The Golden Age of Science Fiction is 56, Again

It is so easy to get distracted while writing.  My goal the other night was to focus on what it means to search for sense of wonder books in late middle age, but I got sidetrack from this intent by reminiscing about Clifford Simak’s City.  We science fiction fans often agree that around age 12 is when discovering science fiction is the most exciting.  But should that be so?  And is it true for everyone?  Indeed, it is easy to become jaded as one gets older, as well as becoming better educated, more cynical, sophisticated, and, dare I say it, more discerning.

Does that mean we are destined to outgrow science fiction?  I have to admit that I find it very hard to discover new SF&F to enjoy.  Furthermore, I’ll admit that when I reread some of my favorite books from my golden age of discovery they often fail to bring me back to the good ole days.  The thrill is gone.  And when I do reread books that I still love I’m worried that I’m just wallowing in nostalgia, and not appreciating the story for its own merits.

Is the power of science fiction at its greatest potency when viewed by twelve year olds because they are wild-eyed, full of enthusiasm, and anxious to discover everything exciting about the world, or because children are easily manipulated by the slight-of-hand of fantastic stories?  At 12 our critical x-ray vision isn’t very strong, so we tend to welcome everything with believability.  I know it’s just entertainment, but when I was a kid I wanted to believe in science fiction.  It was my religion.

To play devil’s advocate to my own supposition, I should admit on cross examination that I read with great excitement the Harry Potter novels and the Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.  There is a clue here.  Those are young adult (YA) novels.  Furthermore, my all-time favorite novels to reread are Robert A. Heinlein’s twelve YA novels.

The mature of the literary world have often sneered that science fiction is crude pulp fiction for adolescents.  I don’t know how mature I am at 56, but I still find excitement in the concept of science fiction, and want it to be an art form for all ages.  Now this could be avoiding adultification on my part, and I may not be alone, because look how successful Harry Potter books have been with my fellow boomers.  Many of the blogs I read about science fiction are written by old guys like myself fondly looking back to their favorite books.

There is a boom in YA fiction, being read by kids and adults.  I know plenty of middle age people who have found a renewed excitement for reading through YA novels.  So, is it the age of the reader, or just the YA subject matter that stir up our minds?  YA writers know how to target their audience with stories that resonate with the teen years.  Science fiction and fantasy, whether marketed as YA or adult fiction strongly appeals to youthful readers.

This finally brings me to the question I want to ask:  If literature can be targeted to the formative years, can it also be targeted to the waning years?  When I first started reading Old Man’s War by John Scalzi I thought, “Hot damn, science fiction for old guys.”  If you’ve read the novel you’ll also probably guess my disappointment in the change of direction it eventually takes.

As a boomer seeing my golden years glow on the horizon, I want those years to be a new golden age of science fiction.  I wonder if there’s a market for sunset science fiction?  Who knows, maybe I have a bad attitude towards aging, but I can’t help but thinking I’ll have 15-30 years of wrinkly freedom.  It won’t be like being young, but it doesn’t have to be all about dying either.

I think the excitement of reading YA fiction is the quality it brings to thinking about the future and exploring what we can be “when we grow up.”  One reason many people turn away from fiction is because growing up turns out to be a dud in relation to our YA fantasies.  Adultification sets in and dreams dissipate with compromising.  One of the tragic beliefs of youth is we’ll have lots of time to pursue our dreams after high school, but college, jobs and marriages kills that dream fast.

If I retire and have 15-30 years of free time, I’m going to have that free time I wanted in my youth.  I might not be fit to do anything, but I shouldn’t give up.  What we need is RA fiction, Retired Adult fiction that inspires us to do something with those years of freedom.  Fishing, golfing and shuffleboard are philosophical lacking, so I want sense of wonder ideas for my elder years.

Hell, maybe J. K. will write a series about a Hogwarts Retirement Home.  Or Victor Appleton II can be resurrected to write about the adventures of a geezer Tom Swift.  However, this time around I want maximum sense of wonder with less fantasy.  I can believe fantasies about a robotic Jeeves becoming a geriatric companion easier than I can believe being downloaded into a cloned body.  I’d love to read more stories about the possibilities of mental rejuvenation.  I’m not against physical overhauls, but so far medicine only seems to produce scary people with rigid faces.

