Methuselah’s Children: Mildly entertaining

Methuselah’s Children by Robert A. HeinleinMethuselah’s Children by Robert A. HeinleinMethuselah’s Children by Robert A. Heinlein

Methuselah’s Children
 introduces us to Lazarus Long, a popular character in several of Robert A. Heinlein’s books. Lazarus, who wears a kilt (but there’s guns strapped to his thighs!) and can’t remember how old he is, is descended from one of several families who, long ago, were bred for their health and longevity. Lazarus and his extended clan live very long lives — so long that they must eventually fake their own deaths and take new identities so that others don’t get suspicious about their supernatural abilities. This has become a problem, however, as technology in the United States has reached the point where people are identified by their DNA and it will soon be impossible to hide. So some of the family members are experimenting with a new plan; they’re outing themselves — telling their friends and neighbors about their longevity and hoping for a good response.

Unfortunately, this has backfired. The government doesn’t believe that genetics is the cause of their longevity; they think the families are hiding information and techniques that anyone could use to delay death, and they see this as treason. The families are now on the run. They plan to hijack a spaceship and escape the planet before they’re all rounded up for examination. Then they’ll cruise the universe, looking for some other world where they can live happily ever after.

Methuselah’s Children is short (7 hours on audio) and mildly entertaining. The book, originally published in 1941, has aged fairly well and deals with the topics of class warfare, civil liberties, personal property, privacy, freedom, and the need for meaningful work. Further features include some dull meetings, some aliens who remind us that humans are pretty weird, and a trite resolution to the whole affair. At the end I was left wanting to see more of Lazarus Long, and wondering if Heinlein has written any books for adults that don’t include incest.

Brilliance Audio’s version was narrated by MacLeod Andrews. He has a really nice voice and, judging by his photo on the back of the audiobook (which I enjoyed looking at much more than I liked looking at the cheesy cover art for Methuselah’s Children) I thought he looked too young to pull off a convincing 200 year old Lazarus Long. Wrong! He was really good.

Originally published in 1941. After the fall of the American Ayatollahs as foretold in Stranger in a Strange Land and chronicled in Revolt in 2100, the United States of America at last fulfills the promise inherent in its first Revolution: for the first time in human history there is a nation with Liberty and Justice for All. No one may seize or harm the person or property of another, or invade his privacy, or force him to do his bidding. Americans are fiercely proud of their re-won liberties and the blood it cost them; nothing could make them forswear those truths they hold self-evident. Nothing except the promise of immortality…

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KAT HOOPER is a professor at the University of North Florida where she teaches neuroscience, psychology, and research methods courses. She occasionally gets paid to review scientific textbooks, but reviewing speculative fiction is much more fun. Kat lives with her husband and their children in Jacksonville Florida.

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2 comments

  1. It’s kind of funny, but I’ve read “Time Enough for Love” which is a huge novel starring Lazarus Long, and for years I had a copy of “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long” which in my youthful days I thought was full of wisdom. Yet, I’ve never read “Methusaleh’s Children.” I’m thinking of checking it out here soon, as I’ve kind of started re-reading the “Future History” stories from Heinlein’s earlier period.
    Excellent review here Kat. I will tell you that the main thing I remember from “Time Enough for Love” which is a sort of sequel to MC (aside from all the aphorisms which I can still quote) is that the answer to your question you pose regarding RAH’s later “adult” books would seem to be a resounding “No, he didn’t.”

    • Steven, I’m glad you’re reading more of the Future History books. I assume you’ll be reviewing them. I look forward to that!

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