Title: Revolt in 2100
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Genre: Science fiction
Publication date: 1954
This is actually a collection of three stories: "If This Goes On--" is a short novel, originally published as a serial in Astounding Science Fiction; Coventry is short story, which I believe is original to this collection; and Misfit is a short story that originally appeared in a 1939 issue of Astounding Science Fiction.
Revolt in 2100 isn't actually a book you need to buy. It was the third in the Future History series, and all of these stories have since been collected in a rather large book entitled The Past Through Tomorrow. If you are a fan of Heinlein's novels but not his short stories, it's worth getting this book just for "If This Goes On--". Here's a quick review of the contents of the book I have before me:
Revolt in 2100
The Innocent Eye: An Introduction by Henry Kuttner
Even if you are a fan of Henry Kuttner (I am), it's probably not worth reading the introduction. It has no real content, except to explain that Heinlein is a great writer because he has an excellent sense of the human experience and he's a great story teller. I mention it only because this, along with the postscript, are the only elements of this book that do not also appear in The Past Through Tomorrow. Unfortunately I do not know what year the forward was written, and I don't know if it appears in all editions.
"If This Goes On--"
This is as close a look at the theocratic dictatorship started by Nehemiah Scudder as we ever get to see. (Although For Us, The Living gives more background on Scudder himself, it gives a completely different timeline; FU,TL is not officially part of the Future History). It takes place about three generations after the reign of Scudder, but the tyranny of the Prophets still rules the land in an iron grip. While this is the revolt referred to in the anthology's title, it actually takes place a little before 2100, although an exact date is not given.
The tale is told from one of the soldiers of the Prophet's personal guards, John Lyle. He is a pious man, and still quite young and naive, given his position. While on guard duty at the palace one night, he meets and befriends one of the Virgins, the beautiful young women whom the Prophet has selected to share his bed. A great honor indeed, but she refuses the Prophet, and is arrested, to be imprisoned until she sees the error of her ways. In attempting to rescue her, John becomes tangled up in plots of rebellion. Telling any more would involve spoilers.
It's a good story, but its merit lies in Heinlein's writing style, and nowhere else. This is not hard science fiction, there's not much development of the ideas of libertarianism or other social theories (apart from a strong desire for freedom), and it doesn't even have much of the Hero Conquering Adversary vibe that was so popular in later decades. I consider it to be required Heinlein reading just because the theocracy of the Prophets is referenced so many times in other books. Regardless, it's an fun read.
After the revolt is over, a perfect society is formed. Everyone gets along together, and those who don't get along are quickly and firmly reconditioned by psychotechnicians. But the founders of the new state didn't want to allow another dictatorship, so one important requirement is put upon the government; anyone can leave rather than be subjected to psychological treatment. Those who choose to 'leave' are placed in a large reserve surrounded by an impenetrable wall. This reserve is known as Coventry.
We can all see where this is going, right? An anarchist land full of rugged individualists, making a living off the land and dealing with each other with careful codes of honor and respect for ones' neighbors, right? Nope. This story is more Harry Harrison than R.A. Heinlein. Our hero is a deluded nudnik who assumes that he will be able to live off the land (and build a modern apartment complex with his bare hands) just because he is well versed in the ancient works of the like of Jack London and Zane Grey. He is quickly robbed of his belongings and thrown in jail. He finds that the land is ruled over by three warring city-states, and that life in Coventry is poor, nasty, brutish, and, quite possibly, short.
The plot of this story is so simplistic that I can't really tell you more without spoiling it. Suffice to say, the story is nothing too special, and as far as I am aware Heinlein never mentioned Coventry again. The main theme of the story is the emotional and social development of the protagonist, and the events of the story do not really build into the Future History except to document the existence of Coventry.
Both "If This Goes On--" and Coventry contain many references to new fields in the social sciences developed to help the rulers manipulate the little people; Propaganda, applied semantics, hypno-control over the subconscious, etc. Some of these ideas are well developed enough that I'm surprised that they didn't make stronger appearances in his later works.
A painfully hackneyed story. If someone were to try to parody Heinlein's early works they probably would come up with this. I suppose that this isn't self-plagiarism, because it came before the more developed works that it mirrors, but in retrospect, it's not really worth reading. Be warned, I'm not going to worry about dropping spoilers. There's just nothing there to spoil...
A young man is sent into space as part of a youth work/rehabilitation program. Although he is not aware of it, he is a mathematical genius, a fact which becomes apparent when he catches an old spacehand making a very technical and rather dangerous mistake. He saves the day, is recognized for his talent, and is allowed to help the Captain in making a difficult space maneuver. the computer breaks down, and he completes the calculations in his head, saving the day. And there you go.
There is one major point of interest in this story; the young genius involved is Andrew Jackson Libby, who will be an important character in Methuselah's Children, and the inventor of the Libby space drive. His 'light-pressure drive' will allow ships to travel faster than light, and open up the galaxy to colonization.
A few years later this story was completely revamped and overhauled to form the basis of Starman Jones, a much better story.
Under the original plan this was the last story in the Future History, although Methuselah's Children has since been added to the canon.
Concerning Stories Never Written: Postscript
Here Heinlein gives us some background on the Future History stories. While it is interesting, I will leave most of it out in the hope that someone will node it in the appropriate node. His main subject, however, are the three hypothetical stories that would fill a notable gap in the Future History. Strangely enough, while he predicted that he would never write them (and he never did), he knows their names and their plots. They take place immediately after the collection The Green Hills of Earth (ending with The Menace from Earth), and before Revolt in 2100. They are:
Heinlein also takes this opportunity to warn us that the possibility of America becoming a theocracy is a very real one. If his Future History is right, we should be seeing a prophet arise in the next few decades...