Saturday, December 6, 2008

Lazarus Long

Lazarus Long is a fictional character featured in a number of science fiction novels by Robert A. Heinlein. Born in 1912 in the third generation of a long-life selective breeding experiment run by the Ira Howard Foundation, Lazarus (whose birth name is Woodrow Wilson Smith) turns out to be unusually long-lived, living well over two thousand years with the aid of occasional rejuvenation treatments.

His exact (natural) life span is never determined. In his introduction at the beginning of Methuselah's Children he guesses his age to be 213 years old. Approximately 75 years pass during the course of the novel, which ends with the first form of rejuvenation being developed. However, because large amounts of this time are spent traveling interstellar distances at speeds approaching that of light, the 75-year measurement is an expression of the time elapsed in his absence rather than how much time passed from his perspective. At one point, he estimates his natural life span to be around 250 years, but this figure is not expressed with certainty. Heinlein acknowledged that such a long life span should not be expected as a result of a mere three generations of selective breeding, but offers no alternative explanation except for letting a character declare, "A mutation, of course—which simply says that we don't know".[1]

In one scene in Methuselah's Children, Long says that he visited Hugo Pinero, the scientist in Heinlein's first published story ("Life-Line"). Pinero possessed a machine that was capable of measuring how long a human would live. When Pinero measures Long, he does not provide an answer; he simply advises Long that the machine is broken. The story does not explicitly state whether Pinero's reading was simply so high as to defy belief, Lazarus' later travels in time made a reading impossible, or the reading indicates that Long will never die, though Lazarus seems to believe the last explanation. He is actually told, at the end of Time Enough For Love, that he cannot die and, even though it is possible the statement was simply made in an effort to comfort him, it can be viewed as a legitimate claim because he and his family had, by that time, mastered time travel, allowing any death to be prevented by intervention.

The promotional copy on the back of Time Enough For Love, the second book featuring the character of Lazarus Long, states that Lazarus was "so in love with time that he became his own ancestor," but this never happens in any of the published books and is almost certainly a misunderstanding on the part of the copywriter (such back copy is rarely written by the author of the work it appears on). In the book, Lazarus does at one point travel back in time and have sex with his mother, but this affair happens after the birth of Lazarus. Heinlein did, however, use a similar plot in the short story "All You Zombies—" in which a character does become his own ancestor.

A rugged individualist with a distrust of authority, Lazarus drifts from colony world to colony world, settling down for a few years or a few decades and leaving when things get too regimented for his taste—often just before the angry mob arrives.

The Lazarus Long set of books involve time travel, parallel dimensions, free love, consensual incest, and a concept that Heinlein named pantheistic solipsism—the theory that universes are created by the act of imagining them so that somewhere the Land of Oz is real.


Novels featuring Lazarus include:

* Methuselah's Children (1941)
* Time Enough for Love (1973)
* The Number of the Beast (1980)
* The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (1985)
* To Sail Beyond the Sunset (1987)

[edit] The Lives of Lazarus Long

When the character of Lazarus Long is introduced in Methuselah's Children, he is 224 years old, and the breeding experiment that created the Howard Families has proven to be a success, with most "Howards" enjoying a lifespan of approximately 150 years. The Howards have, to this point, existed in secret, changing identities when needed to conceal their long lifespans. Ten percent of their number have elected to end "The Masquerade" and live publicly, with the approval of the Howard Foundation, but this process has backfired.

The general public of Earth, once faced with the inescapable reality, believes incorrectly that the Howards have discovered some sort of anti-aging process that they are choosing to conceal, despite the fact that the truth has been made public. Public resentment of this process builds slowly, until it reaches a boiling point. Civil liberties, as applied to the Howards, are suspended, and the entire membership of the Howard Families is detained, with the exception of Lazarus himself.

With the aid of the elected head of the world government, Slayton Ford, Lazarus hijacks the New Frontiers, a very large starship designed to travel to distant stars, and then liberates the Howards. While the New Frontiers was designed to sustain a colony in travel at speeds significantly below the speed of light, a Howard named Andrew Jackson "Slipstick" Libby has developed a way to boost the ship to speeds just under that of light itself. With the ship so modified, the Howard Families, under the leadership of Lazarus Long, escape the solar system in search of a planet of their own.

The first planet they encounter is populated by the Jockaira, who turn out to be little more than domesticated animals for an unnamed species they see as gods. When it becomes clear to the latter that humans cannot be domesticated, all of the humans are forcefully removed from the planet and placed in their ship, which is then pushed to another star system and planet. The technology used for this is so advanced that it is not observable by the humans.

