“Geriatric Ward” — Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card is the best-selling author of more than forty novels, including Ender’s Game, which was a winner of both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. The sequel, Speaker for the Dead, also won both awards, making Card the only author to have captured science fiction’s two most coveted prizes in consecutive years. Card is also the winner of the World Fantasy Award, eight Locus Awards, and a slew of other honors. He has also published more than eighty short stories, which have been collected in several volumes, most notably in Maps in the Mirror and Keeper of Dreams. His most recent book is a young adult novel called Pathfinder.

Switch on the television and wait a few minutes—there’s certain to be an ad for hair dye or anti-aging skin cream.  A quick perusal of any women’s magazine will uncover at least one article that fights wrinkles or cellulite or some other symptom of time’s march across the body.  Humans are afraid of death in whatever form it takes, but growing older is perhaps its most reviled shape.  Unlike a homicidal maniac or a car accident, old age makes its victims survive decades of indignity.

No wonder we fight it so much.

But our next story gives us a future where the battle against old age has become even more of a losing proposition.  Lifespans have plummeted.  Senility can hit a person in only his mid-twenties, and despite efforts to start adulthood at a younger age, there’s only so much living anyone can cram into a quarter of a decade.  It’s hard to lead a full life in so little time.

Here is a world of quiet desperation, full of people fighting for one more day with a loved one.  One more day of sunshine.  One more day as a geriatric.