How long should we live?

How long should we live?

With our National Health Service beginning to creak under the weight of increasing numbers of senior members of society as people live longer, Pearl S Buck’s words have never been truer:

Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.

I recently received a letter from my Godmother, who at 102 years old, apologised for not penning a longer letter!  I felt humbled. My husband said, “I’ve never held a letter written by someone who has had a telegram from the Queen.” I could tell that he was impressed, too. Old age need not be a time of helplessness or infirmity … it shouldn’t be.

My parents, who passed on aged 73 and 77 respectively, could probably never have imaged living for a century.  That infamous time-traveler, Doctor Who, has lived (fictionally, of course) for billions of years – he went ‘the long way round’ on more than one occasion!  Yet he has (so far) lost none of his zest for life, as evidenced by his date with River Song in the recent Christmas Special.  For ‘Torchwood’s Captain Jack Harkness, longevity is a somewhat harder cross to bear… they are two characters at opposite ends of the spectrum, giving us some great story-telling along the way.

Old age (or finite life) is a theme beloved of science-fiction writers and film-makers since…. well, since the first piece of speculative fiction appeared (author Brain Aldiss cites Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ as the first example of science-fiction, and I can’t argue with that). In the society of William F Nolan’s classic novel, ‘Logan’s Run’,  ‘old age’ is deemed to be twenty-one. Neolithic men and women were lucky to reach forty.

C.S. Lewis had this to say:

How incessant and great are the ills with which a prolonged old age is replete.

While Aldous Huxley took a different view:

The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm.

Personally, I’m with Aldous.  Well, as someone starting my writing career in my fifties , I need all the positivity I can get!

With scientists declaring in the spring of last year that quite soon, we might all be able to live ‘five hundred years or more’, it seems eerily appropriate that my first novel asks the question:  “How long do you want to live?”

‘The Methuselah Paradox’ makes no judgments, however.  It’s a story, primarily about people who have been caught up in the consequences of a discovery…  and there are many ways the story could have gone, many different scenarios that could have played out (and I probably tried them all, before settling on one).  I think it may be a theme I will return to… because really, the answer could be as simple as “as long as I have good health, so that I can live, and not just exist.” … and that’s probably the answer I would give, if I were to be asked the question.  But of course, it’s never quite as simple as that…

So… how about you? How long do you want to live? How do you think living ‘five hundred score or more’ will affect us, and our society – and of course, planet Earth?  I can’t promise to answer all those questions in ‘The Methuselah Paradox’, but I hope it will give you food for thought.

Never one to miss an opportunity, before I go, I’m going to slip in a little plug for my crowdfunding campaign… if you’d like to help me create a trailer for ‘The Methuselah Paradox’, why not pop over to www.ejjackson.org to see what cool, limited editions perks you can pick up in return for a little donation…

Thank you for reading!

EJ Jackson