The Trump election and a Hulu TV series have spurred a new wave of interest in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian classic The Handmaid’s Tale. Sadly those developments have not increased interest in the even more disturbing and prophetic work that inspired Atwood’s tale.
That work was science fiction Grandmaster Robert A. Heinlein’s novella If this Goes On first published in Astounding Science Fiction magazine way back in February 1940. If this Goes On is popularly known as Revolt in 2100; because it was slightly rewritten and republished in 1953, in an anthology with three other equally disturbing stories. Revolt in 2100 is the name of the anthology.
That version has been in print ever since, and it is well worth reading; or rereading, because Heinlein’s predictions were more accurate and scarier than Atwood’s. Heinlein’s vision was actually darker than Atwood’s; and disturbingly closer to modern day events than Handmaid.
Revolt in 2100 AD vs. Handmaid’s Tale
The basic premise of both works is the same, in the 21st Century the United States is ruled by a theocratic dictatorship; that has ripped up the Constitution and enslaved the population.
In both novels, women are forced into sexual servitude to male religious leaders who maintain harems, free speech is suppressed and enemies of the state are tortured to death. Both tales are told from the point of view of young people forced to serve the theocratic tyrants.
The major difference is that Heinlein’s work is told from the male point of view – that of a young soldier; who starts out as a true believer but gets caught up in a revolt against the regime. Atwood’s is told from the point of view of a young woman called Offered who is forced to bear children for a brutal military officer as punishment for her mother’s feminism.
Anybody who is familiar with Revolt in 2100, will quickly recognize Atwood’s work as a feminist rewriting of Heinlein’s tale. They might also wonder why Hulu’s producers did not go back to the original which is a richer, more entertaining and far more prophetic work.
Why Revolt in 2100 is far more Prophetic and Scarier than The Handmaid’s Tale
From a modern standpoint, Revolt in 2100 is a far more prophetic and scarier work than The Handmaid’s Tale. Some of the predictions Heinlein made back in 1940 are down-right disturbing and well worth reexamining here.
The highlights of Heinlein’s dystopian vision include:
- The founder of the dynastic theocratic dictatorship was a television preacher named Nehemiah Scudder who was elected president sometime between 2010 and 2020. Absolutely frightening when one considers that Donald J. Trump is essentially a television charlatan with authoritarian tendencies elected in 2016. This is truer to life than Atwood’s vision where the dictatorship was the result of a CIA coup.
- Scudder rose to power by using modern marketing and advertising techniques to corrupt and subvert the democratic process much as Trump did. There is circumstantial evidence that Trump’s campaign utilized such techniques as psychological profiling and data analysis. 
- The rulers in Heinlein’s future are the Prophets Incarnate; who practice a corrupted version of Christianity that includes polygamy and slavery. Trump has embraced and is supported by such questionable men of faith as the Reverend Creflo Dollar and Jerry Falwell Jr.
- American democracy has been replaced by a corrupt dynasty of theocrats founded by Scudder. Also disturbing considering the Bush, Kerry and Clinton family pretensions; and the involvement of Trump’s children and son in law Jared Kushner in his administration.
- Enemies of the state are tortured to death. An echo of Trump’s celebration of torture.
- The fundamentalist dictatorship triggers a secular counterrevolution that is just as brutal and as ruthless as it is. If this Goes On ends with a bloody revolt in which the army overthrows the Prophet and kills most of his followers.
- The military is the only institution in America that survives the Prophet’s rule and the one group capable of resisting him.
- Mormons join the rebel army and are major part of the force that ousts the tyrant. That sounds disturbingly familiar; Mormons were the only element in American religious conservatism that soundly opposed Trump’s rise.
- After the Counterrevolution, America’s new secularist leaders strip fundamentalist Christians of all their rights and force them into remote rural concentration camps similar to Indian reservations. This is portrayed in a different story called Coventry; a sequel to If This Goes On, that is included in Revolt in 2100.
- The radical secularist regime that replaces the Prophets regards all dissidents; including Christians and libertarians, as mentally ill and subjects them to mind-numbing psychotherapy. Those who decline the “treatment” are exiled to a primitive wilderness called Coventry – hence the story’s name.
As you can see Revolt in 2100 is actually darker and more frightening than The Handmaid’s Tale. What’s truly astounding, pun intended, is that If This Goes On was written 77 years ago; yet it accurately predicts such developments as big data and televangelism. The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985 and it is in many ways hopelessly outdated.
Hopefully, at the end of the day, Heinlein will turn out to be as bad a prophet as Atwood did. If not our future might end up being very dark and dystopian place indeed.
Anybody that wants to see where our society might be heading needs to take a look at both works. Atwood’s future will disturb you, while Heinlein’s will scare you to death.
 For a good view of Revolt in 2100 see this blog post: http://robinrowland.com/writing/robert-heinleins-nightmare-vision-elected-dictator-2016/