Adam's Reviews > Stranger in a Strange Land

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
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Aug 30, 2010

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bookshelves: science-fiction, hugo-award-for-best-novel
Read from August 30 to December 18, 2010

I dig Heinlein. I think he's brimming over with ideas and I like how committed he is to exploring them. I plan to read more of his novels than the three I currently have under my belt, and I look forward to doing so.

However, "Stranger in a Strange Land" failed to engage me on a basic level. It's not so much a novel as it is a collection of philosophical dialogues. These dialogues usually take the form of Heinlein's idealism and utopian thinking vs. Heinlein's skepticism and questioning of his own utopianism. While this is occasionally interesting, most of the time it's turgid.

I can see why this novel had such a huge impact in the '60s. Its protagonist is a human who was raised on Mars, and has all the powers of Martians, such as telekinesis and astral projection. To buy this, you have to believe completely in nurture (as opposed to nature) and believe that the human mind is a powerhouse without limits, and the only reason you can't levitate is because you were conditioned by society to believe that you can't. This concept is extrapolated throughout the novel, breaking down religion, politics, etc.

Sexuality is a major theme, too, as Valentine Michael Smith, the "Man From Mars," establishes a "nest" (or cult, if you prefer) in which nudism and free love are the most natural ways of expressing personal divinity.

My problem with this book is that I didn't buy most of it. Heinlein's vision of the future is hopelessly dated, and his vision of a higher consciousness seems mired in pedestrian contrarianism, wish fulfillment, and simplistic iconoclasm.

I didn't hate it, I just wasn't moved by it.
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Reading Progress

09/02/2010 page 96
18.0%
01/30/2016 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Edward (new)

Edward Diesel So, how is it? This book blew a lot of minds back in the hippie days...but then that seems like a pretty easy accomplishment. Is it good writing or did the hippies just have better drugs?


Adam So far, so good. I like Heinlein, though, at least the few novels of his that I've read. It's interesting that this book became such a huge part of the hippie movement, since it came out just two years after Starship Troopers, which is one of the most pro-military-service novels you will ever read. "Stranger" doesn't really read like a lefty or progressive book anymore. One character, in particular, seems like more of a mouthpiece for the author than anything else, as well as reminding me a lot of Robert "Iron John" Bly. He's full of bluster, condescending to women, and generally what people today would call an "asshole." I'll have to reserve judgement till the end, though...


message 3: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Nice short review, Adam.

I continue to enjoy your reviews - which have a professional reviewer's voice and sensibility.

Generally, I agree that Heinlein is worth it - but leave "Number of the Beast" for last - and no comment on "I will hear no evil" which, it's said was written while RAH was seriously compromised by illness (for more background, try one of the many websites that dissect his works and life).

I did not finish "Number" which had four characters running around together in a basic Quest plot. They were all the same character spouting insufferably "witty" lines - too too cute for me.

Before I forget, try Mrs. Heinlein's posthumous publishing of RAH' letters (Virgina Heinlein?) - that was the best book my son ever got for me. You will get a keen idea of his philosophy - and not couched in fiction.

Let me warn you. My favorite RAH novel - Time Enough For Love - is one big mouthpiece. It's more than that, but the big reason I loved it was the hoary old RAH philosophy - which was very appealing to me at 13-14. Makes me realize that Heinlein softened me up for Rand's "Fountainhead" at age 18.

For Dr. Edward:

I'm a bit too young for my mind to be blown by SIASL. By the time I read it, I'd already picked up Ellison's anthology of "new wave" SF - Dangerous Visions - which had already corrupted me beyond redemption.

I've never recovered.


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