Alexei Panshin's The Abyss of Wonder

Time Enough for Love, Part IV

8. The Man Who Feared Evil

The work that Heinlein did following World War ll, the juvenile novels and the adult novels with their unconvincing solutions, was essentially predictable from Heinlein's 1941 World Science Fiction Convention speech.

Heinlein had said:

When a man makes predictions and they keep failing to come out, time and again, things don't come out the way he wants to, he goes insane ...

He had said that for a period of up to fifty years large portions of the human race would be in a condition of insanity.

And during such a period it is really a difficult thing to keep a grip, to keep a grip on yourself ...

He saw but one mode of self-protection. The scientific method--the ability to "distinguish facts from non-facts." He said:

The scientific method can be used to protect our sanity, to protect ourselves from serious difficulties of other sorts--gettin' our teeth smashed in, and things like that--in our everyday life, 24 hours of the day.

In the juvenile novels, he had done his best to educate a younger generation to factual matters to give them the means to survive. In Double Star, there is envisioned a period of insanity and trouble and the protagonist evolves into a political figure in order to tip the scale toward survival. In The Door Into Summer, the protagonist is so freaked by the time of trouble that he abandons the present entirely in order to find a sunnier time of "comparative peace and comfort" --in Heinlein's 1941 phrase. Survival. At all costs, survival. Survival was the solution that Heinlein found when he suffered from tuberculosis in the Thirties. Time and again, survival is the answer he has settled for in lieu of a larger answer to the meaning of life.

But the 1941 speech holds even more pertinence for our understanding. Heinlein had said that when a man makes predictions for himself and they keep failing to come out, time and again, he goes insane. That when the world is insane, it becomes difficult for a man to keep a grip--"to keep a grip on yourself." We may read this as "difficult to keep a grip on your self"--which is to say, to retain the continuity of the ego, which is what survival means to Heinlein. The one method of survival is to distinguish between facts and non-facts. And since the war, Heinlein had done his best to distinguish between facts and non-facts. He had written the most rational stories that he could conceive. He had compromised.

But at cost, just as there was cost in the compromises of Beyond This Horizon and "Waldo." For fifteen years, Heinlein had denied the search for larger meaning in favor of preaching the benefits of fact and survival.

Finally, in the March 1959 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Heinlein published a story that, like "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag," expressed what he had been holding locked so tightly within himself. In this story, "'All You Zombies--'," nothing is real but the protagonist. Heinlein's character, by means of time travel and a sex-change operation, has become father and mother of herself/himself and recruited that self into a time travel police corps. It is not a happy story. It ends like this:

l know where I came from--but where did all you zombies come from?

I felt a headache coming on, but a headache powder is one thing I do not take.  I did once--and you all went away.

So I crawled into bed and whistled out the light.

You aren't really there at all.  There isn't anybody but me--Jane--here alone in the dark.

I miss you dreadfully!

This is all the greatest doubts expressed by "They," "By His Bootstraps," the key scene of Beyond This Horizon, and "Jonathan Hoag" all together in one short, succinct, nightmare package.

This short story was the first expression of a new facet of Heinlein and his search. In this new phase of his career, Heinlein has been led into overstatement, philosophic pontification, and seemingly dangerous opinion. His books have been less and less carefully crafted as they have grown longer and longer. If, in his first phase, Heinlein was without peer, and in the second he was chief among equals, in the third he has been as solitary as the singular character of "'All You Zombies--'."

Heinlein began his third phase with an inflation of his long-cherished concern for survival, and for facts as the means of survival. Survival he saw as a thing that might be purchased only at the risk of a glorious death. He expressed his opinions not only in his fiction, but in a second World Science Fiction Convention Guest of Honor speech, this one at Seattle in 1961, twenty years after the first.

This is what Heinlein saw as "fact" rather than "non-fact" in 1961: He claimed that the wars and mass insanity that he had predicted twenty years earlier had actually come to pass. He divided the possible futures that he now foresaw--which was to say, his own future, too--into two groups. One group, assigned a ten per cent probability, was a collection of improbables, on the order of the sun becoming a nova, as in "Year of the Jackpot," Khrushchev becoming a Christian, or there being peace in the world. The more likely group, assigned a ninety per cent probability, contained just three possibilities: Russia destroys us in a war; we collapse internally and give up to Russia; or we and Russia destroy each other and China wins. In any case, no matter which of these three possibilities should come to pass, one-third of us would die. Heinlein's attitude was that since we were going to lose, no matter which of the three occurred, we ought to go down fighting. We ought to stock bomb shelters, as Heinlein did. We ought to acquire unregistered weapons. And we ought to die as gloriously as we could.

