No Longer Novel
Science fiction, ever avid for novelty, does tend to celebrate youth. Its readers often start young (famously, the Golden Age of science fiction is 12). Likewise, many authors start their careers at a relatively early age. Samuel R. Delany published his first novel when he was 19; Tanith Lee published her first novel at age 24. Michael Moorcock became the editor of Tarzan Adventures at 17 and published his debut novel five years later, by which time he was editor of New Worlds. So on.* The average age of a Hugo-winning author is 44, although the mode of the distribution (the most frequent age) is 37 (data compiled by Nicholas Whyte.) Is it all downhill from there?
In a recent interview with Don DeLillo (79), the interviewer notes that although the author eschews email, prefers to communicate by fax and writes on a typewriter, there's a scene in his latest novel where characters stab at a taxi video screen, trying and failing to turn it off its annoying infomercials -- this celebrated revenant knows about touchscreens, is still in the world. Well, we're all in the world, more or less. The trick is to stay aware of it. Especially if you're a writer of the kind of fictions that extrapolate the weirdness of the happening world into something and somewhere else. The trick, as you get older, is to stay current. And to be aware of the themes you return to, and the habits you accumulate. You can't do much about those themes, they're as much a part of your identity as your fingerprints, and losing interest in them, failing to find anything new in them, is like losing interest in yourself. But habits are a form of laziness, shortcuts, defaults, and you should try to sidestep or cut out them out, subvert them, invert them, make them into something new. Writing a novel is a little like dreaming, sometimes, It should never be like sleepwalking. And then there's the kind of damage you can only accumulate as you move through the world and time. That's an advantage you have, as you grow older: the damage. That's something you can use.
*I started relatively late: I was 33 when Four Hundred Billion Stars was published (I did sell a story when I was 19, but before it was published the magazine folded; it wasn't a very good story anyway).