Saturday, August 27, 2016

Confessions of an Aging Futurist

I'll get to the name dropping soon, I promise, but today I wanted to talk about age. Is science fiction ageist?

This blogger seems to think so, based on a sprinkling of troll comments. 

N.K. Jemisen thinks so too, because she had to trick us into liking the protagonist of her Hugo award winning novel.

When I was younger, I was interested in the future. I went looking for kindred souls and I discovered a large extended science fiction community that was also woman-friendly. I said, “Hi, I’m obsessed with all the interesting things that will happen in the future, such as computers and decentralized media.”  They were more interested in talking about pagan gods and organic vegetables.

I hung around for a while until I ultimately came to a personal decision that many of my peers and elders were subscribing to a pessimistic worldview and basically ran off to my computer and hung out with younger people, talking about computers and decentralized media.  Sometimes pagan gods and organic vegetables too, but mostly about computers, which we saw as exciting opportunities rather than vectors of unpleasant learning curves.  That was when I decided I wanted to write exciting sci fi for people that are young at heart, and all those people who got mad at me for loving tech instead of fearing it could go sit on a pickle.  

The blogger I linked mentioned depression being endemic to our age group. I’ll just note that opiate abuse and suicide are linked as well, and that I personally don’t endorse either. As far as depression, I experienced a certain amount of that during a particularly depressing period of my life and as a result I learned some cognitive behavioral therapy based coping skills from a therapist friend and I began avoiding the kind of media that claims organic vegetables are a more worthy field of inquiry than databases. Because that kind of sneering contempt for the present/future while longing for an idealized past will kill you if you let it, and I’d rather die to a worthier foe. 

These days I can handle the grimdark pessimistic stuff in small ironic doses, and a few of my old friends have come around as far as embracing digital culture, and I’ve met a few more. Others still go on about how someday civilization will fail, and all the computers will break, and it’ll just be them and their organic vegetables – or at least they were doing that when I turned my back and walked away; I have no idea what they’re going on about now. 

I did write a very brief review of Ms. Jemisen’s book in my Hugo recap, dismissing it as grimdark and comparing it to The Road.  I’m not going to delve farther into why I felt that way; there are detailed reviews elsewhere (with and without spoilers). I will also note that the book is life-affirming in a stealthy way, and skillfully written.  

My generation grew up under prototypical clickbait in the form of manipulators eager to scare us with tales of imminent demise by nuclear war and overpopulation and killer bees in order to gain our trust and money and votes. Yes, some of the threats that frightened us were viable, and there are still plenty more. And in order to think clearly enough to sort out the illusory threats from the kind where we can and should act, some of us need to distance ourselves from the constant pull of negative emotions (and the manipulators who use them in order to jerk our chains, which is as close as I’m going to get to a political rant today). The difference between a Charon that feels like getting up early in the morning for a productive day of chipping away at oppression while bringing universal health care a gazillionth of an increment closer and a Charon that feels like staying in bed all day has a lot to do with whether Charon has consumed any grimdark media lately. 

Some of those organic vegetables fans also taught me about things like meditation and mindfulness, and the importance of focusing on positive action rather than negative reaction. Things that were actually helpful.

This other piece, by M.C.A. Hogarth, is also calling for positive action replacing negative reaction, and about the various microaggressions directed toward Christians, conservatives, etc. throughout Worldcon. This is exactly the sort of thing that floats my boat. No raging, no making up insulting names and acronyms, no collateral damage insult spraying – just an honest, earnest, statement. Hey! This is mean! Can we stop?

Anyway, I’m trying to personally inhabit a life-affirming frame of mind when I tell my stories, and I seem to find more acceptance of this among generations younger than myself. I do agree that age is moot when it comes to prejudices, and that all different age groups can be, for instance, misogynistic while manifesting it in different ways. Sometimes people look at my graying hair and expect me to be interested in real estate investments and romance novels rather than video games and fairy tales; I try not to hang out with those people.

I absolutely do agree that certain standard of living issues have gotten worse between generations, such as the ability to afford a place to live, and that younguns are absolutely in the right to complain about that – and we olds have (in my opinion) a certain duty to listen to them when they point out unfairnesses that we often neglect to notice due to age privilege. 

For example, I’ve already written about how Black Lives Matter. And I also am very much in favor of blue lives (being a generally life-affirming person). In my gentrified town of San Francisco, I have just learned that many police officers are living in RVs parked in police station lots because they can’t afford the rent here.  I’m absolutely livid about that. We olds really need to do a lot better for the upcoming generations. Quite possibly that's a reflection of me being stuck at the teenager-striking-back-against-corruptness stage of emotional development, but somebody needs to be, and it might as well be me.  

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