Kindle Forum banner
1 - 20 of 100 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
339 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
There are lots of discussions about male vs female character representation in SFF, but I rarely see anyone mention what to me is an equally critical issue: the near-invisibility of old people.

For the purposes of this discussion, people who are 100s or 1000s of years old but act and feel young because of rejuvenation technology / magic don't count :D

The only positive representation of strong old characters in recent sci-fi I can think of is Scalzi's Old Man's War and the sequels. And even they get new young bodies before the story really starts! I admit to not being very well read in recent fantasy but I have a feeling the same problem obtains.

(By strong I don't mean physically strong. I mean represented as an individual with agency who makes story-critical choices and has their own wants and needs, etc.)

I've been thinking about this for a while, and it bugs me to the point that I deliberately wrote a 76-year-old space pirate in as a major character in my latest series (in signature). He has a crew of equally ancient pirate mates and they live to booze and fight and roam the galaxy in search of loot. After all, in the future, when technology is an equalizer, why shouldn't people keep on doing their thing well into their "golden years"? Even if their thing is wreaking mayhem :)

Does the absence of old people bug anyone else? Or am I imagining this / just haven't read the right books? Hit me with examples of strong, positively portrayed old characters!
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
489 Posts
No, it shouldn't bug you, because you're thinking about it the wrong way. Young people are the ones who will be sent to war and who will fall in love. It's stupid for an old man to go on a quest, and Don Quixote is old just because of that. You just don't get excited about stuff the older you get, I'm only 32 and I'm already jaded by a lot of things.
The bias exists only in Hollywood, where even Mentor types get increasingly younger. But I don't see that in books, the wisened old man is always there.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,767 Posts
I agree with you, but it's not just in scifi and fantasy, it is pretty much universal. I'd love to read stories with more diversity regarding age.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
760 Posts
George Saoulidis said:
You just don't get excited about stuff the older you get, I'm only 32 and I'm already jaded by a lot of things.
Wait until you're forty! That's when life really begins! 8)

Seriously, I think there IS a big problem with age segregation in a lot of places. I'm fortunate that my co-working space has people of all ages and nationalities. I've never felt excluded or ignored there due to my age. In fact most of them seem to prefer to talk to me than a lot of younger people. I've had a lot of experiences and seen a lot of things which they can only read and dream about it, after all- why wouldn't they? On the other hand, there's a maker space across town which I would love to be a part of- but everyone in there seems to be in their late teens or early twenties and the two times I've been there everyone looked at me like I had two heads. The really great young man whose redesign of the main open source 3D printer has become the standard is an exception- he's fascinating to talk to- but he's not there very often and I'm just not outgoing enough to force myself into little groups of people who fall silent and then start to disperse as soon as I walk up to them. ::)

In general, I don't worry about it much- just seek out people of whatever age who are a little wiser. If they want to stay in their little age bubble I figure it's their loss! ;)
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,380 Posts
I think this is true and untrue at the same time. The protagonists are usually younger while the supporting cast always has its share of older. Think of the mentor. Who is that person if not the older person?

Especially before today's YA fantasy boom, all those YA fantasy books wound up under generic fantasy. In many ways, the fantasy genre was already a YA genre, with its princes who lost their kingdoms and their destinies to get it back. With the young, we have our young, unattached, forming character who gets to be an attached and formed character at the end of a book. There's a natural arc there.

I think that "eternally young" often substitutes for middle age. Eternally young people look young, but they're not really young. To discount them is to say that they don't count, and I don't think that that works.

And look at the LOVE for older characters that exist. Dumbledore pulls a close second to Harry Potter. And then there's Ron's parents, who many absolutely adore, not to mention McGonnigal and Snape and Hagrid. The most popular fantasy series of the century, YA to the core, and it's rife with older characters. In McCaffrey's Pern, the most loved character is the Masterharper Robinton. So clearly, there isn't an absolute age bias.
 