It is not beyond understanding why opinions like these, pressed as hard as Heinlein has pressed them, must seem pernicious. They are a projection into the world at large of Heinlein's own fears and uncertainties, and if they were strictly lived by, then indeed, Heinlein's likely ninety per cent of possible futures might already have come to pass.

The first novel to press these opinions--to shout these opinions--was Starship Troopers (1959). In this story, we are faced with alien enemies even more vicious, implacable and impossible to deal with than those in The Puppet Masters. Nothing can be learned from them. They can only be fought.

The central philosophic conceit of the novel is this:

Morals--all correct moral rules--derive from the instinct to survive; moral behavior is survival behavior above the individual level--as in a father who dies to save his children.  But since population pressure results from the process of surviving through others, then war, because it results from population pressure, derives from the same inherited instinct which produces all moral rules suitable for human beings.

Check of proof: Is it possible to abolish war by relieving population pressure (and thus do away with the all-too-evident evils of war) through constructing a moral code under which population is limited to resources?

Without debating the usefulness or morality of planned parenthood, it may be verified by observation that any breed which stops its own increase gets crowded out by breeds which expand. Some human populations did so, in Terran history, and other breeds--moved in and engulfed them.

Nevertheless, let's assume that the human race manages to balance birth and death, just right to fit its own planets, and thereby becomes peaceful. What happens?

Soon (about next Wednesday) the Bugs move in, kill off this breed which "ain'ta gonna study war no more" and the universe forgets us. Which still may happen. Either we spread and wipe out the Bugs, or they spread and wipe us out--because both races are tough and smart and want the same real estate.

Do you know how fast population pressure could cause us to fill the entire universe shoulder to shoulder? The answer will astound you, just the flicker of an eye in terms of the age of our race.

Try it--it's a compound-interest expansion.

But does Man have any "right" to spread through the universe?

Man is what he is, a wild animal with the will to survive, and (so far) the ability, against all competition. Unless one accepts that, anything one says about morals, war, politics--you name it--is nonsense. Correct morals arise from knowing what Man is--not what do-gooders and well-meaning old Aunt Nellies would like him to be.

The universe will let us know--later--whether or not Man has any "right" to expand through it.

These opinions, of course, do not properly belong to the nominal narrator of the novel--a boy hardly twenty. They belong to Heinlein. They are the natural product of Heinlein's special and personal history. They are not the opinions that he would have expressed in 1939 or in 1942, or even in The Puppet Masters in 1951.

Starship Troopers was originally submitted to Scribners to be the thirteenth in the series of juvenile novels that Heinlein had been writing for them, but the opinions expressed were too extreme for them and the book was issued by another publisher--as a juvenile. Heinlein's next novel was Stranger in a Strange Land, finally completed now that he had let go his death grip on calm rationality. The novel succeeding Stranger was Glory Road (1963). In this story, a young Vietnam veteran, unhappy with our world, takes an opportunity to become an adventurer in parallel universes. He meets a transcendent alien enemy in single combat and defeats it. But he returns to our world with no new gifts except the right to leave again, and as the book ends the character is as unhappy as he was when he began.

Glory Road rejects democracy:

"Democracy can't work. Mathematicians, peasants, and animals, that's all there is--so democracy, a theory based on the assumption that mathematicians and peasants are equal, can never work."

 And the novel endorses the philosophy of survival equalling harmony-with-the-universe: The Empress of the Twenty Universes is right and is instantly obeyed until she is dead. When an assassin finally gets to her, she won't be right anymore.

Since 1963, Heinlein has published but three novels, strange and desperate wrestlings with the questions of survival and purpose: Farnham's Freehold (1964); The Moon ls a Harsh Mistress (1966); and I Will Fear No Evil (1970).

Farnham's Freehold has characters thrown through time by an atomic bomb blast into a future no more palatable than the present. In this future, the black race rules and Heinlein's protagonist, Hugh Farnham, and his party are taken as slaves.  Farnham and his wife escape from this future back into our own time.  They flee from the atomic war and take refuge in an enclave in the hills:

They lived through the missiles, they lived through the bombs, they lived through the fires, they lived through the epidemics--which were not extreme and may not have been weapons; both sides disclaimed them--and they lived through the long period of disorders while civil government writhed like a snake with a broken back. They lived. They went on.

