Skip to content

• Anthony Trollope’s future-world: steam bowlers, hair ‘phones, and euthanasia.

By MICHAEL KEYTON [Strange Horizons] – [Anthony] Trollope is best known for his Barsetshire novels and there is no finer or more subtle chronicler of English landed society during the 19th century. But he is less well known for The Fixed Period, the piece of speculative fiction he published in the very same year as Vice Versa...Early speculative fiction is filled with astounding things. Jules Verne would predict air conditioning, automobiles, the internet and television, helicopters, submarines, and jukeboxes; H. G. Wells, inner city decline and suburban flight, sexual permissiveness and the E. E. C. On the other hand, Trollope struggled. The future he envisioned remains dominated by the British Empire and landed power. His forays into technology are woeful, provoking the occasional wry smile or a shake of the head.

The Fixed Period contains references to steam tricycles with electric lamps, steel climbing arms for mountaineers, and cricket dominated by catapults and steam-bowlers. The latter is even carefully described: “Then the steam-bowler was ridden into place by the attendant engineer and Jack began his work as . . . he carefully placed the ball and peeped down to get its bearing.” Such a steam-bowler was an exhibit in the Great Exhibition of 1851. It hadn’t been taken up by 1882, so it is hard to see why Trollope thought this machine would dominate cricket in 1982. It must, however, made some impression on him, if he remembered it thirty years later. Even so, Trollope did anticipate cricketers needing more adequate protection against faster balls: “. . . so completely enveloped was he in his India-rubber guards, and so wonderful was the machine upon his head by which his brain and features were to be protected.”

These are far from the only examples of futuristic technology that appear in The Fixed Period. In Trollope’s 1982, men wear weather-watches and communicate via “hair telephones” that have a broadcasting range of ten miles…What makes The Fixed Period a significant and underrated piece of speculative literature is not its vision of the future, but a central theme that resonates more and more strongly in our own aging societies. “The Fixed Period” refers to the age at which euthanasia becomes legally enforceable.

Continued at Strange Horizons | More Chronicle & Notices.

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x