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seekingreader
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seekingreader, what is science fiction - writing exercise

[ Edited ]
The intertwined themes of immortality and long life have intrigued storytellers since before the written word. The myths of Sisyphus, Tantalus and others were old in classical Greece. Gothic fantasies of the 18th and 19th century explored the topic. Aldous Huxley, G. B. Shaw, and Karel Capek considered the themes early in the 20th century. Modern SF examination of these themes include many of the most prominent names in the field including Heinlein, Silverberg, Simak, Zelazny, Poul Anderson, Damon Knight, and James Gunn.

The early literature is generally cautionary in nature, considering ethical and moral considerations. More recently the literature has tended to look favorably on the subject, but still pondering the philosophical nature of the topic.

Since the announcement of the completion of the Human Genome Project, an idea I have been “chewing on” deals with long life rather than immortality, and with societal impact rather than moral considerations.

The scientific premise is that a specific gene, or genes, is found that controls not the length of human life, but rather the rate of aging. Genetic manipulation makes it possible to extend the human life span to 150 to 200 years. However, since the rate of aging has changed, the lengthened life span means a lengthened infancy, childhood, “teenage”, and so on. The theme to be considered is how society and individuals cope with an “infant” for ten years, a “child” for twenty years, and most interestingly (to me) how we cope with schooling an individual who does not reach mental, emotional, or physical maturity before age 50.

Is an additional 50 to 75 years of maturity worth the costs, both economic and social, of maintaining a “child” for 50 years? What would be the impacts on the family and society? How would parents with a “normal” (pre-genegineering) lifespan cope with a child for 50 years, and why would anyone choose such a genetic modification of their offspring?

In trying to develop this story, I’ve been considering a meld of multiple points of view, all from adults with “normal” life spans, each facing different aspects of the problem. Viewpoints will include the parent, the educator, the politician, and the scientist.

At this point of development, I have a concept, but trying to develop a plot remains elusive. A “biography” of one of the first of the “new breed” doesn’t appeal to me, but I don’t have any better ideas (yet!).

Message Edited by seekingreader on 02-06-200701:37 PM

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Bonnie824
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Re: seekingreader, what is science fiction - writing exercise

I think this is an intriguing idea- and one that has a scientific basis, in America anyway- our kids are staying dependent longer! And people are having kids later.




It may be just me, but I found your beginning a little hard to follow, in a literary way. Almost textbook. I hate to sound like an idiot, but I do like my fiction to be a little easy to read, and not requiring a lot of research or background.
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galenem
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Re: seekingreader, what is science fiction - writing exercise

This is really interesting! I'm thinking about how I can afford to live until eighty or pay tuition until high school. It seems like this might be an option for very rich people. The implications are immense and socially explosive. Another option might be communal living or the resurgence of mid-wives, etc. Progress rarely considers social impact. Perhaps, if it did, nothing would ever happen. What if they did this and found it was unmanageable, could they go back? How many people would line up for a shorter life even when longevity meant misery?
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Josh_Crowe
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Re: seekingreader, what is science fiction - writing exercise

There is unfortunately a problem with the science aspect of this idea. Childhood is characterized by rapid development. Children who develop slowly are developmentally stunted (commonly called "mentally challenged" or retarded).

Besides aging is an entirely different mechanism from development. It would require counters (like the accumulation of toxins and scar tissue) as opposed to being a process you could slow.
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Cluecorner
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Re: seekingreader, what is science fiction - writing exercise


Josh_Crowe wrote:
There is unfortunately a problem with the science aspect of this idea. Childhood is characterized by rapid development. Children who develop slowly are developmentally stunted (commonly called "mentally challenged" or retarded).

Besides aging is an entirely different mechanism from development. It would require counters (like the accumulation of toxins and scar tissue) as opposed to being a process you could slow.




Isn't it possible to define your own science to a certain extent, though? If you start with the premise that you've uncovered a marker for aging, but that you can't change it without also altering the corresponding developmental marker, wouldn't that work? I'd buy it as a premise if it was done well.

Also, I think rapid development could be relative. In an 80-year lifespan, rapid development might take 15 years. In a 200 -year life span, rapid development might mean 35 years.

I have always thought that there is no science that is known completely. Even if you take something as basic as the law of gravity, couldn't you have a later discovery in the fields of string theory or chaos theory that explains gravity more completely and may even provide a way to "break" it?

