Stephen Foster's Reviews > Stranger in a Strange Land

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
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Mar 25, 11

Read from March 13 to 25, 2011

Suffice to say I didn't really like it. I'm told this is considered to be a classic of science fiction literature, but truth be told I don't really grok where people are coming from when they say that. Granted, the premise (that of a human raised by Martians coming to Earth for the first time) is interesting, in that it allows for an examination of society from a fresh ("alien") set of eyes. But that's really the problem - Heinlein basically uses the whole novel as an excuse to wax philosophical about society and what he thinks is wrong with it. The book reads like a series of essays mashed together in the form of long monologues, with some interconnecting events that serve to move the minimal plot forward. If there's one thing I hate in books, it's mouthpiece characters that only serve to spew out opinions of the author (the later books in the Ender's Game series are particularly guilty of this). Social commentary can be great if done well, but for god's sake don't bludgeon me over the head with it.

On top of the that, the book ends up feeling extremely dated. Now, obviously I can't really blame Heinlein for that - he wrote the novel when he wrote it. At the same time though, blame isn't really a useful mode of thought when assessing one's enjoyment of a work - a bad thing is bad, after all, even if it's no one's fault. In any case, what we end up with is a distractingly inaccurate portrayal of a near-future earth, and an underlying philosophy to the novel that reflects the time in which it was written (particularly in regards to the treatment of women). Simply put, the book hasn't aged well.

Anyway, that makes two supposed Heinlein classics that I've read and disliked (the other being Starship Troopers). It's not completely without merit - I actually liked Jubal as a character, and amidst the constant philosophical meanderings some interesting points are occasionally made. In the end, though, the book is held back by its almost complete lack of conflict and plot development, which weirdly enough I consider to be important in novels.
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