Customer Reviews: Methuselah's Children
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Methuselah's Children is a critical component of Heinlein's remarkably impressive body of work. Not only does it culminate the Future History series of stories, it also points the way toward a better understanding of Heinlein's later writings. Perhaps most importantly, this novel introduces us to Lazarus Long and other prominent members of the Howard family of long-timers. This story opens well after the fall of the First Prophet theocracy described in Revolt in 2100; democracy, liberty, and freedom once again mean something in America-at least until the populace learns of the existence of a large group of men and women with lifespans more than double the norm. Believing that the Howard families possess the secret of eternal life, the government takes action to seize all long-timers using any means necessary, including the abhorrent torture treatments made famous by the hated former theocracy. The embattled administrator of the country believes the Family trustee and representative Zach Barstow when he tells him that there is no secret to be had, that the lifespans of the family are determined by heredity. To the great fortune of all 100,000 long-lifers, the remarkable Lazarus Long decides to return to the Family fold he once left behind out of sheer boredom. His leadership results in the Family escaping earth and making their way out into space in search of a new home planet. Their travels are extensive, and their contact with other intelligent beings is as fascinating as it is intriguing-both culturally and scientifically. Heinlein puts a lot of science into his description of the ship's interstellar voyage and the means by which the people plan to survive for a journey of many light years. The colonists' interaction with the alien cultures they encounter is also delightfully original and compelling. The ending did not display a final blast of power, but it serves as a more than acceptable conclusion to events.
I was most impressed by Heinlein's success at tying this novel in to the series of past Former History stories, going all the way back to Life-line and the genesis of the whole saga. A few characters who seemed unimportant earlier in the stories quickly became important actors in the drama, such as astronavigator Libby from the story "Misfit." I have a much better appreciation of the earlier Future History stories after reading Methuselah's Children; things I saw as unimportant in earlier stories are now revealed in a whole new light and made inherently interesting. Lazarus Long, with his fierce independence, refusal to go around without his kilt (with his blaster concealed underneath), youthful old age, free spirit, and lust for activity or adventure is a singular character one cannot soon forget. His story is only begun in this novel, but it is something to behold from the very start.
This novel is intriguing and entertaining on its own merits, but I would encourage you to read the preceding Future History stories first (which can be found in The Man Who Sold the Moon, The Green Hills of Earth, and Revolt in 2100). Without this background, you will miss completely some of the subtleties and references that make this novel extra special. Likewise, if you are going to read Heinlein's later novels such as Time For Love this book serves as necessary background reading. I see Methuselah's Children as the crucial intersection separating Heinlein's early stories and later novels, so it is incredibly important whichever way you look at it. The science is well told, oftentimes prophetic, and perfectly believable and the sociological speculation is thought-provoking, but this novel is first and foremost an engaging, thrilling read that no Heinlein or vintage science fiction fan should miss.
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on April 29, 2005
Selective breeding and carefully planned marriages with subtle financial encouragement from a secretive group called the Howard Foundation carried out over the last 150 years have resulted in a group of humans that have the extraordinary trait of extreme longevity - Lazarus Long, the patriarch of the Family, born Woodrow Wilson Smith, carries his two hundred plus years quite well! When pressed for his true age, he's either not telling or he won't admit that he truly doesn't know himself! In 2125, a series of events result in the global administration and the remainder of earth's population discovering the Family's existence. A frenzy of enraged jealousy erupts as a maddened, frustrated world seeks to discover the secret fountain of youth they are convinced the Family is guarding for their own use. Hounded by the threat of murder, torture, brainwashing and ultimate extinction by their shorter lived neighbours, the Family flees earth on an untested starship. The discovery of two planets and alien races that pose threats and challenges even more imposing than those from which they fled plus an overwhelming loneliness for the way of life they left so far behind lead them back to earth for a second try.