What we need is the idealism of the 1960s for octogenarians.  Let’s see some creative utopian assisted living homes.  And does anyone write erotica for the wrinkled?

Science fiction original sold me the Brooklyn Bridge on Tau Ceti.  It’s easy to fool kids that rocket travel is just around the corner.  This time around I want science fiction writers to really wring their imaginations and bring about another golden age of SF.

Jim

The Potential of Possibilities

I’ve had this restless unease my whole life about wasting time, always feeling a nagging guilt I should be doing something constructive instead of having so much fun.  I’ve always been a why do today what you can put off until tomorrow kind of a guy.  Bumping along this way, I’ve finished college, got married, kept a good job and basically done the essentials, but I never pursued those ambitions I dreamed about in youth.  Well, obviously everyone can’t be an astronaut or rock star, two careers ill suited for my personality even if I had had the natural aptitude, which I didn’t.  On the other hand, if I had applied myself I could have been an astronomer that occasionally wrote science fiction novels.  I was just too lazy.

When you’re thirteen and thinking about your future you feel you have endless time.  Just five years later when I had to fill in the forms that declared my major I wasn’t in the mood to buckle down to math and physics classes because by then all I could think about was majoring in the opposite sex.  Oh, I started the classes and got decent grades, I just didn’t have the discipline to keep taking them for eight straight years.

There comes a time when you realize you have to choose between chasing a dream and settling for being ordinary.  Becoming an original like Neil Armstrong or Bo Diddley takes a kind of focus that few people have, and being ordinary is a natural pursuit for those people who love variety.

But I can’t help but think of those five years of adolescence when I felt the potential of possibilities.  It’s a time when I viewed a vast vista of time and dreamed of all the ways to spend it.  That’s how I’m now feeling about retiring – I have an expanse of time that’s full of possibilities.  People often talk about young ambition, but what about old ambition?  Why is retiring seen as a time of withdrawal from life?

Everyone talks about what they want to be when they grow up, but why don’t people talk about what they want to be before they die?  How come when people retire they don’t go off to college and major in something for their retiring years?  If I can retire with thirty years before I’m sixty, and I could live to be ninety, then I have thirty more years for a second career.

Well the cruel answer of the fates is at sixty we don’t have the health and energy we did at eighteen, but is that a show stopper?  Once again, it’s a question of discipline and focus, and choosing between having general fun and pursing specialization.  Has anyone at age sixty ever set out to do something new like become an engineer, doctor, actor or pop star and succeeded?  I can understand you can’t pick becoming a major league baseball player, deep sea diver or fighter jet pilot because of the physical limitations, but what about thinking careers?  Isn’t old age supposed to be for the wise?

On one hand I think of retirement as catching up on reading all those books I bought and never read, and pursuing quiet activities like watching television and listening to music, and just plain relaxing after years in the rat race, but on the other hand why don’t I expect more of myself.   We ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, as if being grown is just achieving full physical height.  If growing is equated to mental development, then asking someone what they want to be when they grow up is like saying, what do you want to be doing when you die, because unless we’re attacked by some brain plague, we can keep growing to the end.

Jim

Retirement From Sex

A better title for this essay would be Retirement From Life, but the word sex attracts more readers – don’t worry, I’ll get down to the juicy parts soon enough, just consider this intro foreplay.  I’m spending a lot of time thinking about retirement from work, but I realize the word retirement can encompass far more than just that one part of life.  Retiring from work is a major transformation in one’s personality, but as we get older we go through so many transformations that can also be called retirement.

For instance, I’ve long ago retired from going out to bars to hear live bands.  That used to be part of my personality, listening to live music, but I’ve gotten old and can’t handle noise.  Even loud restaurants feel like psychological torture.  My wife hasn’t retired from live music, so she still feels youthful in that regard and I feel old.  I know lots of guys who have retired from going to the movies.  I haven’t yet, but only because it’s a major way to socialize with my lady friends.

