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A survey which was released recently has discovered that “middle age” is now later than we previously thought.  Almost 20% of people said that middle age is a state of mind, but of those who specified an age, the average was 55.  Previous estimates have been around 36.

The thinking is that people are living longer, so the boundaries are having to be redrawn.  One statistic in the article sprang out at me: there are more people over 65 than there are under 16.

I have a habit of taking trends to their extremes to see what would happen, so naturally this statistic reminded me of Children of Men, a film in which no children have been born for 18 years.

The film is a loose adaptation of a PD James novel by the same name.  I’ve seen the film but not read the book, so I decided some research was in order and hunted up a copy to read.

(Warning: this post contains spoilers for major plot points).

The Film

It’s been a while since I saw it, which means this section is mostly focussed on the points which are easy to remember.  The UK is one of the last remaining functioning governments in the world, partly due to their extreme stance on immigration.  The chaos is immense.

In the midst of all this a man, Theo, is kidnapped by activists and asked to accompany a young woman on a journey, as protection for her.  He agrees, and it’s not until after quite a few shenanigans that he discovers why she is so important: she is pregnant.  The activists are planning to use the child as propaganda, so the two of them run away with the intention of delivering her to a group of scientists who are trying to cure the infertility crisis.

The baby is born on route, and Theo is gravely injured in some fighting.  The pair are last seen in a small row-boat, Theo slipping into unconsciousness as the scientist’s ship approaches through the fog.

There was one scene in the film which I think will stay with me for many years to come.  The baby is born during a battle between the activists, immigration prisoners in a prison camp, and government forces.  The building in which they are trapped is surrounded and under heavy gunfire.  Suddenly the sound of a baby’s wail fills the air.  Nobody has heard this sound for two decades.  The fighting stops as people look at each other in bewildered awe.  The young mother carries her child out of the building, through the surrounding army to the relative safety of the rest of the battle.

And then the fighting recommences.

The transition from awed silence to deafening gunfire is instantaneous, as if someone has thrown a switch and recalled all of the soldiers to their duty.  It is a stark reminder of something – something which I am having trouble putting into words, and which is perhaps best left as an unstated feeling.

The Book

The book, as I was warned, is much more cerebral than the film.  The film was, for the most part, strict action-adventure.  The book, in comparison, gives detail on the political structure of the country, and even hints of the way the rest of the world is coping.

The book is written partially as a third person narrative, and partially as a series of diary entries by Theo, who in the book is the cousin of the Warden of England and therefore slightly more immune to punishments than the average person.

The differences were not limited to the amount of background detail that was included.  There were differences in plot, both major and minor.  The ending, in particular, was radically different, with Theo killing his cousin and taking on the role of Warden to protect the newborn child and his mother.

One of the minor differences was the way the infertility presented.  In the film, the women are barren; in the book it is the men who suffer.  The book also came up with both a sensible response from the government (compulsory sperm testing of all healthy males in an attempt to find someone who could father a child) and a way that the pregnancy could have occurred without them knowing (the father had epilepsy as a child and was exempt from the testing).

I was impressed with the way the details were doled out at just the correct pace, interspersed with enough action to keep me interested.  Some of the details of social response to the situation were fascinating just from a psychological viewpoint, though they added very little to the plot.

All in all, I would recommend both the book and the film, for different reasons.  I may have to investigate and see if other books by PD James are equally enthralling. 

There’s an article on the BBC with a large picture of a cat at the top.  The picture is captioned,

“This is the author’s cat.  This cat is not dead.”

The caption is needed.  The cat is sprawled on a pavement, legs all akimbo, chin turned towards the sky.  It looks dead.  In the article, the author comments that once it did this sprawl on top of a bin, and a passing cat-lover thought it had been thrown out and took it to an animal rescue centre.

The article, however, is about human mortality – and how it compares with that of the feline race.  Schrodinger is mentioned, as he so often is when cats are involved.  In a strange twist, the cat used to demonstrate that point doesn’t look at all dead, even in the half of the picture in which he is supposed to be.

But I digress.

How long will we live?  It’s a question that haunts many people, that nobody knows the answer to.  All indications are that we will continue to live longer and longer as the human race moves boldly into the future, but who really knows?

I note that actuarial mortality tables only go up to age 120.

Is the quest for immortality wasteful?  This interview with nonagenarian philosopher Mary Midgely agrues that it is, although I’m not sure she’s using the same definition of “wasteful” as I am.  Ultimately, her argument seems to boil down to “there are too many people already, living longer doesn’t guarantee better quality of life, and the prospect of dying concentrates the mind on all the good stuff you could do before then”.

Long lives and the absence of disease are common topics for fiction, from Ancient Greeks to Captain Jack Harkness, not to mention the more obvious examples.  It’s one subject on which everyone is practically guaranteed to have an opinion.

So what do you think?  Is immortality desirable?  Should we all die after a set number of years?  Does it depend on other factors?  Start your debate in the comments!

Children with older fathers live longer.

The telomeres (the tips of chromosomes which protect them from damage) in sperm cells grow with age, unlike those in other cells, and that added protection is passed on to the children.  Yes, older fathers increase the risk of miscarriage, but scientists think that the health benefits outweigh the risks.

“As paternal ancestors delay reproduction, longer telomere length will be passed to offspring, which could allow life span to be extended as populations survive to reproduce at older ages.”

Many future fiction has a humanity with greater lifespan than at present.  Is this one of the methods we will use to achieve it?

The Author

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something martial artist who runs two Brownie packs and works full time. She somehow still finds time to write.

Her favourite genres are near-future and alternate world science fiction and fantasy.

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