How Do You Read?

I met yesterday with my real life writers’ group, and after doing some critiques, we—as we usually do—chatted a bit about what we’re watching and reading.  And one of the interesting things to me was how differently some of us function as writers and readers.

When I’m actively writing a book or novella, I struggle to read. When I do read then, I usually read outside of genre. I can read mystery or romance or non-fiction…but reading fantasy just doesn’t work.

The thing that I struggle with is my internal editor. My brain, as it’s reading, wants to restructure every sentence, swap paragraphs four and seven, and change all the dialog tags. And after a time, I’m not reading the story any longer…I’m only looking at words. And then I stop caring about the story. It’s weird.

(There are rare exceptions to this. I can, for example, read an author whose style is wildly different from mine—let’s say, Ben Aaronovitch—and for some reason, the internal editor turns off.)

Because of this, I usually build up a bunch of reading to do between projects. So I’ll finish writing a book and then read voraciously for a while before turning back to writing again. I usually schedule time for that.

One of my writer friends, however, said that she has no problem reading while she’s writing. She’s a very disciplined reader, and tackles a poem, a short story, and a bit of novel reading every day. WOW!

And a third threw in the point that she doesn’t re-read things…whereas I can reread books over again and again. (I also have no problem with spoilers in movies or TV, which may be related.)

I always find it fascinating that writers have such different approaches to reading, so I thought I would see if there were other opinions out there. Here are a few questions:

  1. Do you reread books?
  2. Do you read in a disciplined manner? Or do you read in a haphazard, on-and-off, when-the-mood-takes-you fashion?
  3. Do you read exclusively within genre? Or do you read outside genres?
  4. Do you read the newest stuff immediately? Do you read only some authors immediately? Or are you, like me, constantly behind the reading curve?
  5. Do you binge read?
  6. And for writers: Is there a difference in reading habits between when you’re actively writing and when you’re not?

Bonus question: How big IS your TBR pile? (photos welcome)

HOW DO YOU READ?

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“Etymology Is Important,” She Ejaculated

I’m going to start off by telling a story from when I was 13 or 14 years old. I was with my mom and grandma in the car as we drove through the Central California countryside after a Sunday visit to my uncle’s church. As is often the case, then and now, I was reading a new book.

“Mom,” I asked, “What does ‘ejaculate’ mean?”

My Mom and Grandma shared a look in the front seat. “Beth, what are you reading?” There was a strange strain to her voice.

“This book called The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge.” I held up the cover so she could see it in the mirror.

Mom and Grandma glanced at each other again. “Read the line to me,” Mom asked.

etymology-littlewhitehorse“‘The coachman is getting down,’ ejaculated Maria.'”

Mom and Grandma both belted out nervous laughs. “Oh. Is it an old book?” she asked. I confirmed that it was a reprint of an old book, and I was informed I’d be told about other definitions for the word once we arrived home.

Yeah, that was a fun conversation. I was both mortified and amused. I had given them quite a fright with my choice of reading material on the way home from church! (I do recommend The Little White Horse–it’s a lovely gothic middle grade book, and apparently has gained new attention in recent years as it’s one of J.K. Rowling’s childhood favorites.)

Etymology is the history of a word, the how, when, and where of its use. I write historical fiction novels, and I find myself very aware of the words I choose. I cannot be 100% accurate to period, nor do I want to be. I will not have my characters ejaculate their speech, no matter how appropriate that word usage may have been in their time!

It’s all about balance. I want my books to be as easy to read as other current books–with contemporary concepts of paragraph size, dialogue tags, etcetera–while still keeping readers in a distant world.

I frequently check word etymologies as I write and revise. My usual go-to is the Online Etymology Dictionary; if that site doesn’t list the word, I usually resort to a Google search of “etymology [word].

There is also the dilemma of a word seeming contemporary, even though it’s not. This is referred to as “The Tiffany Problem”, named so because Tiffany is a legitimate medieval name but it looks too modern to readers of historical fiction and fantasy. For matters like that, it’s great to get feedback from other readers during early revision stages.

Sometimes, I consciously stay with an anachronistic word. For example, the word “kid” for “child” is a very recent development in the English language.

I also use the word “Reiki” to describe a form of magical healing, though Reiki as a modern practice didn’t start in Japan until the 1920s. On an additional note, my copyeditor for Breath of Earth suggested capitalizing Reiki–that’s what it said in their style guide–so I went with that in the final book. It gives it more gravitas in my 1906 setting.

