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Stranger in a Strange Land NAME Valentine Michael SmithANCESTRY HumanORIGIN MarsValentine Michael Smith is a human being raised on Mars, newly returned to Earth Among his people for the first time, he struggles to understand the social s and prejudices of human nature that are so alien to him, while teaching them his own fundamental beliefs in grokking, watersharing, and love Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it s at least partly her own fault 511Perhaps this is the single most quoted statement from this work, and also the statement by which Heinlein is critiqued and berated, the same statement by which this philosophically charged work is sullied by 1 star ratings Whether by inadvertent straying into a faulty conception and erroneous application of intentional fallacy or the failure to recognize that Heinlein sought this work to stand as historiNine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it s at least partly her own fault 511Perhaps this is the single most quoted statement from this work, and also the statement by which Heinlein is critiqued and berated, the same statement by which this philosophically charged work is sullied by 1 star ratings Whether by inadvertent straying into a faulty conception and erroneous application of intentional fallacy or the failure to recognize that Heinlein sought this work to stand as historicization of the prevailing attitudes at the time of writing juxtaposed with those of the future, as represented by the Man from Mars, the loss of substance predicated upon such mistakes are saddening Most reviews needlessly nitpick this book by implacably quoting sexist remarks offered to us by a cantankerous Jubal, who symbolized the attitude of a bigoted past, but that is missing the big picture, and missing the very idea this book seeks to impart That is the point, to present homophobic, sexist, resistant to change personas that stand for the past, because in the end, we see that Jubal, is opened up to a new philosophy, divested of all improprieties and finds himself realigning his beliefs, a belief which is open to change By doing so, Heinlein, through Jubal and the Man from Mars, asks the reader, by extension, to reexamine beliefs and conventions To disregard this by literally focusing on the sexism is to lose the quintessential aspect of the book See beyond the literal Challenge the conventions This book is included in The Hugo Awards Reading ListThis review, along with my other reviews, has been posted at imbookedindefinitely Apparently a classic of the sci fi cannon, I d 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 I ll go into later.This is one of those books that tells usabout the period it was written in than anything else, so it s 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 expectati Apparently a classic of the sci fi cannon, I d 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 I ll go into later.This is one of those books that tells usabout the period it was written in than anything else, so it s 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 wouldn t 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 isMartian 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, it s 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 Mike s 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 He s completely ignorant of human ways, of human concepts things like jealousy, possessiveness etc are all alien to him He doesn t 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 it sof 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, there s only one logical conclusion for this story.As a story, Stranger in a Strange Land is enjoyable and original Yet, as a story, it s also bogged down with sermons, with Heinlein s 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 It s especially noticeable in the relations between men and women, which have that faintly liberated tinge that s all really lip service, and a great deal of sexist language Which is ironic, really, considering Mike s free love cult There s also an affectionate insult for a Muslim character who s nicknamed Stinky that I couldn t 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, it s partly her fault p304 While today the statistics arelike nine of ten times, a woman s rapist is someone she knows , the idea that it s partly her fault is still considered true by way too many people To hear this come out of Jill s 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 there re 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, it s bad writing It reminded me somewhat of The Da Vinci Code, which also uses characters to expound the author s 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 Jubal s sermons and when Jubal isn t 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 wasn t 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 Mike s growth, maturation, development and resolutions fit the character and work He has charisma and is definitely intriguing yet because he lacks the human flaws, he s also somewhat unapproachable and alien a good balance to achieve One must read Heinlein s signature work to understand what all the fuss is about, from both sides For the RAH fans and Sci Fi crowd, this is an excellent book, a masterpiece of the genre For the opponents, and I understand there are many, he systematically makes a lot of folks mad, from conservatives and theologians, to feminists, and even pro government liberals He was way ahead of his time, and yet also rooted in a pre war mindset that was probably infuriating to young baby boomer readers a One must read Heinlein s signature work to understand what all the fuss is about, from both sides For the RAH fans and Sci Fi crowd, this is an excellent book, a masterpiece of the genre For the opponents, and I understand there are many, he systematically makes a lot of folks mad, from conservatives and theologians, to feminists, and even pro government liberals He was way ahead of his time, and yet also rooted in a pre war mindset that was probably infuriating to young baby boomer readers and especially to the baby boomer s parents But the influence on the genre and on the larger culture is unmistakable.And the next thing is that this really transcends the science fiction genre Heinlein, excusing his later life meanderings into the weird and sexually uninhibited, was a great writer He uses a Sci Fi story about a man from Mars as a vehicle for him to explore and to expound upon a great many subjects, most notably theology, ideology, social and sexual s, and popular culture Love it or hate it, or don t GROK it at all, this work will no doubt inspire strong emotion, this is a powerful book and a must read for SF fans This is a book that it seems like I should like It deals with issues of religion, including a strong critique of religion as we know it, presents socially progressive ideas about sex and relationships, and relies upon a fundamentally