Can’t recall when I read this, but it was over half a century ago. Supposedly the book first came out in 1940, but on an even a coarse reading it is apparent this has been updated. In fact, the Wikipedia entry notes the book was released as revised in 1953. That answers a lot of questions.
It’s Robert A. Heinlein‘s Revolt in 2100, now available in a Kindle edition for $4.75, plus tax. The book is a compilation of a short novel and three short stories. I’m getting the idea I only read the novel, If This Goes On… I don’t recall anything about the three short stories. I’m not getting into those.
I had to search around for this particular cover image. There are others, but this is the one I recall from way back when. The Kindle edition “cover” is less evocative.
It’s an early work by Heinlein, and it shows. That’s not to say that this author ever attained the level of a, say, Henry James. Even Oliver Twist this is not. But it’s a nice story, and I wish I had written it instead of Heinlein.
The title gives everything away. It’s the year 2100, or about, and there’s a revolution. It doesn’t take long to figure out this is the United States of America about to undergo a revolution. It takes about the same length of time to figure out that something has gone very wrong with America of the 22nd century:
I was young then and not too bright— a legate fresh out of West Point, and a guardsman in the Angels of the Lord, the personal guard of the Prophet Incarnate. At birth my mother had consecrated me to the Church and at eighteen my Uncle Absolom, a senior lay censor, had prayed an appointment to the Military Academy for me from the Council of Elders.
Heinlein, Robert A.. Revolt in 2100 (Kindle Locations 52-55). Spectrum Literary Agency, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
Oh, Jesus. The U.S. of A. has gone completely holy roller on us, and the Silent Majority has become the the Braying Majority. It’s a freethinker’s nightmare. America even has a “Department of Applied Miracles.”
John Lyle is a young guardsman, a West Point graduate, posted to security at the Palace and Temple, residence of the Prophet Incarnate and center of American power, located in what is now called New Jerusalem. It can’t get much cooler than that. However, Lyle notices untoward goings on within this vast and impregnable center of authority. There’s much politicking and intrigue about. Surprise, surprise!
Lyle’s downfall begins when he commits the unforgivable sin of lusting after sweet Sister Judith, one of the consecrated virgins, selected to serve, rather service, the Prophet. She passes close by while he is on his watch over the place walls. She lets slip she is not looking forward to winning the lottery that will bring her into the Prophet’s bedchamber. In fact, when this blessed event is nigh upon sweet Judith, she faints dead away rather than spread her lags for the holy one. Things move rapidly from that point.
If you have not read this book, then you need to stop right now. I am about to give away the remainder of the plot.
Intrigue is compounded by betrayal and murder as Lyle is inducted by fellow guardsman Zebadiah Jones into the super secret Cabal, bent on overthrowing the American theocracy. The Cabal has penetrated the very heart of the Palace and Temple, with training in resistance going on inside the complex’s underground labyrinth.
The rescue of virginal Judith leads to suspicion, leading to discovery, leading to torture, leading to escape and a wild cross country flight, aimed ultimately at a secret base in the free country of Mexico. From there Lyle ascends the ladder of power within the Cabal and in the end leads the final assault on the Palace and Temple. The climatic ending is about as I recall:
They were men from the Ark, right enough. I attached myself to a platoon and trotted along with them. We swarmed into the inner Palace.
But the battle was over; we encountered no organized resistance. We went on down and down and down and found the Prophet’s bombproof. The door was open and he was there.
But we did not arrest him. The Virgins had gotten to him first; he no longer looked imperious. They had left him barely something to identify at an inquest.
Heinlein, Robert A.. Revolt in 2100 (Kindle Locations 2537-2540). Spectrum Literary Agency, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
In between Heinlein takes us along an over-speculative romp. A fugitive, Lyle takes on the identity of a look-alike textile fabric salesman, down to copied fingerprints. But not duplicate blood type, his eventual undoing. Held for interrogation at an airport stopover, he seizes a rocket plane and makes his getaway.
And here is where Heinlein stretches credulity to the maximum. Lyle figures he has been allowed to seize the plane so he can be followed to his secret contact. He considers flying past the western border and on to the free Republic of Hawaii. Remember, this was published prior to Hawaii’s becoming the 50th state. He determines to defeat the government’s scheme by abandoning the plane and allowing the autopilot to carry on, decoying interceptors stationed to shoot it down in just such an event.
To do this, Lyle must drop down from the cruising altitude of 60,000 feet and below ram jet speeds. He can’t use the ejection seat, because that has a radio beacon. He must strap on a spare parachute, open a door at 30,000 feet, ease himself out, holding an oxygen bottle in one hand, and dropping into the darkness somewhere above the Arizona desert. Yeah, that’s believable.
Following is a tale of being smuggled across the border into Mexico and into a vast natural cavern, far surpassing Carlsbad Caverns, itself destroyed by an earthquake in 1996, or was is 2096. Could have been either. A vast city and hub of revolutionary activity occupies just part of the enormous cavern, and there Lyle hooks up again with his friend Zeb and also with Elder Sister Maggie, who had assisted in Judith’s rescue.
Judith is nowhere in sight, being unsuited for the revolution’s purposes, she is sequestered elsewhere. Lyle pines for her, but not incontrovertibly. Lyle, Zeb, Maggie, and another, a blond named Miriam, go on a spelunking expedition, to a dark and deep underground pool Miriam has discovered. The others undress and go for a swim while Lyle sits prudishly on guard.
