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I read this as a teenager, and was hugely impressed by it. Growing up in the calcified conservative culture of Catholic Ulster, I felt a lot of sympathy for Heinlein's unsophisticated hero who realises gradually that those who claim to speak for God may actually be speaking for themselves, that a political reality can be deliberately constructed, and that girls are human beings too. Since the 1940 original text is eligible for next year's Retro Hugo for 1941, I returned to it with interest and a little trepidation. I must have been 15 or 16 when I first read it, two-thirds of my life ago; would it hold up?

And actually, yes it does. If anything, Heinlein's portrayal of a theocratic dictatorship ruling a dystopian future America seems a bit closer to the bone in 2015 than it did in 1983. (Though maybe that just reflects on my relative ignorance about the USA in the 1980s.) His thoughts about political messaging are pretty up to date as well, though of course the techniques turn out to be different. I was startled to read Ken MacLeod's assessment of Heinlein's importance to political SF in the Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, but he was absolutely right; particularly here in the early stages of his career.

Bill Paterson's article on If This Goes On— for the Heinlein Society goes into some detail about the differences between the 55,000 word version of the story, revised in 1953, that we now have access to (in Revolt in 2100 and The Past Through Tomorrow) and the 33,000 word original. The biggest difference is that Sister Maggie, the most interesting character in the revised version of the story, appears to be largely absent from the original version, where our hero ends up with Sister Judith in an epilogue. There is also apparently much less about the Freemasons, and a couple of odd plot adjustments - Judith is horrified, not by the Prophet's sexual advances but by his cynical approach to taxation; and the victorious rebels decide to go for mass hypnotic reorientation of the formerly subject population rather than rejecting the idea as they do in the revised version.

I don't know how easy it will be to get hold of the 1940 text. A couple of things are clear to me, however. First, it's definitely a novella for Retro Hugo purposes; even if it was marketed at the time as a novel, the 2016 rules are clear that 40,000 words is the cutoff and it's a long way short of that. Second, without having read the 1940 version, but bearing in mind what Patterson says about the differences between it and the 1953 version, it's a pretty strong contender and is likely to get one of my own nominations in the Best Novella category. (NB that Jamie Todd Rubin has read the original and found the first half better than the second.)

More thoughts on the eligible short fiction of 1940 in due course.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 16th, 2015 08:05 am (UTC)
It's not definitely a novella, because the administrator has discretion to move the boundaries by up to 20% if it seems appropriate, and 33,000 words is thus within the allowable margin for discretion.
Nov. 16th, 2015 05:26 pm (UTC)
The rule is: 'The Worldcon Committee may relocate a story into a more appropriate category if it feels that it is necessary, provided that the length of the story is within the lesser of five thousand (5,000) words or twenty percent (20%) of the new category limits', isn't it? And it's not within 5,000 words of the boundary which is 40k.Or am I missing something?

-- Mark
Nov. 16th, 2015 05:28 pm (UTC)
I'm sure you're right, and I forgot the existence of the 5,000 word cap on the 20% margin of discretion.
Nov. 23rd, 2015 09:19 pm (UTC)
Now I have Heinlein's file in front of me.

"If This Goes On—"
"—Vine and Fig Tree"—
[an alternate title]
31,380 words
Sent to Street & Smith August 16
Sold to Street & Smith August 29

There are several manuscript pages Heinlein has marked up with revisions, so the final word count of the magazine version may well be different.

Apparently the earliest title was "The Captains and the Priests—" (In retitling, Campbell retained only the em-dash).

I don't think any of the three titles is particularly good. Though I may be missing crucial allusions.
Nov. 23rd, 2015 10:08 pm (UTC)
I think the published title is the best.

"Vine and Fig Tree" refers to George Washington, and is not terribly appropriate.

"The Captains and the Priests" vaguely references Kipling's "Recessional", but also various biblical passages; none terribly relevant.

"If This Goes On-" is a clear allusion to Lenin's Что делать?, "What is to be done?" a handbook of revolution. It's not a perfect match, But it is closer than the other two!
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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