The Farnhams give those who approach fair warning:

WARNING! Ring Bell. Wait. Advance with your Hands Up. Stay on path, avoid mines. We lost three customers last week. We can't afford to lose YOU. No sales tax ...

High above their sign their homemade starry flag is flying--and they are still going on.

In this novel, Farnham is able to bring back but one boon from the unknown country of the future into which he penetrates. That boon is personal survival. Without the penetration into the future, Farnham must necessarily have died. But survival is all that he asks for and survival is all that he gets. What is gained from life is no more than what is offered to life.

Farnham's "Freehold" must inevitably serve as a reminder of that other place in a Heinlein story that is called "Freehold"--Waldo Farthingwaite Jones's lonely space station home, which more objective men than he call "Wheelchair." This "Freehold" is as independent of the outside world as Waldo's was. Farnham's possession of his "Freehold" is exactly as much of a triumph as Waldo's possession of "Wheelchair." What is sad is that we are asked to cheer for Farnham.

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is a bloated novel of the successful Lunar Revolution of 2076, in which Earth's first colony frees itself from the tyranny of a troubled and decaying planet that can no longer feed its teeming billions. The revolution is planned, directed and largely executed by a sentient super-computer named Mike. At the end of the story, after the revolution is won, the computer falls silent. It has been bombed. Speculation is made as to whether it has lost its sense of self-awareness.

Why doesn't he wake up? Can a machine be so frightened and hurt that it will go into catatonia and refuse to respond? While ego crouches inside, aware but never willing to risk it?

But the only explanation of the novel that makes sense--an explanation never suggested by Heinlein, but convincing in terms of the structure of the novel, and even more convincing in view of Heinlein's convictions and preoccupations--is that the machine has done what it set out to do in the first place, insure its own survival, and now has chosen to fall silent. "Mathematicians, peasants, and animals, that's all there is ..." Why should the best mathematician in existence choose to communicate with peasants and animals unless there is a specific reason?

Heinlein's last novel, I Will Fear No Evil, is an unpleasant place to visit. No one, to our knowledge, except its publishers, has had a good word to say for it. It is even more bloated than The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and stands next in length among Heinlein's published work to Stranger in a Strange Land.

I Will Fear No Evil is about a dying 95-year-old billionaire who has his brain transplanted into the body of his 28-year-old female secretary: Her mind remains behind somehow--and the two spend the rest of the book agreeing with each other interminably. The character gets himself/herself pregnant by a sperm bank deposit that the billionaire has put away in better days. After a year, they marry their 72-year-old lawyer and lover. The lawyer dies of a stroke and his mind joins the other two.

In this story, set in the early years of the next century, Earth is an unredeemed sinkhole. There are seven billion people in the world. Illiteracy is more common than literacy. Armed guards are necessary everywhere. City centers are officially "Abandoned Areas" where the law no longer applies.

None of this is described directly. In fact, in this long long book, very little at all is described directly. Eyes are averted throughout to avoid looking at the hell. Instead, we are given our information in conversation, monolog and dialog, and in collages at the beginnings of chapters. Here is one small excerpt from one long example of many;

Peace Negotiations, both in Paris and Montevideo, continued as before. Fighting continued on a token basis, and the dead did not complain. Harvard's new president was dismissed by the student government, which then adjourned without appointing a successor. The Secretary of H.E.W. announced a plan to increase the water content of San Francisco Bay to 37%; the Rivers & Harbors Commission denied that H.E.W. had jurisdiction.

Etc., etc., etc., to the point of pain and nausea.

The lawyer says this about the state of the world:

"We've reached an impasse; we can't go on the way we're headed--and we can't go back--and we're dying in our own poisons. That's why that little Lunar colony has got to survive. Because we can't. lt isn't the threat of war, or crime in the streets, or corruption in high places, or pesticides or smog, or 'education' that doesn't teach; those things are just symptoms of the underlying cancer. lt's too many people."

The billionaire, too, has given up on the world. He says that forty years before--which is to say, in our recent past--he ran for office and lost:

"They clobbered me, Jake!--and I've never been tempted to save the world since. Maybe someone can save this addled planet but I don't know how and now I know that I don't know."

All that he/they are prepared to do now is survive. They have a billion dollars, and that has bought the billionaire his brain transplant. Now they use their dollars to take them to the moon and the hope of safety.

