Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. HeinleinApparently a classic of the sci-fi cannon, Id never heard of this book until it came up on a book club here. It took me a long time to read only because of lack of time, and a rather annoying trait the author has that Ill go into later.
This is one of those books that tells us more about the period it was written in than anything else, so its important to note that it was first published in 1961 and later again in 1968 - when moon fever was running high and people seemed to have high expectations for human achievement.
Events are set in an undisclosed future but the older characters seem to remember the first moon landing, so I wouldnt be surprised if Heinlein was thinking of it being set around about now. With a mix of very daggy technology like stereo tanks (TVs) and large, clumsy listening devices, alongside hover crafts and spaceships to Mars, the scope of the setting is hampered by a 50s imagination.
Stranger in a Strange Land is about Michael Mike Smith, the Man from Mars, offspring of two of scientists on board the original mission to Mars, who was raised by Martians. He is more Martian than human, especially in his thinking and outlook and philosophy, when he is brought back to Earth. Heir to a shitload of money care of his parents heritage, its unsurprising that the bigshots on Earth are wanting to keep him locked up tight. A nurse at the hospital where he is first kept, Jill, offers him a glass of water and in that one action becomes a water brother - the highest accolade for Mike. She rescues him from the politicians with the help of her journalist friend Ben and takes him to the home of a grumpy, reclusive man, Dr Jubal Harshaw, who lives with three young women who serve as secretaries - Anne, Miriam and Dorcas - and two men who take care of the property - Duke and Larry.
Mikes particular talents slowly reveal: he can vanish things, including people, if he recognises there is a wrongness in them; he can withdraw from his own body and shut down his body so there is no heartbeat; he can teleport and think telepathically; he can absorb books in minutes and regulate his own body, making it muscular and mature at will; and so on. All of this can be done with understanding of the Martian language, which Jill starts to learn.
Hes completely ignorant of human ways, of human concepts - things like jealousy, possessiveness etc. are all alien to him. He doesnt understand religions and he has never laughed.
After months on the road with just Jill, learning and grokking, he finally knows why humans laugh and how to do it himself, and gets the human condition. It leads him to start his own church, though its more of a way of life open to people of all religious denominations, with free love and open mindedness, and abilities gained through mastery of the Martian language. With Mike set up as a new Messiah, a prophet, theres only one logical conclusion for this story.
As a story, Stranger in a Strange Land is enjoyable and original. Yet, as a story, its also bogged down with sermons, with Heinleins opinions, and a very out-of-date mentality. It reads very 60s and 70s, though it was written before then. Not as far-sighted as it would like to be! Its especially noticeable in the relations between men and women, which have that faintly liberated tinge thats all really lip service, and a great deal of sexist language. Which is ironic, really, considering Mikes free love cult. Theres also an affectionate insult for a Muslim character whos nicknamed Stinky that I couldnt help but be offended by.
It does make it hard to read, though, when you come across lines like this, as spoken by Jill very matter-of-factly: Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, its partly her fault. (p304) While today the statistics are more like nine of ten times, a womans rapist is someone she knows, the idea that its partly her fault is still considered true by way too many people. To hear this come out of Jills mouth makes it especially awful.
Another example is Jubal saying: Pipe down, Anne. Close your mouth, Dorcas. This is not a time when women have the vote. (p382) Granted, they ignored him and did what they wanted anyway, but therere a lot of these flippant, dismissive remarks all through the book. Product of its times, sure: just not at all futuristic.
Then we come to the proselytizing, which the book is rife with. Today, reading this book, the opinions shared are very yes, so? - old hat, in other words. Though it is fun to read the rants, the set-up is cringe-worthy. Jubal is the main lecturer, and the characters around him serve as props. There are a great many Huh?s from educated and knowledgeable people so that Jubal can share his abundant wisdom. One huh? is okay, but when each long paragraph of Jubal is responded to with a huh? it gets a bit silly. Frankly, its bad writing. It reminded me somewhat of The Da Vinci Code, which also uses characters to expound the authors theories on religion etc. at great length.
While these things did at times make it harder to read the book, essentially the book is easy to read and often quite fun too. Jubals sermons (and when Jubal isnt around, other characters fill the role, like Ben and Sam) can be a bit heavy-handed and obvious but a lot of it I agree with, so it wasnt rubbing me up the wrong way. Mike is a challenging character to write, because in order to write a naive, ignorant character to this extent, you need to be incredibly self-aware. Heinlein has fairly good success here, and Mikes growth, maturation, development and resolutions fit the character and work. He has charisma and is definitely intriguing; yet because he lacks the human flaws, hes also somewhat unapproachable and alien: a good balance to achieve.
Stranger in a Strange Land
Heinlein , published in The work centres on a human raised on Mars who comes to Earth and challenges customs relating to sex, death, religion, and money. The book became an icon of the s counterculture, and it won the prestigious Hugo Award for best novel in The only survivor of the expedition, he was raised by Martians. When he is about 25 years old, a second expedition arrives, and he returns with them to Earth, which has endured a third world war.
Look Inside. Oct 01, ISBN Jul 31, ISBN May 15, ISBN The complete, uncut version of Robert A.
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While Robert A. While Heinlein brought the interplanetary exploits of Valentine Michael Smith to life, his third wife, Virginia, provided the basic idea from which the novel sprang. She summarized the idea as a variation on The Jungle Book with the Mowgli character raised by Martians rather than animals. The idea first came to the Heinlein household in , but Robert Heinlein shelved the concept in favor of projects that promised quicker turnarounds. The late s saw Heinlein devoting his focus to projects like running ads in favor of nuclear testing and the novel Starship Troopers , with occasional returns to what would ultimately become Stranger in a Strange Land.