Another area that I will be retiring from is heavy lifting.  Guys like lifting heavy stuff because it proves they are still young and strong.  A woman mentions she needs a 25″ TV carried up three flights of stairs and you volunteer, to make a point about your maleness.  Women don’t need men for much, but lifting is something they seem to appreciate.  So to retire from heavy lifting means checking out of the strong male club and it means you are admitting you’re weak, like a woman.  And this is a big change.  It’s humiliating to have to say, “Sorry, I can’t pick up something that heavy.” 

Men retire from the heavy lifting club slowly.  As you get older and something needs to be picked up and younger guys are around, you start letting them show off.  But if you’re the only guy you keep trying to prove yourself as long as possible.  George Carlin recently joked about this in his new comedy routine about turning seventy.  He tells his audience, once you turn seventy you never have to lift anything again.  Oh, you might pretend to try, but a younger person will rush over and do the job for you.  I’m only 56, so I still have to lift things, but there are times when my wife talks about helping friends move, and I’ll remind her of my back problems.  Of course, if a lovely young woman at work is in need of heavy lifting help, I don’t worry about my back so much.

Retirement from work means a huge change.  Work means you are useful to other people.  It’s more than just earning a living, work is social and it defines an essential part of our personality.  The first thing people want to know when meeting you is what you do.  Saying you’re retired is like saying you’ve stop being somebody.  Of course, you solve this problem by becoming somebody new, but that’s hard to explain, especially if your hobbies are rather piddling.

Now, back to sex.  Sex is a big topic, but few people express the personal details of their sex life, and neither will I.  Let’s just say I’ve reach an age where I can see an end to my sex life.  I feel sort of cheated by that because I remember back in the 1960s seeing documentaries about how people in their nineties could have active sex lives.  I think there are some people who are still balling when their age hits three digits but they are few and far between.

Sex is not something I want to retire from, but I’m starting to see the dirty writing on the bathroom wall.  I am appreciative for all the sex my wife gives me, and I do know on her part she’s doing a lot more giving than receiving, because she’s been closer to retiring from sex since menopause.  (At least with me, I don’t know about her and her boyfriends.)  She feels guilty about retiring from sex, which is lucky for me, but it’s not an emotion I want to play on for long.  I’ve joked with her that if she doesn’t want to change the cat box then maybe I can find someone else for the job.  She told me to go for it, but I think she’s confident that few women want the chore of being kindly to an overweight old bald guy.  I guess she knows, it would still be changing the cat box to them too. 

I don’t think I’m the only guy in this situation.  I’ve gotten hints and jokes telling me the well is running dry in other marriages.  Some of my friends even allude to losing interest themselves, and a couple joke like Al Bundy when he complains about having to service Peg.  Although,  I have heard rare reports of lucky older guys who have wives with matching libidos, but those guys might be lying, just like how some guys lied about the frequency of their sexual successes when they were younger.  But statistically, I know the world is filled by all kinds, and anything is possible.  Of my male friends who dine alone, they just make jokes about how happy they are they don’t have to move furniture all the time.

What surprises me about retiring from sex is how men are so much different from women.  I know a lot of divorced and widowed women my age, and older, and the common consensus is they are overjoyed to be out of the sex provider business.  I find this a little hurtful because it makes me wonder if they ever really liked making us guys happy.  I always ask my single lady friends if they wouldn’t like to get married again, and they universally groan. 

There is one common joke I hear, “Oh, I wouldn’t mind marrying a rich guy with a bad cough.”  This strikes me as severely mercenary, and makes me further wonder about the motives of the women I knew when I was younger.  I know books, movies and television shows are all about romance and sex, but I’m starting to wonder if pop culture hasn’t been perpetuating a long standing urban myth.  I just assumed women were different before and after menopause, but now I wonder.

Retirement from sex means learning who you really are.  When I was at Clarion West Writers Workshop I wrote a science fiction story about a guy who volunteered for an experimental treatment to temporarily turn off his sex drive to see what life would be like without his little slave driver.  The story got a violent reaction in the critique group.  The night before my older classmates, both men and women, told me how much they liked the story, so I went into the critique the next morning thinking I’d have a hit, but I was blasted by the young people.  Some of the younger women called the story misogynistic, which was scary.