This second planet is populated by a diminutive furry species called "The Little People," who are a very advanced collective intelligence. They are very accommodating to the humans, and in fact their world is pleasant enough to be considered a paradise. After many years, Mary Sperling—a close friend of Lazarus and the second-oldest of the Howard Families—joins the collective intelligence in order to escape her persistent fear of death. Lazarus (and many other Howards) are so disturbed by this that the decision is made to return to Earth. Around twelve thousand remain behind, but the rest return to Earth with the aid of even further advanced technology learned from the Little People.

Upon their return to Earth, the Howards learn that a rejuvenation treatment has been developed based on new blood grown in vitro. This is believed to be the secret to eternal life the Howards had taken with them when they departed. The political pressure to learn that secret has been so powerful as to force this technique to be discovered independently. Lazarus, who has been expecting death at any time due to extreme old age, now has a new lease on life.

Some details of the next two thousand years of his life are covered in Time Enough For Love through exposition and flashback. Most of the details of his life for this two thousand year span are not disclosed, although he has stated that he has worked in practically every conceivable occupation, including (but not limited to) actor, musician, beggar, farmer, priest, pilot, politician, con artist, gambler, doctor, lawyer, banker, merchant, soldier, electronics technician, mechanic, restaurateur, investor, and slave. (He also tells of one point in time where he was the manager of a bordello on Mars, which took place prior to the events of Methuselah's Children.) Lazarus' own restless nature, his penchant for shady dealings and "normal" humans' envy and hate of long-lifers such as himself have caused him to change identities and planets numerous times over his many years, and the forematter of the book lists some of them, including "Captain Aaron Sheffield," "Mr. Justice Lenox," "Proscribed Prisoner No. 83M2742," "Dr. Lafayette 'Lafe' Hubert," and "His Serenity Seraphim the Younger, Supreme High Priest of the One God in All His Aspects and Arbiter Below and Above."

Lazarus led the Howard Families on another exodus, this time to a planet he had discovered called Secundus. Lazarus himself, however, was not content to remain on Secundus, and headed back out to pioneer several more planets.

One of the stories told in Time Enough For Love begins with his return to Blessed, a theocratic planet with a state-sponsored slave trade. Lazarus himself had been a slave on this planet several generations prior, but declines to give details; although from other stories in the novel, it is possible he worked his way up from slavery through the church. He had returned to Blessed for commercial reasons, but his experience as a slave there makes him unable to ignore a high priced closed-bid slave auction for what appears to be two ordinary slaves. The slave merchant advises him that these slaves (Joseph and Estrellita) are, through genetic manipulation, both brother and sister (twins, in fact) and a perfect breeding pair. When he sees that the girl is in a chastity belt, he is so outraged that he purchases the pair and immediately frees them. He takes the pair with him and teaches them how to support themselves as free people, as well as giving them the general education that they had not been given as slaves. Because of their upbringing, they consider themselves to be a mating couple, and 'Llita becomes pregnant. Lazarus, as ship's captain, performs their wedding ceremony, and eventually assists them in setting up a small restaurant, and then later a larger one. After a number of years have passed, the "twins" realize that they are not aging as much as they would expect, and Lazarus infers that they are probably his descendants. (It is suggested in the introduction of Time Enough For Love that by the time of that book's opening, a vast majority of the human race (and almost all of the Howard Families) are descended from him.)

Another story picks up a short time after the colonization of a planet called New Beginnings. Lazarus adopts a young girl named Dora Brandon whose parents are killed in a fire. He raises her as her foster uncle, and when she reaches adulthood, prepares to leave the planet. Dora, in the meantime, has realized that he is a member of the Howard families (although she does not quite comprehend what that means), and asks him to give her a child by him before he leaves. Lazarus decides (by his own admission, rather coldly) that his own sense of self-love will not permit him to father, then abandon, a child, so instead he convinces Dora to marry him. A normal human lifetime, by this point, is a brief time for him, and he feels he can sacrifice that much time to make Dora happy. Because Lazarus cannot afford being recognized as a Howard, the two leave the settlement where they have been and pioneer a new settlement. They live alone with their children for a number of years before more settlers come along, and during this time and the years that follow, Lazarus discovers that he is truly in love with Dora—an emotion he has not experienced before. He remains with her for her entire life and is devastated when she dies.

