Finished Time Enough For Love (1973) a while ago, so I’ve owed you my review. Warning: I have not held back much as far as spoilers go, so if you haven’t read the book and don’t want to hear the ending, don’t read past the marked point.
Time Enough For Love is Heinlein‘s longest work, and probably his most epic. It is essentially written as part of the biography of Lazarus Long, a recurring character throughout Heinlein’s Future History novels (Methuselah’s Children and To Sail Beyond the Sunset, as well as a series of short stories). Long is the oldest living human being at over two thousand years old, the product of both genetic engineering in the 20th century and rejuvenation technology thereafter. The story is based around Long’s lying on his deathbed and one of his important descendants wishes that his entire life story be recorded (or at least the important parts). They wish to record it because he is “the Senior” and as the oldest living human being is considered the wisest. So Long begins, telling of his life, in no particular chronological order.
Image via Wikipedia
Now when we get into the themes and details is where it gets interesting. Free love, nudism, etc, are common themes for Heinlein, but in Time Enough For Love he takes it to another level, making today’s nudists look like Republicans and Oedipus Rex look like the average suburban husband. The summary on the back of my copy states that “it is the story of a man so in love with Life that he refused to stop living it; and so in love with Time that he became his own ancestor.” However, this statement is not backed up by anything in the book, sadly. The final part of the novel involves his going back in time to his childhood to meet his family, and in the process falls in love with his mother, but at this period he is already a child and meets himself, making it impossible that he should have become his own ancestor as the summary says.
Not that Heinlein should have needed to make the book more strange and slightly awkward by today’s moral standards. At one point he explains scientifically how twin brother and sister born of the same father and mother could be genetically unrelated, and then proceeds to have them marry, have children, and live long happy lives as if nothing were the matter with that. To Heinlein, of course, there isn’t. As well, the last section of the book, which is set around the time-travel sequence, features Lazarus helping to start a colony and joining a family of all the primary characters, three each of men and women and an unknown number of children, practicing free love. Also included in this family are a pair of female twins who just happen to be female clones of Lazarus himself, who eventually he makes love to as well, writing it off as a form of masturbation.
This may have come off much harsher than it is meant to be. Heinlein is one of the best, and most of his ideas are awesome. But this, even to a much larger extent than The Moon is a Harsh Mistress or Stranger in a Strange Land, some of his social themes are strange and not particularly acceptable even by today’s loose standards, much less that of the Seventies.