I need a semi-plausible (I'm not writing hard sci-fi) explanation for why an affliction affects all the over-12 year olds and leaves the young ones alone.
I was thinking about something I had read about...is it theta waves? Something that happens to kids' brains around puberty? Something that differentiates a child's brain from an adult's brain. I'd love for it to be really specific...like happens on a 12th bday or something, but that's probably unrealistic. I'll have to make that part up. (thank god I like writing fiction!)
Like I said, it just needs to be semi-plausible, but I would appreciate a few pointers or ideas for what kinds of things to research, since it's been far too many years since I last looked at any neuroscience papers...
Could it be an undetected side effect of some "rite of passage" element that everyone has to experience at age 12? That way, you could make it be anything you want.
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Taste buds change in sensitivity with age. Adults distinguish five elements of taste through four types of taste bud papillae: sweet, bitter, salty, sour, and the evolved by sophisticated gustatory exposure and elusive savory taste. Newborns distinguish tastes more selectively than adults because they have more taste buds, and are more sensitive to bitter and sweet, and their pain sensations associated with hot pepper and horseradish are much more sensitive, but infants don't develop the salty buds until about six months. Changing taste selection is theorized as a survival mechanism so infants don't eat poisonous plants.
Anyway, a right of passage ritual at twelve years old involving a painful dose of capsaicin oil that burns out perhaps the sweet taste receptors might change adult diets and cause them to crave a variety of otherwise toxic plants with, say, psychotropic properties that afflict adults with varying behavioral and brain disorders.
Hmm, interesting ideas. Kathleen, you made a suggestion I hadn't thought about, and extrinsic you expanded on it - very interesting...
By way of more information, my MC is going to be (this is my nano project I'm planning so she hasn't done anything yet!) on a spaceship where all the sudden all the >12 year olds conk out (sleep-like) and she has to race against time because her 12th bday is coming up and she is the only one who can figure out how to pilot and land the ship they're in. Along the way all sorts of mayhem will take place, of course.
I'm loosely inspired by both the book Brain Wave, by Poul Anderson (premise is that the earth suddenly leaves a "dampening field" that has been hampering our IQ for eons, and all the sudden everyone is much much much much smarter), that I read a month ago or so, and a book I read as a young girl over and over that is set in my home town called The Girl Who Owned a City (premise is that all >12 year olds in that story have died and now the kids are in charge. My book is taking a more soft-shoed approach...the grownups are there, but incapacitated...in a way that is humorous because the kids have to keep climbing over passed-out adults.)
You know how sometimes the best ideas come from a collision of two ideas? So I have the basic idea of a bunch of kids in charge of a space ship, but I just need to have that semi-plausible explanation for why the grownups are conked out. I feel like it's important to have the MC's birthday as a hard and fast deadline that is approaching quickly, she has to solve the puzzle before she conks out herself.
I don't think a rite-of-passage ritual (ala the eating hot peppers thing you suggested, extrin) will work because she's too smart to go along with a ritual just because that's the way it's usually done, particularly if she's in a crisis already and she's seen other 12 year olds during this crisis conk out after eating the peppers or drinking the 12 year old punch or what have you.
FWIW, I wasn't planning to use puberty as the demarcation because it's too broad a range. I want her to have a ticking time bomb both because of external factors (spaceship will crash if she doesn't figure something out) and her own factors (and soon because she's going to be 12 any day now!)
Ah, this is the fun part, isn't it? Thanks to all for the ideas, I'm going to keep noodling on this.
High tech society then. All the people have implants for tracking purposes, perhaps release of chemicals that prevent side effects from their interstellar travel circumstances, some nefarious Big Brother thing maybe. Something in the spaceship control systems causes a feedback effect in the implants of all those who turn twelve that puts them into a coma. Preprogrammed sabotage of the mission seems a plausible motivation/scenario. Danger thriller genre.
[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited October 06, 2009).]
I don't think in biology that anything happens at an exact age. There is always an age range for puberty and other biological changes. So if it has to do with changes in brain waves or the onset of puberty, they wouldn't change exactly on her 12th birthday, could be days, months or years.
But since this is scifi, what about having some genetic or drug induced alteration of humans done by doctors to protect young children from getting diseases, but these alterations also inhibit puberty. So the smart scientists programed the genes or drugs to "turn off" at age 12. So this alteration protects everyone under the age of twelve from the disease inducing comma, and the mc knows that her protected days are numbered.
Just an idea.
[This message has been edited by MAP (edited October 06, 2009).]