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Literature / If This Goes Onó

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"If This Goes On—" is a science fiction novella by Robert A. Heinlein, in which 21st-century America is in the grip of a theocratic dictatorship. The protagonist, John Lyle, begins as a loyal member of the regime and ends as a key player in the resistance movement that overthrows it.

The novella was first published in Astounding Science Fiction in 1940; a revised and expanded version was published along with related material in the 1953 book Revolt in 2100. It is part of Heinlein's "Future History" 'verse.


This work contains examples of:

  • Better as Friends: Zeb and Maggie. He sort of wants to pursue a relationship with her but doesn't want to get in the way, at which point he's told laughingly that by now they're great friends but that their personalities are far too aggressive to ever be stable together.
  • Big Brother Is Employing You: John Lyle is one of the guards at the HQ of the Corrupt Church that rules a dystopian future America.
  • Brainwashing for the Greater Good: In the first published version of "If This Goes On—", the revolutionaries, after overthrowing the Corrupt Church, decide to use Subliminal Seduction to "condition" the people to accept the restoration of democracy. Heinlein later thought better of it, and revised the story to have them reject the psych experts' proposal after an old man who "looked like Mark Twain" makes an impassioned speech on how "free men aren't 'conditioned'."
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  • Calling Me a Logarithm: Zeb does this deliberately, demonstrating that language can be weaponized. Unfortunately, the exact words aren't given, but John's reaction is:
    "You leave my mother out of this!"
    [after John calms down]
    "But what did I say? All I said, in fact, was that you were the legitimate offspring of a legal marriage. Right? What is insulting about that?"
    "But—" I stopped and ran over in my mind the infuriating, insulting, and degrading things he had said — and, do you know, that is absolutely all they added up to. I grinned sheepishly. "It was the
    way you said it."
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: John is captured and tortured by the authorities of the Corrupt Church. Later, when he is offered a position as assassin (to ensure he knows how serious his commitment must be), they point out that he has at least one useful qualification for it — they know that if the enemy catches him and puts him to the Question, he won't crack. Later in the novella, we learn that La Résistance has a ready source of suicide agents: men whose wives have been tortured by the secret police.
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  • Covert Distress Code: John arranges one with a sweater left on a bed when he is arrested.
  • "Dear John" Letter: John Lyle gets one. It's briefly depressing before he realizes that he can't remember her that well anyway.
  • Divided States of America: An oppressive theocracy is one part of a divided U.S. The theocracy ruled pretty much the whole U.S., with the exception of Hawaii (mentioned as an independent republic).
  • The Dog Bites Back: The Prophet dies in the gap between when the women at his headquarters realize he will lose and the actual arrival of the rebel forces.
  • The Dulcinea Effect: John Lyle gets involved in the revolution against the Theocracy for the sake of a girl he barely knows.
  • Embarrassing Cover-Up: Lyle is advised to conceal resistance secrets by using a code that makes them look like notes for an illicit gambling system. Thus, if the notes are discovered, there will be a credible explanation for why they were hidden and he will draw only minor punishment.
  • Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!:
    You can't conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him.
  • Infraction Distraction: Zeb covers up Johnny's obviously guilty reaction to receiving a note from the Resistance by replacing it with one about gambling, because they won't believe innocence but will believe this.
  • Military Mashup Machine: The major land force of the USA is Land Battleships.
  • Neuro-Vault: Lyle is told he has been given critical information that he has to get to La Résistance. When he gets there he is put under anesthesia to extract the information. He later asks one of the Resistance scientists what was the nature of the "really important" message. He is disappointed when he is told that it was just lots of routine information. The scientist realizes he made a mistake, the man did have very important information. He also had his resistance credentials: "If they hadn't checked out, you would never have woken up."
  • Oppressive States of America: The U.S. has become a theocratic police state.
  • President Evil: President Nehemiah Scudder proclaimed himself "First Prophet" and imposed a Christian theocratic dictatorship at some point between 2013 and 2016.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: John Lyle is captured by the evil government. He notices that the several torturers for the government show no pleasure in their job, they are strictly business. It is implied that anyone who likes to inflict pain is not permitted in that job, as they are supposed to get information, not necessarily hurt people (although that is always an option if they think it will help).
  • Tank Goodness: They are sort of "landships". To get an idea of the "landships", think of a WW2 battleship that goes overland like a tank.
  • Torture Technician: John Lyle is captured by the evil government. However, they aren't sadists, just doing their jobs, and it's said only people that don't take pleasure in torture will be hired, as sometimes inflicting pain is unnecessary, so they don't want it done otherwise.
  • Vibroweapon: Vibroblades appear.
  • You Are in Command Now: John Lyle, a junior officer in the rebel forces attacking the Prophet's capital of New Jerusalem, is thrust into the position of commanding the whole force, when his commanding officer is wounded and his tank-analogue seems to be the only one in effective communication with all the others. Lyle isn't technically next in the chain of command (he's a staff officer/aide de camp for the commander, doubling up as tank commander). However, he doesn't trust the next in line to handle the situation (too cautious) so he continues to issue orders in the commander's name, even though the commander is out of contact. Once things reach a "safe" state, he tells the real next-in-line "you are in command now".


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