The concept of a Martian - a human being by birth, but in essence, a Martian - rehabilitated on Earth is an arresting idea, and a great canvas. In HeiThe concept of a Martian - a human being by birth, but in essence, a Martian - rehabilitated on Earth is an arresting idea, and a great canvas. In Heinlein’s work, this canvas is mainly coloured through lens of social commentary and a new moral philosophy that became a manifesto for the counter cultural movements of the 60s.
Although divided in 5 main parts, the novel can really be said to be composed of halves. The first half is where the narration is the focus, the story keeps moving and there is a real sense of ‘happening.’ The second half lags in terms of action but brings out the core concepts and ideas of the novel in full, successively developing from satire, taking on government and civilisation, to the formulation of a new philosophy which underlined the beginning of the Free Love movement that came in later in the decade.
Typically, Heinlein employs the use of two main characters as the main propogator’s of his thought and ideas. They are, of course, Jubal Harshaw and Mike himself.
The core of Heinlein’s philosophy lies in sex, and how sex is perceived and ought to be perceived amongst humanity. When Mike, the man from Mars discovers that human beings share something that has no equivalent in the Martian culture, he is fascinated. On Mars, there is no distinction of ‘male’ and ‘female’ as such. The female equivalents are mere ‘nymphs’, who, by any accounts, do not figure into much prominence. However, as Mike discovers, things are different on Earth. Men and women co-exist. The male and the female are distinct, yet harmonise with each other. Sex is the basis for this harmony, the basis for all humanity. Sex is important. Sex is good.
This is where Heinlein goes a step further for his time; his attitude towards sex in belief and practice were radically different from existing social norms for his time. To Heinlein, and consequently Mike, sex is not a commodity, to be hoarded and practised in the privacy of two individuals behind closed doors. Instead, sex is shared goodness, to be given and taken and exchanged at large. Where Mike comes from, jealousy as a concept does not exist. This lack of jealousy, lack of possessiveness manifest themselves in his attitude towards sex. Because jealousy doesn’t exist, polygamy is no problem.
Jubal explains Mike philosophy in contrast with religious indictments. The Bible declares: Though shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife. But this, as Jubal wryly observes, is a natural impossibility. As long as men continue to live, they continue to be subject to their desires, whether physical or otherwise. Mike and his philosophy are exactly opposite. What the Church is saying is don’t eye your neighbour’s wife, full stop. What Mike is saying is: You want to covet my wife? Take her! And have some good rocking sex while you’re at it.
For Mike, sex isn’t off-hands and restricted between two people. Love and sex, intertwined as they are, deserve to be shared among people, their goodness shared across all people in the Nest. Far from something to be ashamed of or to be guilty about, sex was a goodness, to be cherished and enjoyed and shared.
Of course, this is almost a line-by-line blue print of the hippie movement that came in later during the 60s. This book was published much before it happened, and was there just at the right time when it did. The Free Love movement of the 1960s underscores Mike’s philosophy.
Heinlein's thesis of religion
While everyone was busy having orgies, it did not escape Heinlein to incorporate commentary on religion as well. This he does through the portrayal of the religious order, the Fosterites, who are of the Christian denomination but differ widely in essentials. While Christians unnecessarily torment themselves with original sin, Fosterites embrace it, accept it, and get ready to put it behind themselves. The ultimate aim of life according to Fosterites is to be happy.
Heinlein criticises Christianity’s doublespeak. Christianity and Islam are quick to mete out judgement to their followers, to dictate moral, social, political and sexual rules and judgments to their followers. Yet, at the same time, their scriptures are full of inconsistencies and sexual deviance. A case in point in Lot’s offering of his two virgin daughters to a mob banging on his door. Lot trades his young daughters so as to have ‘the mob stop banging on the door.’ This is the God who complies with such an act, who rewards this morality while simultaneously frowning upon a million other things. Such a God is a hypocrite.
Fosterism then, as a religion seeks to eliminate this bias, to do away once and for all with the doublespeak and hypocrisy of religion. However, their unabashed glorying in happiness and hedonistic pleasure is initially disquieting to Jubal and Jill.
