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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Stranger in a Strange Land

by Robert Heinlein
525 pages
originally published in 1960
revised version published in 1991


*** About the Book ***

In this science fiction classic, life has been discovered on Mars. The first expedition to Mars was never heard from again. About 20 years later a second expedition travels to the red planet and discovers something amazing: a human baby, born to the crew of the first ship, has been raised by the Martians after the rest of the crew died. When the second ship returns to Earth they bring this strange young man with them. What will happen to him on Earth? What lessons of Martian life and culture did he learn and what does he not know about humanity? How will he be treated by “regular” people? By the government? What will happen to him? Is he even really “human” anymore?


*** Why I Read It ***

This book is a classic of science fiction and I’d never even heard of it until recently. It won the 1961 Hugo Award so it counts for the Mind Voyages Challenge. Plus it is one of the 1,001 Books To Read Before You Die AND it counts for the LOST Books Challenge. One book that counts for three challenges is a must-read for me. :)


*** Original vs. Revised Editions? ***

When Heinlein first wrote this book his editors insisted that he remove large chunks of it because it was so very different from what was then acceptable in science fiction, and also because some parts would be considered too scandalous. After he passed away, his original manuscript was discovered. When the time came to renew the copyright on the book, his estate decided to publish the original work instead. They reasoned that the book as originally published was completely different than Heinlein had meant for it to be, and they wanted his complete story to be told as he intended it. The revised edition, published in 1991, has almost 100,000 more words than the first edition from 1960.


*** My Thoughts ***

If you’d have asked me my opinion of this book after I’d read about 1/2 of it, I’d have said that I was really enjoying it. It is creative, fun to read, the characters are interesting, and the plot was unexpected. But then, about two-thirds of the way through, it got all preachy and utopian on me. Ugh.

There were a few flaws in this book before that point. The biggest example? The literary treatment of women left MUCH to be desired. All the women were good looking and their sexuality was an integral part of who they are. Not that there is a problem with that, but there was also much of what today we’d term sexual harassment going on, and the women were not allowed to be non-sexual (does that make sense? I’m not sure I’m getting my point across correctly.)

There were also some things that dated the book, but I rather enjoyed those. The news broadcasts in the book reminded me greatly of the radio broadcasters of the 1930s-1940s – the over-the-top personalities, programs sponsored by one product (like a particular brand of soap) with repeated mention of it throughout the show, lots of alliteration by the announcers, and so on. Plus the “newest” inventions either didn’t make sense in today’s world or were dated in other ways. But all that didn’t bother me at all; in fact I enjoyed the book more because of it.

What really bugged me was the last third of the book. Without giving any of the plot away, let’s just say that this section reminded me of a 1960s hippie commune. The book was clearly stating that this is the correct way to live, the only way to be truly fulfilled as a person. It was all a bit much for me. [And to show you how important this idea is to the whole book, and how convincing the author tried to be, there was actually a church founded on the ideas presented in the book.]

I’m really glad I read this book, even if the last section was rather disappointing. I like to be familiar with books that have made a mark on society (this IS a cult classic after all). Oh, and I now understand the work “grok” ...



*** Connection to LOST ***

I don’t recall what happened in the LOST episode entitled “Stranger in a Strange Land” but that could fit any number of situations on the show. In the book the “Man From Mars” is a complete outsider on Earth. Likewise, in the show LOST, there are many characters thrust into groups where they don’t fit or don’t belong.

Here’s what Lostpedia had to say about this book:
  • The title of the book is taken in turn from the Bible passage Exodus 2:22: "And she [Zippo'rah] bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.
  • Episode Summary: Jack bargains with Ben to save Juliet while Kate and Sawyer struggle with the consequences of their escape.

*** Your Thoughts ***
  • Have you ever read this book – either the original or the revised version?
  • Are you familiar with any of Heinlein’s MANY other works?
  • Do you mind when older books are “dated” by some of the references they use?
  • What is your thought on utopian-themed books?

13 comments:

Darla D said...

