Stranger in a Strange Land

Stranger in a Strange Land

I've had Stranger in a Strange Land on my bookshelf for nearly 5 years now.  I have always wanted to read it, partly because I borrowed it from a friend and knew I should eventually give it back, and partly because it looked interesting.  So what has kept me from actually starting it?  Probably the fact that everyone I've asked about it says the same thing:  "It starts of great, but then it gets really weird."

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy weird.  Weird books are often some of the most fun.  Still, it was enough of a deterrent to keep it from ever moving it to the top of my never empty backlog of books.

So now that I have read it, what's the verdict?  They were exactly right.  Stranger in a Strange Land starts off excellent.  Unfortunately, this great start makes the second half that much harder to read.  There's a reason this book took me so long to read (nearly 3 weeks):  the last half is just a pain to slog through.

The story of Stranger centers around Valentine Michael Smith - a human born on mars and raised by Martians who gets brought back to Earth where he struggles to deal with his own foreignness in what should be his home.  Cool idea, right?  And it is, and when there's actually a plot happening (during the first half of the book) it's superbly entertaining.  Unfortunately, by the end it devolves into nothing more than a soapbox for Heinlein's ideas on sexual liberation.

I hate to say it, but I would not recommend this book.  There is one caveat, however.  If you can read just the first two parts, and not bother with the rest, there are a lot of interesting ideas, strong writing, and fascinating characters.  If you are like me, however, and hate to quit reading a book you start (especially one that starts so good) then don't bother picking this one up.

"I don’t pay attention to politics."

"You should. It’s barely less important than your own heart beat."

"I don’t pay attention to that either" (33).

Comments

Scott
Scott on 02/16/2010 7:32 a.m.

Thanks Shawn - I was hoping you would share what you enjoyed about the book.

On the whole, it was the delivery rather than the content that made it so difficult to read. It's a personal preference, but I really enjoy when themes emerge out of the plot, rather than when they are stated so explicitly. It's more difficult to do it this way, of course, but Heinlein showed he was capable of it in the first half of the book, which is part of what made it so frustrating to read the last half.

Also, it bothered me that the only avenue to enrichment for these people was through sexual liberation. Even the movie Pleasantville had a character that found joy in life through reading instead of sex. What made this even worse was Jubal, the most non-sexualized of the characters, went down this avenue. Wouldn't it have fit his character better to find enlightenment through his intellectualism, or logical reasoning? If it's to be found that way, he would be the one to since he "groks" without speaking Martian.

As I think about it more, it's not that Heinlein necessarily had to show that there is more than one path, but I think it would have fit Jubal's character better. Of course, that may have gone against Heinlein's overall argument that the male-femaleness of humanity is their greatest gift.

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