G

·
I generally try not to reference age in my books. Although in my latest there is old mage types and young acolytes. It's like sexes - there's too much attention given to unimportant aspects. The story is important. I once got pulled up because there were no serious females in my first book. Heck! I don't give a damn! Do I write for the politically correct, or do I just write what comes into my head and what fits the story.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,767 Posts
Douglas Milewski said:
I think this is true and untrue at the same time. The protagonists are usually younger while the supporting cast always has its share of older. Think of the mentor. Who is that person if not the older person?
That's exactly what people are pointing out. Why do protagonists have to be young? Why not middle-aged or old? Why can't a young person be the advisor to an inexperienced older one? It happens in reality after all.

And look at the LOVE for older characters that exist. Dumbledore pulls a close second to Harry Potter. And then there's Ron's parents, who many absolutely adore, not to mention McGonnigal and Snape and Hagrid. The most popular fantasy series of the century, YA to the core, and it's rife with older characters. In McCaffrey's Pern, the most loved character is the Masterharper Robinton. So clearly, there isn't an absolute age bias.
Harry Potter is a childfren's book series. Of course the majority of the adult protagonists will be older than children. That series hardly covers all there is.

You're wrong about McCaffrey. Pern turned into YA after she added her Masterharper series. The initial scifi series was adult, and for the era it was quite raunchy. The sex and rape in those books go quite above the heads of most YA readers, but were certainly noticed by adult readers.
 
G

·
There has to be a reason an old man can physically endure the rigors of the type of quests you find in SFF. Unless he is somehow enhanced by magic or technology, it makes as much sense as a football bat. Besides, I'm not hearing complaints about the elderly not be represented in the genre. In fact, I'm confident in saying they couldn't care less.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,767 Posts
This_Way_Down said:
There has to be a reason an old man can physically endure the rigors of the type of quests you find in SFF.
As the OP stated, it all depends on the world you create. In a technological future there is no need for physical strength, not to speak of the fact that the typical boy heroes of a lot of YA-centric fantasy (including Tolkien's hobbits) hardly are particularly strong either.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
491 Posts
One of my all-time-favorite sci fi books/series has main characters who are not *old* but definitely older than the norm. One of the main characters went to med school in her 40s and now she and her husband - in their late 50s/early 60s, if my memory is correct - are part of a team headed off to make First Contact with an alien world.

I'm running through books in my mind, thinking, 'Oh yeah, the MC in that one was old - he must have been at least... wait, that's 4 years younger than I am now. Crap. That's not OLD!' ;D

Felix R. Savage said:
I've been thinking about this for a while, and it bugs me to the point that I deliberately wrote a 76-year-old space pirate in as a major character in my latest series (in signature). He has a crew of equally ancient pirate mates and they live to booze and fight and roam the galaxy in search of loot. After all, in the future, when technology is an equalizer, why shouldn't people keep on doing their thing well into their "golden years"? Even if their thing is wreaking mayhem :)
Sounds like Terry Pratchett's Silver Horde: http://wiki.lspace.org/mediawiki/Silver_Horde

"The Horde's fighting style ... is similar to the sword style invented by the Lonely Invincible Swordsman in Louis Cha's novel The Smiling, Proud Wanderer. ...the practitioner always manages to move himself out of harm's way and strikes at the opponent's weaknesses. ...the Horde gained this [ability] simply by having enormous experience in not dying. The Horde's survival is simply put down to being exactly where they want to be at any given time (i.e., not where the opponent's sword is).

"When Old Vincent died choking on a cucumber in a very un-heroic manner, the Horde decided that the gods needed to be taught a bit of a lesson and decided to return fire to them, with interest, in the form of Agatean Thunder Clay. They invaded Dunmanifestin, disguised as the Gods of Fish (Cohen), Love (Caleb, although nobody really wants to know what kind of love), Swearing (Truckle, obviously), Being Sick Again (Boy Willie, as Vomita was already the God of Being Sick), and Things Lyin' Around (Hamish)."

