I Just Finished – Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein

I should say I just finished it this time. This is probably my fifth re-reading of this, my favorite of the Grandmaster’s novels. The timing comes because I decided this year to treat myself to The Virginia Edition, a set of 40+ leather bound copies of everything Robert A. Heinlein ever published. That’s a lot of books, and it’s intimidating; so I decided to start with my favorite.

This is my desert island book. If I could only have one, this would be it. Short version if you don’t know it: Lazarus Long has lived over 2000 years and is the unwilling leader (and direct ancestor) of a society of people bred for longevity. Ready for death, he’s tempted back to life by descendants who collect his memoirs and provide him with ideas that might be interesting enough to keep living for. It’s time travel, it’s western adventure, it’s erotica, it’s space opera. Above all, it’s never boring.

I want to highlight it especially right now, when so many—too many—of my fellow SF fans are saying that Heinlein’s writing is dated, and that the fact of his being a white male of a time before the 21st Century makes him problematic. Worst of all, many fans are saying that they would not recommend his works to new readers, because they might not be able to relate to them.

What, may I ask, should new readers of SF “get into?” Is there some replacement Grandmaster in my generation or a later one? If so, I haven’t seen him. Probably the greatest talent born since 1960 is Neil Gaiman, and he does not write SF. There are other lights—Allan Steele, John Varley and a few others. But they have not achieved the mass-market reach that Heinlein and his fellows did.

SF is the literature, granted, of the future, and the genre should move forward and expand. Problem is, that’s not what it’s done. Instead, it’s narrowed. Heinlein was exploring new ideas—new forms of government and marriage, space travel, gender assignment, cloning, genetic engineering—before anyone else had thought about them intelligently. Now we’re still exploring the same territory, but emotionally, rather than intellectually. Nothing new is being said. Much is being deemed to be not allowed to be said. That is not a sign of a living, breathing genre. That is the sign of a vat of toxic waste.

So I’ll keep discussing Heinlein’s works, thank you very much. And Clarke’s, and Asimov’s and Bradbury’s and Williamson’s. Because not that many ideas are “new.” And intelligent presentation of those ideas is rare.

Time Enough for Love, published in 1973, is Heinlein’s longest, perhaps most ambitious work. It contains four distinct short novels, linked by the Scheherazade framework described above. I’ll deal with each of those stories in other entries. The framing sequence is no cheap device itself. It’s chock full of ideas and eternal questions: Can a computer come to life? What is the point of a very long life? Does it lose its flavor? Is a civilization completely at peace distinguishable from tyranny? What is the nature of gender? And, because there wasn’t enough to satisfy, What is love?

The framework is really just a series of conversations, punctuated by lovemaking. Heinlein was a master of writing conversation, though. These are thought-provoking, funny and entertaining. Through them, we watch the very-old Lazarus Long build a new family, and find a new reason to live.

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