January 31, 2004

Revolt in 2100 by Robert A. Heinlein

revoltin2100.jpgFourth book in a four-book series, the third book of which was never written. The first two are The Man Who Sold the Moon and The Green Hills of Earth. I didn't realize the connections when I started, but only learned of them upon reading the afterword. I read Man Who Sold the Moon decades ago, but remember nothing of it. "Revolt in 2100" is actually the title of a novella that takes up most of the book with the remainder comprised of two short stories: "Coventry" and "Misfit".

In "Revolt", the United States has fallen into a totalitarian government headed by the Prophet Incarnate. Our hero is John Lyle, a young man in service as a guard at the Prophet's palace/fortress. This being Heinlein, Lyle soon falls in love with one of the Prophet's priestesses/concubines and is thus clued in to the corruption of the religion/government he'd grown up in. Fortunately this awakening coincides with his contact with a secret society dedicated to overthrowing the theocracy and replacing it with something pure and democratic. Like all Heinlein, the plot moves along at a fine clip with some surprising twists and turns in the fate of the hero.

"Coventry" takes place long after the successful revolt of the first story. We see the utopian society that has arisen through the eyes of David MacKinnon who doesn't fit in and doesn't want to be made to (through mental conditioning--a much more exact science in these stories than we've managed to make it so far). He chooses exile over reconditioning and is sent to Coventry, a section of the country walled off to provide a location in which to exile deviants. MacKinnon's vision of Coventry is an idealized version of the Old West where people are free to do as they like and leave eachother alone to do so. Needless to say, he is sorely mistaken and finds himself in a world where the "do no harm" law of the outside is suspended and instead people take what they can any way that they can. It's actually more civilized than that makes it sound, but compared to the world from which he is fleeing, it's downright barbaric.

"Misfit" also shows the world following "Revolt" with a bunch of not-quite-content young men going off-planet in a kind of interplanetary Civilian Conservation Corps where they, in this case, turn an asteroid into a space station. The story focuses on one member of the crew who distinguishes himself through his human calculator skills.

It's weird that since I read this book there have been at least half a dozen times where I've run across references to Coventry and Nehemiah Scudder (the original Prophet of the "Revolt" story) on various blogs. References that wouldn't have meant anything to me before reading the book. Of course with our current administration there are ample opportunities to be reminded of a theocratic dictatorship so perhaps the prevalence of such references shouldn't be surprising.

Posted by jeffy at January 31, 2004 02:11 PM
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