First of all I’d like to say thank you to Richard for the freedom to write about whatever takes my fancy, which in this case is about living forever (and mailing lists).
Some months ago, I was commissioned by Linux User & Developer Magazine for short pieces of science fiction to feature on their inside back page. At the same time I met Aubrey De Grey, who describes himself as “spearheading the global crusade to defeat aging.”
Now, living forever is a familiar theme sci-fi and one that I’ve explored in other short pieces, such as The Golden Veneer of Silence. But, what struck me during my encounter with Aubrey and subsequent conversations was that nobody ever really talked about what age you should stop ageing. So I developed an idea where the science that stops you getting any older has the side-effect of halting you gaining any further wisdom.
This is where my mailing list comes in. I asked them some simple questions via survey monkey – age, sex, their preferred age to stop ageing and why. The results were fascinating. With a rough 50:50 split between male and female and a broad range of ages, the vast majority wanted to stop ageing a few years younger than their current age. Except for the under 18s who wanted to be over 21. Some of the reasons for their choices were also illuminating, especially around reproduction and its associated physical aspects. Using these responses, I wrote the short piece of fiction below – Happy Forever Day.
One of the great things about being an indie author is the freedom you have with your work. In this case, the magazine didn’t purchase the rights so I’ve been able to include it in my forthcoming collection, Biohacked & Begging and Other Stories.
Back to the mailing list: I’ve changed it recently so it’s no longer publicly available (against the advice of many indie marketing gurus) and transformed it into something called PITH. It’s open to anyone, but not advertised (feel free to ask me about it). However, I still like hearing from people, especially on the topic of living forever, so please feel free to comment below with any thoughts you might have.
You can also find me at www.stephenoram.net
The future is ours and it’s up for grabs… Immerse yourself in the future of biohacking and implants, genetic modification, blockchain micro-transactions and futuristic dating-apps with the author of Eating Robots, Stephen Oram. Prodding and poking the possible in Vol. 2 of this Nudge the Future series, Oram starts with another foray into the world of Unified Sentience and ends with virtual reality for babies and biohacked fish. With sharpness and wit, these sci-fi shorts will grab your imagination and refuse to let go
Happy Forever Day
Uncle Bill is the first to arrive.
With the endless energy of a sixteen-year-old, he bursts into the room. ‘Party!’ he screams.
I wish he wouldn’t. It’s hard enough to celebrate your fifty-third birthday, every single year, without having the added weight of trying to ignore the enthusiasm of your younger older uncle – I still haven’t worked out what to call my ancestors who chose to stop ageing at a younger age than I did. He’s never going to grow up, and any experience he gains won’t turn into wisdom because of the strange effects of renewing brain cells. But knowing he’s never going to change doesn’t make him any easier to be around.
Next is Joanna, my ninety-five-year-old granddaughter. ‘Grandpa,’ she says, giving me a beautifully wrapped present. ‘Happy Forever Day.’
‘It’s about time you chose yours,’ I reply. ‘You can’t put it off for ever.’
She lowers herself carefully on to the nearest chair. ‘I know, I know. Well, I can put it off for as long as I live. Pass me a gin.’
I pour her a strong gin and tonic, just the way she likes it, and wait for the alcohol to work its way into her blood before returning to the perennial topic: Her Forever Day.
‘It’s not really fair on the rest of us, is it, my darling?’
‘Oh, for goodness’ sake, stop it. Think of all the knowledge I retain and the wisdom I’m accumulating. Why would I ever choose to lose that?’
‘Err… because you’re a health burden.’
‘I’m not that decrepit, you know. Quit fussing.’
‘Joanna, why won’t you choose?’
‘I would have stopped when menstruation ended and contraception became a thing of the past, but I like getting older. It makes me feel alive.’
Every year we have this conversation – since she turned fifty-three and overtook me. As time goes by, it’s become easier and easier to think of her as my grandmother rather than the granddaughter she really is. And every year she respects me less.
Uncle Bill bounds across the room and slaps me on the back. ‘Forever is a long time,’ he says. ‘It’s a really long time, so let’s enjoy.’ He glances down at Joanna and opens his mouth to speak, but stops himself. There’s never been a good conversation between them. They are definitely not the sort of opposites that attract. He hovers, balancing on one foot and then the other, his eyes pretending to scan the room.
Joanna stands up. It’s painful to watch her body coping with old age. It’s why most people avoid her. That, and the fact that she plays the cantankerous old woman a little too well. Thankfully, she’s fairly straight with me. ‘I’ll leave you young ’uns to it,’ she says and raises her glass. ‘Happy Forever Day.’
Uncle Bill leans in close. ‘It’s not right, is it?’ he whispers.
‘What?’ I ask.
He’s got a point, but it’s a clumsy way of expressing it. Immature. I like to think I hold my head up high and support everyone’s choice, no matter what they choose. But he’s right. I don’t. None of us do.
‘Her. That great-great-niece of mine. She shouldn’t keep ageing. We’ll have to pay for her medical bills. It’s so embarrassing, having an Ancient. Not to mention the shame of a funeral, if she lets it get that far.’
He takes a small round container from his jacket pocket. It can’t be. Can it? He wouldn’t. Would he? He sees me looking and winks. ‘The clinic,’ he says. ‘If she won’t choose her date, I’ll choose it for her.’
‘No…’ But he’s gone, weaving between the guests, heading towards Joanna.
I can’t quite make it out, but I’m sure he slips something from his container into her gin as he passes by.
She lifts her glass from the table, swallows the last mouthful and begins to sway.
As she faints, Uncle Bill steps forward, grabs her under the armpits and helps her outside.
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Have a great week,