However, when they have reached the moon, the body dies in childbirth. And this is how the book ends:

(Jake? Eunice?) (Here,Boss! Grab on! There! We've got you.) (Is it a boy or a girl?) (Who cares, Johann--it's a baby! 'One for all and all for one!')

An old world vanished and then there was none.

9. The Ultimate Confrontation

Now, at last, we are prepared to look at the possibilities suggested by the news of Robert Heinlein's new novel, Time Enough for Love: The Lives of Lazarus Long. His longest book ever. His first new book since I Will Fear No Evil. "A profound and prophetic story that ranges over twenty-three centuries and countless light years of space."

The question is whether Time Enough for Love will prove to be as bad a book as Farnham's Freehold or I Will Fear No Evil, or whether it will be the true success that Heinlein approached again and again in his pre-war stories but was unable to achieve then. Will Time Enough for Love be one more saddening disaster or will it be a triumph? . Heinlein has been evading a vital confrontation all these many years--in his fiction, a confrontation by his characters of frightening High Ones; in his life, a confrontation with the deepest and truest sources of his inner being. If the confrontation is present in Time Enough for Love, the book will be a success. If it is not, the book will be 640 pages of sadness, grief, weariness and tragedy.

But, first, let us try to determine if true success is possible at all. Is it possible to know the true meaning of life? Does life have a point? Has Heinlein been wasting his time all these years in a fruitless and futile quest?

lt is impossible to prove whatever answers we give to these questions to the final satisfaction of anyone who has not himself set out on Heinlein's quest and returned with knowledge of the matter. But, perhaps, an indication is possible in the posing and the answering of three central questions. Not proof, but indication.

First, are things in our world as finally desperate and without hope as Heinlein has painted them in Farnham's Freehold, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and I Will Fear No Evil? Is life without meaning except for temporary survival? Are we as doomed as the helpless characters in "The Year of the Jackpot"?

Second, is the fictional solution that Heinlein has never been able to bring himself to write possible for anyone to write?

Third, can a man of Heinlein's age, who has been trapped as long as Heinlein has been trapped, who has been as desperate and hopeless as Heinlein has been, make a successful evolution to a happier state and the certain knowledge that Heinlein has never had?

Let us answer these, one by one.

First, the objective situation of our world. This is a thorny problem. Things are not well with us. Only a few years ago, we ourselves were every bit as uncertain as Heinlein. It seemed to us then that if we continued as we have been headed, that no more than twenty-five years remained to us before we ran into a brick wall.

That still might be said. If we do not change, we will die. But this is the state that precedes any moment of evolution: Change, or die. The situation is only hopeless if the possibility of evolution is denied.

For whatever confirmation they lend, here are some remarks by the professor of electrical engineering, Leonard Lewin, in the introduction to his recent anthology The Diffusion of Sufi Ideas in the West:

In the incredibly complicated and ever more rapidly changing setting which is today's world, many traditional values are now seriously under challenge, while new ones vie for support. To most observers it is far from clear what it is that is taking place: what fresh patterns of human thought and activity may be emerging from the matrix of mankind's vast evolutionary past. When the present upheaval which is beginning to manifest in social and cultural unrest, both national and international, has finally disclosed the true nature of the world of tomorrow, we can all then participate in that knowledge of the further evolution of the human state ...

What does the caterpillar know of the destiny of the butterfly?

... A butterfly does not look at all like a caterpillar, yet it is, in some sense, the inevitable eventual form that it must take. Mankind is now preparing to emerge from the chrysalis. Not his physical form, but the quality of his consciousness is about to undergo a transformation to a new condition long latent within. The protective casing which must be breached is a mental prison-shell compounded of vanity, self-love, self-deceit, greed, mental arrogance, prejudice, selfishness, and years and years of conditioning. In all cultures, and at all times, a few, a very few, individuals have been able to free themselves and have helped others also to escape. Now this opportunity is being made available to all who are able to perceive its reality. The social turmoil of our times can be seen as an external manifestation of this process. The analogy to the caterpillar's transformation is a weak one because it is too superficial.

This certainly opens the possibility of an alternative to Heinlein's unhappy conviction.