In Methuselah's Children, Heinlein has crafted an exciting novel, a message, a screenplay and the movie script all at once. Descriptive passages, while compelling and very cleverly written are sparse and infrequent and the plot is almost exclusively driven by razor-sharp dialogue. Heinlein's method of conveying the story through his characters' mouths has got wit; it's got dialect; it's got humour and intelligence; it's got sensible science; it's got humanity and it's got credibility. Their expressions and manner of speaking firmly place the origins of the story in the 1940s USA but somehow Heinlein has managed to inject enough charm to leave it timeless.

For those like me that frequently read for the thrill, the entertainment and the pure joy of a story without looking for any subliminal message or morality tale, Methuselah's Children succeeds in spades. Hard sci-fi runs rampant through every page and fleshes out a superb story line - "refreshers" (think Star Trek's sonic showers), private space yachts, hydroponics used for mass food production, psychometrics (no doubt, first cousin to Asimov's famous "psycho-history"), extreme enhancement of longevity through selective breeding, elimination of national boundaries and the implementation of a global administration, inter-stellar travel at relativistic speeds, super-luminal warp travel "in the dark" reached with instantaneous acceleration, cryogenics and suspended animation for long-term space faring, lunar and Venerean colonies, orbital construction of spaceships, blasters, aliens, communication in an alien language, telepathy, high speed bio-engineering, and lots more. Although Heinlein didn't use the word "replicator", he may well have been sitting on the script team for a Star Trek episode when he had Lazarus order up a customized kilt:

"He sat down in a sales booth and dialed the code for kilts. He let cloth designs flicker past in the screen while he ignored the persuasive voice of the catalogue until a pattern showed up which was distinctly unmilitary and not blue, whereupon he stopped the display and punched an order for his size. Ten minutes later he stuffed the proctor's kilt into the refuse hopper of the sales booth and left, nattily and loudly attired."

For those that wish to dig a little more deeply - don't despair - Heinlein has got much to say that will keep many a party conversation going on a variety of topics: the psychology and, oftentimes, fear of aging and death; mob psychology; prejudice and the abnormal fear of something that is different than we are; the importance of work, activity and a feeling of contributing as a part of the human condition.

This book was more than exciting - it was fun and entertaining in the bargain!

Paul Weiss
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on July 13, 1999
For those of you who already love Heinlein, this is the book that first introduces his engaging character, Lazarus Long. Long is the oldest of a group of long-lived individuals that have interbred amongst themselves in secret. Once revealed, they are completely misunderstood by their short-lived brethren and are forced into an off- world exodus. They are constantly forced into positions of choice and adventure. Even though it was first written in 1941, it is worth reading and re-reading today; the best of SF. __Brenda Palmer
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I discovered Robert A. Heinlein in the late 1950s while I was in elementary school, and by the time I graduated from high school, I had read all of the dozen or so Heinlein books that were in the school libraries. I continued to read his books for years afterward. Somehow I missed Methuselah's Children, so I recently got it on my Kindle and enjoyed getting reacquainted with Heinlein's writing.

Methuselah's Children introduced Lazarus Long, a character who shows up in other Heinlein books as well. He's one of the Howard family's long-lived descendents, part of a grand experiment to increase the lifespan of humans by selective breeding. When others learned of these long-lived people, they assumed wrongly that they had developed some secret formula for extending their lifespans. With the pressure increasing, the Howard family members hijacked a huge starship and left the solar system to find a planet they can colonize. They learned the hard way that leaving your home and finding a suitable planet isn't as easy as they thought.

It's one of Heinlein's better stories, not one of my top favorites but certainly in my top ten of Heinlein's works.
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on February 16, 2016
Great story. Very fast paced, not a deep thinker sort of book. (But does every book have to be like that) RAH does a great job here of giving you a sense that an endless journey is before Lazarus Long. And you, the reader, want to join him.
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on December 27, 2015
Many great perspectives, never letting you know exactly what to expect next! If you like Heinlein, you need to read this book, if you have never read Heinlein, pick a book and read one. "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" and "A Stranger in a Strange Land" are both great places to start.
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on October 26, 2008
"Methuselah's Children" by Robert Heinlein is a short early novel. This is part of Heinlein's "Future History" series of stories and the start of a series of Heinlein novels that continued later in his career. This story is good science-fiction. I do not call it excellent because Heinlein was about to enter the peak of his career with better writing.