I can see why Stranger in a Strange land became such a landmark novel when it was published. It must have provoked and outraged and shocked people of its time - it still does today, in certain places and among certain people. However, any hope of life on Mars, our direct neighbour, let alone a civilisation as highly advanced as the one portrayed in the novel, in light of successive Martian expeditions over the decades is rendered unrealistic at best.
There are also some major flaws with the book, most particularly Heinlein’s portrayal of women. Women are either shown as passive and ‘go-along-with-what-he’s-saying-and-doing’, like Miriam, Dorcas and Anne, or manipulative and controlling, like Mrs. Douglas and Patty and, to some extent, Jill. My main gripe with Heinlein was Jill saying, ‘Nine out of ten times, when a woman gets raped, it’s her own fault.’
However, all these things considered, the redeeming hallmarks of Stranger are its social commentary and its original ideas about religion and civilisation, which, in the post-60s, post-hippiedom world might strike us as tired and tested, but which were strikingly original and timely for the time it was published in. If you can put aside the 50s-60s attitudinal drawbacks behind, this is a quintessential science fiction read.
I wanted to like Ender's Game. I really did. It's a wonder that ev[I have a new website where I review awesome books & more! http://unlearner.com]
I wanted to like Ender's Game. I really did. It's a wonder that even after more than halfway into the book, I still clung on to the foolishly optimistic notion that the book would somehow redeem itself. That it would end up justifying the tedious, repetitive, drearily dull chapters I trundled through over the course of several days (which is unusual, since I'm generally a fast reader).
It pains me to say it, as a hardcore fangirl of science fiction, that one of sci-fi's most beloved and highly regarded novels did not do it for me. Actually, that is understating it. While I'm at it, I'll just duck and blurt it out: I loathed Ender's Game.
Deep breaths. Let that sink in. Let the hate flow through you. Good, strike me down...I am unarmed.
Okay. Now let's get to it.
Was it because the expectations I had in my mind were unreasonably high and thus were responsible for ruining the book for me? No way. I make no bones about the fact that Ender's Game, regardless of the respect and popularity it commands in sci-fi circles, is an inherently bad novel.
Why, though, you might ask. Why such vitriol for the book? Here you are, then.
1) Bad plotting: It didn't take me long to realise that after I was past Ender's arrival at the Battle School, every - literally every chapter thereon until his return to Earth - was more or less the same thing. Battle games, beating the shit out of kids, battle games, switching back and forth to Armies, battle games. It was so repetitive that I was exhausted at the end of every.single.chapter. Page after page after page of six year old, seven year old, eight year old Ender and his buddies zooming about in ships trying to freeze one another's socks off. Wheeee!
2) Lack of characterisation: There are no personalities. There are no motivations. You never learn anything about the characters except that they are the good guys or the bad guys. Ender is brilliant at everything. He NEVER loses. Not once. Bernard, Stilson and Co. are the bad guys. They're evil baddies cause dey r jealuz of ender's brilliance omg!!! That's it. No background, no depth, no internal conflicts. No motivation. Words cannot express how two-dimensional and woefully lacking in personality the characters are.
3) Demosthenes and Locke. What the heck was that all about? I appreciate Card's prescience about the 'Nets' and blogging before it was around, but come on, this is pushing it a bit too far. How, I beg you, how are we supposed to take the idea that a pair of kids end up taking the world by posting in online forums and blogging?
As if we people of the internet didn't have enough delusions of grandeur already. ;)
4) Now, this really gets my goat:I had to wait for the last 20 pages to get information that was of any worth to the story at all. I'm talking about Mazer's Rackham explaning (view spoiler)[the buggger's communications system (hide spoiler)] to Ender. As for the 'twist ending': I honestly, and I mean, honestly did not find that riveting. It was predictable and, worse, did not justify all that I had to read to make my way to the end.
