Paul Weimer Reviews: Time Enough For Love

Review by Paul Weimer: Robert Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love is, in retrospect, his first attempt at a capstone novel for his career, and perhaps the most successful of these attempts. And this review is my personal re-engagement with one of the first SF novels I tried to read.

Forget Jubal Harshaw. The Computer Mike can be put aside. Oscar Gordon is in the shade. The character that in the end defines, delineates and makes Robert Heinlein who he is, is in the end, a character that emerges out of the Future History and into the grand epic that ties that future history together and, for a short while, ties the career of Heinlein together. Lazarus Long.

Lazarus Long, a man of many names, and twenty three hundred years of age (as of the present time period set in the novel) has had many careers, and many adventures. Before Time Enough for Love, Long appears definitively in only one work by Heinlein, the novella Methuselah’s Children, although there are a couple of works of his where it may well be Long under another name, or a shadow version of him. (Doctor McRae in Red Planet, for instance). Time Enough for Love uses Methuselah’s Children to tell his story, and the story of Diaspora humanity, in the bargain.

Time Enough for Love was one of the first SF novels that I tried to read, and failed. I was a young teenager, precocious, reading everything my brother would lend me off of his bookshelf. (I would shortly be raiding the used book store and the library for my own choices).  The cover was interesting and it is a scene or a imagining of a scene from a book–a grumpy man in a kilt, with several women in ancient Greek dress around him. It is a book to make a young man like me wonder “Who is this guy, why does his dress not match the women around him, and WHY are they all around him? Is he some sort of Scottish chief or something who has conquered Greece?” (I was big into Greek Mythology at the time)

Reader, I was not ready for Time Enough for Love and I bounced off of it. I also lost the copy of the book, which angered my older brother for years. To this day, hand to heart, I don’t remember just what happened to his copy. Did I lose in school? Somewhere else I was reading? I don’t know. 

It would be ten years later before I got a copy and gave it another go. By this point, I had read Heinlein’s The Past Through Tomorrow anthology, which collects almost all of the Future History work Heinlein wrote, including the aforementioned Methuselah’s Children. I had read Revolt in 2100, aka “If This Goes On…”, which is about the only missing piece. I knew Heinlein’s future history pretty well.

And so, Time Enough for Love. This time I did not bounce off the book. This time I read it, and enjoyed it. The “Notebooks of Lazarus Long”, the aphorisms that take up two chunks of the book (above and beyond the very quotable bits throughout the book) seemed like wisdom to my younger self. (I feel differently, now).  The tragedy of Lazarus Long, a man who has lived so long that he longs for something new or death, moved me. It was part and parcel of a long Heinlein phase I was in at the time. Many an enjoyable hour on the NYC subway going to and from College was spent reading the book, Heinlein’s longest to date.

And now, decades later, more experienced, and wiser, I decided to read it a third time. And that is the story of this review.

There was much I remembered from my long ago read, and much that was a complete and utter surprise. But let me back up and explain the book’s framing device, nature and style for the uninitiated reader.  The framing device struck me right away, as it tells the story of the rejuvenation and the coming back to wanting life of Lazarus Long.  I remembered some details of this, the fact that he was ready to die, didn’t want to live any longer. A man ready to die, and one that his descendants were determined to save from death.  

The story, and it is explicitly called out in the text itself, is a “Reverse Scheherazade” where Ira (Chairman Pro Tem of the Howard Families, always Pro-Tem in deference to the Senior himself, Lazarus) gets Lazarus to tell him stories about his life, to keep his mind off of the idea that he is sick of living. So there are a number of stories mixed into the framing device.  At the same time, Ira and his friends and companions work to find the Senior something new.  