The reader may conclude that Heinlein shows his philosophical side more than his science fiction side. Over fifty years, I have read everything I can lay my hands on that Heinlein wrote. I came to appreciate Heinlein's philosophical side. He helped me exercise my brain. I promise, there is more plot here than may seem apparent.

"Methuselah's Children" introduces us to the 'Howard families' and Lazarus Long, a character that appears in a number of Heinlein's later novels. It also introduces a neat 'roadable vehicle', two separate 'interstellar drives', and some unusual 'aliens'. (Question: If we travel to a planet with sapient beings, are they the aliens or are we the aliens? Answer: Good question! One's point of view is important!) When I first read this story, the ending seemed to be a bit of a letdown. However, four decades later, I realize that it does reveal something about the nature of human reality and about technological problems. I guess I can say that 'obvious' alternate solutions to technological problems can be non-obvious to someone who is too close to the challenge. One can have troubles seeing the forest when the trees keep getting in the way.

This is very good science fiction reading! I recommend this book.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon December 23, 2013
It's the future. And some people have twice the normal lifespan. This carefully guarded secret becomes known to the general public who demand access to life-extending medical treatments. Unfortunately there aren't any. The longevity enjoyed by members of the "Howard Families" results from naturally-occurring genes and selective breeding. The public is disbelieving, envious, and angry. Efforts are commenced to extract the secrets of extended life through force.

Most members of the Howard Families go into hiding. In the middle of this crisis Lazarus Long, the oldest living Howard, reappears. Long presumed dead*, Lazarus has mastered the skills of secrecy and survival. He leads the Families in a bold attempt to leave Earth and colonize planets around other stars. The story follows Lazarus and his co-conspirators in their quest for a new home.

This is the prototypical Robert Heinlein science fiction novel. It ties together earlier works in his Future History series and links it to the following series (beginning with Time Enough for Love) that focuses on Long and his family. Lazarus is clearly another version of the author's recurring "Grouchy Wise Old Man" character. He is quick-tempered, opinionated, and peppers his dialogue with useful nuggets of knowledge. He is also a dirty old man, which Heinlein goes to great pains to justify. How-to science is center stage as Long delivers extended descriptions of spaceship piloting, exobiology, and so on.

This book may also be the best "read it first" Heinlein work. If you are a science fiction fan and haven't read it, do so. If you don't have it in your library of science fiction classics, you should. If like me, you are moving your library onto your Kindle, go ahead and buy it a second time. It shouldn't be left behind as you move into your own future history.
*Sorry about that.
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on October 23, 2014
Heinlein wrote this book in 1958.

if you like good science fiction and Heinlein, you will like this book. He addresses what happens in the world when a group of people leve who do not age and die normally, but live for many years. Well done concept, and likable characters. He addresses to use of large spacecraft that are capable of moving to other worlds, and do so when required for the survival of the people who do not grow old and ice normally. As can be expected, not aging and dying creates problems with envy by others with charges that they will not share a secret that will enable everyone to not grow one. Very human thoughts and emotions. Lots of practical thoughts and issues of space travel are essentailly ignored, or only touched on lightly.
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on November 8, 2013
I love all things Heinlein but I love this book especially. Lazarus Long is a wonderful character with some great perspectives on life. Obviously, this is science-fiction but characters who are long lived have been fodder for the sf crowd as long as stories have been told. This is a story of people who have gone through natural selection to achieve their long lives and are then persecuted for it when they are found out. The persecutors, that would be all of us who do not possess this gift of long life, are trying to force these 'Methuselahs' to give up their secret. However, because the secret is no more than good genes, a good man finds a way to help these folks leave the planet in favor of searching the stars for a new home.
As you may imagine, adventures are had and planets are indeed explored. More than the adventure, though, the book addresses many issues of long life and keeps you engaged in speculation. The main protagonist is a bit of a libertarian (as is Heinlein) so some of his ideas and solutions lack nuance but it's a fun read nonetheless.
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