Word choice does determine the tone. Within a sentence, a writer can establish the setting, time, and point of view. Be choosy. Be cautious. And be aware of what “ejaculate” means in various contexts.


Breath of EarthBeth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair west of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.

She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN (an RT Reviewers’ Choice Finalist) from Harper Voyager. Her novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE was a 2016 Nebula nominee. BREATH OF EARTH begins a new steampunk series set in an alternate history 1906 San Francisco.

Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.

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How to Begin: Five Ways to Start your Next Story

Happy New Year!  I hope you have fired up your New Year’s Resolutions, and harnessed them to some goals (remember: the difference between a dream and a goal is a plan).  If you’re hanging out with us, I’m guessing some of your goals have to do with writing.  Since this is the first Novelocity of the New Year, I’d like to help you get started.

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Often times, people get hung up right at the beginning of a new piece.  We know that, if we want to lure readers in and sell the work, the opening has to be fantastic.  This is true.  But when you first put keyboard to monitor, it doesn’t have to be brilliant–it just has to get done.  So, here are five ways to get in there and get writing!

  1. The opening doesn’t have to be perfect for you to keep writing. The ending of the story will suggest what the perfect beginning is.  Don’t get hung up on crafting a hook before you reach the end.  That’s what revision is for.

 

  1. Begin the story as close as possible to the moment when all Hell breaks loose: when the character or world faces the problem that starts the plot.

 

  1. Many authors begin with a lot of back story, character or setting description, or other elements the author needs, but the reader doesn’t. When does the *plot* begin?  Trim as much as possible before that.

 

  1. Can’t find your way in? Write 5 different ways to open the story:  character, conflict, setting or world-building, a different point of view, an image that evokes the dominant emotion or theme.  Dash them off quickly, with just a couple of sentences each, then see which one gets you excited to keep going.

 

5.  Overwhelmed by a big project or a fresh start?  Try setting a timer for 15 minutes, or a word goal of 100 words.  You can write 100 words. . .try it every day, you might soon be writing a thousand!

Wishing you a creative and successful new year!

Writers and Weltschmerz

On one of the on-line writers groups I frequent, someone opened a forum topic that ran something like this…Is Anyone Getting Any Writing Done? The question was an interesting one for me, because all writers have to, at times, write on…despite personal setbacks.

Now let me be clear…there are situations in which the writing CANNOT go on. There are times too bleak: sicknesses and household emergencies and financial struggles. There are times when we sit down and simply stare at the screen, unable to do anything. That’s inevitable. Real life tends to trump our writing at times. But this isn’t that. It’s not an inability to write brought on by health issues or finances or priorities.

This is Weltschmerz–the feeling of anxiety caused by the ills of the world. (Definition via Wikipedia)

Many of the writers I know have been suffering weltschmerz since the second week of November. It’s a frightening time for a lot of people, and with holidays on top of that, there’s simply so many stressors that it’s taking a toll on our creativity, grinding it down into the dust. We’re staring at our screens, wondering how we can go on writing our small bits of fiction when there’s so much out there in the world that’s slipping awry. How can we be creative when others are suffering? When they’re afraid? When we’re afraid?

For me, it was a matter of having commitments to fulfill. I’m posting a novel serially, which forces me to edit a bit each week. I have a monthly commitment to my Patreon Patrons on another serial. And I promised that I would have the first book of The Horn out in December.

(Gratuitous bit of book promotion…Oathbreaker is now available in ebook format!)

Those commitments kept me in my chair on days when I would rather have been endlessly refreshing Twitter. I had to get the work done. And when we’re dealing with contracts with publishers, that gives an outside push.

Even without that impetus, I know all my writer friends will eventually sit back down and start writing again.

Why? This is what we do. We write.

Writing is how we deal with the injustices in the world. It’s how we let others know about them. We have voices and we apply our words to let others know what’s happening.

We may be writing blog posts, tweets, letters to the editors, to our congressmen, to those men and women who control various aspects of those things that terrify us. We may drop a line to a serviceman or woman. We might write stories for a benefit anthology for survivors from Aleppo. We might write a wild story to brighten the evening of someone else who has weltschmerz and is seeking pure escape. It might be small. It might be big.
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In time we’ll step back into the fray with the weapons we use best…our words. Because this is what we are. We’re writers.