I read this years ago, and I remember it fell apart for me, too, that last part of the book. There are so many things I love about Heinlein, but his women characters can drive me up the wall. Not that he doesn't do strong ones, but there are things that just bug me, such as the ones you mention. I did love a lot of the ideas in this book, and even though it's been years since I read it, I still remember it very well.

Clover said...

It's interesting to read your review - I was recently thinking about reading more scifi classics like this. I didn't really know what it was before, and if I do read it then at least I'll have been warned about the treatment of women beforehand!

Alyce said...

I tried to read the revised version and gave up about halfway through. I was driven crazy by the chauvinistic attitudes of the men and the sexuality of the women, it just seemed so over the top. So about halfway through I decided to look up a summary online to see if I wanted to finish it, and read about all of the commune love and decided it just wasn't worth my time.

bermudaonion said...

Not sure this is for me, especially with the ugh ending.

Heather J. said...

Darla D - Ok, I'm glad it wasn't just me! There really were some great parts in it, but there was a lot that I didn't like either.

Clover - I AM glad I read it, and I think you would be to. Which other books are you thinking about? Also, you might want to consider joining the Mind Voyages Challenge - there are TONS of classic scifi books on there!

Alyce - Yeah, if I had read a summary of the book first I probably would have quit as well ... but I'm glad I read it anyway.

Heather J. said...

bermudaonion - Honestly I don't think this is your kind of book. :)

Ryan G said...

This is one of those books that I've always wanted to get to and probably will at some point in time, but it's not anything I'm rushing to read either. Thanks for the review.

Heather J. said...

Ryan - There was a lot to like (mostly in the beginning) and a lot not to like, but I'm glad I read it - hope you will be too.

Tracey said...

I have read Stranger in a Strange Land. I think I read the revised version but I can't say with certainty as I read it probably ten years ago and it was an old edition of the book, but I'm not sure how old; either way I thoroughly enjoyed it but I'm a big fan of sci-fi/fantasy and utopian/dystopian literature so when the end of the book delved into communal style living it didn't bother me.

I'm not familiar with any of Heinlein's other works but I did watch Starship Troopers. (I've heard the book is far better than the movie.)

I don't mind when older books are "dated" by technology. Eventually many of the current books written will be date, and many "classics" already are. I think sometimes dated technology lend books a nice historic feel or charm that's sometimes lacking when books avoid mentioning technology all together.

As for my thoughts, I love utopian-themed books (and dystopian-themed ones, too!) from Plato's Republic to Huxley's Brave New World. I haven't read a lot of recently written utopian/dystopian literature tho'. I don't know if it's just not out there right now or if I just haven't been looking hard enough for it.

Trisha said...

I've read this book twice and each time I read it or think about it, my opinion changes. I love it, hate it, and am completely indifferent to it simultaneously. I'm not sure why. Perhaps I have to lock myself in a dark room and take the appropriate amount of time to grok it. :)

atla said...

I read this book years and years ago. I was in high school, and had read and enjoyed one Heinlein novel on the recommendation of the nice lady at the used bookstore.

The I picked this up.. and was turned off of Heinlein (possibly for good). It was very over the top, the characters were shmutzes, the end was weird, and I hardly found anything to like about it.

The Heinlein I did enjoy, however, is Job: A Comedy of Justice. Unfortunately, I don't remember a lot about it.. just the beginning and that it tempted me to read more Heinlein.

Heather J. said...

Tracey - Thanks for answering all my questions! I'm not a big fan of utopian/dystopian books in general so maybe that's why this one didn't work for me.

Trisha - Yes, I can see how that might be the case - I think I'd appreciate different parts of it if I read it again, and dislike other parts as well.

atla - Well, it's good to know that ALL hi books aren't like this one. I may give him another shot in the future ...

Tracey said...

You're welcome, Heather :) I can definitely understand disliking this book if you're not already a fan of utopian/dystopian books. They're an acquired taste, kind of like Westerns I think (I've never been able to get into Western movies or books myself).

@atla: I've never heard of Job: A Comedy of Justice. I'll have to see if I can find a copy.

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