LIVE LONG AND PROSPER, AUTHORS

The most recent copy of Locus was waiting for me at my desk this morning, and I’d only just started thumbing through it when I was struck by two thoughts. The first was, “Uh oh, I forgot to write a blog post for today,” and the second was, “Look at all these old science fiction and fantasy authors!”

(No offense to Connie Willis, excluded from that category, of course.)

It wasn’t the first time I thought about all of the SF/fantasy authors out there who seem not only to live, but continue to work, into their nineties—eighties at least. The People & Publishing section of the October 2009 issue of Locus wishes happy 89th birthday to Ray Bradbury on the lower right-hand corner, and on the upper left-hand corner is a photo of another of my favorite authors of all time, Frederik Pohl, who is also 89, and was awarded an honorary high school diploma. According to the little news snippet accompanying the photo, Pohl dropped out of high school at the age of 15, which would have been 1935. I’m sure he’s delighted to be able to say he’s lived through part of both Great Depressions.

Two of my former co-workers at Wizards of the Coast. Mark Sehestedt and Peter Archer, knew veteran (to put it lightly) SF author Jack Williamson from their time as a student and professor (respectfully) at Eastern New Mexico University. Jack Williamson died in November 2006 at the age of 98. Robert Heinlein was 80 when he died in 1988. Arthur C. Clarke made it to 90 before he passed away in his beloved Sri Lanka in March of 2008.

Sure, there were authors who didn’t make it that far. Philip K. Dick was only 53 when he died in 1982—but still, there just seems to be something about writing science fiction that keeps you young—at least keep you alive, anyway. What could it be?

Could it be that these men, some scientists before they started writing fiction, had some kind of forward-thinking edge on the average citizen? Do they know the chemistry behind longevity, and like Linus Pauling preserve their health with vitamins?

Some of them have been very successful over decades and decades, so is it because they’re rich? But aren’t there richer people than any of these guys who died lots younger? Money equals healthcare in America, so it would seem to follow that the richer you are the better healthcare you’re getting, therefore the longer you live—but I’m not sure the statistics bear that out. Besides, I’m not sure that Jack Williamson, for instance was particularly wealthy.

Could they be in communication with aliens, or humans from the future who admire and were inspired by their work, and who occasionally visit them and allow them to spend a few minutes in their flying saucers’ rejuvenation chambers? I guess it’s as easy to believe that than, say, that Sarah Palin is qualified to be President of the United States, and people have told that story on national television.

The writer’s life isn’t terribly physically strenuous. Maybe that’s it. If your job is to sit in a safe place tapping away at a typewriter you probably do have a leg up on people who, say, remove asbestos for a living, or work on Alaskan crab fishing boats. I’m pretty sure no one’s ever drowned while writing a novel.

I briefly thought that maybe these guys stick around because they’ve found a way to do what they love, every day, and do it for a living. That they’ve been embraced by a community of intelligent, caring fans who admire their work and occasionally get a chance to tell them so. Could it be that doing what you love for a living makes you live longer? If your day to day work is exactly the activity you would plan on doing when you retire, are you less likely to retire at all? Does doing what you love make you work longer, feel vital longer, and so you live longer?

No, that couldn’t be it.

Could it?

If so, I might just make it past Philip K. Dick’s 53, and having just turned 45, 53 doesn’t seem that old at all. If I live as long as Arthur C. Clarke, and for what it’s worth, my paternal grandfather, I’m only halfway there.

Let’s circle back on this subject in 2054 and I’ll let you know if it was the love of the game that kept me going, or the aliens’ rejuvenation tanks. Either way, I’ll be a happy 90-year-old with a lot of stories left to tell.

—Philip Athans

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the recently-released How to Start Your Own Religion and Devils of the Endless Deep. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
This entry was posted in Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s