The weird detail I did not remember, but makes me think of Soylent Green, is the idea of voluntary suicide being a right. It’s marked out in the text as THE right. Lazarus is horrified that in his hospital room that he doesn’t have a suicide switch, as is his right and privilege to use. I was somewhat less surprised that, once it was installed, we later find out that it was gimmicked so that it didn’t work–and that the Senior had tried to use it, several times, in the depths of his slough of despond. The right to die, how it is a fundamental right of this society…and yet, is a right that the powers that be deny that right to the Senior for their own selfish reasons, is a fascinating strand in the book.  It eventually gets dropped once the Senior finds his reasons for living again, but it is a marked theme in the book.

Theme. I should mention the word theme. The title tells it all: Time Enough for Love. Time and Immortality, in Heinlein’s, in Lazarus’ view, only mean something if you have something to make that time worthwhile. There is, in the end, only one thing that makes that time worthwhile, in Lazarus’ view, and that is Family and spending time with Family. Family means, just like in the Disney film Lilo and Stitch, that no one gets left behind, or forgotten.  The story of Time Enough for Love, is reconnecting Lazarus with his Family, and helping him to remember that, on a variety of levels and in a variety of ways.

Family in Lazarus’ view does start with the direct biological meaning of the term. There is a lot of matter in the book about the kinds of Family that Lazarus Long engages with. In the framing device, it starts with descendants like Ira, and his relations, and people like the clinicians Galahand and Ishtar. It should be noted that all of these, with Lazarus, all wind up together in a Household on a new planet together. They form and create a Family. When Justin Foote, who visits Lazarus and company, is invited to join the Family, it is made explicitly clear what is expected and the bonds and freedoms and responsibilities of that family relationship. 

But there are other kinds of family, too, and we see those in the stories Lazarus tells throughout the book. The story of the twins that weren’t is a story of these two siblings who are haploid pairs to each other, and who form an intense bond are a family, and form a family for a time as the wards of the Senior. That, too, is a family.  The longest story in the book, the story of Lazarus and Dora, is a story of a man who comes to form a familial bond with an orphan, and eventually a family in the more traditional sense, and in the classic pioneer sense. Yes, the story of the Adopted Daughter (who becomes a Wife) is a pioneer story, this is the one where Lazarus and Dora, for reasons, decide to, in an age of spacecraft and the like, to take covered wagons and cross a mountain range in search of land to homestead. 

The story of Lazarus Long going back to 1916 and winding up in the coils of his family (and the embrace of his mother) is another look at Family: The Senior’s Original Family. This is a biological family, the straightest definitions of family. And yet, Lazarus gets passed off as a distant cousin (or possibly a lost brother) and so gets inserted into his own birth family. The key detail, the one that Heinlein lingers on, is the flags on the War service flag hanging outside the Smith house. There are three stars–one for Grandfather (who is in the home guard) one for the Father…and one for Lazarus. 

Family Matters. Family is the reason to live. Family is the basis of love (this is not explicitly stated in a full on Socratic dialogue on Love, but it is clear that this is the answer to the question posed in that dialogue). 

There is the bone I want to pick with this book’s back-matter and advertising matter.  Yes, the book is full of incest of various sorts, even if you have the tightest definition of incest you can image. Lazarus Long having sex with his mother is quite literally the Oedipal sex problem that dominates the end of the book. His pride to be accepted by his mother, and his grandfather causes him to stupidly wind up in the war and nearly getting his arse shot off before he is rescued.

But, no, Lazarus Long is not so in love with time that he becomes his own ancestor. This never happens. That’s the plot of “All You Zombies”, which is a different story entirely.

What I didn’t remember is that we find out that the story of Lazarus Long having incest with his mother is pre-figured when we find out that Justin Foote the 45th apparently has had much sex (and frankly is in love with) with one of the greatest courtesans on Secundus…his own mother. 

So I probably should talk more about Sex, incest and some of the very conflicted ideas and thoughts that are in this book. I wish I could say that it is a small fraction of the book, that the book is much more about other things. But Sex (because, Family, see above) pervades this book, the book is soaked in it. And a lot of it revolves around incest, what it is, what it isn’t and what Sex is for, and what it isn’t.