I guess I could see a number of ways in which this story might be written plausibly. I wish I'd thought of it, as I've been coming up blank for the writing exercise.
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marta_randall
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Re: seekingreader, what is science fiction - writing exercise

What I like most about this idea is the questions it raises: "Is an additional 50 to 75 years of maturity worth the costs, both economic and social, of maintaining a “child” for 50 years? What would be the impacts on the family and society? How would parents with a “normal” (pre-genegineering) lifespan cope with a child for 50 years, and why would anyone choose such a genetic modification of their offspring?"

You can take this idea in so many directions that it can be difficult to settle on just one, but that is what you should think about. Even if you express the idea at novel length, there will be one aspect that will shape your major plot line. So think about which question interests you most; which causes the most problems; which lets you see the people within the idea?

I suspect that as we grow older, we grow more interested in an extended lifespan. So what might happen when people hit 150 or 175 and decide that they haven't had enough time yet, or enough time as adults? In other words, do you suppose that greed might be an issue?
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Josh_Crowe
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Re: seekingreader, what is science fiction - writing exercise

[quote]
Isn't it possible to define your own science to a certain extent, though?
[/quote]
No, not really. Read the textbook (Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, first few chapters), it explains it better than I can.
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anne2
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Re: seekingreader, what is science fiction - writing exercise

Hi seekinreader, I think you've hit upon an interesting idea here.

I do remember something about that sheep Dolly. She was a clone, and aged much faster than sheep would normally do. I understood that the aging was due to the fact that cells from a seven year old sheep were used to make the clone. Here is the wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolly_the_sheep. Sometimes real life is stranger than the stuff we make up. I support your suggestion that something might have gone wrong when tweaking a gene for one thing, it could have another effect.

There might also be some societal reasons for waiting until a person reaches full maturity to take on employment. Maybe jobs are really hard to obtain since no one quits until they are 190 - or that is how long you have until the government health insurance kicks in.

This is really full of possiblities. Good luck with this one.
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angelfly72
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Re: seekingreader, what is science fiction - writing exercise

Oh my goodness, there are so MANY story possibilities here! I like how you tied classical mythology and the idea of immortality with what has been going on with scientific research. I remember the "Dolly" controversy well because it raised so many ethical questions. I live near the University of California at Davis, where they are continuing to clone animals, most notably horses. Most of the clones are stillborn or die within minutes of birth. Would that happen to human clones until they come across the right genetic combination that would produce a viable "person". Is it right to put a living being through that process? Wow...your problem might be narrowing down all the possibilities!

Angela
"Think, think, it ain't illegal yet!" George Clinton
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KristenS
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Re: seekingreader, what is science fiction - writing exercise

That's certainly an interesting premise! I have to say, as a parent of a toddler who's not yet potty-trained ... I shudder at the thought of a ten-year infancy!!

Kind of scary, really. But lots of room for exploration in the reactions of the different individuals.

Political aspects would sure change, too ... what good is a mere four-year presidency in those kinds of lifespans? And so on.
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cathylada
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Re: seekingreader, what is science fiction - writing exercise

I think this idea has a lot of promise - and love the detailed background information you provided. I think a dual biography (more at the end of this post) could be an interesting way to get at the sociological impact of the lengthened infancy, childhood, teen years, middle age, and old age could really draw in the reader, who might reflect on her own experiences during those years.

Would we be able to begin applying any wisdom from all of those learning experiences we had during any particular stage of our growth, building a stronger foundation for maturity in subsequent phases of growth? I look back at my own emotional and intellectual growth and can now recognize some of those "learning moments" where I took one path rather than another, and how it may have altered my development (not necessarily good or bad, just different).

A first-person account of the feelings and thoughts of two people - one who was born before the gene manipulation was possible, perhaps someone in middle age - and someone who was born afterwards, could be fascinating if their lives intersected in some way.
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demann
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Re: seekingreader, what is science fiction - writing exercise

Wow...how Would a teenager, with its corresponding emotional upheaval and hormonal imbalance, deal with twenty years of adolescence? Would they eventually go insane and wreak havoc? Would they have to be chemically balanced using drugs or some kind of therapy (mental/medical)? I think the possibilities are endless and may even present a long series of shorts or even novel length stories associated with the different aspects of side effects and social implications...wow!