SPEED AND DIRECTION: A GUIDE TO WHERE TO FIND US (JAN – MAR, 2017)

The New Year is coming up fast, and after you’ve recovered from the holidays and made all those resolutions that you’ll surely keep this year, your thoughts will doubtlessly drift to wondering where to find some of your favorite authors in the weeks ahead. Here at Novelocity, we want to make it easy for you, so here’s a list
:

JANUARY 2017

E. C. AMBROSE:
* January 13-17 – appearing on programming at Arisia in Boston, MA.

LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN:
* January 6th, noon – will be speaking as part of the WHAT IF lecture series at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
* January 6th, 9pm – will be the featured speaker at WSFA in Washington, DC.


FEBRUARY 2017

E. C. AMBROSE:
* February 7 – Elisha Mancer Book release!! Look for appearances in New Hampshire and Massachusetts
* February 17-19 – appearing on programming at Boskone in Boston, MA.


MARCH 2017

BETH CATO:
* March 12 – appearing on programming at the Tucson Festival of Books in Tucson, Arizona.

J. KATHLEEN CHENEY:
* March 18th – speaking on Historical Research for Fiction Writers at North Texas RWA in DFW, TX.

LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN:
* March 9-12 – will be the Guest of Honor at VancouFur in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Your Name in Print

I’ve been thinking lately about Tuckerization, that thing where authors will put a friend (or possibly the winner of a charity auction) into a book they’re writing. It’s kind of cool to come across, particularly if you don’t know it in advance. Our own Fran Wilde has been Tuckerized at least three times that I know of — by Steven Gould, Elizabeth Bear, and me. I routinely put the names of real people into my fiction. It just seems a fun thing to do.

All of which got me to thinking, what works other authors might wish to have been Tuckerized in. And, on the off chance that some Novelocity readers might be interested, I reached out to a few and asked them. Here are some of the replies I got back:

Alyx (A. M.) Dellamonica has already been Tuckerized, along with her wife, Kelly Robson, and their cat, Rumble. All three appear in Behemoth, by Peter Watts. Because they’re in a Watts books, they of course come to a bad end. She also points out that she’s named for Alyx of the Joanna Russ books. As for future Tuckerizations, she’s hoping one of her students will be wildly successful and stick her in a work of theirs.

Former New Orleanian James Cambias assures me he has never (consciously) Tuckerized anyone. He would have liked to have been in Neal Stephenson‘s Baroque cycle. He thinks he’d have made a good Scientific Revolution-era savant or perhaps a Jesuit.

Emmie Mears, whose latest novel, Look to the Sun, was published just a few weeks ago, says she has to go with David Eddings‘s The Belgariad/Malloreon because she would have loved to join Silk and Polgara and Mandorallen and Velvet in all their adventures.

When I asked Kij Johnson, she immediately responded that she would love to have been a crew member on the Bree in Hal Clement‘s Mission of Gravity. She feels she would have made a fantastic first mate to Barlennan.

Past SFWA President Russell Davis felt this was a really difficult question, if for no other reason than you can’t predict what kind of Tuckerization you’d get (throwaway character? villain? sidekick?) and that there are some worlds where that might really matter. Having made that point, he nonetheless picked being a character in The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. Lots of opportunity to meet a bad fate in that book!

Juliette Wade, who shares my interests in matters of a linguistic nature, would love to have been tuckerized by Ann Leckie in Ancillary Mercy, and assures me it would have have been a total thrill, even if she were just a minor security character or something.

Kevin Hearne tells me he’s already had the best tuckerization: his Star Wars name was revealed by Chuck Wendig in Life Debt, where he appears as Hern Kaveen, a bearded Pantoran who is the personal bodyguard of Mon Mothma.

And the last word this month goes to Walter Jon Williams who once sought out a Tuckerization from Jack McDevitt who was auctioning off the chance to name a starship in an upcoming novel. Alas, it was a cash auction and Walter only had $65 on him and was quickly outbid. Thus the world was (for now at least) deprived of reading of the USS Walter Jon Williams.

And that’s all I’ve got for you this month, other than to point out that Max Gladstone stopped short of Tuckerizing me in his latest Craft Sequence novel, Four Roads Cross. There’s a throwaway line in there that perpetuates a Twitter gag he and I have tossed back and forth for months, to the consternation of our mutual editor at Tor Books.

Lots of different holidays are coming up in a few weeks. Take my advice, celebrate all of them. Be kind to your loved ones and to some total strangers too. Dress warmly and get plenty of sleep.


Lawrence M. SchoenLawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology; has been nominated for the Campbell, Hugo, Nebula, WSFS awards; won the Cóyotl award for Best Novel of 2015; is a world authority on the Klingon language; operates the small press Paper Golem; and is a practicing hypnotherapist specializing in authors’ issues.