I spent a lot of time thinking about that.  On one hand, it could have been true, on the other hand, why was the story admired by some and hated by others, and the dividing line seemed to be age?  If a man turns off his sex drive does that mean he devalues women, or even hates them?  Since the younger women were writing romantic stories, I could see my anti-sex story as anti-romance.  What’s funny is women become anti-romantic after menopause.  Well, that’s not quite true, they become anti-sex romantic.

Jane Austen is the queen philosopher of post-menopausal women. All my older women friends want a Mr. Darcy for dinner and dancing, handsome, rich, dashing – and a man who never expects the heroine to leave her Empire silhouette gown.  Retiring from sex for men, means fulfilling a new role for women, one more fitting for a Jane Austen tale.

Don’t get me wrong, young women also love Jane Austen, but they either want or expect to unsnap their jeans for Mr. Darcy.  Retirement from sex means changes in personality for both men and women.  I think many woman are happy to go off to their little houses to live alone after their children grow up and their husbands leave them through death or indiscretion.  And I think with older married couples, the concept of romance changes with them too, with women preferring their husbands to retire peacefully to their workshops or computer rooms.

In the life-long battle of the sexes I’m never sure if either sex understands the other.  Women smugly claim to understand us males, thinking we live by one single motivating force, and claiming we don’t have a clue about their fairer sex.  I think men have multiple drives, with sex just being the obvious one.  It’s like asking little kids about going to the bathroom, inquiring if they need to go do #1 or #2.  Well, there’s a lot of males hopping on one foot needing to go to #3, and that’s all women see.  Sometimes it’s, “Oh, how cute,” and other times, it’s “Can’t you wait.”

I know when I go out with my women friends and the dinner check comes, they whip out their purses insisting to pay their half.  I’m amused by this because I wonder if they are thinking, “I don’t want him believing I’m going to put out for $18.35 plus tip.”  Like I said before, many of my lady friends have joked they would marry an old rich man with a cough.  I’ve got to wonder if there is an incentive that would bring them out of retirement that falls between the price of dinner and a large inheritance.

Retirement from work means withdrawing from the complex social life of the office.  Retirement from sex means withdrawing from a life of close physical contact.  I don’t think men and women experience this retirement in the same way.  I think the constant intense biological pull that women feel to be mothers and wives disappears after menopause, so they actually feel free and relieved to be independent.  Whereas men who have always been free and independent feel psychologically cut off from people when they retire from sex.  Men often die after retiring from work, and they often die when they have to live alone, and sometimes I wonder if they die when the final realization comes that the little guy is not going to have any more fun.  Old women seem to thrive on independence and their retirement from sex.

What’s weird about thinking about having to retire from sex is how it changes my personal opinion about myself, and what it reveals about my personality.  Gays and lesbians teach me a lot about sexual identity, in a rather round-about way.  We define ourselves by who we want to get naked with, but what happens when we never take off our clothes with other people?  Do we lose that identity?  Do we suppress or bury it, or does it just slip away like time.  Already I feel my sexual life has regressed to what it was like when I was a teenager, when I considered getting to first base a major goal.  I’m back to wondering why women are so stingy with their riches.

Does retirement from sex mean a total regression, a devolution back to virginity?  The phrase “old men and their toys” takes on a whole new meaning.  Or will retirement from sex be the undiscovered country of my future?  Or should my work retirement goal be to become an old man with money and a bad cough looking for a younger women willing to trade a few years of cat box changing duties for a long term retirement plan of her own?  Or should I admit that I am not Mr. Darcy in anyone’s eyes and I should just develop a new identity, but one without sex?

Time Goes By, is my guide to getting old, and even Ronni, my elder guru, discusses the waning life of sex in, Been There, Done That. What’s Next?, although she is quick to defend that elders are having sex in, CNN: Elder Sex is a Dirty Joke, which reports 73 percent of people 57 to 64 are still having regular sex, and 53 percent of people age 64 to 75, and 26 percent for people 75 to 85, are still getting it on too.  So retirement from sex, is like retirement from work, not everyone retires at the same age.

