Review of Time Enough for Love (1973)


Robert A. Heinlein (writer).

Read in 2019.

Some motherfucker lives for thousands of years.

SF picaresque on a massive scale. There are moments of interest. It’s a Hugo and Locus winner after all, albeit in honour of earlier writing, when Heinlein was good. This is very nearly the end of his Future History, the rightful side show to Asimov’s Foundation series but an admirable project nonetheless. There are a few good scenes, mainly in the loose framework narrative and especially in its transition to Long’s literal return to his own childhood as a flailing metaphor for senility.

The superman, too obviously a stand-in for the old writer himself, bums around in WW1-era USA, inconspicuous and full of narcissistic potential. At times it seems as if Heinlein is trying to close the loop and turn the entire Future History into “‘—All You Zombies—’” (1959) on a radically different scale, but more often I get no sense of ambition whatsoever. Ultimately, this sprawling fantasy is just a little more elegant than Star Trek (1966) and it does not complete the larger setting.

Even with the best possible framework for exposition, Heinlein fails to show or tell the story of his society’s development over time. Instead, he’s got computers inexplicably turning into hot women, in a parade of hot women and very little else. In the story of Dora, he indulges unironically in the motifs of the Western, a genre that had already faded out by 1973. He’s got settlers with chickens and an anvil on an actual wagon train, in a colony world of slaves and whores where FTL spaceships work like the triangle traders of the 18th century and girls proudly display the blood of menarche; I can practically hear Ray Stevens playing “I’m My Own Grandpa” (1987) on a far-future banjo.

The narrator describes the recurring theme of incest as “that breath of garlic in a good salad”. It’s not a qualified examination of the taboo. Heinlein doesn’t even mention the Westermarck effect, and two brothers falling in love is beyond his abilities. Even so, he persists in channeling his dogmatic convictions on economics and politics, expecting to find a receptive audience taking him seriously.

This is the first book of the terminal phase of Heinlein’s career. I guess his editor must have called it quits by this time. Ultimately, the best I can say about it is that Heinlein continued to push the envelope of personal freedom in the absence of real harm, but this is not Greg Egan burning the motherhood statement. It is transgressive only for the sake of pornography, just like the same sexual fetishes of polygamy, incest and cuckoldry in Genesis (ca. 500–400 BCE).

References here: The Forever War (1974), We Who Are About To... (1976), Children of the Mind (1996), Altered Carbon (2002).

text fiction