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10 of Science Fiction's Most Depressing Futuristic Retirement Scenarios

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The UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs estimates that, by the year 2100, life expectancy in developed countries will hover around 97 years and around 106 years by 2300. But will the quality of life for the elderly and retired increase with that increased lifespan? While many science fiction stories promise rejuvenation procedures and freshly grown bodies waiting to download your personality, there are some tales in which our venerable elders (and sometimes not-so-elders) are dehumanized — sometimes in uncomfortably close exaggerations of the modern day.

Living the same hour over and over again: In Charles Yu's How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, you can hide from the world by living out of time. Time machine technician Charles Yu does it by hiding himself in a pocket universe while his retired mother hides from her unhappy memories inside a one-hour time loop. Instead of hanging out in a nursing home, where your dementia constantly reboots your memory, you can just relive the same hour over and over again. Charles' mother chooses an hour of prepping and eating family dinner with simulacra of her son and vanished husband, It might sound appealing on the surface, but you always sort of know that it's not real and that your family hasn't come to visit you in a rather long time.


Being murdered by your younger self: That's the basic setup for the upcoming time-travel flick Looper (you can read our very excited first impressions here). You hang out, spend a few years killing time-traveling criminals for a mob outfit, then close your loop by killing your future self. Then you hang out on a beach in France for the next three decades before you're sent back in time to get killed. This one's a bit different from the other examples, since your death is related to future mob politics rather than old age, but it must be frustrating to know that your death is coming up and you have only your past self to blame.


Living out your days in Virtual Florida: Futurama is always good for a more extreme version of our own depressing reality, and instead of sending its elderly into physical nursing homes, retirees get sent to the Near-Death Star. There they are used as batteries (because it turned out that The Matrix was totally correct and everyone who doubted it was utterly short-sighted) and plugged into a virtual reality retirement community. All that processing power, and all the elderly get to do is eat virtual oatmeal, play virtual bingo, and wait around for the kids to call.

Living for eternity as a disembodied head: Futurama actually has multiple dismal dumping grounds for human beings (and that's before we get around to what becomes of disabled robots). Granted, many of the heads in jars are likely clones implanted with the memories of their original personages, but unless they're playing president of Earth (like Richard Nixon) or dating Bender (like Lucy Liu), most immortal heads live up on a shelf in the Head Museum, offering occasional advice to people who still have bodies and wishing for death.

Being murdered by your government: This is a pretty common scifi scenario for the elderly, especially the elderly who live in fascist societies (often disguised as false utopias). Sometimes, the dying part is a bittersweet occasion; in Ally Condie's Matched, your death day is a party attended by your family and you die with the taste of cake on your lips. Other times, you're mislead about what's going to happen; in Lois Lowry's The Giver, you think you're headed off into the wilderness (which, granted, has a bit of a "being sent off on an iceberg" feel to begin with), only to die on the end of a needle. Often, it's a question of economics — the society decides that the elderly are of no use, so why not make more resources for other people? (In V for Vendetta, thugs murder nursing home residents simply to open up more beds.) Soylent Green goes one step further, convincing the elderly to seek euthenasia so that the government can process their bodies into food for the populace.

Being murdered for mass entertainment: In the cross-country Death Race 2000, the elderly are worth 100 points (and elderly women an additional 10 points above that), making them the most desirable targets for the depraved Death Race drivers. In fact, hospitals use the drivers as an excuse to get rid of their elderly patients. But the driver known as Frankenstein decides that maybe the folks with little regard for human life and death are the ones best suited to die.


Living out your golden years in a state of quasi-undeath: Ian R. MacLeod's short story "Recrossing the Styx" envisions a future in which people can indefinitely extend their lives through organ transplants, memory uploads, and titanium joints to the point where you could no longer consider them alive. These walking corpses hang out on the same cruises ships where their rejuvenation procedures are performed, a series of floating undead nursing homes. The trick to making this sort of retirement work for you is to die young and leave a good-looking walking corpse.

Being used as a mad scientist's test subject: The scientists running the nursing home in Margaret Peterson Haddix's novel Turnabout use the mental fog of extremely elderly patients to elicit their consent to participate in a dangerous drug test. In The X-Files episode "Emily," one nursing home implants alien-human hybrid embryos into elderly women, having them carry the resulting fetuses to term while they sleep. For a more mystical example, another X-Files episode, "Excelsis Dei," sees an orderly giving nursing home patients mushrooms that both treat Alzheimer's and grant patients the ability to see ghosts.


Extending your life via suspended animation: There are lots of stories in which the dead can be revived for brief periods of time (Will McIntosh's wonderfully chilling short story "Bridesicle" comes to mind). In the Judge Dredd installment "The Forever Crimes," we encounter the not-quite-final resting place of the super-rich, where the sick and elderly exist in a grim, morque-like facility exist in suspended animation. They can be woken up for brief periods of time, but that forces them to suspend a little bit of their remaining lifetime. And sadly, you'll probably find yourself woken up for bad news, like the death of a loved one.


Going into storage: Most people in Richard K. Morgan's Altered Carbon do experience old age — in fact, thanks to the resleeving process, they often experience it twice. But while science has found a way to put you in a new body, it hasn't found a way to make the aging process more pleasant. After two full lifetimes, most folks who aren't rich enough for frequent resleevings put their memories and personalities in storage, opting for only occasional and temporary resleeving.