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.