Methuselah's Children

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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,[1] 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.

Contents

Plot summary

The Howard Families derive from Ira Howard, who became rich in the California Gold Rush, but died young and childless. Fearing death, he left his money for the prolongation of human life, and the trustees of his will carried out his wishes by financially encouraging those with long-lived grandparents to marry and have 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 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. A member of the Families, Andrew Jackson Libby, (known as "Slipstick" Libby because he is a Mental calculator), manages to invent a near-lightspeed stardrive, which permits them to travel between stars in years instead of centuries. 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 domestic 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 join 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.

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