Fatherless marks the start of a new career for Dr. James Dobson as he and co-author Kurt Bruner who begin a trilogy of dystopian novels with the first installment.
Fatherless takes place in the year 2042, as the United States continues down its trendline of lower fertility, longer life spans and retirements, and a social safety net that requires large number of workers for each retiree or disabled user to survive.
Predictably this system is teetering on the verge of collapse as the United States population begins to decline in 2041. In 2038, to address the issue, Congress passed the “Youth Initiative” a system of “voluntary” euthanasia (euphemistically called transitions) by which citizens can end their lives and transfer their wealth to younger healthier individuals boastings hundreds of billions in savings.
Freshman Congressman Kevin Tolbert from Colorado wants to reverse the trend from depopulation and proposes legislation to restore tax credits and gains influence with an influential fiscal conservative who wants to be the next President but may have a hidden agenda. Tolbert also wants to undermine the influence of the transition industry. Julia Davidson at thirty-four year old journalist whose career is on the wane and hopes to make a comeback. Her editor assigns her to uncover the details of Tolbert’s plan and to portray it as a fanatical religious “breeder” plot to encourage a return to the dark ages. She hopes to use her friendship with Tolbert’s wife Angie as an in to access to the Congressman. As she digs deeper, she begins to uncover startling secrets.
Fatherless can be viewed two ways: as a dramatization of what the future looks like or as a novel. Lets take a look at what Fatherless suggests about the future first.
Dobson and Brunner suggest realistic and perhaps even milder than realistic results of current cultural and policy trends. America has developed into an immediate gratification nation with little ability to grasp what the long term results of its actions are.
For portraying the results of our politicians’ mad demagoguery on entitlements that pretends the system is sustainable, Dobson and Bruner deserve a medal.
However, they look at other trendlines as fatherlessness and single parent homes become more the norm leading to a generation where the vast majority of people are as the book title implies: fatherless. The consequence is insecure women and immature and angry men in numbers that even more alarming than today.
Another trend is illustrated in the character of Matthew Adams. Adams is a harried wanna be college professor whose college career is stalled by caring for his ailing mother. He wants her to transition so that he can inherit her money before it’s spent carrying for her as she goes through dementia. He’s a thoroughly unsympathetic character. However, the predicament he’s in was caused by his mother having him late in life without a husband, ensuring that he’d bare the brunt of the burden should her health decline before he’d been able to even begin his professional career.
Fatherless suggests some serious consequences for trendy childlessness and single parenthood, that there is a price to be paid for the en masse decisions of today’s twenty and thirty somethings. The ideas are politically incorrect but nonetheless accurate.
Fatherless is also noteworthy for a shift in conservative Christian books. In prior decades, a book like this would be most likely to put godless liberals or radical environmental as responsible for bringing about euthanasia. However, Fatherless casts fiscal conservatives as the villains who view one million “transitions” a year as merely good fiscal policy that saves money on entitlements. Indeed, those who are draining entitlements by breathing are called “debits,” which could have been something a former spokesman for the Romney campaign came up with. Debits are not only considered to be the elderly but the disabled who are carefully weeded out of the gene pool through genetic testing. The drop in the disabled population leads to cuts in special education and even less opportunity for children.
The shift from Dobson is worthy of note and probably is something Christians should consider. “Conservatives” who value money more than God and more than people should not be viewed as allies. If libertarianism and austerity at any cost are embraced, Christians could find the cost could come at the sanctity of human life as death can be quite economical and voluntary euthanasia is a perfectly plausible solution as a fiscal solution to relieve an overburdened entitlement system.
The idea of “debits” is key to the “transition industry” as Tolbert describes it, those who are elderly or infirmed are made to feel guilty which each breath they take, as society led by fiscal conservatives, declares their lives worthless. However, God declares all lives sacred.
Other shifts are believable extensions of current trends as society begins to look down its nose at “breeders” who have too many children and forgo getting designer babies. This is a rational extension of our current culture where parents who have more than three or four children are often looked upon as nutcases and the same for couples who don’t use birth control. In Dobson’s and Bruner’s 2042 this disdain is now on parents who have more than two children and whose children aren’t designer babies.
On a positive side, the authors use the marriage of Kevin and Angie Tolbert to send a couple of powerful messages. First is that Christian marriages ought to be a witness to those around us. Secondly, they exalt sexuality in the Christian marriage, hitting back against a cultural suggestion that Christians are prudes who only have as much sex as they have to. It should go without saying that the authors don’t get graphic or lewd, but they don’t shy away from the topic.
Given the believability of the book’s portrayal of the future, it should serve as a cautionary tale of the danger our country is in. If the authors are right and we have something like 25 years until the worst of it, there are steps that can be taken by Christians individually and corporately to fight against it.
Perhaps, the biggest step that many could take is to stop judging families that have what they think are too many children. I’ve been in Evangelical small groups where Catholics and Mormons have been mocked for their large family sizes. Whatever, theological differences we have, certainly that sort of thing is wrong. In addition, I’ve had a relative who declared of a couple he thought was having too many children, “When the Good Lord said to replenish the Earth, he didn’t mean for you to do it yourself.” Such sentiments feed into an anti-life and anti-human belief system and need to stop.
Of course, aside from the book’s predictions and social commentary is the question of Fatherless as a novel. Here, the book is a bit of a mixed bag. While Dobson and Bruner are multi-published authors, neither has written fiction before.
On one hand, the book does work in some dramatic situations, but it may have trouble living up to its own hype.
Fatherless’ description compares itself to Hunger Games. While both take a look at dystopian futures, Fatherless spends a lot of time analyzing and explaining issues that led the country to the verge of economic and cultural collapse while Congressman Tolbert advocates for solutions to them. If anything Fatherless is what Hunger Games would be like if it were on C-Span.
Fatherless lacks many of the hallmarks of dystopian fiction. If there is a cabal behind it, it’s little different from modern PACs that exist and manipulate government today, nor does there appear to be a sinister grand design behind this other than a misguided attempt to get a fiscal house in order and a corporation’s desire to make money selling the liquid used in the transition procedure.
Fatherless also some basic writing craft mistakes that took me out of the story. In one scene in a restaurant, we were told what motion every character did and what they meant by it when we should really be shown the actions and if written right we can judge for ourselves what they meant. While jarring, these kind of mistakes were not everywhere in the manuscript.
While the characters began pretty flat and stereotypical, the authors did manage to flesh them out once Julia met with Angie and Kevin with the development on Julia Davidson very well done in making her complex character with very mixed motives.
Perhaps, the book’s biggest flaw was that it didn’t advance much in regards to the main plots. Much of the book was spent on Kevin’s “bright spots” proposal to increase fertility rates, but the measure seemed like whistling past the graveyard. More than anything, Dobson and Bruner introduce concepts and characters without having them do much. Hopefully, we’ll see a more forward-moving plot in Childless which is due out in October.
While less than perfect as a novel, Fatherless remains a compelling read for Christians concerned about our nation’s future.