Book Reviews Stranger Cover

Published on December 4th, 2013 | by Michaela Buckley

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Stranger In A Strange Land – Robert A. Heinlein

Yet again, I’m pipping at Heinlein’s novels, I’ve got a whole box of his stuff and I’m not going to let a little thing like disliking his books stop me from reading them. When I first started up this site I read Starship Troopers, which I couldn’t even finish and since then I read Methuselah’s Children and Orphans of the Sky. This time round, I decided to read his magnum opus, Stranger in a Strange Land, which won tonnes of awards and, according to the book cover is “the most famous Science-Fiction novel ever”, which I asked a number of people whether they had heard of it, all of whom replied in the negative. I’m giving him a good chance here, let it be known that I tried.

Set on Earth, the first human-occupied trip to Mars was fairly unsuccessful, all of the colonists died except a child, yielding a human orphan who is raised by Martians and taken back to Earth when a second trip lands many years later. The arrival of the martian human, Michael Valentine Smith or Valentine Michael Smith, which I wasn’t able to discern whether the text or the back cover was correct, has raised some legal problems for the government as to who now “owns” Mars, his property that is now his on Earth, as well as the issue of handling him and extracting information in order for good relations with the Martians to ensue.

The novel was initially conceived as a futuristic Jungle Book, but upon looking at the final product, it differs greatly, especially towards the end. Unlike Jungle Book’s themes of acceptance, the recurring motif is transcendental thought, keyying in themes of Culture, Philosophy and Religion.

The book mostly features a woman called Gillian as the protagonist, and was picked up a part of the feminist reading list of the time as well as widely read by hippies due to the “Free Love” element of the novel. Unfortunately by today’s standards it’s not exactly feministic – “9 times out of 10, if a girl gets raped, it’s partly her fault”. This wonderful gem was uttered by our lady hero, it’s hard to take an idea like free love and promiscuity seriously when the author thinks that rape is nearly always the victim’s fault, more like Forced Love, mate.Stranger Strange Land Rodin

The characters are fairly typical 50/60’s, in that the men joke about women’s social power, while wryly smiling aside’s of ‘knowing better’ and the women prance around the way ‘a person who has no idea what non-prissy women are like’ (AKA a regressive idiot) would conceivably write them. The one character I thought was the best was actually like this a lot, but he also echoed the similar feelings of despair and fatigue that I experienced while and because of reading this book.

The theology that is expressed throughout the book is undoubtedly well thought out and feels sincere, unlike many religions and philosophies of Sci-Fi TV shows, such as Stargate, where nothing seems feasible or remotely believable. Unfortunately sincerity doesn’t lead to compatibility and Heinlein’s beloved theology remains flawed and sour, with free love permeating the very core of the religion, when characters appear to remain homophobic and believing what can only be assumed that rape is okay because women lead it on, where does this leave the already promiscuous free people of this circle? Doesn’t every woman of the religion deserve rape then? How can one treat one sex one way and the other differently when the idea of equality and love is rule?

It fucking doesn’t that’s what. This book is another symptom of the morally fevered mind of Heinlein, it’s ideas are idealistically insecure and the undertones of racism, homophobia and sexism are repugnant. Where Starship Troopers deigned to preach how to rule, this book preaches how to love. Is there any aspect of modern living that Heinlein hasn’t barbarically attacked with his awful literature?

Unfortunately plot and holes together could be elevated by terrific writing, somewhat of a rarity in 50’s/60’s Sci0Fi world, and Stranger serves to remind us of that, by being incomprehensibly simple and lacks any kind of written interest whatsoever. No imagery, no complex plot or character arcs, repitition of themes is boring and doesn’t equal exploration and finally the dialogue and characters are flat and dull.

Stranger in a Strange Land is undoubtedly Heinlein’s best work, but that really isn’t saying much when it’s qualifying criteria was the fact that it strung together loosely as a set of events and thus was less confusing and paceless than other novels and the effort into the hypocritical religion actually felt genuine. Overall it has nothing to say about transcendental thought that other, better and more fun books like Left Hand of Darkness have done. Well you didn’t expect a positive review from me, did you?

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