My point of this long-winded essay, is retirement is all about change, and fundamental changes, changes deep in our personality.  This makes me not want to retire in any way, and keep on going the way I have been.  On the other hand, I’m ready to rush into this new undiscovered country and start exploring.  Escaping death is not an option, but I’d like to think everything else is, but that may not be true either.  A lot of men would prefer to die at their desk, and I can understand that.  And a lot of guys joke about coming and dying at the same time, and I can understand that too.  The harder thing to imagine, even scary to think about, is living twenty or thirty years without work or sex or the ability to lift heavy objects.

Jim

Retiring While Oil Prices are Rising

Remember the 1970s?  You personally might have been discoing, but the economy had a heart attack.  Two oil shortages.  Inflation.  Stagflation.  Recession.  Investments took a dive way before the fifteenth round.  Luckily the rise in oil prices were artificial due to political influence, and they settled down to allow us to have two decades of growth and relative prosperity.  We baby boomers have been building for our retirements during a time when the investment future always looked rosy.

Now oil prices are climbing up again and the future is returning to the past.  This time oil prices are rising, blowing through the top of the derrick, and it’s not artificial.  The only way oil prices will ever go down is if demand goes down.  And how likely is that?  A big recession could take a bite out of prices.  Everyone could start driving an electric car and put solar panels on our roofs like Jimmy Carter wanted and demand would go down, but how likely his that?

We constantly hear promises that oil prices will drop to the good ole days of $50 a barrel or less, but it’s not happening.  Remember inflation and how fun those times were?  Our leaders claim there are no gloom and doom shortages of oil.  They’ve been promising things should be stable for decades to come.  Then why is oil over a hundred dollars a barrel?

Our retirement future is based on a steady but reasonable growth that nurtures our savings and investments.    If inflation returns we’ll have less to live off of from our fixed incomes.  As long as oil prices rise we’ll have inflation, and maybe worse.

We can effectively cut the price of oil in half by being twice as efficient or using half as much.  If we had followed the policies set up in the 1970s – yes Jimmy Carter was right – we’d have pushed this current crisis ahead in time two generations.  Instead we bought SUVs and drove them fast and now it’s time to pay for our speeding tickets.

I don’t know about you but I don’t like getting old, besides the growing aches and pains I don’t like uncertainties and becoming dependent.  I want to stay in control.  78 million of us are in the home stretch for the Medicare finish line.  As we all queue up waiting to blast off to heaven we’ll have ten, twenty, thirty and maybe even forty years of living off our fixed incomes, savings and investments.  It now appears that the quality of those years could be directly related to the price of oil.

Is there anything we can do about it?  Maybe.  The price of gasoline has always been unnaturally low to begin with because of government subsidies.  With oil production leveling off and new demand from India and China, it’s really a matter of supply and demand which might be beyond our control.  

It is possible if our society quickly switches to alternative forms of energy that we’ll beat the oil crisis and maybe spur continued economic growth so our investments will grow as we age.  If our leaders drag their feet like they have been doing since the 1970s when the problem was obvious, we’ll see some very bad economic times.  In essence, back in the 1980s we collectively said, let’s party while we have oil and then worry. 

Having a society built on irrational greed hasn’t helped.  The housing market soared off the charts with unrealistic values.  The Bush years of wars and occupations, Katrina and Rita, the housing loan crisis and Republicans spending like Democrats has left a big debt.  In other words, there is no trend to believe we’ll suddenly start acting rationally.

So how do rational individuals plan to retire when oil prices are rising?Can we get AARP to promote energy efficient, conservation and the development of alternative forms of energy?  The issue doesn’t seem to be a major topic in the presidential debates.  Does buying solar panels and an electric car make economic sense during retirement years.  I could retire early, next year after 30 years on the job, but I doubt it’s practical.  I’m thinking I should retire and get another full time job to save money for another ten years before thinking about retirement.  I’d like to retire and write those science fiction novels I’ve always wanted to write, but that won’t be practical now.

And if the cost of living is going to shoot up, where’s the best place to retire?  And do I need to rethink our 401k programs?  Planning for the future seems to have suddenly changed.

Jim

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