversal, and “repair” of the ravages of aging, as a community, we could perhaps spend a bit more time at exploring what it means to age in the future and look at HOW that will happen, rather than assuming that we can !poof!, skip to the solution and simply assume than someone’s gonna find a way to turn off those nasty telomeres so we can just skip the whole balding thing and go straight to immortality.
It seems to me as well (as a BOFWG) writer, that I’ve done my fair share of avoiding the issue of aging in the future. On Lois McMaster Bujold’s recent book in the Vorkosigan series, on February 17, 2016 SusanS (from her GoodReads review) noted, “I found this book to be a charming, beautiful reflection on grief, aging, love and parenting. The plot is heavy on relationships and light on swashbuckling action, but it is still filled with trademark Bujold humor and wisdom.”
This would have been a fascinating discussion to attend -- I certainly HOPE it was well-attended! If you know of other SF novels that deal specifically (if not exclusively) with aging well, let me know.
I DO know that we need more SF books on aging. Maybe more than we need more books about the “singularity”…