There is no denying that Robert Heinlein is one of the most important science fiction writers of the 20th century. It is fair to assert that between his works and those of Asimov you can find the foundation of any science fiction story of the past 60 years or better. Heinlein specifically focused his science fiction on two very important domains that are indispensable to creating worthwhile worlds of science fiction—scientific theories and political ideas. So much so that I’ve found myself adding the Dean of Science Fiction to my own short list of personal favorite authors—even with due deference to some issues with his characterizations. While I cannot say that I found 1973’s Time Enough for Love to my favorite book of his (that will probably always remain Stranger in a Strange Land), this particular text is probably the ultimate execution of a variety of themes and contentions that Heinlein had attempted to make, using character types that had finally found their fullest evolution in the course of the novel.
The prime example is in the character of Lazarus Long (born Woodrow Wilson Smith), whom we can find the seeds of in a number of older, seasoned, super-intelligent, uber-wealthy, multi-professional men in other books such as Jubal Harshaw and Professor Bernardo de la Paz (who all seem to be transparent and purposeful analogues of the author). Lazarus is the galaxy’s oldest man, weighing in at over 2000 years old, and is the last man alive to have been born in the medieval 20th century. In the far off year in which the story takes place, Lazarus finds himself in one way or another the sire of most of the population of the planet Secundus, who are all “Howards” (part of a genetic experiment set in motion by Ira Howard to engineer longer lived humans through genetic culling and strict breeding rules) in conjunction with technological advances in extending live ad infinitum.
The books itself is organized into a series of novellas, generally narrated by Lazarus, though other characters narrate as needed, of enlightening tales from across his long, long life. Embedded within all of the stories and subplots Heinlein outlines many radical beliefs for the early 70s, and indeed for today. Never much of a fan of organized religion and advocating in practice the political ideology of libertarianism Heinlein also advocates for a variety of marriage styles in his prose. Specifically in Time Enough for Love, Stranger in a Strange Land, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress the plots and character developments rely heavily on polyandrous marital and familial settings whereas love is not “free” but is also not a burden and the sowing of wild oats is an understood physical need, whereas emotional needs are shared and new lovers are welcomed into groups often and readily. In Time Enough for Love, using the basis of the galaxy’s oldest man, Heinlein manages to attack the taboo of incest and its total reliance on the Old Testament morality in the face of genetic testing and mapping to the extent that a “totally clean genetic map” doesn’t preclude even parents from reproducing with their adult offspring, in a world where everyone lives for ever and can age in any direction they wish.
In that, the book raises interesting questions about mortality and immortality and what happens to morality, taboos, mores, and desirability over the course of a couple thousand years. It is a beautifully descriptive book both in the character’s interaction and in the technological jargon employed—much of which was accurate and bleeding edge as of publication. While with little exception it is arguable that Heinlein generally wrote the same book time and again, with each iteration the plots became more fantastic, the strange mix of liberalism and conservatism in the political nucleus, and the sheer idealism in the face of humanity becomes more captivating.
Perhaps the most interesting characters in Time Enough for Love, as in all Heinlein novels, are not the semi-messianic male leads but rather the male-subservient, yet intelligent and domineering female characters. In Heinlein, women are liberated yet happily servants in many ways; though at the end of the day the women are always the leaders of the family, the most intelligent and insightful, and the true deciders of matters. Men, Lazarus Long especially, are always at the mercy of women and all chauvanist power is merely a show to impress a woman, and for all the male competence in his fiction the most Pollyannaish woman ends up being a competent and independent individual while the men invariably end up dependent on their skill or largess for their physical and/or emotional well being.
In trying to keep this admittedly decades old book review spoiler free, I know that I have been exploring broad strokes of Heinlein in general, but as I stated: insofar as character development is concerned all these books are the same. The trappings change, the plots change but these archetypes remain the same: the powerful yet subservient woman, the sentient computer, the messianic male, and the enlightened elder all find themselves in fantastic and different settings—all hearkening to Heinlein’s personal military experience and incredibly progressive views. Time Enough for Love is the capstone on the Dean of Science Fiction’s career, and certainly I enjoyed it, it wouldn’t be my first recommendation to someone who has never read his work before. In all, Time Enough for Love has some moments that make you question your own sense of sexual and political taboos and in such is a worthwhile experience in fiction—biased as I am, you should start with Stranger in a Strange Land.
Written by Brandon Melendez