Category Archives: Old Age
…or at least the happy little solarpunk short-short they star in is free!
I have often said that I hope that someone — anyone, government or private or whatever — builds a really decent retirement home on the moon or in geosynchronous orbit or at L5 in time for me to retire to it.
This is a story about two people who are retiring to just that sort of place. It’s a good idea for a few reasons — the reduced ‘gravity’ of a spinning habitat or the real low-gee of the moon may be enough to avoid the health troubles of microgravity while also avoiding the health troubles of living in full Earth gravity as an elder. Good times!
In the story, Brittany is happy to move to orbit. Dustin, however, is really unhappy at the idea of leaving Earth behind forever. Resolving that conflict forms the base of this happy little story.
Give it a peep — because it is FREE, and because my career as an author is still getting off the ground and every single one of you who reads it increases my chances of being seen by new readers by making my work more visible to everyone.
Your support is VERY MUCH appreciated! (If you’d like to lend even more support, I’m on Patreon, too)
Here’s where to find it:
Thank you for reading!
A little over a year ago I cooked up this little free short (you can read it here, complete and no download needed) in connection with a creative writing class in the MA program I’m finishing up now.
The protagonist is Ms. Gaither, an eighty-five year old woman, and she came out of more than just the proverbial sugar and spice and whatever we associate with little girls who grow up to become elder women. Wisdom and medication, I suppose?
As a character, she was born from something I have plenty of. Worry. My worry shaped a big chunk of her, and worry is something that, if I’m not careful, can dominate my mood and thoughts and pretty much everything in my life. I’m a bit less consumed by worry than I was a year ago. It’s still there, and some of it is still justified, but I’ve managed to let it become less of a distraction and more of a constructive caution. But I have always worried too much and I probably always will.
She also comes from my love of history — I probably spent an hour looking at vintage soda vending machines in connection with a scene in this story, for example. The first three minutes of it were necessary, the rest was just me having fun.There are a few other things in there.
The science fiction (maybe just science — plenty of debate to find, though I’m not well equipped to judge how seriously it’s taken) notion of alternate timelines, or maybe the science fantasy notion of psychic perception of the future — it’s unclear, deliberately. My mild fear of growing old and feeble (one of my hips is already feeble, how soon will the rest of me follow?), and my greater fear of *not* growing old and feeble because, you know, that damn death thing. Ick.
And the whole premise of the story, as well as Ms. Gaither’s role in it and her role in the lives of the father and daughter she meets, come out of something that comes to me as naturally as breathing: considering risk. It goes hand in hand with being, as my grandmother used to say, a “worry-wart.” When we drive farther than the store down the street part of me considers that we might break down, so I don’t dress to drive to the store, I dress to walk back or change a tire. I’m the one who checks batteries in the smoke detector and worries about the lint buildup in the dryer because fire. I’m first to move something away from a space heater or follow the little ones closely at the beach whether the waves are heavy or not. None of this is to say my wife and older stepson are careless. They’re not. Nor is it to say I never take risks, even foolish ones. I have and I do. I’m just the one who thinks of all of the unlikely things that can go wrong (which brings anxiety) and all of the unlikely things that could go right (which brings longing over stuff that’s probably not happening).
Pretty much every time someone writes, they leave a chunk of their psyche on the page. Sometimes writers who write about awful stuff get accused of believing or wishing they could do the awful stuff on that basis, which is very often wrong.But the writer is in there somewhere. Look for them when you read.
(This post first appeared on my Patreon page on May 6th. Patrons get to see most posts three days early and new ebooks THIRTY days early. Plus they get a FREE copy even if I’m charging for it elsewhere. They’re also a hell of a big help to my household, a boon to me as a writer and a human being, and wonderful people. So, you know… *nudge*)
First, two things: this post appeared on my Patreon page on the 21st, and if you’re counting words the-hyphenated-ones-count-as-one. You’ll have to decide if you think I cheated or not. I say not. If you’d like to comment, I’ll politely discuss it with you. 🙂
Now, about the story:
“Uploading,” the idea of rendering the human mind faithfully into a computer “brain” in order to cheat death and transfer one’s consciousness into an undying android body, has been a thing in science fiction for quite a while now. It also has various analogs, by the way, in fantasy: the lich, the golem, the vampire, the less-desirable and conscious ghouls and zombies, and so forth.
