The Cure

I cannot say that I am a good science fiction writer, but I keep going back to the genre every now and then. There was a piece I wrote a while ago that I actually sent to a publisher, and was soundly rejected. Sadly I cannot find the original manuscript, so I will have to tell you the story from memory.

A wealthy investor is invited to a remote house of a seasoned inventor. I had creative names for both characters that I fail to remember. The inventor had, in the past, made a lot of investors quite rich and consequently has a reputation to match his achievements. Over an elaborate dinner, the two reminisce over the inventor’s past triumphs and slowly begins to discuss his latest invention. His first major invention was called the “iliosoleum cell”, which was a micro-chemical-plant composed of microscopic canals etched into a plate of silicone powered by a solar cell also incorporated into the same plate. The tiny chemical plants produced oil out of carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight. The cells were built into panels, and the panels were used to build expansive farms which provided the world with renewable synthetic fuel. The invention made the initial investors very wealthy, but the inventor lost control of his company and was forced to resign. He is still bitter about the event. The inventor has since shifted his focus to medical science and has found a cure to what he views as the most pressing medical issue of his time.

As dish after dish of exotic foods are served by robot servants, the inventor lectures how humans used to die at a much earlier age due to infectious diseases, which were eventually conquered thanks to improved hygiene, the introduction of vaccines, and the invention of antibiotics. It was only then that cancer became the focal medical issue, since up to that point most people died long before they reached the age in which most cancers occurred. In the middle of the 21st century, when cancer was nearly conquered, a triplet of maladies dubbed “tripaths” became the center of medical attention. They were osteoporosis, the loss of bone, sarcopenia, the loss of muscle, and dementia, the loss of mental function. The tripaths were previously known as gerontological maladies and did not become the center of medical attention until people began to live beyond the age in which tripaths became common. And now that the tripaths had become more or less conquered, the next big issue with medicine was the loss of interest in all activities known as “anatheleosis”, the loss of will.

People over the age of a hundred and ten or thereabouts, otherwise in good health, tended to lose interest in buying new acquisitions or making money to buy them. They lost interest in sex even when their sexual functions were adequately supplemented. They were not obviously depressed or otherwise mentally compromised. They simply did not desire to further their fortunes or consume more than they needed. And since these were typically the richest people in the population, the consequences for the economy were dire. But the inventor had developed a potion that would make healthy old people lust for more sex, more money, more power, and more material possessions. He had found the cure for anatheleosis.

The investor listens attentively, but has reservations as to whether this is what the world really needs. He does not see anatheleosis as a disease, but compares it to Buddha-like enlightenment and finds the state admirable. Very old people released from the clutches of anatheleosis would also lust for more life. It would make death more unbearable. Also, the very fact of more people consuming more than they need to would lead to greater environmental destruction. He ponders what would the world come to if all humans were to be “cured” from the absence of avarice. Yet he agrees that there is a great business potential in the new invention.

In the original manuscript, I ended the story with the investor killing the inventor in order to stop the cure from getting out into the world. I am still not sure if that was the right way to end it.

If this story were a movie, it would be a static one scene affair in the same vein as My Dinner with Andre. It might make a better stage play. As a short story, it is rather boring. I suppose there is not enough tension behind the investor’s motivation for killing the inventor. As a piece of science fiction, it is not quite compelling enough. There is a lot of scientific history behind it, and also an extrapolation of that history into what the future might bring. My taste in science fiction has been poisoned by short stories by the likes of Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, and Ysutaka Tsutsui, that play out like long jokes with a punchline twist at the end. I tend to write in the same format. But I have written before that the purpose of science fiction was to expand the imagination where Reason had closed it. When we no longer believe in ghosts, Hamlet does not pack the same punch as when we did. But we may still suspend our disbelief at what may come in the near future. So we substitute robots and space ships for ghosts and angels. But just having a believable futuristic element is not enough. That futuristic element, like the ghost in Hamlet and Dante’s Inferno, must shake us and move us in a profound way.

A world where “tripaths” had been conquered and “anatheleosis” is the next big health crises must not sound banal or ordinary, but horrifying. It needs to challenge our perceptions like Huxley’s Brave New World or chill and inspire us like Flowers for Algernon. However plausible the prediction may be, it would not be a driving component of a story if it were a mere forecast of the future.

I was reminded of this story by an online conversation I was having today. The conversation had nothing to do with medicine, but it had a lot to do with what the future might be like, mostly from the economic standpoint. I hope I can get back to this story and make something out of it in the future. There is a seed of a story there, but so far only a seed.

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