Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Living Through History

When I first saw the Time Chart in Robert Heinlein's The Man Who Sold the Moon, I noticed that one character's life extended throughout the entire History from before its beginning until after its end. That seemed odd, especially since no explanation was given in this opening volume of the Future History.

That long-lived character came on-stage three volumes later in Methusaleh's Children, which is effectively the culminating volume of the History. (Orphans Of The Sky is a short appendix about events elsewhere that does not advance the History. Time Enough For Love and any subsequent volumes are not to me acceptable continuations of the History.)

Heinlein missed a trick. We learn that, like other Howards, Woodrow Wilson Smith/Lazarus Long had used many aliases during his extended lifetime. One or two of these aliases could have been used for spear-carrying characters in earlier installments. We know that Lazarus was present throughout the entire History but it would be good to catch glimpses of him on rereading.

Poul Anderson's equivalent character is Hanno in The Boat Of A Million Years. Already over six hundred years old when the novel begins in 310 BC, he is not on-stage in every chapter but is still alive and active when the novel ends many centuries in our future. In fact, he aims for another million years plus. Hanno and the seven other Survivors have somehow mastered the potentially debilitating accumulation of memory and are able to maintain their sense of personal identity and continuity throughout the millennia. Another approach for a novelist would be to show a character who, although alive a million years later, did not remember anything from his earliest centuries and therefore was effectively a new character.

In Anderson's Starfarers, the crew of the Envoy are alive but absent throughout the future history because they are traveling to or returning from a remote destination and undergoing time dilation. There is a monument to them as though they were dead although it is known that they will return...

Anderson's Manse Everard of the Time Patrol is present throughout history not because he lives through it but because he time travels backwards and forwards. Immortals, time travelers and time dilated space travelers have a certain amount in common.

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