Not the Worst Heinlein Novel

Time Enough For Love — Robert A. Heinlein
Lazarus Long, book 2


I no longer remember why I thought it would be a good idea to review 1973’s Time Enough For Love. It is by no means the worst of Heinlein’s books—that’s probably Number of the Beast, although I am told that The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, which I have not read, gives NotB a run for its money—but considered as a whole, TEFL is not very good. It is, however, very long. As is this review.

And yes, I am aware this book was nominated for a Nebula 1, a Hugo2, and a Locus 3.

Lazarus Long was a mere 213 years old when he first appeared in Methuselah’s Children . By the beginning of TEFL, he is an impressive two millennia old. Time weighs heavily on the ancient grognard. All he wants to do die.

His descendants are not done with him and while dying may be every person’s right, it is not one Lazarus will get to enjoy. Chairman pro tem of the planet Secundus, Ira Weatherall, tempts the Methuselah with the one thing he cannot resist: an audience.

Long regales an inexorably growing crowd of descendants with three novella-length stories:

The Tale of the Man Who Was Too Lazy to Fail

Set in the 20 th century, this tells the tale of a man whose successful career was possible thanks to his skill at rules-lawyering and creative slacking-off.

The Tale of the Twins Who Weren’t

In what is almost certainly not a hat tip to Captain Pausert , Long purchases a brother and sister who, thanks, to creative genetic engineering, are genetically dissimilar. Slavery is abhorrent to Long and he immediately frees his slaves. This leaves the problem of teaching them how to be self-sufficient, as well as the issue of what to do about the siblings’ mutual attraction.

The Tale of the Adopted Daughter

Long inadvertently commits wife-husbandry after rescuing an infant girl from the fire that kills the rest of her family. Once Dora is husband-high, the man she sets her cap for is none other than the man who raised her. A man who, unlike poor Dora, is an immortal.

Interspersed with the above is the story of how Long, Weatherall, and others established a colony and family together on a new world. When that’s done, life gets boring and Long heads out again. FTL is functionally time travel and Long plans to use that fact to explore history itself.

Da Capo:

In the early 20 th century, Long’s hot mom is waiting for him. So is death on French battlefield….


This is not quite a novel and not quite a collection of novellas. The result is that neither of my usual approaches to tackling books is quite appropriate. Ah, well.

Brief comments on the four novellas:

The Man Who Was Too Lazy to Fail: This establishes Long as an unreliable narrator. Which, to be honest, his descendants knew: they complain to his face about the outrageous lies he tells about having wiped out the Jockaira 4, a race of godlike aliens last seen in Methuselah’s Children .

The Tale of the Twins Who Weren’t: Long doesn’t just free his slaves, he makes a point of giving them the skills they need to survive. Go him. I can assure you there was a healthy tradition in SF of loathing both slavery and those who had the bad taste to be enslaved. Heinlein rejects that tradition in this story; the twins were unlucky, not tainted. I thought Heinlein undermined the point with the revelation about the twins’ ancestry, but at least this was not A Slave is a Slave.

The Tale of the Adopted Daughter: may be not be case zero for Alien Worlds That Are Totes the Same as the Old West With Smeerps In, but it was a very very effective vector. This extends to tossing aside centuries of technological advancement to settle the plains of an alien world as the pioneers of old settled the West. The pioneers of old didn’t use old timey technology because it was the best solution possible. They used it because it was the best technology available to them . There’s a difference. But Heinlein did it, so legions of lesser authors do it too.

The theme of the little girl who wants to marry her father figure is much, much creepier in the context of Heinlein’s body of work. See also The Door into Summer and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

Da Capo: Heinlein’s kinks are not my kinks.