Larry Niven once said that one definition of the word idiot was someone who mistook the beliefs of a character in a book for that of the author. And yet I am not sure what to make of Lazarus Long’s outright hostility toward transgender characters (one that would eventually be reconsidered in later novels). Long even makes an allusion to a character and a story that sounds awfully like Johann’s brain being transplanted into Eunice in I Will Fear No Evil. That’s not a novel whose society and events match up with Future History in any other way than this allusion from Lazarus. And he makes his disdain and dislike of such gender transformations abundantly clear–one of the new things that is proposed is that Lazarus become a woman. (And given Heinlein’s education and erudition, I was really surprised that poor Tiresias doesn’t even get the whiff of a mention). 

There are some very very brief mentions of non-heterosexual attraction and contact (even given 1973, much less than I would have expected given this culture and society).  But in the end, that makes sense because of the other strong focus, along with some very unfortunate lines of thought, and that is on reproduction. Time and again in the novel, I was extremely unnerved by what I was reading and listening to, as the plot and story and musings revolve around genetic fitness and reproduction and stock breeding and much more. There is, frankly, an extremely eugenics tilt to the Howard Families and that comes out in spades. The Families themselves started off as a breeding program for long life, and even to this day, to the far future of 4272, there is still concern about genetic fitness and “defectives”.  There is a whole subplot in The Tale of the Twins that Weren’t about that, although the Twins can have sex and children, their children most definitely should not do the same. And again in the Tale of the Adopted Daughter, being alone on a homestead isolated from everyone else, what Lazarus is deeply concerned about is that their daughters and sons will have sex with each other.

And yet, the sex between Justin and his mother, the sex between Lazarus and his mother, and when he gives in, the sex and reproduction he has with his cloned quasi-sisters is all okay because the chances of genetic abnormalities in any unions is very low or children from such unions are impossible. (Lazarus has sex with his mother when she is pregnant, you see) The text, in the mouth of Lazarus makes this explicit — he only considers incest bad when it could lead to “defective” children. 

“Except for unions that will lead to defective children, love thou who you wilt” seems to be the message here. And while there are some small intimidations of same-sex encounters, Lazarus Long and his family in general are not into it or for it. The book is overwhelmingly, but not ruthlessly heterosexual in its outlook. But the focus on babies and rearing babies (the purpose of any Family, found or not) is clear. When Foote is admitted into the family, the stipulation is that he can leave at any time, but has to provide for the children existing at the time up to their age of majority.

“Just a dream, beloved. You cannot die.”

That’s the last line of the book, and I come to it as I try to come to a conclusion here. Is the book worth reading? I think, in the end, the book is worth reading by those who are in a position to read it…that is to say, people who have read more than a couple of Heinlein novels. This feels like a capstone to his writing, although it would prove not to be by a decade, but it feels like he was trying to “wrap it all up” here. Echoes of that wrapping up here do appear in The Number of the Beast (which goes even further than this novel in tying together his work), in Job (which goes back to a single love story to wrap up his thoughts on things) and the final two novels. The Cat Who Walks through Walls and To Sail Beyond the Sunset, which are kind of, frankly, a mess, to my memory.

So, if you are a Heinlein reader who has read the Future History stories, perhaps sampled Stranger in a  Strange Land, or dared I Will Fear No Evil, then, yes, you will want to round your reading with this. It’s essential, even. But if you are not, this novel requires such a grounding, such an enthusiasm for Heinlein and his work, that I can’t recommend the book to anyone else. In fact, you will be happier as a reader and an SF fan if you do not.

Essential or to be avoided, there really is no in between.

21 thoughts on “Paul Weimer Reviews: Time Enough For Love

  1. I read this book for the first time when I was in high school or maybe even junior high (so, too young for it, really, but at least I was the right kind of too young for it). Although I’ve gone back to some other Heinlein over the years, this one I haven’t touched in decades. Maybe it’s time?

