As I near the end of my own time, Updike's Toward The End Of Time provides a kind of reference point for me. I've outlived Harry Angstrom. Ben Turnbull, 66-year-old ex-financier, failing in body and mind, is my benchmark now.
Ben lives in an alternate future that features Al Gore as a former President, nuclear war with China, the collapse of the federal government and security services from FedEx. The latter makes sense. They have the trucks and people, and they know the neighborhoods. I've often thought FedEx or UPS should deliver our bombs for us. Problem is, I suppose, that, as international corporations, they might take contracts from other countries, too, maybe even contracts to turn around in mid-flight and drop our bombs on us.
One of the permissions Updike gives us is to treat fiction as fiction. After all, centaurs and witches are no more or less believable than FedEx providing security in the absence of police or rich, old Ben Turnbull, consorting with teenage whores as he works through a dying marriage and approaches his inevitable confrontation with impotence and incontinence, unless death intervenes first.
Updike lives in and writes about a privileged world, and he keeps some of that world's secrets, even while revealing others. One of its closest held secrets is that there are skilled surgeons, doctors with a touch so precise they can remove a diseased prostate without damaging the nerves that effect continence and erections.