His previous science fiction includes many light and humorous adventures of a space-faring stage hypnotist and his alien animal companion. His most recent book, Barsk, takes a very different tone, exploring issues of intolerance, friendship, conspiracy, and loyalty, and redefines the continua between life and death. By the time you read this, he should have finished the first draft of a sequel which will be landing on his editor’s desk any day now. He lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with his wife and their dog.

You can follow him at his website at LawrenceMSchoen.com and on Twitter at @klingonguy. You can even subscribe to his quarterly Newsletter and become eligible for cool bonus “stuff.”

Bookish Holiday Gifts for the Middle Grade Boy

I’ve heard many teachers and parents mention how hard it is to get middle grade boys to read. These boys, from age eight to twelve, are enticed by other media like video games, TV, and sports, and reading is (alas) not regarded as cool.

What books can snare reluctant readers? My son’s 6th grade social studies teacher told me that almost everyone has read the Wimpy Kid books. My son has read many of those books, too. I cannot classify him as a reluctant reader–he takes after me in a lot of ways, the poor kid–but he is a picky reader. He loves funny books–illustrations are a perk. He’s autistic and is strongly drawn to nonfiction, too, such as atlases and math books.

Therefore, I’m scanning his shelves for some of his new favorites, as well as revealing some Christmas gifts that will come his way. (Shh! Don’t tell him.)


If you read and love the comic strip Pearls Before Swine, check out Stephan Pastis’s middle grade series about Timmy Failure. These books are fully illustrated and include the same dry wit as his Pearls comics, though tailored for a younger audience. Kids and parents will enjoy this one!

Hilo starts off a graphic novels series about a mysterious boy with superpowers who crash lands on Earth and makes friends with human kids. It contains lots of action, and a fair share of whimsy, too, as Hilo learns about how kids act. Since my son is autistic and struggles with social skills, books like this offer him a great way to be entertained and learn something, too.

(Small disclaimer: I received a free Advanced Reader Copy of the second Hilo book at Book Expo America in Chicago. My son loved it and asked for the first book.)

The Vordak series is among my son’s favorites! Vordak is a villain plotting world domination from his parents’ basement, but as you might imagine, things do not go as he deviously plans.


If your kid-in-need-of-gift loves video games, look for manga series from Japan that have been translated and released in English. This Mega Man Megamix series is a favorite in my household, along with graphic novels for Pokemon and Kingdom Hearts.

Shh. We’re in gift territory now. I was really excited to find out the Super Mario comics series from Nintendo Power Magazine from 1992-1993 had just been released in book form. I LOVED these comics when I was his age, and I bet he’ll get a kick out of them, too.

I saw a lot of buzz about this Everything You Need to Ace series when they debuted earlier this year, and I have my eye on a couple of them. Take a look at the preview mode on Amazon–these books break down information with lots of illustrations and notes. There’s a friendly feel to it. This might not be a book for a child to sit down and casually read through (though my son will likely do that), but it may prove to be a good reference during the school year.

Happy holidays!


Breath of EarthBeth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair west of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.

She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN (an RT Reviewers’ Choice Finalist) from Harper Voyager. Her novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE was a 2016 Nebula nominee. BREATH OF EARTH begins a new steampunk series set in an alternate history 1906 San Francisco.

Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.

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Choice 2016 Novels & Collections for Holiday Gifts

Fran Wilde posted a detailed list of some 2016 works she deemed worthy of award consideration in the coming year. You can read the full list here.

Below is an excerpt featuring her recommendations for indie book stores, novels, and collections. Perhaps you’ll find an ideal gift for someone–or for yourself!


Amazing Indies, aka great places to support during the season…:

Novels:

books(note: this list doesn’t include YA or Middle Grade because I’m on a jury, but please be aware there’s so much exceptional, diverse, reading to do in those categories, this year and always.)