I took the time to poke around PornHub’s statistical arm [NOT SAFE FOR WORK, UNLESS YOU WORK AT PORNHUB. Or, heh, are me] to see if Heinlein’s obsession with incest (which manifests in various ways in this novel) is Heinlein-specific or if this is a Kansas thing. The answer is almost certainly something Pornhub knows but I could not find it. I can say the states adjacent to and north of Kansas certainly have a keen interest in the subject (take that, Westermarck!) and that Kansas loves porn 5 more than any other state in the US.

In addition to the extensive interstitial material, Heinlein has been kind enough to provide lengthy lists of Longian aphorisms that show the old fellow as a sexed-up combination of Abe Simpson and Oscar LeRoy.

These aphorisms were popular enough on their own that they were published as The Notebooks of Lazarus Long. Heinlein fans are often the sort of people who refer to him in hushed tones as the Master, the sort of people for whom the Notebooks are a convenient source of material to quote to unfortunate bookstore owners. At length. But at least if they are regaling clerks with the Wisdom of Long, they aren’t trying to pick up chicks with their extensive knowledge of same.

Large swathes of this book are abhorrent to me: it only takes Heinlein five pages to get to the first call for mass murder and eight to the first off-handed reference to genocide (of aliens not suitable for slavery; human may not own humans, but aliens are apparently fucked). Various tirades against democracy and in favour of autocracy are sprinkled through the text.

I would say that for a sickly, childless man whose closest brush with the life of a pioneer was pampered tourism, Heinlein sure was obsessed with Improving the Race by Massacring the Weak, also with Having Babies, and the Bold Frontier Life. IMHO, he wrote about the life he coveted. Or imagined that he would have aced, except that it was over. Except that he probably didn’t want anyone to hold a pillow over his face to improve the breed. People are inconsistent that way.

The good news is the format plays to Heinlein’s strengths or at least circumvents one of his weaknesses, which is that, generally speaking, the longer the Heinlein novel, the greater the odds the plot will collapse under its own weight 6. There’s nothing shameful about having skills more suited to shorter rather than longer lengths (or vice versa), but it is an unfortunate fact that market realities encourage authors to write novels. In this specific case, you can treat the work as a collection; if the story at hand bores or annoys 7, just skip ahead to the next section.

Time Enough for Love is available in a variety of editions.

1: Losing out to Rendezvous with Rama .

2: Losing out to Rendezvous with Rama.

3: Losing out to Rendezvous with Rama . And suddenly a Spider Robinson review of Rama has a context I missed earlier.

4: Early Heinlein works often suggested that prudent humans might treat aliens with respect; even the apparently backward aliens might turn out to have overlooked strengths which they could unleash on the unwary and rude. Later Heinlein leans towards Humanity Uber Alles. The dividing line seems to be 1959’s Starship Troopers. 1961’s Stranger in a Strange Land seems like an exception—the main thing keeping the Martians from wiping us out is that they have not yet thought it necessary—but as I understand it, Heinlein was playing with that story as long ago as 1948.

5: Speaking of porn: Heinlein’s Future History doesn’t seem to have any, because there’s an explicit assumption that kids only learn about sex by seeing humans or other animals have sex in real life. It’s possible all the sex people are having keeps them too busy to film it.

6: See also Citizen of the Galaxy, which stands up reasonably well. It can be seen as a collection of linked novellas.

7: Every time I start a paragraph about the Inevitable Malthusian Doom Haunting All Worlds aspects of the book, it devolves into angrish-laden argle bargle. I will give Heinlein this: he was at least consistent on that point. And it’s not as if authors with access to better models are not just as deluded.

People who remember Tunnel in the Sky may be curious how Heinlein handles the Chinese Question in this book. He casts aside the endless army of fecund Asians marching to the skies in favour of a state-mandated ban that kept most Chinese (the Howard Family’s One Asian Friend excepted) from leaving overpopulated, dying Earth. Because if there’s one prominent fact of Chinese history, it’s that legions of Chinese merchants and farmers never at any point in history showed any interest in exploiting new markets or settling new lands. Heh.

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