Rejuvenation

Tagged: Theme

The restoration of youth or a plausible semblance thereof has always seemed both more practical and more comfortable than the troublingly open-ended perspectives of Immortality. This entry deals chiefly with stories of bodily rejuvenation through Medicine and allied procedures: for the wilder sf tropes of transferring one's mind or brain to a new, young body or of growing inexorably younger by living backwards, see Identity Exchange and Time in Reverse respectively. Some early sf examples are Jack London's "The Rejuvenation of Major Rathbone" (November 1899 Conkey's Home Journal), featuring a rejuvenating serum, and George Allan England's "The Elixir of Hate" (August-November 1911 Cavalier).

The 1920s fame or notoriety of Serge Voronoff's supposedly rejuvenating monkey-gland transplant procedure led to several works of fiction couched as Satires and/or awful warnings – of Apes as Human transformation, for example, psychological in Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Creeping Man" (March 1923 Strand) but literal and physical in Aldous Huxley's After Many a Summer (November 1939-March 1940 Harper's Magazine as "After Many a Summer"; 1939; vt After Many a Summer 1939). Other Voronoff-inspired novels include Bertram Gayton's The Gland Stealers (1922) and Thomas Le Breton's comic Mr Teedles, the "Gland" Old Man (1927). A distant filmic echo is The Wasp Woman (1959), whose protagonist's wasp-derived youth elixir has the side effect of causing her head to become (intermittently) that of a wasp.

Rays and radiation also work their usual magic, as in Gertrude Atherton's Black Oxen (1923) in which X-raying the endocrine glands rejuvenates women but not men; the Sex-related implications were regarded at the time as scandalous. The youthful restoration of an old woman in Dorothy Mills's Phoenix (1926) inflames her doctor, who is Lebanese and sexually beyond the pale (> Race in SF). A highly unusual cause of rejuvenation is the lightning bolt that strikes the protagonist of Mircea Eliade's Le temps d'un centenaire (1981; trans Mac Linscott Rickett as "Youth Without Youth" in Youth Without Youth and Other Novellas coll 1988).

The tradition of dire consequences from sf wish-fulfilment continues in John Gloag's Winter's Youth (1934), where rejuvenation and consequent life-extension proves bad for the social fabric. Restoration of youth in The Leech Woman (1960; vt Leech) requires pineal extract and proves temporary, leading to repeated murders for the sake of victims' glands. Pseudo-rejuvenation through plastic surgery brings no joy in Seconds (1966), whose protagonist comes to a bad end. Pete Davies's The Last Election (1986) features a widely disseminated rejuvenating Drug whose eventual backlash causes premature ageing.

Conversely, there is a strong comic tradition based on the follies of restored adolescent impulses. Thorne Smith's The Glorious Pool (1934) uses Magic to this end, with a US garden pool doubling as the Fountain of Youth. Film examples include the happily screwball Monkey Business (1952) and the mawkishly sentimental Cocoon (1985), whose Fountains of Youth are respectively a Drug-spiked water cooler and an Alien-influenced swimming pool. A uniquely rejuvenated celebrity in Peter F Hamilton's Misspent Youth (2002) is embarrassingly unable to resist an old pal's granddaughter, his own son's girlfriend, and so on and on; eventually, and rather suddenly, the treatment wears off.

Often rejuvenation treatments blend into the general background of a future sf setting. As "anti-agathics" they are crucial to the interstellar crossings of James Blish's Okie stories, and are duly developed in the first volume (by internal chronology) They Shall Have Stars (February 1952 and May 1954 Astounding; fixup 1956; rev vt Year 2018! 1957). Rejuvenation is routinely available, at least to the well-off, in Roger Zelazny's This Immortal (October-November 1965 F&SF as ". . . And Call Me Conrad"; exp 1966); in Larry Niven's Known Space stories – of which "Grendel" (in Neutron Star, coll 1968) argues that rejuvenated women will feign youthful clumsiness in order not to betray their age through a poise and grace learned over many decades – in M M Buckner's HyperThought (2001) and War Surf (2005); and in Peter F Hamilton's Commonwealth Saga beginning with Pandora's Star (2004) – set centuries after Misspent Youth (see above), with that book's experimental restoration technique now perfected. Such treatments, plus various alternatives including Immortality and Upload, are free to all in the cashless Utopia of Iain M Banks's Culture sequence.

Benign planetary environments may rejuvenate visitors: examples include Venus in C S Lewis's Perelandra (1943; vt Voyage to Venus 1953) and the World of Tiers in Philip José Farmer's The Maker of Universes (1965; rev 1980); even Earth may confer such benefits on those properly attuned to Gaia, as in Philip E High's The Prodigal Sun (1964). Perhaps sf's most eccentric rejuvenation device is the specialist Matter Transmission apparatus of Larry Niven's A World Out of Time (fixup 1976), which selectively strips the human body of toxins and residues supposedly responsible for ageing; youth gradually but automatically returns. More recently, similar feats of physical restoration are routinely attributed to Nanotechnology. [DRL]

see also: Charles Hannan; James Hasson; Ellen Wobig.

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