Miriam followed him. Maggie came in to where it was shallow, rested her finger tips on the bottom, and held facing me, with just her head and her ivory shoulders out of the inky water, while her waist-length mane of hair floated around her.
“Poor John,” she said softly. “I’ll come out and spell you.”
“Oh, no, really!”
“Are you sure?”
“All right.” She turned, flipped herself over, and started after the others. For one ghostly, magic instant she was partly out of the water.
Heinlein, Robert A.. Revolt in 2100 (Kindle Locations 1876-1882). Spectrum Literary Agency, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
That’s about as Erskine Caldwell as Heinlein ever gets in this tome. Biology takes over, and Judith, by now no longer virginal, fades from the picture.
The Cabal’s computer analysis has determined they now possess a 2:1 chance at prevailing if they launch an attack on the theocracy. That’s not good enough for one key player. A victory under current conditions will be followed by a civil war. They need to destroy the myth of the incarnation before launching.
Future generations will undoubtedly find it impossible to believe the importance, the extreme importance both to religious faith and political power, of the Miracle of Incarnation. To comprehend it even intellectually it is necessary to realize that the people literally believed that the First Prophet actually and physically returned from Heaven once each year to judge the stewardship of his Divinely appointed successor and to confirm him in his office. The people believed this— the minority of doubters dared not open their faces to dispute it for fear of being torn limb from limb . . . and I am speaking of a rending that leaves blood on the pavement, not some figure of speech. Spitting on the Flag would have been much safer.
Heinlein, Robert A.. Revolt in 2100 (Kindle Locations 2042-2047). Spectrum Literary Agency, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
This they do this by tapping into the government’s annual Miracle of the Incarnation show. Instead of watching the Prophet seeming to emerge from the First Prophet, viewers across the country witness a vision of their holy ruler telling them it’s all an elaborate hoax. What! They hadn’t figured that out long ago?
In Heinlein’s world “sensitives” are used to send secret battlefield commands telepathically. Miracles, or what would pass for miracles are invoked. In the final battle John Lyle takes over one of the massive land cruisers and pushes into the Palace and Temple, reaching the Prophet’s sanctuary too late to save the Holy One from his virgins.
Heinlein’s writing at this stage did not achieve noticeable sophistication. I have read subsequent works, confirming that for him the story was everything. An example:
I was going along with him, feeling shocked but rather pleasantly so, until he named the First Prophet. Perhaps my own spiritual state at that time could have been described as that of a “primitive” follower of the First Prophet— that is to say, I had decided that the Prophet Incarnate was the devil himself and that all of his works were bad, but that belief did not affect the basics of the faith I had learned from my mother. The thing to do was to purge and reform the Church, not to destroy it. I mention this because my own case paralleled a very serious military problem that was to develop later.
I found that Zeb was studying my face. “Did I get you on the raw again, old fellow? I didn’t mean to.”
“Not at all,” I answered stiffly, and went on to explain that, in my opinion, the sinfulness of the present gang of devils that had taken over the Church in no way invalidated the true faith. “After all, no matter what you think nor how much you may like to show off your cynicism, the doctrines are a matter of logical necessity. The Prophet Incarnate and his cohorts can pervert them, but they can’t destroy them— and it doesn’t matter whether the real Prophet had dirty underwear or not.”
Zeb sighed as if he were very tired. “Johnnie, I certainly did not intend to get into an argument about religion with you. I’m not the aggressive type— you know that. I had to be pushed into the Cabal.” He paused. “You say the doctrines are a matter of logic?”
“You’ve explained the logic to me yourself. It’s a perfect, consistent structure.”
“So it is. Johnnie, the nice thing about citing God as an authority is that you can prove anything you set out to prove. It’s just a matter of selecting the proper postulates, then insisting that your postulates are ‘inspired.’ Then no one can possibly prove that you are wrong.”
“You are asserting that the First Prophet was not inspired?”
“I am asserting nothing. For all you know, I am the First Prophet, come back to kick out the defilers of my temple.”
Heinlein, Robert A.. Revolt in 2100 (Kindle Locations 1658-1674). Spectrum Literary Agency, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
Heinlein’s agnosticism manifests itself in this and many other works, but this one is particularly keen on its target. Much use is made of hyper religiosity, as witness:
Probably, I thought glumly, she comes out to flirt with the guardsmen on watch every time she has a chance. I recalled bitterly that all women were vessels of iniquity and had always been so since the Fall of Man. Who was I to think that she had singled me out for special friendship? She had probably considered the night too cold to bother.
Heinlein, Robert A.. Revolt in 2100 (Kindle Locations 120-122). Spectrum Literary Agency, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
At the time this was written, a vast body of technology we take for granted had not come to fruit:
At 12: 32 the televisors went out. The enemy had analyzed our frequency variation pattern, matched us and blown every tube in the circuits. It is theoretically impossible; they did it. At 12: 37 radio went out.
Heinlein, Robert A.. Revolt in 2100 (Kindle Locations 2424-2426). Spectrum Literary Agency, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
Oops! Heinlein should have waited a few years for transistors.
Obviously this was not composed using a modern word processing system. The transcription to electronic publication shows some failings. For one, Zebadiah at one point becomes Zebediah. Elsewhere:
But the words had been a tre- mendous shock and my brain was racing, trying to get into gear.
Heinlein, Robert A.. Revolt in 2100 (Kindle Locations 804-805). Spectrum Literary Agency, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
My first Heinlein reading was The Rolling Stones, serialized at the time in Boy’s Life. It came out about the same time as this revised edition. It’s an interesting tale, but lacking the social significance.