  2. Great review. Most of the observations matched my own when I read it as an adult. I found most of the book’s observations about economics and societies to be mostly spot-on.

    This is another book that I wouldn’t pay to put in the hands of a 5th grader (i.e. via a public middle school library).

    When there is no such thing as truth, you can’t define reality. & when you can’t define reality, the only thing that matters is power. – Maajid Nawaz

  3. I read at least three times a decade or so after it came out over a twenty year period. Now incest aspect didn’t bother me then but it would definitely now having known several women who were incest survivors. So would I re-read it now now? Definitely not.

  4. The incest attitude bothers me a great deal and as I get older, it bothers me more.

    It doesn’t matter if you carefully avoid the chance of defective children.

    To my knowledge, despite three wives, Heinlein never fathered or raised children. Perhaps that’s why he doesn’t handle them well even though he does recognize that the future belongs to the people who show up.

  5. i’ve only read it once, and relatively early in my Heinlein timeline (though i had read Stranger (too early) and some of the juveniles (including Starship Troopers)) so it might be time for a re-read (i’ve since read everything…including the later novels)

  6. I read this in high school, too. I picked it up in a boxed Heinlein set (with Stranger, Starship Troopers, and I Will Fear No Evil). I haven’t felt compelled to reread it in this century, but I recall liking it a lot at the time. “There’s a pawn shop round the corner”

  7. I’m not sure I’ve re-read Time Enough For Love since it came out while I was in college. The incest bothered me then; it bothers me even more now when I think about the book.

  8. Except for unions that will lead to defective children, love thou who you wilt” seems to be the message here.

    Who gets to decide if a child is “defective”? What counts as a “defect”? Non-white skin? Homosexuality? Dyslexia? Diabetes? (either flavor: I have Type II). The more I hear about Heinlein the happier I am I stopped after The Cat That Walked Through Walls.

  9. TEfL is, I think, Heinlein’s most Heinlein work – for good and for bad. And I would recommend anyone who’s noped away from it based on this thread to read just the chapter “The Tale of The Man Who Was Too Lazy to Fail”. It’s a delight, and there is absolutely no incest in it.

  10. I read and reviewed TEFL when it first came out, and recall concluding it was less than the sum of its parts. Patrick Morris Miller, in the previous comment, mentioned “The Tale of The Man Who Was Too Lazy to Fail” as particularly enjoyable, a judgment I share. I went further in my review back then, stating that if TEFL had been first broken into its various sub-stories (the homesteading section, etc.) and published individually, Heinlein might have managed to do a clean sweep of all the short fiction Hugos for that year.

    But as a whole, as a novel (or “novel”), it felt uneven and self-indulgent. I suspect I’d feel even more strongly about that if I ever got around (in my infinite spare time, koff) to re-reading it today.

  11. The Man Who Was Too Lazy To Fail (“David Lamb”) was based on a real schoolmate of Heinlein’s at Annapolis, Delos Wait. Like David, Wait was from the “hills” (in Wait’s case, of Arkansas). Wait entered the Navy as an enlisted man and later was appointed to the Naval Academy (like David). He was on the school’s fencing team (like David, and like Heinlein himself). He was an aviator who moved to multi-engine planes, and spent much of the WW2 patrolling the coasts for submarines (like David). He was decorated for valor (like David). After the war, on his retirement from service, he was promoted to Admiral (like David), and went to college to study agriculture (like David) (at my alma mater, UT Knoxville). He bought a farm in the hills (like David) near Asheville, NC, and spent his days as a gentleman farmer.

