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Time Enough for Love

by Robert Heinlein

Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Working in a genre that prized plot and artifice above
everything else, Robert Heinlein had a peculiar knack for
creating character-driven narratives.  His novels are
populated with big personalities, charismatic
individuals who still show their
humble pulp fiction origins, yet
possess a life force that is rare in
the cardboard world where most
sci-fi resides.  These aren’t neces-
sarily realistic characters—but
they are all the more charming for
being so different from the folks
you meet in day-to-day life.  

Much of the success of Heinlein’s
Stranger in a Strange Land is
driven by that paradoxical
protagonist—a mixture of cult
leader and naïve child—Valentine
Michael Smith.  The same book
brings us the even more peculiar figure Jubal Harshaw, who
seems to be a lawyer at some points in the book, a writer at
other moments, then again a doctor, or keeper of a harem, or
just a celebrity without portfolio.  This projection of Heinlein’s
fantasy vision of himself is both totally implausible, yet also
fascinating to observe.  In a similar manner, two powerful but
sharply contrasting characters impart vitality to
The Moon is a
Harsh Mistress—a book which deserves to be far more widely
read:  the one-armed techie Manuel Garcia "Mannie" O'Kelly-
Davis, whose quaint, colloquial speech pattern make him a
lunar counterpart to Huckleberry Finn, and the computer Mike,
who would be out HAL 9000 and Robbie the Robot combined
in any fair tabulation of electronic gravitas.  

Related Link:  
Robert Heinlein at One Hundred

But the Heinlein character with the greatest seniority is
Lazarus Long.  Of course, it is hard to get any more senior
than Long, who was born before the outbreak of World War I
and was still going strong some 2000 years later.  But this
character also had a long-standing relationship with his
author.  Readers first encountered Long when he appeared
imposingly on the cover of the July 1941 issue of
Astounding
Science Fiction
, which featured the first installment of Heinlein’
s
Methuselah’s Children.  The author returned to Long
periodically, and after Heinlein became a world famous writer
of bestsellers, he focused on this now well-seasoned
character for his 1973 book
Time Enough for Love.

To some degree, this character is a hodge-podge of the traits
we repeatedly find in Heinlein’s leading men.  This protagonist
is iconoclastic, independent, resourceful, libidinous,
philosophical, crafty and restless.  He is no more believable
than Indiana Jones or Odysseus (two figures with which he
has much in common), but out of deference to age, we won’t
point that out to Mr. Long.  But he is definitely not one of
those stick figures that we find in Asimov, Bester, Clarke and
other paragons of the sci-fi genre.  Heinlein projects so much
of his own emotional currents and psychic energy into this
character, that we find ourselves swept away despite
ourselves.  You can’t judge a Disney ride or a Jungian
archetype (and Long is a cross between the two) on
standards drawn from reading Tolstoy or Balzac.   

Time Enough for Love is—strange to say—both one of
Heinlein's most disorganized books, and also one of his
finest.   Make no mistake about it, this book is stitched
together.   It could easily have appeared as a collection of
short stories with a common protagonist—think of Lazarus
Long as sort of a sci-fi Nick Adams.   For 600 pages of small
print, Heinlein jumps hither and thither, moving from space
ships to the Woodrow Wilson administration to discourses on
genetics and economics to wild west scenarios on distant
planets, and dozens of other subplots, tangents, and hobby
horses.  Along the way, Long even finds time to date his own
mother.   

Have you heard of that Parisian café where, if you sit there
long enough, anybody who is anybody is sure to stroll by?  
Well
Time Enough for Love is the novelistic equivalent of the
same.  Give Heinlein enough pages, and everything is bound
to show up sooner or later.  Yet the storytelling here is so well
done, that it’s hard to complain.   There may be plenty of
loose ends in this novel, but there is no padding.  

Around the same time Heinlein was writing this book, the
Beatles put out
Abbey Road, and on side two of that classic
LP the fab foursome sewed together various bits and pieces
and unfinished songs into a finished product that somehow
seemed much, much larger than its constituent parts.  Heinlein
does the same here. I can only surmise that he had a private
stash of great story ideas he had been saving for years, and
now was tossing them into a single book.   

Did you ever have a favorite uncle or teacher or mentor who
could keep the whole room entranced with anecdote after
anecdote?  This book is much like that.  Some of the best
parts of
Time Enough for Love are totally irrelevant to the
convoluted plot—one of my favorites:  there is a section on
banking and finance that ought to be taught to MBAs—and
are all the more delightful for coming out of left field.   Sure,
this book could have been trimmed by 200 pages—heck, it
probably could have been chopped down by 400 pages—but
this is one meal where the fat is as tasty as the meat.  

No, you couldn’t teach someone to write like this.  You
wouldn't even want to try.   But Heinlein was a law unto
himself, and if you decide to read him, you will have to do it on
his terms.  It tells you something about the man when you
consider that this, his most self-indulgent book, was also
among his very best.
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Notes on Conceptual Fiction
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
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The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
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