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Lazarus Long (aka Woodrow Wilson Smith) has to be one of the most fascinating characters ever to come out of the science fiction genre. In Heinlein’s hands, Lazarus is the ultimate rugged individualist; a man so full of life that he becomes witness to over 2,000 years of human history, always moving from one planet/marriage/occupation/conflict to another in search of adventure and new experiences. Along the way we are treated to a series of tales that recount significant events or time periods in Lazarus’ life – all in the service of supposedly putting together an exhaustive biography of the “oldest living human being.” And while this framing device may be a convenient way for Heinlein to jump back and forth between different time periods and settings, they also serve to weave together a picture of a man who has literally done it all, seen it all, and lived to tell about it. A lot of sci-fi scholars consider Time Enough for Love to be Heinlein’s crowning achievement; a perfect distillation of his personal philosophy and a nuanced exploration of themes and topics that he’d been playing around with for years. More than that, though, it’s a brilliant yarn that makes for a great read – which is also one of Heinlein’s hallmarks.
Time Enough for Love Summary: In order to understand Lazarus’ extended lifespan, we need to take a look at an organization called the Howard Families (a group that pops up in a number of different Heinlein books, including their original appearance in Methuselah’s Children). Started by Ira Howard in the 19th century, members of the family are chosen for their above average longevity. By using a selective breeding program (not unlike the Bene Gesserit of Dune), the Howard Families aim is to help extend human lifespans – a goal that has been achieved due to thousands of years of careful genetic oversight. Add to that a method of physical and mental rejuvenation that has been perfected through scientific methods and you have the recipe for almost unlimited life. When we first meet Lazarus, he is officially the oldest human being alive, having lived over 2,000 years through a combination of good genes and regular rejuvenation. But while this may seem wonderful, by the time we are introduced to Lazarus he has grown weary of life and has decided it is finally time to die.
The framing device that I mentioned comes in the form of a reverse Arabian Nights type deal that he makes with one of his descendants, Ira Weatheral -now the Pro Tempore of the Howard Families. After being rescued from the flophouse on Secundus where he has gone to die peacefully, Lazarus agrees to postpone his imminent departure while recounting various portions of his life that have gone unrecorded up to this point. As the oldest living human, Lazarus is something of a celebrity and has already had a good part of his life detailed in numerous books (how many of these accounts are real or fictional is unknown). However, having lived for almost two millennia, there are thousands of stories still left to tell.
The tales that follow take us across the galaxy to various moments and periods in Lazarus’ life, from 20th century America to the colonization of new planets and systems. I won’t get into the specifics of each of his tall tales – as that would spoil the surprise and fun. I’ll just say that each of the stories, as well as excerpts from the Notebooks of Lazarus Long that are sprinkled throughout the book, help to reveal a little bit more about the unique worldview and indomitable spirit of Lazarus. We start to put together a picture of a man who is fiercely independent and loyal, yet always restless and ready for a new adventure. He is tender and protective of the women in his life, yet who has no qualms about bedding down with women (some of them his own descendants) thousands of years his junior. While future society has developed advanced luxuries and scientific breakthroughs, he is content to help a fledgling community colonize a new planet in dusty pioneer style. For Lazarus, it’s not the outcome but the journey that matters. Always moving, always having new experiences. He also finds, as the title suggests, Love in the unlikeliest of places.
Time Enough for Love Review: While some people have expressed discomfort at some of the topics in the novel, including frank discussions of free love and incest, my opinion is that you really have to look at them in the context of the novel. For someone who has lived as long as Lazarus has and has fathered so many children (who have in turned fathered many more), it’s hard for him to find someone who isn’t related to him. And as his unique set of genes makes him a desirable mate for almost every female in the galaxy, he is constantly getting propositioned to “contribute” his genes. In addition, Heinlein also includes a thorough scientific explanation of the genetic issues that come in to play when evaluating the chance of defects in the offspring of two people. To Lazarus, the taboo against incest is suspect because it is a moral one rather than a scientific one. If the genetic makeup of the two people can be determined to have a low chance of defects (and it can be determined at least in this novel), than there is nothing inherently wrong with it. I may not agree with it completely, but it’s a unique perspective to say the least.
In the end, the thing that makes this book such a great read is that Lazarus is such a great storyteller. As the reader, it’s like curling up next to a roaring fire and listening to your grandfather tell stories. The only difference is that these stories happen to span 2,000 years and take place on various planets throughout the galaxy. So if you’re in need of a good yarn or two and are ok with some unorthodox views on love and life, than this book may be just what you’re looking for.