Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Fixed Period by Anthony Trollope

The Fixed Period was Anthony Trollope’s foray into dystopian science fiction. Fans of the author will find this work radically different from his more famous novels in many ways. In my opinion, this is not up to the greatness of the author’s more traditional books or that of the early science fiction pioneers such as H.G. Wells.  With that, I found the novel to be worthwhile exploration of philosophical issues and human nature. 

First published in 1882, the story is set in what was the “future” year of 1980. Britannula is an ex – British colony that had gained independence and become a republic. At the country’s formation all of its citizens were young, recent emigrants. At that time there were no older citizens.  A law was passed called the “Fixed Period”. Intended to save the society the cost of caring for an elderly population, as well as preventing aging citizens from descending into the supposed indignity of decrepitude, the legislation mandated that all citizens be euthanized upon reaching the age of 68. 

One year prior to their end, the citizen would be sent to a bucolic campus called “The College” where the person would live out their last year in comfort and supposed honor. Thirty years after the passage of the law, the first effected citizen, Gabriel Crasweller, is nearing his 67th birthday.

John Neverbend is President of the Republic. Ten years short of his own retirement to The Collage, he is a staunch advocate of The Fixed Period. As his time to retire to The Collage nears, Crasweller as well as many others citizens begin to question the concept of the Fixed Period and there is talk of resistance. Neverbend becomes an adamant defender of the law. 

Crasweller’s daughter Eva, as well as Neverbend’s own wife and his son Jack, are among those who choose oppose the law. A budding romance develops between Jack and Eva further complicating the situation.  

Unfortunately, the usual intricate complexity of character so prominent in Trollope’s other works is absent for most of the characters in this novel. However, Neverbend is still a fascinating literary creation.  He is no firebrand, but can be best described as a calm fanatic. He clings to the idea of The Fixed Period despite all arguments and opposition. At times he even finds that idea of the upcoming euthanizes emotionally wrenching, yet he adamantly stands by the law based upon supposed principle. He also continues to see himself as a noble revolutionary and continually compares himself to both Galileo and Columbus.  Trollope skillfully shows us the immorality and absurdity of the law while painting a picture of a character who honestly believes in it. This is a fascinating character study.

Another reason to recommend this work is how well Trollope examines the way in which ideologies subvert language. If this book had been written after 1948 I would have commented that Trollope’s exploration of language was Orwellian. Yet this book was written years before Orwell’s invention of “Newspeak” in Nineteen Eighty - Four. At multiple points in the text, Neverbend shows his obsession with language and his attempt to control how the Fixed Period is talked about. 

At one point he ruminates on those who are using the word “murder” in relation to the coming euthanizes,

" this the terrible word "murder" was brought into common use. I remember startling the House by forbidding any member to use a phrase so revolting to the majesty of the people. Murder! Did any one who attempted to deter us by the use of foul language, bethink himself that murder, to be murder, must be opposed to the law? This thing was to be done by the law. There can be no other murder.

In the above quote, not only does Neverbend object to the accurate term “murder”, but he seeks to forbid its use.

Later he takes a similar tact with the word “slaughter”

“The word slaughter was in itself peculiarly objectionable

Even in Great Britain, there is a “Minister of Benevolence” who seems to order warships from place to place. Once again, this smacks of Orwell’s “Ministry of Peace” from Nineteen - Eighty Four. In regards to this theme, Trollope seems very insightful and well ahead of his time. 

In addition, the idea of society killing its members at a certain age, while derived from an earlier play called The Old Law by Thomas Middleton, William Rowley, and Philip Massinger, has been used in multiple subsequent science fiction stories, perhaps most famously in William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s Logan’s Run. The issue of society struggling with high cost of care for the elderly, also seems prescient. 

This book is obviously different from the usual Trollope fare. Though not an outstanding novel I found it to be a good one.  It contains interesting ideas that are worth are exploring. Though not up to the usual high Trollope quality regarding characters, plot and writing it nevertheless is an insightful character study. It also delves into issues that are to this day relevant. Ultimately this is a thought provoking and worthwhile piece of speculative fiction. 




54 comments:

CyberKitten said...

How very, very strange. I'd never have imagined that Trollope would write something like this.

Jennifer said...

How interesting. I have read a lot of Trollope but I have never heard of this book. I think I am going to have to search it out just because it is so different.

R. T. (Tim) Davis said...

Very interesting posting and review! Well done! I wonder what contexts (in the author's life or the social/political/economic scene) motivated Trollope's unusual attempt at dystopian fiction.

Stefanie said...

How interesting! I had no idea Trollope wrote a sf book! I might have to look this one up and add it to my e-reader!