  • Certain Dark Things – Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Thomas Dunne)
    Welcome to Mexico City… An Oasis In A Sea Of Vampires…
    Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is busy eking out a living when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life.
  • Infomocracy – Malka Older (Tor.com)
    It’s been twenty years and two election cycles since Information, a powerful search engine monopoly, pioneered the switch from warring nation-states to global micro-democracy. The corporate coalition party Heritage has won the last two elections. With another election on the horizon, the Supermajority is in tight contention, and everything’s on the line.
  • Ghost Talkers – Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
    Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress living in London during World War I, is engaged to Captain Benjamin Harford, an intelligence officer. Ginger is a medium for the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritualist force.
  • Breath of Earth – Beth Cato (Harper Voyager)
    In an alternate 1906, the United States and Japan have forged a powerful confederation—the Unified Pacific—in an attempt to dominate the world. Their first target is a vulnerable China. In San Francisco, headstrong Ingrid Carmichael is assisting a group of powerful geomancer Wardens who have no idea of the depth of her power—or that she is the only woman to possess such skills.
  • Too Like the Lightning – Ada Palmer (Tor)
    Mycroft Canner is a convict. For his crimes he is required, as is the custom of the 25th century, to wander the world being as useful as he can to all he meets. Carlyle Foster is a sensayer–a spiritual counselor in a world that has outlawed the public practice of religion, but which also knows that the inner lives of humans cannot be wished away.
  • Ninefox Gambit – Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
    To win an impossible war Captain Kel Cheris must awaken an ancient weapon and a despised traitor general.
  • Everfair – Nisi Shawl (Tor)
    An alternate history / historical fantasy / steampunk novel set in the Belgian Congo, from noted short story writer Nisi Shawl.
    Everfair is a wonderful Neo-Victorian alternate history novel that explores the question of what might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier.
  • The Family Plot – Cherie Priest (Tor)
    Chuck Dutton built Music City Salvage with patience and expertise, stripping historic properties and reselling their bones. Inventory is running low, so he’s thrilled when Augusta Withrow appears in his office offering salvage rights to her entire property. This could be a gold mine, so he assigns his daughter Dahlia to personally oversee the project.
  • Roses and Rot – Kat Howard (Saga)
    Imogen and her sister Marin have escaped their cruel mother to attend a prestigious artists’ retreat, but soon learn that living in a fairy tale requires sacrifices, be it art or love.
    What would you sacrifice in the name of success? How much does an artist need to give up to create great art?
  • Wall of Storms – Ken Liu (Saga)
    Kuni Garu, now known as Emperor Ragin, runs the archipelago kingdom of Dara, but struggles to maintain progress while serving the demands of the people and his vision. Then an unexpected invading force from the Lyucu empire in the far distant west comes to the shores of Dara—and chaos results.
  • All the Birds in the Sky – Charlie Jane Anders (Tor)
    Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during high school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one’s peers and families.
  • Borderline – Mishell Baker (Saga)
    A year ago, Millie lost her legs and her filmmaking career in a failed suicide attempt. Just when she’s sure the credits have rolled on her life story, she gets a second chance with the Arcadia Project: a secret organization that polices the traffic to and from a parallel reality filled with creatures straight out of myth and fairy tales.
  • Jane Steele – Lindsay Faye (Putnam)
    Reader, I murdered him.”

Collections, Anthologies, Serials:

 


Award-winning author (and technology consultant) Fran Wilde’s next novel, CLOUDBOUND, is available NOW! Her first novel, UPDRAFT debuted from Tor in 2015. Her short stories have appeared in Asimov’s, Nature, Tor.com, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

7 Gifts From the Writer’s Heart

gift‘Tis the season during which many lists of gift ideas appear, including, quite frequently, lists of gifts for writers.  But the trouble is often not what we wish to receive, but things we might be able to give–unique items we can offer because we are writers.  Best of all, especially for those of us ‘starving writers’ out there, most of these are absolutely free.  Here are a few ideas:

  1.  Dedicate a book to them.  This is a one-of-a-kind, and you can personalize it to show how much they mean to you.  Each book may have many acknowledgments (another option), but only a single dedication.  Even if it takes a while for the book to appear in print, the recipient will be honored.
  2. Tuckerization.  Named for Wilson Tucker, a science fiction author and editor who often used the names of his friends for minor characters, Tuckerization is a popular charity auction item, and it could make a cool gift. Maybe you can offer the recipient just a walk-on part, or give them two or three choices for a character named for them.  Strangely, for you mystery writers out there, people often love to see themselves as the body.  Go figure!
  3. Pre-release copy of a book or story–they will be the first person to read the work.  You could have it bound at a local copy shop, print the story as a chapbook, or offer a group of poems.
  4.  Write their own story or poem.  This one is especially fun for parents or children.  The work can suit their personality and interests, and can be truly exclusive.  However, it does take more time.
  5.  So instead, you could get a nice piece of hand-made paper or high-end stationery, and hand-write a passage from your work. This could be a favorite work of yours or a piece your recipient loves, or it might be a passage inspired by them or by something you share–a favorite place, a powerful memory.  Frame it. If your handwriting isn’t the best (as is often the case with those of us who write too much or too quickly) you could include a typed translation. Sign and date the piece.
  6. For the high school or college graduate, or anyone in transition, offer to brainstorm entrance essay ideas, edit a piece of theirs, or proof-read resumes and cover letters.  An extra set of experienced eyeballs could help them get just where they want to go.
  7.  And finally, for your writing buddy–or your buddy who wished they could be–offer the gift of your time as an accountability partner.  Commit to a daily or weekly word count, or to a brainstorming session, or a weekly Skype call where you write together for an hour.  What better way to show you care than to support another’s dream?