5)Also: It was hard to feel for Ender. I say this as a high-school nerd in my own day, as the reviled and hated and made-fun-of socially awkward kid who wanted to be good at whatever they did. But that doesn't make me any more sympathetic to Ender. Honestly, I fail to see what's so great about Ender anyway. I am so infuriated at Card for this. Apart from Ender's claim to intelligence (which is never completely explained, by the way) there is nothing, NOTHING, that is worth justifying him as the protagonist of one of scifi's supposedly best books ever. Yes, he loves his sister Valentine. Yes, he doesn't want to hurt people. Yes, he goes ahead and does it anyway. Again and again. (view spoiler)[(Ending up murdering two school boys in the process. Uhm, major wtf there.) (hide spoiler)]
I am rarely so caustic about the books I read, but this time I feel I am justified in doing so. I had such hopes for this book. Not impossibly high or anything. At the very least, I had expected to like it, you know? I remember, as I worked my way past chapters 4,5,7,10,14...I expected it to get better. I expected myself to be mistaken at the initial dissatisfaction, then incredulity, then mild annoyance and then a string of sad sighs and resignation to dislike. Alas, I wasn't mistaken. I felt betrayed. I thought this book was right up there with those 'kindred ones', you know? The sort of books you can come back to again and again. Instead, what I got was a bad plotline, progressively unrealistic plot developments, and a cast of flat, lifeless, unpleasant characters to boot. Ender's Game, how I wish I had loved you. Why did you forsake me thus....more
I love it when a book leaves me unsure about how to classify it. This book meshes history, religion, politics, and a dash of science fiction. No damnI love it when a book leaves me unsure about how to classify it. This book meshes history, religion, politics, and a dash of science fiction. No damn cat, and no damn cradle!
I think that the sense of absurdism is exactly what makes this novel so good (and deeply profound in its own way). If Vonnegut had gone about this book in a way that favoured the serious, heavy approach over the witty, seemingly effortless and light, satirical approach, we would have had another boring old story full of rights and wrongs and and nothing new to offer. It is, instead, irreverent and with liberal helpings of irony and stony, low-key humour. I think that's the greatest thing about Vonnegut: he never takes himself too seriously. And he trusts his readers enough to read into his story without spelling everything out for them.
Of course, I would be a doing this book a disservice by not mentioning Bokononism. It certainly struck me as interesting. I enjoyed the Calypsos, in particular: 'Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder, ‘Why, why, why?’ Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land; Man got to tell himself he understand.' Regarding the philosophy of Bokononism itself, I thought the concept of Fomas - harmless untruths - was a brilliant touch.
In terms of plot, I think the book forgets itself at times and takes liberties on the narrative front. This is partly what makes it much more effective, in my opinion, because that way you're in for several surprises throughout the book. There are things you absolutely do not see coming. We start off with Jonah, and when I first started reading the book I expected it to be about him. But what I found was that the book was more about everything and everyone else - the Hoennikkers and the Castles and Monzanas and Crosbys and Mintons, San Lorenzo, religion, the End of the World - than about Jonah himself. I realised I don't know Jonah at all, except that he loved Mona. And that he was a writer.
The most interesting moments are in the second half of the book, in particular those relating to McCabe and Lionel Boyd Johnson, 'Papa' Monzano's religion (and that of everybody else in San Lorenzo), and of course, the worms-and-tornadoes-bit - which I absolutely did NOT see coming. At the oubliette part, I was mystified for a moment...Wait, how did we get to this from that?
The End of the World is a topic interesting enough on its own; and, depending on how its handled, a laughably bad or an immensely brilliant basis of the story. This book falls in the latter category: the wonderful thing about Cat's Cradle is that, though the book starts off with the writer documenting the End of the World, it is towards the end that you see the real End coming. And even then, it's not what you would expect.
If you can get over the initial sense of slight incredulity, this book will truly stand out as the brilliant read it is. If you don't take this book too seriously, you will at once get more out of it, and what's more, you will find it profound too. Its deceptively light, not-too-serious tone underlies its real depth and meaning....more
Dune. What can I even say about this book except that it's one of the best books I've ever read.
This is a book layered heavily with politics, economicDune. What can I even say about this book except that it's one of the best books I've ever read.
This is a book layered heavily with politics, economics, geology, philosophy, religion and mythology. The term 'science fiction' alone doesn't do justice to it.
Frank Herbert's writing is splendid as well. I especially enjoyed the internal dialogue technique that he employs to often. It makes me feel like I'm in the head of the characters, hearing their thoughts and experiencing the situation firsthand.
This book is full of great sequences and scenes and characters. How can you not love characters like Thufir Hawat, Jessica, Gurney Halleck, The Duke Leto Atriedes, Stilgar, and even the Baron Harkonnen?
The story is dotted with references and allusions to religion, embedded with philosophical queries and an excellent study in politics and ecology.