JacquiWine said...

Very intriguing. Like many others, I wasn't aware that Trollope had dabbled in dystopian science fiction. Was this a one-off, do you think? While I'm keen to explore him more in the future, I'll probably stick to his more famous novels! Nevertheless, it was interesting to hear about this. Thanks, Brian.

Fred said...

Good review. I was also surprised when I discovered the book several years ago. It definitely is not a typical Trollope production. It is a more thoughtful treatment of the issue than is found in SF books on the same topic--Logan's Run is probably the best known SF novel.

I wonder if trying one SF work was standard for fiction writers of the day: EM Forster's short story, "The Machine Stops," is another example of an dystopian work by another writer who, as far as I know, never wrote another SF story.

Caroline said...

I don't think this is for me but I found it interesting to read about it. I would never have thought that he wrote anything like this.

Carol said...

Very interesting - I'm really partial to dystopian books and will look out for this one. Thanks for the review, Brian.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Cyber Kitten - When I first heard about this book I was very surprised.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks RT. I think that Trollope wrote this when he reached the age of 67. That undoubtedly influenced the plot of this book.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Stefanie 0 Your reaction seems common. I would love to know what you thought if you read this.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jacqui - I believe that this was Trollope's only foray only speculative fiction.

Though this was interesting, I would recommend starting with is traditional novels.

Brian Joseph said...

Ho Fred - You raise a good point about these writers "trying on" futuristic stories.

I thought that The Machine Stops was superior to this book.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Caroline - It is really a different book and not for everyone.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Carol - Though ot the greatest dystopian book, this is something that fans of dystopian fiction would like.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks for stopping by Jennifer. One reason that I read this is because I love Trollope and this looked very different.

Mudpuddle said...

breaking new ground for sure... i'd never heard of it although the initial description in your post rang a bell )if not a set of chimes) so when "Logan's Run" was mentioned it clicked... i'll see if i can find a copy of it.. many tx...

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Mudpuddle - I remember when the film Logan's Run was so popular. It did seem to be a like very good idea. Though it has been a long time since I have seen them, In retrospect I am not sure of the film and televisions adoptions were very good. I wonder how the book was.

Tracy Terry said...

Well, there you go, that's something new I have learnt today. I'd never have associated Trollope with dystopian science fiction.

Gently Mad said...

Great review, Brian! I did not know Trollope wrote dystopian novels.

How he exposes the human tendency to manipulate the way people think by changing the meaning of words is so relevant today. Even though you said it's not as good as his other writing or other Sci Fi writers, I think I will have to give this book a try.

Have a great week and blessed Christmas!

Fred said...

The book was OK, standard adventure tale. One difference that I remember is that the cutoff age in the book was younger than in the film. I read later that the director made the age later because they couldn't find enough actors who looked that young.

Take it for what it's worth.

I would say that if one wants action, then read Logan's Run. If one wants a story with characters and plot development and a rationale for the point, then read Trollope's novel. I've read both and seen the film, although long ago.

Being curious, I just checked Netflix and found titled Logan's Run. One is the film that came out in 1976 and the other is a TV series that came out in 1977. I hadn't known of the TV series, so I guess I'll have to check that out.

Fred said...

Ooops. That should read "I just checked Netflix and found TWO titled Logan's Run."

Fred said...

Brian Joseph,

"The Machine Stops" was more focused on the main point, but I certainly enjoyed _The Fixed Period_ for what it was--an interesting foray into unknown territory. I don't think anyone else had explored this idea before, or, if so, I am unaware of it.

Mudpuddle said...

Fred: perhaps Trollope had been reading Francis Galton... he wrote a number of books on eugenics...

Fred said...

Mudpuddle,

I know little of Galton, but what little I do know seemed more to concentrate on inheritable problems, rather than about the problems of age. Doesn't eugenics stress the prevention of birth of those with genetic problems? I'm not clear how setting an age limit fits in here.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Sharon.

Trollope's understanding of language and how it is misused seems so far ahead of his time.

If you read this I would love to read what you thought of it.

Have a very Merry Christmas!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Tracy - You are not alone. I was also very surprised to learn about the existence if this book.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Fred - I understand that there was play called he Old Law by Thomas Middleton, William Rowley, and Philip Massinger that covered similar territory and proceeded this novel.

I may be dating myself but I remember watching the Logan's Run television series when I was young.

HKatz said...

The description "calm fanatic" is interesting. I can easily picture it too.

I haven't read any of Trollope's works yet. What do you recommend I start with?