Second, the possibility of the fictional solution that Heinlein has not been able to write. Here is one such that seems appropriate.

lt is a confrontation from Ursula Le Guin's 1968 novel, A Wizard of Earthsea, in which a young man's worst demons prove to be himself and are conquered by the surrender of attachment to ego;

At first it was shapeless, but as it drew nearer it took on the look of a man. An old man it seemed, grey and grim, coming towards Ged; but even as Ged saw his father the smith in that figure, he saw that it was not an old man but a young one. lt was Jasper: Jasper's insolent handsome young face, and silver-clasped grey cloak, and stiff stride. Hateful was the look he fixed on Ged across the dark intervening air. Ged did not stop, but slowed his pace, and as he went forward he raised his staff up a little higher. lt brightened, and in its light the look of Jasper fell from the figure that approached, and it became Pechvarry. But Pechvarry's face was all bloated and pallid like the face of a drowned man, and he reached out his hand strangely as if beckoning. Still Ged did not stop, but went forward, though there were only a few yards left between them now. Then the thing that faced him changed utterly, spreading out to either side as if it opened enormous thin wings, and it writhed, and swelled, and shrank again. Ged saw in it for an instant Skiorh's white face, and then a pair of clouded, staring eyes, and then suddenly a fearful face he did not know, man or monster, with writhing lips and eyes that were like pits going back into black emptiness.

At that Ged lifted up the staff high, and the radiance of it brightened intolerably, burning with so white and great a light that it compelled and harrowed even that ancient darkness. In that light all form of man sloughed off the thing that came towards Ged. It drew together and shrank and blackened, crawling on four short taloned legs upon the sand. But still it came forward, lifting up to him a blind unformed snout without lips or ears or eyes. As they came right together it became utterly black in the white mage-radiance that burned about it, and it heaved itself upright. ln silence, man and shadow met face to face, and stopped.

Aloud and clearly, breaking that old silence, Ged spoke the shadow's name, and in the same moment the shadow spoke without lips or tongue, saying the same word: "Ged." And the two voices were one voice.

Ged reached out his hands, dropping his staff, and took hold of his shadow, of the black self that reached out to him. Light and darkness met, and joined, and were one.

In the immediate next moment, as confirmation of the success of this confrontation, the sands drop away from beneath Ged's very feet and he finds himself afloat in the living sea. He is reborn from this confrontation as a man who is more than a man, as a wizard, eventually the master wizard of his world.

Thus, we do have the result that Heinlein has never been able to honestly achieve in any story.

Now to address our third question: ls it possible for a man of Heinlein's age to successfully achieve the evolution that Heinlein has so long deferred?

We may look, for our example, at a man not altogether unlike Robert Heinlein, a man who was at the outset of his career the premier writer of science fiction in his own day--H.G. Wells. When he died in 1946, H.G. Wells had been famous for fifty years. His first fame came with science fiction novels like The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds.

Thereafter, Wells wrote utopias and dystopias, contemporary novels, The Outline of History and The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind. Wells raised himself from a poor excluded Cockney boy by means of education and he made his mature dedication to education of others--not altogether unlike Heinlein. Therefore the utopias and dystopias that he wrote--visions and warnings. Therefore the novels of people rising or falling in society. Therefore The Outline of History. Therefore The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind.

But before he died so many years later in 1946, Wells had ceased to be listened to. Everyone knew by then what he had to say, and no one was reading him closely. Conventional wisdom says that as he grew old, Wells necessarily realized that the situation of mankind had become more desperate while he was futilely attempting to point the way. He had aimed at changing all mankind, and he had failed. Again, not unlike Heinlein.

Wells became more and more bitter, and less and less relevant. At last, nearly eighty, he wrote a final book entitled Mind at the End of lts Tether, a notorious book, the last senile ravings of a man whose work and world had failed. And then he died.

Everyone who mentions Mind at the End of Its Tether speaks slightingly of it. Lewis Mumford has described it in this fashion:  "Written when Wells's mind was itself collapsing and projecting its own situation into the world; but significantly fulfilling Chesterton's prediction that Wells's philosophy must end in despair."

That's a futile end for a man famous for fifty years. But it takes account of only half the truth, and not the best half. There is a better story in Wells than this one.

lt is true that by 1946, Wells was more honored than respected. He was dismissed by reviewers who filtered blurred and hasty readings through their own preconceptions. Wells was read by few and understood by nobody.

Mind at the End Its Tether is not a bulky book. lt is a pamphlet of 34 pages bound with a companion pamphlet, The Happy Turning: A Dream of Life. These pamphlets are short and loosely printed, and written in a simple and idiomatic English. Yet, somehow, the true nature of Mind at the End of Its Tether has never been recognized by anyone who has ever mentioned it, and The Happy Turning is never ever mentioned.

