Programming note: On Sunday I'll be back on radio with the audio edition of Steyn's Song of the Week, and this one's a corker. Please join me at 5.30pm British Summer Time - that's 12.30pm North American Eastern. You can listen from anywhere on the planet by clicking the button at top right here.
With that, welcome to Episode Twenty of The Fixed Period, the latest entry to our series Tales for Our Time. Michelle Dulak, a First Day Founding Member of The Mark Steyn Club from Oregon, says:
I just binge-listened to the first 17 episodes yesterday and today, so I'm waaaay behind the curve here. Another novel with a mandatory life cutoff is Isaac Asimov's Pebble In the Sky. In that case the cause is that Earth is radioactive and becoming more so with time (yeah, impossible, but Asimov has set this in an elaborate universe wherein it is), and the cutoff is 60 -- or whenever a person is incapable of supporting him- or herself, whichever comes first. In this case there are exceptions, but they're few. A man from about 100,000 years prior is zapped (more radioactivity!) into this far-future world and discovers that everyone is talking about The Sixty -- how they're going to make the world tour, how the wife is going to go at the same time as her husband (what's the point of staying alive another three months?), &c. Everyone is completely open and cheery about it; apparently the custom is long-solidified as custom.
Earth is despised throughout what is now the Galactic Empire, but the Society of Ancients (a cult that controls everything but the Imperial garrisons) have found a way to effectively wipe out the Empire essentially entirely, by weaponizing a common Earth virus that causes those not adapted to it (i.e., everyone not born on Earth) to sicken and die within hours. The plot is basically how this threat is averted, but The Sixty runs through the book as the unquestioned background to Earthlings' lives. It's a portrait of a society in which the 'Fixed Period' is wholeheartedly, eagerly accepted.
Indeed, Michelle. Getting the masses used to it is the essential element, as President Neverbend has cause to reflect. In tonight's episode of The Fixed Period, he dines with the visiting officers of the Royal Navy, but is puzzled by the forgoing of customs:
After dinner Captain Battleax simply proposed my health, paying to me many unmeaning compliments, in which, however, I observed that no reference was made to the special doings of my presidency; and he ended by saying, that though he had, as a matter of courtesy, and with the greatest possible alacrity, proposed my health, he would not call upon me for any reply. And immediately on his sitting down, there got up a gentleman to whom I had not been introduced before this day, and gave the health of Mrs Neverbend and the ladies of Britannula. Now in spite of what the captain said, I undoubtedly had intended to make a speech. When the President of the republic has his health drunk, it is, I conceive, his duty to do so. But here the gentleman rose with a rapidity which did at the moment seem to have been premeditated...
Gee, it's almost as if they're not treating him as a president... Now why would that be?
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