Also, this past year I've gotten into Star Trek - more specifically, The Next Generation, and they have this kind of plot too in one of the episodes, with the cut-off point being 60 years I think. There the man in question both falls in love and has scientific work he needs to finish.

Suko said...

I have still not read anything by this author, but I've read a lot about his work. This book does sound like an interesting character study that's thought provoking. Excellent commentary, Brian Joseph! Have a wonderful Christmas!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Hila - I loved the entire Barsetshire Chronicles series. It begins with The warden. I thought the 2nd book, Chronicles of Barsetshire was the best.

I also recently read Can You Forgive Her? Which was excellent.

I remember that Next generation episode! I love Star Trek and The Nest Generation was so good.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Suko. I love Trollope.

Have a very Merry Christmas.

The Reader's Tales said...

Hello Brian! I passed by in haste to wish you a MERRY CHRISTMAS. I will read this review calmly next week.

Fred said...

Brian Joseph,

Thanks for the information about the play. I may dig around a bit. I remember reading Logan's Run when it first came out and also saw the film, but I never heard of the TV series. Well, it's in my Netflix queue so I will catch up on the world.

Kathy's Corner said...

Thank you for your review which further convinces me that I've missed out in not reading Anthony Trollope and that has to be fixed. I've got the Warden in my kindle and its time to begin. The Victorian period in English literature is filled with so many great novels and novelists. Its becoming my favorite time period for literature.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Reader's Tales - I hope that you and your family have a very Merry Christmas.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Fred- I may try to give the play a look myself.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Kathy - Victorian Literature is so good. I have become a bit addicted to it.

The thought that The Warden was really good book. With that, if you continue on to the second book in the series, Barchester Towers, you are in for a real treat.

Maria Behar said...

Fascinating commentary, Brian!

Based on your previous commentary of Trollope's novels, I would NEVER have connected this author with the SF genre. What a surprise, then, that he actually ventured into it!

It's unfortunate that Trollope's characters in this particular novel are not as well developed as those of his other, more famous ones, but I suppose that's understandable, considering the fact that he was obviously out of his element in writing this SF novel.

The philosophical and ethical underpinnings are, of course, very interesting, as well as highly relevant to today's society. Euthanasia for any reason is something I consider highly unethical and immoral, due to my personal religious beliefs. Life is to be honored and protected, at any of its stages of development.

In spite of what you've stated regarding character development, I would definitely like to read this novel. It does sound very intriguing!

Based on your statements regarding some similarities with the Orwell novel, I must conclude that Orwell might have been influenced by Trollope's own novel. If that wasn't the case, then it's a remarkable thing indeed that Trollope was so far ahead of his time!

Thanks for your thoughts!! :)

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Maria.

Everyone is so surprised that Trollope wrote such a book.

Orwell might have read this, or it just might be that both writers recognized how bad ideologies often try to co - opt language.

I do believe in assisted suicide for the terminally ill who are undergoing great pain. That is obviously a far cry from what is going on in this book.

Thanks for the great comment.

Mudpuddle said...

Merry Xmas and Happy New Year!!! (hic)

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Mudpuddle .

Merry Christmas and happy New year to you and yours!

Fred said...

MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all.

SEASON'S GREETINGS

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Fred.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours.

R. T. (Tim) Davis said...

Merry Christmas


FYI . . . My blogging is going in a different direction at a different address:

shortstoryreadersdigest.blogspot.com

Please join me there.



The Reader's Tales said...

Good morning after Christmas! Yes, here it's 8 hours and something.
Very interesting posting and review as usual! I never heard of this book before, that said, I have not read anything by this author!! Shame on me. Hahaha...

Brian Joseph said...

Hi The Reader's Tales.

Many Trollope fans have not even heard of this book.

Though I enjoyed it I would recommend starting with more conventional Trollope. Perhaps The Warden or Can You Forgive Her?

Brian Joseph said...

I hope that you and yours had a Merry Christmas RT.

Thanks for the update.

I will update my blog reader.

James said...

Thanks for an interesting commentary on a book of which I was totally unaware. While I enjoy both Trollope and science fiction I am unlikely to read this book anytime soon.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi James - Though it was interesting, the book was not a must read.

thecuecard said...

Holy smokes I didn't realize the author wrote about this. What an interesting time to write about such an issue. I'm curious to look up Logan's Run -- the book & movie. How did you come across The Fixed Period? What an intriguing title too.

Fred said...

Brian Joseph,

I was able to find a copy of _The Old Law_ by Middleton, et al. I haven't looked at it yet but will do so shortly.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Fred - Please keep me posted as to what you think. I am very curious about that work.

Fred said...

Brian Joseph,

Will do.