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Time Enough for… Eternity

Actually, I want to talk about Time Enough for Love.

Robert Heinlein is about the biggest name you can get in the history of science fiction. I have read, I think, all of his works at least once, but of all his pieces, for some reason, this one stands out the most. Despite the futuristic settings of his stories, Heinlein's writing often delved into timeless questions about the nature of humanity, morality, and the meaning of life.

Robert Heinlein

Descriptions of technology and scientific concepts in his work grounded his speculative fiction in a sense of plausibility and realism. The impact on society from the changes made always felt real. This book is no exception. How would society treat a progenitor of more than half the human race, who is himself ancient beyond fathoming?

(Be kind; the book was written in 1973. Though his technology isn’t that bad off.)

The main character, Lazarus, named for the biblical figure of course, is a 2,000-year-old man. To grossly oversimplify the book, which is fairly long, it asks the question of what is the point of living when you are immortal, and have all the time in the universe before you? When you have done it all, seen it all, what is next? Does life derive its purpose from its finite nature? Does it derive its purpose from interpersonal interactions? From threat, and living on the edge of possible death?

You may not like the answers he gives; in fact, there are some very strange twists in this tale that don’t work for me at all, but the idea of a person who has been alive for so long is more than enough to carry it through. Lazarus, and his many descendants whom he interacts with in the book, are oddly self-similar echoes of their living ancestor. There will be a lot that offends modern readers about who he chooses to sleep with, when, and why. It will make you hate the man that science and chance selected to live forever.

But if a book is not to make you feel, what is it for? It is not the greatest book written; it is not the greatest book about an immortal, but it is a book that has stuck with me. Somehow, that seems like reason enough to recommend it be resurrected for some new readers in the modern era.

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