DeMann
"...Not All Who Wander are Lost..."
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LindaE
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Re: seekingreader, what is science fiction - writing exercise

This is a very interesting concept and the mythological aspect ties into it very nicely. It may help to make a list of all the potential problems this concept might cause should it become a reality, then pick between one and three and use them as a base for your plot. They may well indicate which viewpoint you need to write from and also help you focus your creative energies.
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seekingreader
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Re: seekingreader, what is science fiction - writing exercise

Thanks to everyone for the comments and suggestions on my idea for a story dealing with a lengthened life span caused by slowing the rate of aging (growth), and on my writing sample. I have drawn several conclusions from the exercise.

First, it does appear that there may be the seed for a good story in this. It has also become very apparent as I thought about the story at length that it is an idea that will take at least one novel-length book to explore, if not more. I shudder at the research that will be required to do this appropriately, but I do intend to go to work on it in earnest.

The guidelines for the club suggest that we should be focusing on short story length work, and I do not intend to subject you to chapter excerpts which make little sense without the necessary backstory. However, over the coming weeks I will be trying out characters, plotlines, scenes, etc. from the larger work in short story format. As always, your comments and suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

Jim
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Muse_of_Ire
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Re: seekingreader, what is science fiction - writing exercise

seekingreader, I don't really have anything substantive to add to these comments. However, I thought you might be interested in checking out Picnic on Paradise by Joanna Russ. I remember one of the characters is described as an adolescent although she's in her 30s.
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demann
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Re: seekingreader, what is science fiction - writing exercise

[ Edited ]
OOh...one more thing...David Weber uses a similar concept in his Honor Harrington stories. Their aging process is slowed considerably so they can live much longer. It might be worth a look for some research (and a tremendously fun read if you like that type of novel...which I do) :smileyhappy:

Message Edited by demann on 02-17-200709:33 AM

"...Not All Who Wander are Lost..."
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WriterJim
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Re: seekingreader, what is science fiction - writing exercise

Hi Seeker:

As others have noted, this is a really intersting idea that you can move in a number of different directions. Since you are conversant with Greek mythology, let me add another story: the story of Tithonius, the human lover of Eos, goddess of the dawn, who was given immortality by her, but of course the careless goddess forgot to add perpetual youth to the gift, so Tithonius aged and aged and aged, getting more decrepit with time but never dying. Eventually she shut him in a room.

We seem to be in a tithonian situation now, with our medicine able to extend our lives without necessarily extending its quality. This might be an idea you can pursue.

Ironically, there seems to be a cultural bias these days to extend adolescence as long as possible, with many twenty-somethings living with their parents. I suggest you look into cultures with extended families where newly married son lives with father and mother, grandfather and grandmother and even great-grandmother as a way to explore the complicated relationships that might develop in your imagined world.

I really like this idea, so I wish you good luck with it.
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Ross_Maybee
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Re: seekingreader, what is science fiction - writing exercise

Just another aspect to consider here - are you dead set on having mental development occur just as slowly as physical development? We can return to the whole nature v. nurture debate here. How frustrating must it be for a four year old baby, who desperately wants to walk but is just now acquiring the muscular strength and nervous control to do so? Same thing for toilet training.

Also, science has shown that children's rapid learning is primarily biological in nature. By significantly lengthening childhood, in conjunction with increasing globalization, are you going to create a generation that is almost entirely multi-lingual, with a much firmer grasp on the basics of reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic? Or does it do the exact opposite and interfere with their learning? Do you produce a generation of morons instead? And how does someone with forty years of experience and maturity deal with the emotional fluctuations brought on by the hormones of adolescence? I think there are some interesting paths here.

One last idea I might mention - even if you want to link mental and physical development, there still must be a small number of geniuses. These are the sort of children that already progress at an astounding rate mentally. Perhaps the geniuses that are born in your world would progress mentally at a normal rate, which would allow you to explore some of the ideas I posited above.

No matter what, I'm definitely looking forward to reading whatever you come up with - outstanding idea!
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drlaura
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Re: seekingreader, what is science fiction - writing exercise

Some very interesting speculation going in this theme. I'd also like to see which direction you decide to take.
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