By Robert Heinlein; Read by MacLeod Andrews
6 CDs – 7 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: July 2012
Themes: / space / genetic engineering / genetic modification / aging / death / interstellar travel / aliens /
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….
This 1941 novel by Robert Heinlein is a short but epic space adventure about the Howard Families, a population of people who can live very long lives thanks to a history of selective breeding. Over the centuries, they took on different identities to hide their long-life nature from “short-lifers,” but eventually some of them decided to share their scientific achievement with the public.
However, instead of celebrating the Howard Families’ scientific achievement, the short-lifers suspect them of concealing the true secret to long life. This is where the story starts: when the government and the public begin to persecute the Howard Families, Lazarus Long (the kilt-wearing leader of the group who is more than 200 years old and who always has a knife strapped to his thigh) hijacks a city-sized starship so the families can flee Earth and go in search of a new home.
Despite its short size, this book covers a long length of time, is packed with ideas, and manages to explore deep themes such as aging, death, human genetic modification, and individualism, among others. There’s bound to be something in here for everyone, although personally I struggled with the first half because of the lengthy democratic meetings and the seemingly endless strategizing about what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. I also thought the discussions about the technicalities of interstellar travel or alien biology were a little tedious, but I’m sure hard-SF fans will love every moment.
I really got into the story later, when the families started arriving on other planets and things got weird. The alien cultures, worlds and philosophies were brilliant and often eerie. How can you not love aliens who say things like, “My people will like to see you and smell your skin.”
The human characters, on the other hand, were less lovable for me. They lacked depth and tended to speak literally and directly, without subtext. The narration on the audiobook didn’t help warm the dialog up either, because in the reading the characters sometimes sounded like they were barking lines at each other, and at other times odd words in the dialog were emphasized that I don’t think should have been.
The narrator McLeod Andrews did give a very clear reading though, and once I got used to his style the odd emphases were less noticeable. He did an awesome job of embodying the voice of grumpy but optimistic Lazarus Long, who was the most developed and interesting character.
Ultimately, even though not everything might be to your taste, there are just so many great ideas and themes squished into this book that you’re bound to find a ton to enjoy, despite its short length.
Review by Marissa VU