This Long Tomorrow review–or as I’ve come to think of it, Leigh Brackett Strikes Back--represents the first strikethrough on my immediate TBR list. The book is also something of a hidden gem among science fiction of the 1950′s, and I hope that my retelling and analysis might amplify that for anyone reading.
Into the future we go.
This is sometimes cited as the first post-apocalyptic novel, but even if it isn’t, it falls into a far more important category in my mind. It is the kind of book that is brave, dealing with the problem of knowledge versus ignorance, or if you like, science versus faith.
Let us not think of faith in terms of belief in oneself, or in a better tomorrow, but the kind of faith that is oftentimes synonymous with another one syllable F-word, fear. This book in large part is about growing up with the fear of God.
Cousins Len and Esau Colter come from a community of farming, preaching, and fear, a sleepy little post-apocalyptic township called Piper’s Run. They are governed by agrarian life, the bible, and not least of all, the thirtieth amendment to the United States Constitution:
No city, no town, no community of more than one-thousand people or two-hundred buildings to the square mile shall be built or permitted to exist anywhere in the United States of America.
Although they are repeatedly chastised for their appetite for learning, and curiosity about a place called Bartorstown, the boys refuse to give in to fear. Inspired by his Gran, who lived before the nuclear holocaust that ended life as we know it, Len joins Esau in tampering with a stolen radio to learn of the outside world, and rifling through stolen books in pursuit of the knowledge forbidden to them, and all citizens of Piper’s Run.
It is a battle between the quest for knowledge and the idea of ‘a contented heart’ before God that rages within Len, a protagonist many of us with a bug to know things beyond what the rules say we should know, or who have ever been at odds with our parents, would identify with.
Although they escape the closed-minded Piper’s Run as boys, part of the coming-of-age for Len and Esau includes their discovery that the entire country, perhaps the entire world, is afraid.
When the boys befriend and come to work for a businessman named Dulinski, who wishes to bend the Thirtieth Amendment by building a new warehouse, they learn how few people have the guts to believe what they believe. That free thought and scientific progress do not always lead to annihilation. That they are worth fighting for.
The murder of Dulinski by the God-fearing farmers of a neighboring town is the catalyst that sends Len and Esau on the final leg of their journey, the fulfillment of a boyhood dream, and a trip to Bartorstown itself.
Personally, I couldn’t wait for them to get to Bartorstown. That’s the true hook of the story, what will they really find? Without giving away the best mysteries of the novel, I will say that Bartorstown is not a technologically-advanced paradise as the boys had originally hoped, but it does present the only free society left in a post-atomic America.
However, the well-buried secrets of the place, and the residents who are admitted fanatics, drive Len out of yet another town. The resolution Len comes to while running away, back into the world of blissful ignorance, is one worthy of a science fiction classic.
I would say the main question in a review of The Long Tomorrow is, Is the book dated? Yes. It is hard for us in 2016 to imagine the splendor of Gran’s pre-war America, where technology reigned. It was the technology of 1955 after all, with glorious radio, and the first television sets, and the advent of mass produced frozen food.
So it is dated, yes, but the ideas are timeless, and it holds up because it can only be compared to the future where there is nothing. No electricity, no cities, no invention or project that does not fall under scrutiny. And by the way, no bright colors since textile production isn’t what it used to be.
I caught on that detail. Fall foliage being the only event where real color can be seen. The motif of a red dress, and how important it could be to a woman like Gran, the effect it could have on the mind of a child like Len. Watch for it when you read this novel. It was very Lois Lowry, decades before The Giver was ever written.
All the best,