Author Robert A Heinlein
Things You Might Like
- The computers
- The broken taboos
- Lazarus Long, the Most Curmudgeony Man in the Galaxy
- The epitome of an unreliable narrator
Things You Might Not Like
- The length
- Draggy bits during a couple of the longer sub-stories
- Long’s notebooks seem like they’re headlines from the Tea Party Blog
Time Enough For Love looks at the human condition in a still-fresh way and demonstrates how to write a good epic.
4 out of 5 Raunchy Ballads
Well, I should probably start this off by saying that this book was definitely not what I expected. What I expected out of Robert A Heinlein’s Time Enough For Love was a short story collection.
I don’t really know why I expected that other than I’d heard of one of the chapters in the book—“The Man Who Was Too Lazy To Fail”—and assumed that it was a stand-alone story.
But, I digress. (How does a man digress in less than a hundred words? There’s a Zen koan for you.)
Heinlein’s Time Enough For Love follows the galaxy’s oldest h. sapiens, Lazarus Long, born Woodrow Wilson Smith, immediately after the governor of the planet Secundus has stopped him committing suicide in a flophouse. The reason the governor—Ira Weatheral—stopped the suicide is that he feels that the human race could benefit from the collected wisdom of the oldest man alive—the Senior.
See, the backstory runs like this:
Lazarus Long was once a member of what is known as the Howard Families—a group of people selected for inclusion in a very fancy club based on genetic predisposition to longevity and overall genetic quality. As the Families grew, the Earth grew imperiled, and the Families started the Diaspora—the exodus from what was seen as a dying planet—and, along with the non-Families, colonized worlds beyond the star system.
Two thousand years later, Lazarus Long is the ancestor of half the known universe, through marriages, general copulating, and travelling around the galaxy.
Weatheral, the current administrator of Secundus, and, thus, the Chairman of the Families, has started considering leading his own colonizing expedition. He’s come to the realization that Secundus is becoming a too-populous world and, following the tradition of the Senior himself, has decided that the best way to avoid being assassinated is to emigrate.
Not being particularly pleased that he’s been forced to undergo rejuvenation therapy (the process by which elderly individuals regain their youth), Long is rather ornery—a state of mind which does not dissipate throughout the book. However, he agrees to play along with Weatheral and not commit suicide as long as the administrator can keep Long talking, and if the self-aware computer, Minerva, can find something he’s never done before to keep him occupied.
And that sets up the premise of most of the book. Through various characters who come and go, joining Long’s family and seen as we visit the past through his mind, we get a hint of this strange galaxy Long inhabits.
Most of the hang-ups disguised as ethical behavior that pervade our world have been bred out of the human race by necessity. (War, for example, has become too impractical to practice across vast distances—which really makes sense, if you think about it.) The customs are strange, and some of them are downright shocking, but Long exists as a translator for the reader, offering his often-unsolicited analysis as he compares the philosophies of the Earth of his youth to the way the Diaspora-era humanity has evolved.
Now, there are two things that happen with great frequency in the book:
1) Long spouts about the purest, most distilled form of libertarianism found this side short of the descriptions of Ron Paul by the legions of his supporters and;
2) There’s a whole lot of boning.
Let’s go ahead and talk about the first part since I slapped a big ole number 1 on it.
I’ve gotta say, while I usually abhor libertarianism and view it as a philosophy reserved for people who, as children, resented sharing classroom toys, Heinlein’s übermensch does a damn good job espousing the virtues of a philosophy free of government.
It pervades just about every chapter in the book, without fail, and the reader is nearly certain that, when Heinlein turned the book in to his publisher, the publisher read it and said, “Hey, Rob, you might want to give this guy another interest. How about sex?”
But, surprisingly, one doesn’t particularly tire of hearing it.
See, it’s kind of what I like to refer to as The Uncle Effect. You know the cliché: An awkward uncle comes around for a family holiday dinner and, without being prompted, starts talking about how the government is inherently evil and only a fool would trust the public sector.
Often, it’s annoying—or downright infuriating. However, rarely, you get one of those types with a sense of humor and actual empathy that makes him likable. And that’s what you get with Lazarus Long. Sure, the “From the Notebooks of…” sections of the book might sound like they’re headlines from the Tea Party Blog—
–but they’re a very small portion of the book. When Long starts on one of his narratives, or is in conversation with someone, then we forgive what could be seen as straight-up selfishness and greed. He takes on a very likable—almost huggable—human dimension.
(Of course, one must always bear in mind that Long did not get to be as old as he is by being truthful all—or most—of the time. It is entirely possible that Long lying throughout, but, well, let’s not assume so.)
It’s that human dimension that is his saving grace, and is one of the best parts of the book. At very few points when he is giving a direct narrative does the reader feel bored. (This, probably, is the use of 20th-century idioms amongst the unfamiliarity of the 42nd-century spaceman talk.) And, on top of that, it’s a huge boon when the conversations about what love means–which turns into a main theme of the novel–that we have a man whose humanity is the glue of the whole text.
The second most striking thing about the book is the sex. Not only is there a lot of it, but that taboos, that you probably have by virtue of being a result of an Abrahamic society, are shattered. Sisters are shtupped by brothers, marriage is less a monogamous thing than an agreement that two people are living in the same house and they have sex, and then… well, saying more would give things away.
But, once again, where you’d almost expect to shy away, you don’t—I mean, Christ, I’m a super-neurotic dude and I was cool with it all. And, again, it’s because of Heinlein’s characters.
Much ado is made by that vague nemesis of mine, The Literati, about having Believable Characters. Well, I’ve read very few Literary books that have believable characters. Perhaps it’s because the Literary Believable Characters aren’t too often faced with difficult situations. I mean, they are, but it’s some vague existential thing that doesn’t really affect their situations in life.
But, you take this—a man two thousand years out of his time where one of his best friends is a self-aware computer—and you really force your characters to act like real humans.
And that is what sci-fi does best. It takes what we’re used to and twists it in such a way that humanity is the star. Not some Question, or some Point, but Humanity. I’d say that in order to be a good sci-fi writer, you have to understand people, and you have to understand technology.
Well, Heinlein nails it. Taboos are deconstructed and the reader doesn’t even really care—even more than that, the reader enjoys reading about it. The acts described become freeing, to a point. It’s surprisingly amusing.
Much like the rest of the book.
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