The Howard Families (the titular Methuselah's Children) derive from Ira Howard, who became rich in the California Gold Rush, but who himself died young and left no children. Fearing death himself, he left his money for the prolongation of human life, and the trustees under his will carried out his intention 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 begin a limited exposure of themselves.
Society refuses to believe that the Howard Families simply 'chose their ancestors wisely', instead insisting that they have developed a method to extend life. When the Howard Families fail to produce any such techniques, the Families are persecuted and interned. Though the beleaguered Administrator (Prime Minister) of the planet, Slayton Ford, knows that the Families are telling the truth, he is helpless to control an increasingly irrational public – and as a democratically elected official he must act on the behalf of the majority no matter the consequences. He can visualize only two horrific solutions – and is wracked with self-hatred as he tries to imagine which would be more humane: mass execution or mass sterilization. In short, his duty as a democratic leader is to commit genocide. He decides this, although he knows that this will finish him in politics and likely mean his exile.
Lazarus Long realizes this as well, and proposes an alternative – that the Administrator assist them in hijacking the colony starship New Frontiers. To survive, the Howard Families must embark on an exodus to the stars. Ford, thrown out of office when his executive council feels he is not doing enough to wrest the "secret" from the Families, himself joins the trek at the last moment to escape the wrath of his former constituency. A member of the Families, Andrew Jackson Libby, (known as "Slipstick" Libby because he is a Mental calculator) is a genius who invents a light-hugging stardrive. This permits them to travel between stars in years instead of centuries.
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 seems far more welcoming - it is a lush environment with no predators and mild weather. Its inhabitants are just as welcoming, though just as strange as the other two races the Families have met - they are a group mind. Their abilities are in a way even more impressive than the inhabitants of the first planet the Families visited: the reason the planet is so welcoming is because they have made it so with a form of genetic engineering. However, their civilization is perhaps even more unsuitable for the Families than the master/pet civilization. This becomes evident when Mary Sperling, second oldest of the Families behind Long, who has always been fearful of death, joins the group mind in an attempt to become truly immortal.When the first baby conceived on the planet is born, the Families are horrified. The group mind has altered it as they have the planet, and though objectively the alterations are an improvement (every organ is more efficient, potent and better arranged, along with secondary miniature hands supported by miniature eyes) many cannot consider it human.
Lazarus calls a mass meeting of the humans on the planet. He states that humans are what they are because they are individuals, and that he feels he has no place on this world. He asks if any agree with him. Thus, though about a fourth of their number remain on the planet, Lazarus, and a majority of the Families, decides it's time to go back to Earth and claim their rights. Libby, with the help of the group mind, has designed a true faster than light drive - they can be home in just months.
The Families return to the Solar System to discover that their travels have taken seventy-five Earth-years. To their surprise they find that on earth great longevity is commonplace. Spurred on by the (false) belief that there was some specific "technique" to the Howards' longevity, Earth's inhabitants have explored every avenue known to science to duplicate the feat; and have succeeded through the production of artificial blood, to be transfused into recipients and keep them "younger." Thus, the Families are no longer threatened - in fact they now possess something even more important than immortality: faster than light travel! The Solar System is incredibly crowded (one now must acquire a licence to have a child!), and immigration to other worlds can prevent catastrophe. Libby and Long decide to recruit other members of the Families, and explore space with the new drive.
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