  12. Mr. Weimer, I do respect your right to your opinion, but I have to disagree vehemently. I tried to read Time Enough for Love. I really tried. At this point in time, I no longer remember why I tried so hard — just because Heinlein was officially an important SF author? Because I had so loved his juveniles? But I did try. I remember bogging down again and again in those aphorisms that fill ? of the book. I remember thumbing through the pages ahead to see how long they went on. I recall literally falling asleep on them twice. (Made for a lot of jokes around the house when I was caught snoring over a book.) I remember all the things you mention: his excitement about non-traditional sexual pairing; the willingness of a supposedly benevolent culture to break its own most sacred taboo in order to do force one old man to bend to their will. (If that’s how they handle the rights of someone they honor hugely, then how do you think they handle the rights of more average citizens? And if they’re working that hard to force him to write this stuff, doesn’t that suggest they’re going to force everybody else to read it? Live under it? Apparently, Mr. Heinlein’s passionate belief in freedom of choice must give way to the thrill of fantasizing about how his wisdom is so enormous and valuable that the entire world must make way for its publication.) I never did finish it — there was not a single thing in it that didn’t either bore or offend me or both. (Remember when he explained how it was perfectly acceptable to lie to children to stop them from making a mistake?) But it was all those aphorisms that made it not merely crap, but unforgivable. Thousands on thousands of shallow, empty platitudes. Not a single one rang true. Don’t count your cyber-chickens, la di doo dah. (You know sometimes it’s all right to count your chickens–like when you’re doing your taxes.) It wasn’t wisdom, it was just a smug, self-important old fart telling people not merely what they’re allowed to do, but what they’re allowed to think. So, I, speaking as the loyal opposition, cry: NO! DON’T READ IT! SPARE YOUR BRAIN CELLS!
    I’ve gone on at some length. Apparently a nerve was touched. My apologies, Mr. Weimer. Go ahead and read it if you want to. “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” Or as someone else once said, “Freedom is the right to choose wrong.”

  13. I remember reading once, long ago, that cultures swing back and forth between their obsessive disapproval of homosexuality and incest.

    What is really fascinating about this discussion is that the book still provokes such heated discussion after so long.

    I don’t think you will find much discussion, heated or otherwise, about “Peyton Place.”

  14. @Jon DeCles: “What is really fascinating about this discussion is that the book still provokes such heated discussion after so long.”

    I think, and this is a little blunter than I’d like to be, it provokes such discussion here in part because of a particular nature of the File770 commentariat, by which I mean many people here read it when it came out, or not that long after. I don’t think that’s necessarily true of a lot of other places out there where people talk about the genre.

    (And, honestly, when it comes to 1970s novels about incest, I’d expect a whole lot more people these days, even fans, will have read ‘Flowers in the Attic’ than ‘Time Enough for Love’.)

  15. Also I had to look up ‘Peyton Place’, because even though I’ve heard of it I’ve never seen an episode. This turns out to (mostly) not be my fault, as (per wiki) the original series went off the air long before I was born, the revival series was cancelled before I was eating solid food, the 1977 movie would have been past my bedtime, and as the 1985 movie wasn’t a sitcom, cartoon, or gameshow I would have missed it then too. My next chance to watch it wouldn’t have been until the initial (and partial) dvd release in 2009, and yeah I guess that one’s on me for being ignorant.

    In comparison, “Time Enough for Love” was (per ISFDB) in print all the way up into the 1990s, and would have been widely available in libraries and used book stores for many years past that.

  16. I was a preschooler when “Peyton Place”* was on TV, but weirdly, a song that mentioned “Peyton Place” (“Harper Valley, PTA”) had enough staying power that I heard the name when I was a teen.

    *For some reason, I know a little bit of trivia about it. Like “Batman” it was so popular, that the network could show more than one new episode a week

  17. Actually, I was not thinking of the dramatizations of “Peyton Place,” I was thinking of the best selling novel which inspired them.

  18. @Jon DeCles: I’ll admit that I didn’t know the TV show was based on a novel.

  19. Actually, I was not thinking of the dramatizations of “Peyton Place,” I was thinking of the best selling novel which inspired them.

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