H.G. Wells was a remarkable man. He continued to grow at an age when most men have abandoned growth. At an age when book reviewers no longer expect growth. At an age when only the best among us continue to grow--those with the perception, the imagination, the self-knowledge, the honor and the courage to pursue the possibilities of being human all their lives. If Wells did not change all mankind, he did change himself.

Mind at the End of Its Tether and The Happy Turning are H.G. Wells's announcement of his own evolution. They are, perhaps, an early glimpse of the same change in the human state to which Leonard Lewin refers in the passages we have quoted from The Diffusion of Sufi Ideas in the West. Wells, who had been seeking his own evolution as diligently as Heinlein, was among the first to announce the new vision. And then he died. This is a very different story from the conventional one.

Mind at the End of Its Tether begins by expressing total despair with man as he is, that poor doomed futile creature. His present troubles, says Wells, are only a sample of those that will end the race of man-as-he-is. This is what was taken for senile collapse by Wells's critics. But the essay then predicts a better race of man to come, a quantum jump, as man made a quantum jump to become man, or life to become life. The best of us will make that jump.

Mind at the End of Irs Tether is an objective argument--man is doomed. He will only survive by changing radically. The Happy Turning is an account of a mystical dream of the farther side of the quantum jump. It concludes:

So we found ourselves in agreement that the human mind may be in a phase of transition to a new fearless, clear-headed way of living in which understanding will be the supreme interest in life, and beauty a mere smile of approval. So it is in any rate in the Dreamland to which my particular Happy Turning takes me. There shines a world "beyond good and evil," and there, in a universe completely conscious of itself, Being achieves its end.

In his final days, Wells made a quantum jump of his own, a final successful identification of himself with the evolutionary course of all Being.

And so we have our indications. Yes, an alternative vision of man's future is possible. Yes, a successful fictional confrontation with the hatefulness and limitation of the human ego is possible. Yes, a final personal identification of oneself with the evolutionary course of all Being is possible.

Heinlein is not damned.

Time Enough for Love: The Lives of Lazarus Long may be the completely successful personal adventure that Heinlein has never been able to envision.

Time Enough for Love may be a wretched book. It will be if it is a picaresque, episodic novel, filled with heavy-handed philosophic pronunciamentos in place of honest confrontation. If its great size is bloat. If "time enough" means continuance rather than evolution. If love is confused with sex. In that case, it will not be profound. It will be a desperately bad book. Time Enough for Love will be a good book only if the confrontation that Heinlein has always avoided is made, if it is made on the right grounds, with the right question asked and answered in the right way. But what evidence do we have that such a happy conclusion may occur? What reason do we have to think that now, after all that has occurred, Robert Heinlein may be ready to make his move, to come to terms with life and the universe? What grounds do we have for hope?

In part, the hope of a successful confrontation is dependent on I Will Fear No Evil and its conclusion. But that conclusion, at least for us, is enigmatic.

The three minds in the single body survive in some sense, even though the body died. That is clear. Jake and Eunice reach through from some safe place and grab hold of Johann. But from where?
Do they all three pass into the body of the new-born baby? That is not clear. Reincarnation would be an avoidance, but is what we are reading an instance of reincarnation? We are not sure.

The last line of the book is:

"An old world vanished and then there was none."

No replacement of the old world. Perhaps not reincarnation, then. Perhaps, just perhaps, the intimation of life after death, but not the survival of the ego. All this approached in a long long book in which, throughout, almost nothing is seen. The narrator's eyes are pinched tight. Perhaps to make the approach to the conclusion easier. Perhaps. And perhaps not.
So let us pass on.

Since I Will Fear No Evil was finished, Robert Heinlein has suffered a major illness. He was gravely ill with peritonitis. He underwent major surgery and he was on the order of a year or more in recovery. Once again, as in the Thirties, Heinlein has walked through the valley of the shadow of death. And he survived. The question is, on what terms? The title of his previous book--and titles have always been extremely significant in Heinlein's work--was a promise that though he might walk in death's shadow, Heinlein would fear no evil.

For Heinlein to fear no evil from death means, it would seem, a willingness to surrender ego--that which fears death. Since Heinlein did survive, it seems possible that he has let go his grip on himself. That he did surrender ego.