Fantasy and science fiction have a lot in common, but that’s a post for another day — though perhaps it’s a bit obvious to spend too much time on. Those genres are commonly lumped together in advertisement, bookstores, and conventions because many people understand the basic commonality.
Back to the Upload. It is often the immortality of science fiction, become even more common than the prolonging of biological lifespan a la Larry Niven’s “Boosterspice” or Frank Herbert’s “Melange,” or any number of other examples. Biological life may be stubborn and persistent, but in comparison to a machine the human body is more fragile and harder to repair. There may be exceptions to the case (an electronic brain meeting with a Carrington Event, for example), but that is our general perception.
The Upload is usually a positive in science fiction. The mind is preserved, the Reaper is cheated, and even if the Uploaded Being bittersweetly remembers the foibles of biological life the centuries of life and experience gained outweigh the negatives.
Of course, just as we say a dark cloud often has a silver lining, Cloud Nine may carry within it a negative.
We rarely think of Uploading early in life. While civilizations purely of artificial intelligences are sometimes imagined, I can’t recall seeing a science fictional vision of a society that uploads while young as a matter of course. We imagine futures in which a person lives a long biological life, and then, when the body begins to fail from sheer age or obstructed arteries or cancer or so forth, transfers to the hale mechanical shell much like a phoenix, leaving the wrinkled ash behind.
Now imagine a person who has arranged to upload at age seventy-five. There are many reasons to have such an arrangement. Should a capitalism substantially like our present arrangements persist, a whole life might be needed to save the money to make a down payment on a durable mechanical body and computer brain. A person might want to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh for as long as possible. A contractual arrangement might keep a person flesh until an agreed-upon age.
But a decade before the arranged upload, Alzheimers disease strikes. The arrangement is kept, but is there much of the mind to transfer? Do the losses of memory transfer, is what is lost still lost? Maybe. Probably, I’d guess. And if a seventy-four year old Alzheimers patient is a hazard to have running about unsupervised, and they certainly can be a danger to themselves or even others, a strong android body would even more certainly be.
Many other things could happen. A destructive stroke, a brain injury, a descent into murderous or otherwise dangerous criminality, the onset of severe mental illness, a corruption of data during transfer, a flaw of construction in the new computer brain or in its basic operating system. A virus designed to corrupt Uploads.
And then what do you do? If you know that the mind you’re uploading will be dangerous in its new body, or if you discover it is dangerous after the fact, the laws of the future still might compel the upload to be done or the uploaded being to be preserved.
If you can’t legally wipe the mind clean and pronounce the being dead and gone, the only viable option would seem to be to disable the body. Turn the body off, or even remove the brain and put it on the shelf, free to run its program but unable to interact with the world, perhaps even blind and deaf and unfeeling.
What would it be like, to be an uploaded consciousness locked in a silent, still body or a disembodied brain, warped by disease or illness or injury or mischief?
Would it be hell?
It might be hell, or nightmare, or centuries of the paralyzed moment when the consciousness is suspended between the terror of nightmare and waking, when the mind knows that the nightmare is not real but has not yet been able to open its human eyes and escape. It might even be centuries of hoping that the future will find a cure, without even the blessing of unconsciousness enjoyed by the disembodied heads of the cryonics movement.
As attractive as the idea of immortality as an Upload might be, like all great changes, the risks are awfully frightening and likely to be all too real to at least an unlucky few.
(This post appeared on my Patreon page 3 days before it appeared here — support me there, even for a buck a month, and you see all my posts first PLUS get a FREE copy of any ebook short story I publish THIRTY days before it goes live, even if I charge for it elsewhere!)
