Saturday, July 5, 2008

Robert A Heinlein: Time Enough For Love

Guest Review by Kit Bradley
June 14, 2008

Time Enough For Love has been sitting on the top shelf of a bookcase facing my favorite chair in the library, staring down at me for many years now. I first read this science fiction story by Robert Heinlein when I was in college, and it really appealed to me. The hero, Lazarus Long, has lived for a couple thousand years, and he has had time to do about anything and everything there is to do in the universe.

I finally pulled the book down the other day and started reading. The time is now 4272, and Lazarus Long was born in 1912, so he must be about 2,360 years old. And he’s feeling his age. He’s done all there is to do, so he’s ready to hang it up. But as the oldest man in the universe, with centuries of romantic involvements, he has a lot of kids and relatives around, and they’re not ready to see him go. They pick him out of the slums and put him in an ultra-modern rejuvenation clinic, which can restore a person to any younger age desired.

This makes Lazarus pretty mad, but he strikes a deal. He’ll reminisce about all the things he’s done in his life (to be recorded by the official historian), and his family will come up with some things he’s never done before. And off we go.

A little background: The Howard Families have been selecting and breeding people for longevity since the nineteenth century or so. Lazarus Long happens to be the oldest human, but there are many more long-lived humans around. Even Howard Family members get old, so they have established rejuvenation clinics that can keep anyone who so chooses going indefinitely.

By 2136 two things have happened: The Libby-Sheffield Star Drive has been invented, and normal humans have started imprisoning and torturing the Howard Families, looking for their secret of eternal youth. Lazarus hijacks a starship to rescue the Howard Families, and the Great Diaspora begins as humans start to populate many other planets throughout the galaxy.

In its 589 pages, Time Enough For Love tells a lot of stories, and it is fascinating watching Lazarus exercise the common sense and ingenuity that have kept him alive for all these years. “Always listen to experts. They’ll tell you what can’t be done, and why. Then do it.” “Get a shot off fast. This upsets him long enough to let you make your second shot perfect.” “A ‘pacifist male’ is a contradiction in terms.” “What a wonderful world it is that has girls in it!” “Anyone who cannot cope with mathematics is not fully human.” Yes, Lazarus is pretty opinionated and chauvinistic by our expectations today, but he does survive and get things done.

At one point Lazarus meets, helps raise, and when she grows up marries Dora, although he generally doesn’t get romantically involved with short-lifers. But he has “time enough for love” and they marry. To avoid some of the trauma of this “mixed” marriage, they become pioneers and move into the wilderness of a new planet. They raise a bunch of kids and have a good life for seventy years or so. Eventually Dora dies and Lazarus moves on.

Meanwhile, back in 4272 the family has come up with not one, but multiple things Lazarus has never done, and he enthusiastically comes back to an active life. They migrate to yet another new planet and set up a big family with four husbands, four wives, and a bunch of kids. But Lazarus is not one for staying put for long, and he’s soon off on a rather risky venture – to visit his original family and himself back in 1916. (I’m not too sure how time travel became possible now, but it’s related to the same Libby-Sheffield technology and is a capability of Lazarus’ starship “Dora.”)

In this type of time travel there are no paradoxes. You can’t go back and kill your younger self and see the whole world develop differently. If you contact your younger self and teach him something new, what he does over the years is what (looking back from the future) actually happened. So we know that young Lazarus and his mom and dad are going to be just fine, since we know their history. But we can’t predict how old Lazarus will fare, since he’s still leading his current life.

After all these years, I very much enjoyed reading Time Enough For Love again, although I think I liked it a little better the first time. Lazarus is quite a character, but I’m not as ready to emulate him today as when I was in college. Oh, and that brings up a problem. I looked and the book is copyrighted 1973, and I went to college in the ‘60s. Did someone time travel to get that book to me??

1 comment:

Nate Bradley said...

When Kit told me he was going to re-read Time Enough for Love, I thought, well that's a good idea. I haven't read it since sometime in the 70s, and remember liking it. And besides, I can be lazy and just comment on his review.

I remembered it almost as a series of short stories, told by Lazarus Long. But in my memory it also got mixed up with other Heinlein novels involving Long and his time traveling cohorts. I remembered my favorite part had something to do with living on a planet with talking mules.

On re-read, I realize that the talking mules were just a bit part in the story Kit describes with Long's time with Dora. I'm not sure why they made such an impression on me.

My copy is a really old paperback. Each page fell out as I turned it. That was a bit distracting.

Like Kit, I enjoyed the re-read. But the book did not fully live up to my memory of it. But it does make me want to try a couple of the later Lazarus Long stories too. The one I can find on my shelves is The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. Either my memory is playing tricks on me, or I read others from the library.

But I also ought to re-read the book that Kit (and the rest of our generation) probably really did read in college - Stranger in a Strange Land.