Ageing Into The Future

A review of Lazarus Risen edited by Hayden Trenholm and Michael Rimar (Bundoran, 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Hayden Trenholm and Michael Rimar’s collection of fiction Lazarus Risen constructs itself as a collection of stories about the biological singularity, exploring “dreams of immortality and eternal youth”, yet most of the stories in the collection bring attention to that spectre that always haunts ideas of youth – old age. This is an anthology that is well-timed and extremely important as ageing gets codified in political policies and ideologies that largely examine ageing as a social burden. These stories provide a challenge to easy ascriptions of ageing and interrogate assumptions about ‘old age’. They provide a foundation for a genre of Ageing Futurisms, which is a genre we desperately need as our societal views of old age continue to be narrow. Lazarus Risen explores the complexities of ageing and the potentials that exist within ageing bodies and identities. 

Most of the tales that we encounter, whether through speculative fictional lenses or through realist genres, tend to focus on youth, constructing 20-somethings as the harbingers of “relateable experiences”. Our social favouritism toward youth feeds our social obsession with staying young, holding all of the negative implications for those who don’t fit this social mould of youth. Ageing people tend to be constructed as, at best, inconveniences, and at worst, are erased because they are seen as being non-contributors. We create social ideas that the aged have been erased from our society by virtue of not contributing in the economic ways that we construct as normative, ignoring all of the ways that ageing people contribute to society and add to our social growth.

It is fascinating that so many speculative fiction texts erase ageing people from their narratives (or cast them in stereotypical roles such as the role of the mentor or the burden to the narrator) because age is something that is fundamentally connected to a major theme in speculative fiction – change… and age is powerfully connected to the idea of the future and the passage of time, which SF frequently interacts with.

We pretend in our society that “coming of age” happens only once – in the transition between childhood and adulthood, yet we are ALWAYS coming of age, always moving from one age category to the other and shifting and changing to accommodate those movements. Lazarus Risen provides a space for examining the way that we keep coming of age, that people keep shifting and changing over the course of their lifespan. 

Like any SF collection, Lazarus Risen deals with the social changes that come with technological changes, but the tales in this collection centre the human (or inhuman) experiences that come with these changes, exploring how “what it means to be human” is something that always has to run after our technological imagination, constantly redefining itself. It is the focus on the human experience that makes this collection a powerful one, and it is the focus on age that makes it one that is both timely and necessary. Lazarus Risen makes readers confront their insecurities about the spectre of ageing, makes us examine that biological clock that keeps ticking away, reminding us that change is inevitable and that change comes with constant new wonders, excitements, and, yes, challenges.

To read reviews of some of the short stories in this collection, visit:
https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/03/19/a-plague-of-immortality/
https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/03/16/mecha-care/
https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/03/07/ageing-usefully/
https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/03/02/a-wilde-ride-through-time/
https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/02/27/split-apart-for-new-perspectives/

To find out more about Lazarus Risen, visit Bundoran Press’ page at http://www.bundoranpress.com/product/1/Lazarus-Risen

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The Cost of Living

A review of Holly Schofield’s “Generation Gap” in Lazarus Risen (Bundoran, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Increasingly age is being associated in our society with an economic threat. We are hearing more and more uses of terms like “the grey tide” to illustrate the perceived threat that an ageing population represents. Age is constructed in ideas of cost and ageing bodies are assumed to be unproductive bodies. The focus of a lot of the rhetoric of threat is the perceived cost of health care for ageing people, and the assumed impact this will have on the overall economy.

Holly Schofield’s “Generation Gap” begins with a character who is threatened by health care debt. We are told by Brendan’s medi-bot that “Personal health care debt exceeds five hundred thousand dollar maximum. Re Federal Act #AJ4448802-Mar 2060. Confirmation #28495488988. Euthenasia approved.” The medi-bot prepares to end Brendan’s life because he is now deemed to be too expensive to keep alive. Schofield explores the interaction between the perception of aged bodies as unproductive, the notion of health care for the elderly as expensive, and the danger of the right to die. In the world Schofield imagines, current issues around the construction of ageing as unproductive and economically threatening have exacerbated to the point where aged people are viewed as disposable. Schofield opens up a dark window into our future if we continue to construct ageing as an economic waste.

Schofield challenges other features that popular culture tends to associate with ageing, like the assumption that aged people have issues with memory and Brendan is able to save himself from involuntary euthenasia by giving him a job providing information about the past to a young person named Jonno, who is trying to recover his family’s past. Schofield challenges the stereotype of aged people not wanting to participate in society by illustrating Brendan’s joy at having a job and feeling like he can contribute to the next generation. He is ecstatic about having a job that he is capable of doing well and that caters to his abilities.

But in addition to the questions and cautions that Schofield raises about the social construction of ageing, she also creates a story about family divisions and intergenerational differences, pointing out the complexities of different relationships to identity and the body between generations.
To discover more about Holly Schofield’s work, visit https://hollyschofield.wordpress.com/
To find out more about Lazarus Risen, visit Bundoran’s site at http://www.bundoranpress.com/product/1/Lazarus-Risen

Only Work is Perpetual

A review of Suzanne Church’s “Lost Flesh” in Lazarus Risen (Bundoran, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

The right to die is a complicated issue that brings with it questions of whether people want to die because our society makes it impossible for a disabled person or an aged person to survive comfortably in our society. With the right to die, people in the disabled community have asked “Is it really a right to die when our society provides no ability for disabled people to live within it?”. Suzanne Church takes on the complicated issue of the right to die in “Lost Flesh”, a tale about immortality and the desire by immortal characters to die once their lives become monotonous and unstimulating.

Church brings up an issue that people often ignore in tales of immortality: what does it mean to be immortal in a capitalist society. She explores the idea that every extension of life brings with it a contract for prolonged work, highlighting the issues of ageing in a capitalist society. As characters age endlessly, the only constant in their lives is work and the monotony that comes with perpetual work means that life quickly loses its joie, its vigour, its value. Characters lose their sense of wonder and life begins to feel like an eternity of repetition. 

“Lost Flesh” is a story that explores the horrors of immortality within a capitalist system, where unageing bodies become only vessels of labour, machines of production. Church asks what the right to die means in a society where living means exploitation. 
To discover more about the work of Suzanne Church, visit her website at http://suzannechurch.com/wordpress/
To find out more about Lazarus Risen, visit Bundoran’s website at http://www.bundoranpress.com/product/1/Lazarus-Risen