Cybermorality: Should we aspire to live forever?

Steve Bein continues his series on philosophy and science fiction. Read past articles here.


When I became a real grownup and got a real grownup job, I got my first life insurance policy. I took the test you have to take and my insurance company predicted I’d live to the age of 121. I was speechless, but then I thought about it. Medicine has changed so radically in the last 40 years that it’s fair to say it’s almost a completely new science. When I was a kid, getting your tonsils out involved two days in the hospital. Now they actually shoot them out of your throat with a laser gun. Science fiction has not only become real, it’s become routine.

All estimates indicate that medicine will advance far more radically in the next 40 years than it did in the last 40. And 40 years from now I’ll only be 83.

keep-calm-and-live-foreverA common criticism of Western medicine writ large is that it sees mortality as a curable condition. Rest assured, there are thousands of researchers working on immortality right this minute. So in all probability my insurance company underestimated my life expectancy. In fact, it’s fair to say that 80 years from now, no one has the slightest idea what medical technology will be capable of, nor how long the average human life span will be. It’s not unreasonable to predict that we’ll be able to keep a human body alive more or less indefinitely.

To this we must add a caveat: alive and thriving are not the same thing. This is why that estimate of 121 left me speechless: I’m not sure it’s good news. Give me 119 good years and 2 bad ones and I’ll say sign me up. Give me 81 good years and 40 bad ones—which is what our current medical practices would promise me—and I’ll say thanks but no thanks.

And we should add one more observation: while medical technology has drastically expanded the average number of thriving years in a human lifespan, it hasn’t actually extended human lifespan itself all that much. The world’s oldest person today and the world’s oldest person of 100 years ago and 200 years ago are all about the same age. So it’s possible—doubtful, I think, but possible—that we really do cap out as hundred-and-teenagers, and that the only question is whether we can make all of our years good years.

But let’s be optimistic. Let’s say that in the year 2094 I’m the world’s sexiest 121-year-old man. My mountaineering years are long behind me, but I can still write books and hang out with friends and have a basically comfortable, more or less self-sufficient existence.

The question is, is such a world morally good?

There are some reasons to think it might not be. For one thing, just being 100 years old is expensive, so probably only millionaires can be hundred-and-teenagers. That will exacerbate certain kinds of economic inequality and contribute measurably to certain ecological problems. But even if we could somehow make it just as cheap to be 121 as it is to be 21, we’d have other, larger social justice questions.

As people age they tend to get set in their ways, and so an aging but undying demographic would tend to retain its current political beliefs. The unfortunate truth is that much of the political progress in the world only happens when the old guard dies out.

Maybe some conservatives will bristle at that, but consider the following sentence: “I know my grandma is racist, but she’s a really nice person.” That is a completely coherent sentence in modern American society. We tend to forgive older people for old-fashioned beliefs. Why? There are many reasons, but only one is inevitable: even if these geezers never surrender their ideas, in a couple of decades they’ll kick the bucket.

Suppose that stopped being true. Suppose the old guard gets another eighty years before passing the torch. If we all lived to 121, some of the lawmakers to vote against the 19th Amendment—you know, the one that allows women to vote—would still be alive and voting. Some of those guys would have parents old enough to be slave owners. That’s right: we’d only be one generation removed from the Civil War.

We can’t even imagine what the hot-button issues will be in 2094, when I am the world’s sexiest 121-year-old man. If interracial marriage was the big Supreme Court decision in 1960, and if same-sex marriage was the big one in 2015, maybe the one I’ll be upset about is the case way back in 2050 where humans gained the right to marry robots. Maybe my great-great-grandnieces will blush as they make excuses for me: “I know Uncle Steve-o is a human supremacist but he’s a really nice person.”

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Reach Steve Bein at @AllBeinMyself or on facebook/philosofiction.

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