March 3rd, 2008

there!, Hello

Another Book Finished Over the Weekend

18) Revolt in 2100/Methuselah's Children by Robert A. Heinlein. (1999, Baen Books, 480 pages).
Actually a collection and a novel, this Baen Double features stories from Heinlein's Future History.

Revolt in 2100 begins with an insightful Introduction from Henry Kuttner(yay!), wherein that author discusses Heinlein as storyteller. Then, we leap into "If This Goes On--", the novella of the collection. In the future, after religious fundamentalism seizes control of the United States government and the US has become a theocracy, when a somewhat naive soldier lad falls in love with the wrong woman (one of the many vestal virgins dedicated to the presidential Prophet), he soon finds himself at odds with this government, and aligns himself with an underground organization that initiates the titular revolt. Essentially, many of these themes are dealt with in the novel Sixth Column, though this work handles its enemy in a less condescending/insulting fashion than that novel did (I still get grumpy thinking about that one).
Funny that a story, which resonates with the current political climate, was first published almost seventy years ago. 1939. Makes me appreciate Heinlein's "forecasting" abilities. For my money, it's an interesting failure. Exciting and engaging for the first two thirds, it gets bogged down in the final revolt sections by trying to accomplish too much in too little space.

"Coventry," is a story set after the events of the first story. The US has established a new Constitution, and this story explores the sense of justice and legality. The underpinning idea is that "justice" is a concept impossible to define; therefore, it has no place in law. Law can only deal with quantifiable measures, physical and economic damage to other human beings. When a man is brought to trial for taking a swing and breaking another man's nose, he is found quite guilty and offered the two ultimate options for punishment: 1) submit voluntarily to psychological manipulation (to become a productive member of society), or 2) be expelled from the society to the "non-US territory" of Coventry (essentially a walled reservation of sorts where US has no influence whatsoever. Our protagonist chooses this option and finds inside not a mutual anarchistic organization of free thinkers, but a very corrupt set of police states where power based authoritarian control is the norm... The result is a neat fish out of water adventure story that Frank Capra might have liked...

"Misfit" is less a story than a series of episodes introducing the character of mathematical genius Libby. Ostensibly, it is the tale of a Boys' Club style construction organization building a base of operations on an asteroid, but in essence it's really the character study of a poorly education lad with a penchant for numbers. This fellow turns up again in the following novel...

After this is Heinlein's postscript "Concerning Stories Not Written" which fills in the blanks on his Future History chart of predicted social, economic, and cultural advances from the mid 1900s to the late 2100s. A valuable insight into the mind of Heinlein as storyteller.

Methuselah's Children fascinates me. Not for its characters, per se (though it does introduce Lazarus Long, star of the subsequent novel Time Enough for Love), but for its concepts. The story is about a Family of long living humans (their extreme longevity is due to the quirks of genetic predisposition), who have been operating under the guise of The Masquerade to keep themselves safe from discovery and persecution by humanity at large. Of course, as the story hits its stride, the Masquerade is broken, and humanity discovers what it believes to be a group of social miscreants who have made a scientific discovery (immortality) and not shared it with the rest of us. This leads to a grand chase as Constitutional Rights get chucked out of the window in favor of greed, and our population of long living folks must find a manner to escape this mess. The first half of this novel is an adrenaline pumping chase story (with plenty of Big Ideas, ala the golden age of sf), and then things slow down into an odd kind of stellar exploration crawl. The Group, you see, steals themselves a powerful intergalactic starship (the only one of its kind), modifies the engine thanks to a resident engineering/mathematical genius, and tries to find themselves a new home. The rest of the novel follows this effort and includes multiple first contact situations with some truly alien races. This year marks the 50th anniversary for this novel, and despite the aging, this novel is certainly food for thought, discussion and influence.