Artist's rendition:

Another (B&W) here; I don't want to clutter up the page with images. http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/07/a1/9f/07a19f1ebc7cab7cdcc436d977c63c3b.jpg
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
773 Posts
George Saoulidis said:
No, it shouldn't bug you, because you're thinking about it the wrong way. Young people are the ones who will be sent to war and who will fall in love. It's stupid for an old man to go on a quest, and Don Quixote is old just because of that. You just don't get excited about stuff the older you get, I'm only 32 and I'm already jaded by a lot of things.
The bias exists only in Hollywood, where even Mentor types get increasingly younger. But I don't see that in books, the wisened old man is always there.
At the rate you're going, I'd be surprised if you don't off yourself before you reach 50, which seems to be everyone's idea of "old." Why shouldn't an old geezer (male or female) go on a quest if they're capable of it? I read Scalzi's Old Man's War, and was disgusted. Not only did they shuck those decrepit bodies right away, they shed whatever maturity they'd gained. If that isn't a perfect example of ageism in fiction, I don't know what is.

At almost 80, sure I'm jaded about a lot of things because much of the world is stuck on "repeat." But I still find plenty to get excited about -- and write about. I hope your creativity doesn't dry up along with your zest for life. You have such a long way to go, child, and so many opportunities.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
13,424 Posts
Catana said:
At the rate you're going, I'd be surprised if you don't off yourself before you reach 50, which seems to be everyone's idea of "old." Why shouldn't an old geezer (male or female) go on a quest if they're capable of it? I read Scalzi's Old Man's War, and was disgusted. Not only did they shuck those decrepit bodies right away, they shed whatever maturity they'd gained. If that isn't a perfect example of ageism in fiction, I don't know what is.

At almost 80, sure I'm jaded about a lot of things because much of the world is stuck on "repeat." But I still find plenty to get excited about -- and write about. I hope your creativity doesn't dry up along with your zest for life. You have such a long way to go, child, and so many opportunities.
*slow clap*

A good number of responses in this thread illustrate exactly how ageist society is, and not only that, that it's an acceptable, even funny, form of discrimination.

"But old people can't go on quests!"

Like every SFF story includes a quest.
Like everyone over the age of 40 is written off with dicky knees, no power and no interests beyond daytime tv
Like physical prowess is the only form of power

"But no one wants to read about it, least of all the old geezers themselves"

FFS. Stop telling other people what to enjoy. Remember that those over the age of 45 are likely to be your main buyers. Not only that, they have all the time and money in the world, go to the gym every day and are all on Facebook.

And if you ever find yourself getting jaded, remember that you, and not the world, are the problem, and that you need to go and broaden your horizons a little.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
339 Posts
Discussion Starter · #15 ·
SerenityEditing said:
Artist's rendition:

Another (B&W) here; I don't want to clutter up the page with images. http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/07/a1/9f/07a19f1ebc7cab7cdcc436d977c63c3b.jpg
Ha ha ha I LOVE this picture! Awesome! Change their outfits into spacesuits, give them laser rifles instead of swords, and this could be the "Old Elephants," my crew of nonagenarian space pirates. BTW I have NOT read that particular Pratchett book, but I will now.

I first started thinking about this problem of ageism in SFF after I developed a mailing list and became friends with many readers on it. Many of these guys and gals are decades older than I am, squarely in "old" territory. They're opinionated, funny, erudite, and full of zest for life and books and new experiences. They have read everything and want to read more. I love them! And I started thinking about how unfair and stupid it is that there aren't any protagonists in this age bracket, especially since we wax on about representation for every other identity group under the sun.

