Revolt in 2100 and Methuselah’s Children

I suspect the popularity of my Heinlein reviews on Amazon is mostly because they’ve been up a long time and Heinlein continues to be popular.

From December 14, 2000 …

Review: Revolt in 2100 & Methuselah’s Children, Robert A. Heinlein, 1999.

Revolt in 2100There are two ways to appreciate this collection of two short stories, a novella, and a novel.

First is on its own merit. The novella “Revolt in 2100” stands at the beginning of a long tradition of undergrounds battling future tyrannys. Here Heinlein gives us a Masonic cabal subverting a future American theocracy. Its protagonist gradually finds himself, for the love of a woman, transformed from guard of the Prophet to a revolutionary and questioning his own most basic beliefs. “Coventry” is one of those stories about what happens when convicts are allowed to build their own societies without supervision. Its literary critic protagonist doesn’t find the liberating anarchy he expects amongst society’s outcasts. In the novel Methuselah’s Children, a group of long-lived humans flee a resentful Earth and head out to the stars. It’s neatly divided between a first half featuring a chase thriller and the more philosophical second half with its multiple alien contacts and what they say about man’s purpose in the universe.

One story, “Misfit”, is not that interesting in itself, but, like the entire collection, reveals a lot about Heinlein’s appeal. It’s detail-filled tale of a mathematical genius working on a futuristic Cosmic Construction Corps project to turn an asteroid into a space station probably inspired many a future aerospace engineer. Those familiar with the science fiction of the late thirties and forties, when Heinlein got his start, will be reminded, by these tales, why he was so appealing. His tales are filled with minutae of political thought, engineering, military tactics, biology, and human psychology. Almost as much a Renaissance man as his famous Lazarus Long, first introduced in Methuselah’s Children, Heinlein speculated on the future of many things.

However, as this collection shows, he was also a man of his time. Think FDR’s CCC for the Cosmic Construction Corps or note the references to Freud and Alfred Korzybski’s General Semantics, remnants of the days when science fiction writers were convinced social sciences would soon produce the predictability of the physical sciences.

Heinlein fans unfamiliar with this edition will appreciate notes by Heinlein on the Future History stories he didn’t write and why.

Those who have categorized Heinlein as a fascist or anarchist may want to rethink their opinions after reading this collection, especially “Coventry”.

Historical Footnote

I suppose, for American readers who have been served up the country’s typically horrible historical education, I should explain “FDR’s CCC”.

CCC = Civilian Construction Corps, a jobs program of the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The argument of political conservatives, correct I believe, is that Roosevelt’s policies prolonged and aggravated the Great Depression in America.

On the other hand, if the CCC was a welfare program, at least it was one we got a lot of useful things from — public parks, roads, and dams. Certainly more than we’ve got out of the current administration “stimulus programs”.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/index.

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