If This Goes On

“If This Goes On—” is a science fiction novella by American writer Robert A. Heinlein, first serialized in 1940 in Astounding Science-Fiction and revised and expanded for inclusion in the 1953 collection Revolt in 2100. The novella shows what might happen to Christianity in the United States given mass communications, applied psychology, and a hysterical populace. The novel is part of Heinlein’s Future History series.

"If This Goes On," by Robert A. Heinlein

Connections with other works by Heinlein

While set in Heinlein’s Future History, the story is self-contained and has little connection with other works in the series. However, it is noted in Methuselah’s Children that, during the time of this story, the secret of the Howard Families was held close (being a prize that was beyond the power of the Prophet to confiscate), and also that the Cabal assisted in helping the Howards maintain their Masquerade, the concealment of the existence of the Howards. Lazarus Long specifically mentions that he spent the period of the Interregnum, when the Prophets ruled the United States and space travel was forbidden, mostly on Mars.

The story also depicts the start of the negotiations which would lead to the Covenant, the somewhat idealized basis for government depicted in “Coventry”, “Misfit” and in Methuselah’s Children.

Scudder was previously mentioned in passing in the short story “Logic of Empire” and later on in Heinlein’s final novel To Sail Beyond the Sunset. A story about the rise of Scudder, “The Sound of His Wings” is contained in the Future History timeline, but was never written by Heinlein, who stated in the afterward to “Revolt in 2100”: “I will probably never write the story of Nehemiah Scudder, I dislike him too much”. Also a story called “The Stone Pillow”, which would have depicted the earlier foredoomed opposition to the Theocracy, never got written, Heinlein noting that there was “too much tragedy in real life”.

The 1940 version of If This Goes On— was believed to be Heinlein’s first novel until the unpublished work For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs was discovered in 2003. However, in that novel Scudder, though coming very close to gaining power, is stopped at the last moment by the mobilization of Libertarians.

Ward Carson wrote: “In For Us, The Living, space colonization waits until the end of the Twenty-First Century and Scudder is defeated; in the Future History it happens a century earlier and Scudder takes over the US. Heinlein made no explicit remark on this, but a causal connection could be made: in the Future History the bold individualistic Americans emigrated into space in the end of the Twentieth Century, and were not present in America to stop it from falling into the fanatic’s hands”.

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