Centuries later, Lazarus—now over two thousand years old—has grown weary of life and decides that it is time for him to die. He returns to Secundus, unaware that Ira Weatheral, Chairman Pro Tempore of the Howard Families, has been searching for him. (The title of "Chairman Pro Tempore" is a formality—under the traditional rules, Lazarus is the Chairman because of his status as "The Senior".) Just before he dies, he is grabbed by the police and subjected to rejuvenation. Ira explains to a very irate Lazarus that he has done so because he needs him. He believes that the society and culture of Secundus is in its death throes, and wants to do as Lazarus did—lead the families on a migration to a new planet, named Tertius. He wants Lazarus to impart as much wisdom as possible to assist him in the process. (This is where Time Enough for Love begins.)

Lazarus finally agrees, through a deal where Ira agrees to show up for "a thousand nights and a night" to listen to Lazarus' tales. If Ira fails to show up (with reasonable exceptions), Lazarus will commit suicide—what they refer to as a "Reverse Scheherazade gambit". Additionally, Ira orders a search to find what Lazarus desperately wants—something new. This search, using a "Zwicky Box", is performed by an artificial intelligence named Minerva. She handles most of the computer functions of the planetary government, is in love with Ira, and becomes friends with Lazarus. During one conversation, Lazarus refers to a "mythical time machine," and Minerva asks why he calls it "mythical." She notes that the current method of space travel could be modified for time travel. When Lazarus asks why she has not mentioned this as part of the search, she responds that she was looking for something new.

While Lazarus is going through the rejuvenation treatments, his caretakers, Hamadryad and Ishtar, both give birth to female clones of him, their Y chromosome being replaced by an identical copy of the X chromosome. The "daughters" are named Lapis Lazuli and Lorelei Lee.

Lazarus assists Ira in the migration to Tertius (although it is done as a private expedition rather than as a function of the Howard Foundation), and then plans a trip to Earth, circa 1919-1929. Due to a miscalculation, he arrives in 1916. He makes plans to avoid World War I by leaving the country, but continues his study of the time period. He looks up his first family, and manages to insinuate himself into that household under the name of "Ted Bronson." Due to his obvious family resemblance (and careful lies), his grandfather Ira says that he may be an illegitimate child of Ira's brother. (We later learn Ira suspects "Ted" is his own illegitimate son.) Ira, the grumpy and very dominant grandfather, bears a strong resemblance to "The Old Man" from Heinlein's much earlier The Puppet Masters. Long discovers, to his surprise and (initial) shame that he is overwhelmingly attracted to his own mother, Maureen.

Since Lazarus had not anticipated arriving this early, he had not researched the First World War in detail, and as a result the entry into it of the United States on April 6, 1917 catches him unawares. When his "adopted" family learns that he is not planning on joining the army to help in the fight, they spurn him. To regain their approval (and particularly that of Maureen), he enlists, although he intends to arrange it so that he is not sent into a combat zone by functioning as a drill sergeant. The family is enthusiastic. His father, Brian Smith—who is also in the Army as an officer—makes arrangements for him to go overseas, thinking he is doing "Ted" a favor.

As part of his final leave before deployment, Lazarus visits his family one more time, whereupon he learns that Maureen is as attracted to him as he is to her. She explains that her husband does not insist on fidelity, although she is careful not to become pregnant by any man but Brian. Since she is newly pregnant, that danger is gone, and she takes Lazarus discreetly to bed. (A previous attempt to get "Ted" alone for such purpose is (inadvertently and most frustratingly) interrupted by Maureen's son, Woody—who is of course Lazarus at five years old.) Once overseas, Lazarus is seriously wounded in combat, but is rescued and healed by his family arriving just in time from the future.

In The Number of the Beast, the main characters discover a way to travel to fictional worlds, and in the course of their explorations, visit the world of Lazarus Long. Using the technology of these characters' ship (which can teleport through space and time), Lazarus snatches his mother out of the time stream at the end of her life and replaces her with a dead clone. Lazarus also appears as a minor character in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls and plays a role in Heinlein's last novel, To Sail Beyond the Sunset, which is the life story of Maureen. In the latter novel, Maureen as narrator tells a somewhat different version of Lazarus' visit to Earth in 1916-8 and provides considerable detail on Lazarus' home timeline, including the fact that Lazarus (as Woodrow "Bill" Smith) was the backup pilot on the first Moon expedition.

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