humanist, individualist philosophy In the end, however, I can t get past a few things to really like this book 1 The word grok I understand the meaning and significance of the word within the book and I understand why Heinlein chose to create a new word to ca This is a book that it seems like I should like It deals with issues of religion, including a strong critique of religion as we know it, presents socially progressive ideas about sex and relationships, and relies upon a fundamentally humanist, individualist philosophy In the end, however, I can t get past a few things to really like this book 1 The word grok I understand the meaning and significance of the word within the book and I understand why Heinlein chose to create a new word to carry this meaning, but grok It s an ugly word and it gets used about 150 times too many in the book.2 The use of mystic religious concepts and practices Heinlein critiques traditional, human religions, but he is unable or unwilling, finally, to leave behind the trappings of religion, relying upon them to bolster his argument This bothers me because it feels like manipulation, like a man trying to have it both ways by using the religiosity and losing the religion Michael admits that his philosophy, his truth, couldn t be taught in schools and says, I was forced to smuggle it in as a religion which it is not and con the marks into tasting it by appealing to their curiosity 419 He admits that he is manipulating his audience just as Heinlein manipulates his as well as admitting that the people he is trying to save are nothan marks, dupes to be conned This is entirely too cynical for my taste and does not accord with the whole Thou art God and I am God and all that groks is God philosophy.3 The sexism of the text, which is inseparable from its heteronormativity and even homophobia Despite Heinlein s progressive especially for the time ideas about sexuality and desire, he reinforces the gender dichotomy repeatedly, putting women and homosexuals in their place as he does so Sometimes this is obviously negative and hard to miss, especially for a modern reader Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it s partly her fault 304 At other times this is done with apparently positive statements Male femaleness is the greatest gift we have romantic physical love may be unique to this planet 419 A statement like this one is troubling not because of its emphasis on romantic physical love but because of its insistence on the male female gender dichotomy as a necessary component of that love Asubstantial example arises when Jill discovers that she likes to be looked at it, that it makes her feel desirable She says, Okay, if a healthy woman liked to be looked at, then it follows as the night the day that healthy men should like to look, else there was just no darn sense to it At which point, she finally understood, intellectually, Duke and his pictures 302 3 The realization that she likes to be looked at is fine as far as it goes, although the immediate leap from there to pornography is definitely a problem pornography of course having huge and unavoidable issues of power wrapped up in it that this analysis neatly sidesteps Following Jill s realization of her own desire to be looked at, Mike comes to see that Naughty pictures are a great goodness and they go together to strip clubs to enjoy the live version However, Jill found that she grokked naughty pictures only through a man s eyes If Mike watched, she shared his mood, from sensuous pleasure to full rut but if Mike s attention wandered, the model, dancer, or peeler was just another woman She decided that this was fortunate to have discovered in herself Lesbian tendencies would have been too much 307 Here, Heinlein brings together his progressive, free love ideas about sex itself with histraditional ideas about gender roles and his leaning toward homophobia The conclusion Jill arrives at here is that a sex and desire are good, b women are the spectacle, never the spectator, and c lesbianism is completely taboo, even for someone who is otherwise interested in opening herself up to sexual love in its many forms This one scene simply brings together these ideas that recur throughout the second half of the book Repeatedly, it is made clear that homosexual behavior is a danger for Mike to avoid and that women s role in sexual behavior is essentially passive 4 The emphasis on self, whether in self love, self pleasure, self control There are two basic ideas here One is stated by Patricia Paiwonski, Mike s first convert, who says, God wants us to be Happy and He told us how Love one another Love a snake if the poor thing needs love Love thy neighbor And by love He didn t mean namby pamby old maid love that s scared to look up from a hymn book for fear of seeing a temptation of the flesh If God hated flesh, why did He make so much of it Love little babies that always need changing and love strong, smelly men so that there will bebabies to love and in between go on loving because it s so good to love 288 Love is wonderful, love is a good goal, but this is a love I am suspicious of, for it is a love based on feeling good, based on happiness There s nothing wrong with feeling good and being happy, of course, but if feeling good and being happy are the primary goals of life, then that opens the door for abuses of others in the name of love or happiness and seems a rather meaningless goal in and of itself Hedonism alone is not enough for me The second basic idea is Mike s final message to the people The Truth is simple but the Way of Man is hard First you must learn to control your self The rest follows Blessed is he who knows himself and commands himself, for the world is his and love and happiness and peace walk with him wherever he goes 429 Again, this is not a bad goal for once, finally, Mike brings a message of personal responsibility to add to the free love and grokking that has constituted most of the rest of the book However, to expect the rest to follow from that kind of responsibility and self control is just silly This is The Secret, this is name it and claim it theology, this is bullshit Like the idea that God wants us to be happy so if we all try to live for our own happiness, it will all work out, this is a philosophy that believes that YOU are the center of the universe, that everything will work out for the best This is the complete opposite of the philosophy provided in Kurt Vonnegut s Sirens of Titan Vonnegut also emphasizes love and finding a kind of happiness, but in his universe, those things are refuges in the midst of chaos, small things we can each do to make the world we live in a little better, a littlelivable, not means to become masters of the universe For Heinlein, God moves from out there to in here, validating each individual person s individual desire and decision for Vonnegut, there is no God, not out there and not in here For me, that is muchappealing

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