- The Roads Must Roll
"The Roads Must Roll" is a
1940 science fiction short storyby Robert A. Heinlein. In the late 1960s, it was awarded a retrospective Nebula Awardby the Science Fiction Writers of America(SFWA) and published in " The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, 1929-1964" in 1970. [Harvnb|Silverberg|1970|p=xii]
The story is about wide, rapidly moving passenger platforms (similar to
moving sidewalks, but reaching speeds of 100 mph). These roads combine the features of highways, railways and highway towns, and all goes smoothly until there is union trouble.
Heinlein's themes are
technological changeand social cohesion. The (fictional) social movementhe calls "functionalism" (which is unrelated to the real-life sociological theory of the same name) believes that one's status and level of material reward in a society must and should depend on the functions one performs for that society.
In "The Roads Must Roll", the technicians who maintain a section of the
San Diegoto Reno roadway are persuaded that their role in maintaining the nation's transport infrastructure is more important than that of any other workers and that they should therefore be rewarded more highly than any others. To demonstrate their importance and press their claims, they stop the 100 mph strip, causing transportation chaos and many casualties.
The men who maintain the roads get around beneath them via "tumblebugs":
unicycles which are motorized and gyroscopically stabilized much like the later real-life Segway.
Larry Gaines, Chief Engineer of the roadtown, is instrumental in restoring order and bringing the villains to justice, through a combination of clear thinking, swift para-military action at the head of his uniformed cadets, and appeals to patriotism.
The story is interesting in a broader political sense, and in the context of the rest of Heinlein's writing, because it provides an example of a libertarian author arguing against worker's unions -- here justified because the worker's union in question is in a government-run public service industry on which the broader society as a whole is dependent. The story thus retains a great deal of modern relevance, especially with regard to strikes by civic transportation and sanitation workers and the like.
The story uses the technique of the
false protagonist. At first the reader is introduced to the firebrand who stirs up the workers to their radical action, and at this stage the reader can quite easily identify with him and the grievances he addresses. When Larry Gaines first appears, it seems to be just a glimpse at what the Bad Guys are doing. However, the "glimpse" goes on and on while the strikers blacken themselves in reader's eyes by callously causing the death and wounding of innocent passengers - and Gaines correspondingly wins the reader's sympathy and identification. The demagogue who seemed the hero at first is only met again at the very end, when he is already clearly identified as the arch-villain who gets his just punishment.
"The Roads Must Roll" was adapted for the radio show "
X Minus One".
title =The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, 1929-1964
publisher =Tom Doherty Associates
* [http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/AuthorSpecAlphaList.asp?BkNum=64 Science Fiction Inventions From The Roads Must Roll]
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