I love science. Or at least, I love the idea of science. If I truly loved it, I’d no doubt be a scientist. Sadly, I don’t have the attention to detail or the propensity for taking notes and making observations a true scientists needs. So I’m happy to let other people do all that, and I’ll play around with their results through my books.
One theme I’ve found cropping up more and more in my writing is that of aging, and overcoming it. The human lifespan is limited and there’s no guarantee (even though I believe in reincarnation) that someone will come back and do it all again. This has become more and more of a preoccupation for me, I guess, since the wrinkles started appearing and the menopause began kicking in. Life is finite. Death is, as I’m often told, the one true certainty in life. Pretty depressing.
I got around to watching Futurescape with James Woods last night. This particular episode explored the aging process, and the breakthroughs scientists are making today which makes science fiction look old fashioned. In a couple of decades, it will be possible to stop people aging, at least for a while. Just by taking a pill.
The show didn’t really cover the ethical considerations of overpopulation, although it did suggest poison parties, where those young-looking, beautiful people who had lived too long wanted to end it all. As things stand today, we haven’t got anywhere near that point, because it seems there is a maximum age limit, 115. So we will still die, eventually. We haven’t escaped death, just extended life. Or maybe we have. Maybe, instead of continuing in a body that is constantly trying to break down, we could record our memories and upload them into a virtual reality where we can live forever, no limits.
None of these ideas will be strange to those science fiction readers and writers who have already explored these avenues through fiction. What I found exciting about it, though, is that these science fiction themes are almost reality. It’s almost not science fiction any more. It’s almost science fact.
While I want to wholeheartedly embrace my extended life, I do have reservations. Personally, I can’t ever see me growing so bored with my life that I’ll want to end it on purpose, but beyond staying fit and healthy, I’m due to die in a couple or three decades whatever I do. Moot point, and it sounds pretty grim to me. Personally, I’d like to stick around a bit longer, thanks.
Wouldn’t we all?
But will we even get that chance? Unless it can be proved that, by everyone taking an anti-aging pill it will be cheaper in the long run than letting everyone go through the aging and dying process, it won’t be available on the NHS. It will be an elite drug, for the vain, rich and powerful alone. It brings up the question of what people will do in order to get their monthly dose of youth. How powerful will an individual’s drive to survive be? How will it divide society and who will control that all-important monthly dose?
And what will happen to the world population? Will it continue expanding until we can no longer feed ourselves? Or will we stop having children, perhaps in exchange for our continued health and good looks? Roll up, roll up! Get your youth drug here. Free to non-parents! Will we all get ourselves sterilized, to the point where the human race eventually becomes extinct, by its own hand? Will our hunger for life ultimately mean death for our species?
All this is inspiration for a writer. What would it be like to live in a world suffering from the worst of a dozen possible scenarios, all stemming from that hour-long show? Science offers us the best possible outcome, a writer offers us the worst. That’s what makes stories. That’s what makes a book.