The size of Time Enough for Love is of interest. To be sure, it is possible to have a fiction with a successful confrontation with the demonic that is quite short. "By His Bootstraps" might have been such a story, for instance. But for Heinlein, it is quite possible that an honest conclusion took much circling, much building up to. Certainly, a book of this great size coming now is at least evidence of Heinlein's intense seriousness.

The range of this new large book is also of interest: "twenty-three centuries and countless light years of space." Recent Heinlein novels have taken place in much more constricted areas--freeholds, and the surrounds of a computer, and the inside of a head crowded with people. We might say, too, that these novels have been constricted by the limits of Heinlein's fears. In Farnham's Freehold, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and I Will Fear No Evil, nothing but fear, trouble and insanity have been given leave to exist. It hardly seems possible that the entire span of twenty-three centuries and countless light years of space can be a time of trouble. We seem to have the promise of new horizons. A freeing of the spirit to roam widely again.

Time Enough for Love is also a return to the Future History, so long laid aside. Lazarus Long, Heinlein's protagonist, is the very meat of the Future History. In spite of the shadow cast upon it by Nehemiah Scudder, the Future History was the story of a happier future than any Heinlein has been able to envision lately. Would Heinlein now do violence to his own conceptions? Or is his return to the Future History a fulfillment of what could not be fulfilled thirty years ago?

Lazarus Long, even more than most Heinlein protagonists, was obviously a Heinlein surrogate. He was born about Heinlein's time, and he promised to continue forever until he discovered what life was for. In this story, he continues for at least twenty-three centuries. Has he indeed discovered what Heinlein needs for him to discover? Has Heinlein brought him back to life because he can finally put period to him?

The original conclusion of Methuselah's Children was clearly unsatisfactory. Turning away from the search and coming home for dinner is not an answer.

But neither was the altered conclusion of the 1958 book version of Methuselah's Children satisfactory. Confrontation is recognized to be necessary, but confrontation is postponed. Perhaps for a thousand years:

"Someday, about a thousand years from now, I intend to march straight into the temple of Kreel, look him in the eye, and say, 'Howdy, bub--what do you know that I don't know?'"

The question is, on what grounds might Lazarus Long successfully walk into the temple of Kreel? Or to put it another way, what went wrong the first time? What really happened on the first voyage of the starship New Frontiers?

Lazarus Long fears, resents and envies the gods of the Jockaira, these creatures he would confront. He finds their indifference intolerable, and he would make them notice him and acknowledge him as an equal.

But in fact, the gods of the Jockaira are not indifferent at all. In fact, as Heinlein says without noticing, they treat mankind as man might treat a baby bird, placing it tenderly (and casually) where it belongs.

These gods reject man as unfit for the blessing that Heinlein seeks.  The problem of Heinlein and Lazarus Long is ego. The gods of the Jockaira, doing what is needful rather than what is flattering, send Long and the others where they need to go in order to learn to lose their egos. This is the planet of the Little People.

The Little People adopt one adult human into their group mind. They make genetic improvements in one human baby. These portents of loss of ego and evolution--of merger and alteration--are too much for Lazarus Long to contemplate and he must flee back to the safety of Earth. Either for a bowl of chili or for the thought of another confrontation in a thousand years.
It is his attachment to his ego that is the twist in Heinlein's limb.  

The road of Lazarus Long to the temple of Kreel and his confrontation with the gods of the Jockaira lies through the planet of the Little People.

Time Enough for Love will be a true and honest success only if that road is finally taken.

Love has never been a Heinlein theme. That is because love is the absence of ego.

lt is past time for Heinlein to love.

The title Time Enough for Love is intensely meaningful. But does this book merely request even yet more time--as Methuselah's Children did? Or does it mean that the time for love is now'?

Is Time Enough for Love to be merely "If This Goes On--" one more time? Or are we finally to have the unwritten story, "Da Capo," that Heinlein promised so long ago?

By all means, let the time be now.

Let time lose its finitude, its horror, its finality now. Let there be an infinity of time. Let there be eternity, honestly won.

Because the door that Heinlein has sought, the door from which his gaze has been averted, the door to which ego has blinded him, is this:

Love is the source of evolution.

Love is the power that lifts the human heart.

Love is the secret of the universe, revealed at last.

And where love is, time is eternity.

  --February 1973

1 - 2 - 3 - 4

Return to the Critics Lounge

Background courtesy of Eos Development