Heiland, by Franklin Sanders. 276 pages. Available through Draught Horse Press for $10.
Heiland is the German word for “savior”. It’s also the surname of the protagonist in this story. The book is set in Tennessee in the year 2020. When Franklin Sanders wrote this in 1986, 2020 probably seemed as far in the future as 1984 did to Orwell.
The story itself is not particularly good. The plot largely serves as an opportunity for the author to trace out some political and cultural themes, to describe what an explicitly Christian agrarian society might look like, and to present a few short essays – disguised as monologues – on politics, economics, the intersection of faith and politics, etc.
Sanders describes a future in which America (or at least Tennessee; little is said about the other states) is divided into the wicked urban Insiders and the godly, rural Freemen. We learn that the population has shrunk vastly among the Insiders, due to government-subsidized aggressive abortion and euthanasia policies. We see a Big Brother-like government that actively tracks its citizens, using microchips embedded in their right hands. The borders of cities are sealed – ostensibly to control drug trafficking – and only approved travel is permitted. The federal government has expanded to the point that state legislatures have been relegated to an advisory capacity only.
The Freemen, on the other hand, live mostly simple agrarian lives. The average family size among Freemen is seven. They are free, mostly choosing agrarian pursuits and cottage industries. They live not so much in rebellion against the government, but simply ignore it in general. Not all rural and small town dwellers are Freemen, but their seems to be either a majority or a sizable minority in each county, enough to ensure that they are mostly left alone.
The story winds its way through Tennessee fifteen years hence, enough to show us the horrors of Insider society and give a reasonably good look at Freemen society. It shows how the Freemen government works, describes the church a little, goes into some detail about the militia-style military system, other economic tidbits, and general Freemen culture. We also get a reasonably good look at Insider culture, replete with superfluous atrocities and caricaturized villains. The story reaches its climax as the Insiders attack the Freemen to bring them into “voluntary compliance” with the tracking, identification, and tax requirements of the government.
The strengths of this book include a fairly comprehensive overview of both Freemen and Insider culture. Sanders mentions enough specifically, and alludes to enough, to show us where our secular culture might be heading and what a more godly culture might look like. He does a good job demonstrating some degree of continuity between the Freemen and our past, quoting politicians and theologians from the time of the American Revolution and the US Civil War.
As far as weaknesses go, I’ve already mentioned a fairly weak story line. He also does too much hand waving and chalking up problems to sci-fi technical wizardry, such as anti-gravity machines and weapons that can create gigantic fireballs or suck the heat out of an area. I think the book would have been better without some of the monologues, without so much political and military detail, and with more description of Heiland’s day-to-day life and the society he lived in. The final showdown between the Insiders and Freemen could have been written on a smaller scale and without the technological wizardry.
It is a quick read, and I think a worthwhile purchase at only 10 Federal Reserve Notes. This is not a book for children. It is perhaps over the top, and implausible. But if nothing else, Heiland at least will help make you aware of dangerous trends within our society, where they might lead, and what a godly culture might look like.