Actually, I just thought of *one.* Captain Granger in Nick Webb's Legacy Fleet, called out of impending retirement to save humanity. A cranky old geezer who legitimately knows better than the young people around him. (Could he be one of the reason those books sold so well?) So there's one example of a strong old character, but there should be more! I'm encouraged to see that others feel the same way about this. Maybe we can start making older protagonists as "normal" for the genre as young adults are now.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,292 Posts
I've actually been thinking about this a lot lately, and it seems like a big case of the media stereotypes leaking into literature. The whole concept of when you're old, you lose value. I really hate it, and am feeling pretty crappy right now for not having an older MC (my oldest is late 30s). I do have an old, super powerful villian, and a badass assassin in her late 50s, so that's something I guess. Regardless, it's a sucky mindset, and I think it's far worse in regards to female characters. Just like in hollywood, old dudes can be debonair, and no one flinches when they end up with the young, hot heroine. Yet how many movies/books/tv shows do we see with a sixty-something female renegade spaceship captain? It's a problem that goes far deeper than modern literature. *Runs off to write a new book about an elderly woman kicking butt, taking names, and finding romance*
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
156 Posts
In fantasy books, Robin Hobb comes to mind for including strong older characters (e.g. the grandmother in the Liveship trilogy, and an older woman joins the quest in the Farseer trilogy).

It's often easier to look back than forward in life. As we get older, we still remember what it felt like in our younger years. Young people can't always imagine what it will feel like to be twenty years older, for example. So books with younger protagonists can appeal to a wider audience. The exception is when the writer hits on those timeless themes of love, friendship etc. with older characters. I hate to bring up Golden Years, but that's a show that has been watched by females of all ages, including children. A lively pacing also attracts a wider audience.

I'd also like to say that an older character doesn't have to act like someone young to appeal to all ages. I can think of many movies/shows where I've heard children root for and talk about how much they love certain older characters, and the characters weren't kicking much butt (or sometimes any butt at all). There are many ways to show strength.

To answer your original question: Yes, there is ageism in SFF and everything else in this world. I'd love to see more books with strong, interesting older characters. If it's done right, it will appeal to all ages. Go for it!
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
871 Posts
Old people go to war. In wartime, generals, and the home guard are predominately older people.

Seniors go on quests; they do work that many younger people don't have the experience to do, and creative types work up until they die, as they love their quest too much to quit.

All people need love and fall in love. Senior citizens fall in love. A successful marriage is continuing to fall in love with the same person. Older people find new love, just as young ones do. Did I know this at thirty-two? Probably not to the extent that I'm aware of it now that I'm seventy and I have adult friends from twenty to one-hundred. 

Most novels I choose to read do represent a broad range of ages. It doesn't worry me if an author only writes about young people, but if that novel feels ageist, I wouldn't read that author's work again. When I was younger, I might not have noticed an absence of older, mature adults in a story.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
656 Posts
When writing older characters, one thing to remember is that perspective shifts as you get more experience, and as the body ages and becomes more fragile. It's not that "old people don't go on quests", it's that someone who's built a home, a family, and a life has a lot more to give up and lose if they decide to go traipsing off on a quest. There's also logistics: a couple of teenagers may find throwing their worldly goods in a couple backpacks and hitchhiking off to somewhere, while sleeping in the woods or the backs of cars to be a great adventure. If I tried sleeping on the rocky ground with only a tarp, or in a Volkswagen beetle now, I wouldn't be able to move the next day. And that exciting climb up to the dragon's lair, across the rocky slope? That's a lot more perilous when you've already broken a leg or sprained an ankle a time or three, and your balance isn't as good as it used to be.

For some great SF/F books that truly show an older person's perspective, I highly recommend Elizabeth Moon's Remnant Population, Lois Bujold's The Curse of Chalion, and her Paladin of Souls. (The latter two have protagonists that are merely middle age to us - but in their medieval settings, they are truly old.)
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
376 Posts
Age is a state of mind.  A lot of people are going to be confused when they discover that they have the same desires in an old body.  Dreams don't die.  They just get diverted by some annoying circumstance of a body with a problem.  Otherwise, things just go along.

We are here to learn.  Don't let some pipsqueak tell you that you're old and irrelevant.  Keep going along, and do what you want to do.  If that's a quest, do it.  Other people don't have to understand it.  Remember, at some point you will be needed to pull that foolish youngster out of the bog.  You knew the bog was there, why didn't you warn him?  He wouldn't listen?  Oh, there's that...
 
1 - 20 of 100 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.
Top