A Short Discourse on Lazarus Long

Lazarus Long, also known as Woodrow Wilson Smith, is a recurring character in a clutch of novels by science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein. I read Heinlein’s classic “Stranger in a Strange Land” as a teenager and immediately grokked its iconoclastic, counterculture message. It wasn’t until much later that I realized Heinlein’s prose is extremely aphoristic in a gruff, ornery sort of way; he often punctuates descriptive passages with provocative little pronouncements about the nature of good government, the evils of organized religion or the joys of sex. His sayings have a frontier feel: blunt, graphic, no-nonsense.

That might explain why some of Heinlein’s best lines are put into the mouth of Lazarus Long, a real interstellar pioneer if there ever was one. Long is the oldest member of the human race (one of the books he appears in is called “Methuselah’s Children”) by dint of some nifty genetic engineering and his own unfailing instinct for survival. He’s sired countless children, explored new solar systems and planets, and distinguished himself for bravery in interplanetary warfare. Lazarus Long has seen it all and survived to tell the tale, through a string of zesty, zingy aphorisms.As a character, Long is a weird combination of Teddy Roosevelt and Mark Twain: tough as old boots on the outside, a roughrider over received wisdom, but concealing a bright and piercing wit within. He’s also got a whiff of Walt Whitman about him; he’s singing the song of himself assured in the knowledge that everyone else knows the tune too. A short selection of his aphorisms, which bear up well under long scrutiny:

Do not handicap your children by making their lives easy.

Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.

A motion to adjourn is always in order.

It is better to copulate than never.

You live and learn. Or you don’t live long.