First Edition cover
|Author||Robert A. Heinlein|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Followed by||Orphans of the Sky|
Methuselah's Children is a science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein, originally serialized in Astounding Science Fiction in the July, August, and September 1941 issues. It was expanded into a full-length novel in 1958.
The novel is usually considered to be part of Heinlein's "Future History" series of stories. It introduces the Howard Families, a fictional group of people who achieved long lifespans through selective breeding. The space ship in this novel, the New Frontiers, is described in the Future History timeline as a second generation ship, following the Vanguard, the vehicle for Heinlein's paired novellas "Universe" and "Common Sense".
According to John W. Campbell, the novel was originally to be called While the Evil Days Come Not. This provisional title stems from a quotation from Ecclesiastes that was used as a password on the second page of the story.
The Howard Families derive from Ira Howard, who became rich in the California Gold Rush, but died young and childless. The trustees of his will carried out his wishes to prolong human life by financially rewarding those with long-lived grandparents who married each other and had children. While the Families (who, by the 22nd Century, have a life expectancy of 150 years) have kept their existence secret, with the enlightened human society established under The Covenant, they decide to reveal themselves.
Society refuses to believe the Howard Families simply 'chose their ancestors wisely', instead insisting they have developed a secret method to extend life, and the Families are persecuted and interned. Though the beleaguered Administrator of the planet, Slayton Ford, is convinced the Families are telling the truth, he is helpless to control an increasingly irrational public and their efforts to force the Howard Families to reveal their secret or face execution.
The eldest member of the Howard Families, Lazarus Long, realizes this as well, and proposes to the Administrator that he help the Families hijack the colony starship New Frontiers, so they can escape. It turns out that one member of the Families, Andrew Jackson Libby, (known as "Slipstick" Libby because he is a mathematical genius), has managed to invent a device that removes inertia from any mass to which it is attached; Libby applies the device, and instantaneously, New Frontiers is accelerated by light-pressure from the Sun to nearly the speed of light. The Families leave the Solar System, with the deposed Ford joining them at the last minute.
The first planet they discover has humanoid inhabitants who seem friendly and advanced - however, they are merely domesticated animals belonging to the planet's true masters, indescribable beings of equally indescribable power. When humans prove incapable of similar domestication, they are expelled from the planet and sent to another world.
The second planet is a lush environment with no predators and mild weather. Its inhabitants are part of a group mind, with the mental ability to manipulate the environment on the genetic and molecular level. They have no independent personalities; anyone who joins the group mind ceases to exist as a unique individual. This becomes evident when Mary Sperling, second oldest of the Families, who has always been fearful of death, joins the group mind in an attempt to become truly immortal. The Families are further horrified when the group mind, in a mistaken effort to be helpful, genetically modifies the first baby born on the planet into a new, alien form.
Lazarus calls a meeting of the Families. He states that humans are what they are because they are individuals, and that they have no place on this world. The Families vote, and a majority of the Families decide to go back to Earth and claim their rights. Libby, with the help of the group mind, builds a new faster than light drive that will take them home in months instead of years.
The Families return to the Solar System seventy-five years after their original departure. To their surprise they find that on Earth great longevity is commonplace. Spurred on by the belief that there was a specific "technique" to the Howards' longevity, Earth's scientists developed a series of treatments that extended lifespans to several centuries. The Families are now free to return, and are even welcomed due to their discovery of faster than light travel. Thanks to humanity's increased lifespan, the Solar System is overcrowded; faster than light travel will allow emigrants to ease the population explosion. Libby and Long decide to recruit other members of the Families, and explore space with the new drive.
Alva Rogers, in A Requiem for Astounding, wrote
Full of adventure, conflict, romance, and enough casually tossed-off ideas to serve as the basis for a half-dozen other stories.
In Heinlein in Dimension, Alexei Panshin wrote
In many ways this is an important book. For one, its main theme, the problem of escaping death, is one that keeps cropping up in Heinlein stories, and for another, an amazing number of brilliant ideas are tossed out along the way.
Reappearance of characters in other Heinlein novels
Lazarus Long first appears in this novel. Other Heinlein novels featuring Lazarus Long include Time Enough for Love, The Number of the Beast, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls and To Sail Beyond the Sunset. Andrew "Slipstick" Libby, previously seen as a young adult in the short story "Misfit", also features prominently in this novel. In Time Enough for Love, Libby is said to have become Lazarus Long's partner in space travel until his death.
Prometheus Hall of Fame Award for "Best Classic Libertarian Sci-Fi Novel" (1997).
- Methuselah's Children title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- Heinlein Book Cover Museum