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This story speaks to one of my most and least favorite things, tradition. Tradition perpetuates all sorts of things in societies, some as innocent as making snowmen, some nonsensical, some neutral, others negative or positive or even more likely all of the above wrapped up in a big Gordian knot built over centuries. Tradition can lift up or destroy, build community or disrupt it. Like it or not, it’s a product of human beings being social creatures — attempts to break the old patterns wholesale and build new ones anew have been disasters: think French Revolution, Soviet Union, Cultural Revolution, Khmer Rouge. Like bending wood or bamboo to fashion the crook of a walking cane, human society in the large traditions that govern and define us must be reshaped slowly and with care lest they crack and shatter.
Small traditions, like the snowman, can become security blankets when the pace of change becomes rapid, as it has been these last two or three centuries. I have a feeling that within my lifetime (if I should make it into my 80s or 90s, fingers crossed) elementary education will become something accessed online rather than by gathering together in a municipal building, and printing breakfast cereal in your kitchen is likely to become common. For oldsters as I would be when that time comes, watching children play in the snow will be a comforting traditional blanket to wrap around my shoulders as I watch from a padded chair in the comfort of a heated porch. And maybe, who knows, I’ll go out and help roll some snowman body segments, something I remember fondly from my early childhood. Maybe despite the availability of conveniently printed food I’ll break out some primitive chicken eggs and vanilla and condensed milk and make a bowl of snow cream. Or make hot chocolate on a pan on the stove. All minor, comforting traditions — no doubt with the advent of the convenient powdered hot chocolate packet making it from bars of real bar chocolate on the stove is a small way for those born before their debut to relive a piece of the old world, the world they were born in before all these changes like internets came to be.
More than tradition, “Continuity” also speaks to the basic human condition that technology cannot touch — at least, not yet and not without radically redefining the human condition.
Even if humanity were to become, say, a population of consciousnesses loaded into android brains, there would still be snow (assuming we don’t really overdo it with this climate change thing). And still the potential to play by creating snow…er…droids. And if there are no children in such a strange new world, perhaps still some oldsters who remember what it was like to be raised in a world of meat humans will still go out and build snowmen, if only to take comfort for a little while by indulging in a little of what the world was before it changed.
Originally posted to my Patreon page on 1/14/2016. My patrons get to see my posts at least three days early — PLUS all the stories I publish as ebooks for free. Even if I charge for the ebook. So, you know, if you want to see everything before everyone else wink wink nudge nudge…
The virus was too strong: great-grandmother was gone.
Gravely, they restored from backup.
Sooner or later, someone is going to try to map a human consciousness to run as software. It’s going to open many, many cans of worms, but it’s going to happen. There will be arguments about backing up files and what restoring them means. At some point, someone will end up running on two or more machines and someone else will have to figure out how to deal with that. Someone is going to edit a consciousness. That will probably happen first. “I want a copy of my granddad, but can you leave the racism out?” “One copy of my ex-wife, please. From twenty years ago, before we started arguing so much.”
Yeah. Lots of cans of worms. I hope we learn something from them.
This is a story that comes, in part, out of my own life and experiences. Unlike David Brown, I am not yet seventy years old and I did not miss out on the love of my life. But I do know what regret is, and I do know what it is to wonder if my chance to have a good life got left behind in the past. David did leave his good life behind, and he’s wondering where it got to, and how he got so old. David’s redemption is in a little bit of magic that he mistakenly left behind at his boyhood home, if only he can find it and figure out how to use it. And maybe a bit in his grandson’s unknowing help.
My hope and redemption, you might (not) be startled to discover, is in writing stories like this. There’s a bit more of my past in it than usual, not that you’d notice if I didn’t tell you. David’s boyhood home is basically one I lived in when I was around five years old, though I didn’t get to finish growing up there like David did. The staircase and the vertigo one gets looking down it are there, if the house still stands. David’s grandson’s room is right where mine was, though of course in the mid-1970s there was no computer in it. I took some liberties — I had to move the creek across the field to a different position, and the creek needed to have a road next to it that never existed. I think the fishing is better in David’s creek than it was in mine, too.
But that’s fiction for you. We have to move some things around to make room for the fantasy. We have to include enough of the real for the fantastic to be grounded in our thoughts and feelings.
And we have to read it, of course. I hope you’ll read this one. David and I will thank you for it.
It is also included among the twenty-one stories in the Not Gruntled collection, which is available in trade paperback as well as ebook formats.