Christy's Reviews > Stranger in a Strange Land

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
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Aug 07, 2007

it was ok
bookshelves: science-fiction-and-fantasy, religion-and-atheism, readinglist2-sf

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 no more than 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.

A more substantial 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 his more traditional 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 be more babies 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 little more livable, 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 much more appealing.
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message 1: by Astraea (last edited Dec 07, 2012 06:19PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Astraea I've read this book since I was twelve years old and it makes less sense and gets me more angry every time I read it. It's got too much of what one of my colleagues likes to call sugarcoated fascism.

I can't accept Heinlein's attitudes as stated through his characters. He is a Jew who presents anti-Semitic characters and images. His view of women is unbelievably outmoded. It's antediluvian. It's June Cleaver in the nude. And the idea that gays were confused in-betweeners who "would never be offered water" strikes me -- a straight, Jewish man -- as damned presumptuous.

In the 1960s, this was one of the Bibles of the counterculture. A lot of people were into the idea of communal living and group marriages. Communes were supposed to be based on cooperative productivity but most of them were just an excuse to have sex with and exploit numerous women. Heinlein ridicules monogamy and privacy, and proposes "sharing" as an ideal; that's where the book crosses the line from science fiction to fantasy.

In such a commune, a male leader always emerges and takes charge, and the women all end up as his. The last time I read this book, Michael started to remind me of the way David Crosby has been described in the 1960s, constantly surrounded by a pantheon of women who were "always naked and always ready."

This was also one of the books that formed the foundation of the New Age religion (Love yourself, you are God. Oh, no, I'm not). I can accept a science fiction premise whereby people learn to become true telepaths, to control psychic abilities, and the world is changed (not necessarily for the better) as a result, but that this can be accomplished through acceptance of the "grok" premise does not hold (you should pardon the expression) water. There has to be more to it than that. As such, I'll be one of the people who does not survive the ultimate takeover Michael describes at the very end of the book (I wonder how many hippies read that far). He isn't the Messiah; if anything he's the other guy.

Gabriel Ragland


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

Brilliant review! You've put my thoughts into words. Your points 2 and 3 were, to my mind, the most noxious aspects of the book. I don't have anything to add, I just wanted to applaud you.


Lola This book was written in 1960s, anything strange about certain social perceptive is because of that time difference. At the time, it this book was revolutionary in its brave and bold exploration of human sexuality.


Lola This was written in 1961. Modern standards should not be applied. Look at the bible, it literally says, sell your virgin daughter. But it's not a shitty book, just it was written a really long time ago.


Christy I disagree. I think it is legitimate to bring our own contemporary perceptions and ideas to a text. After all, we're reading it now, not then. Some books don't age well and it's okay to point that out. Furthermore, people still read and love this book when they read it now, out of its original context, which prompts me to wonder what in the book speaks to those people. Just because they have a positive response doesn't mean they're not applying their own contemporary standards and ideas to it; it could just mean that their standards and ideas match up with Heinlein's.

However, I do think it's important to not *just* focus on personal ideas and perceptions but to attempt to see the book in its original context, too, which is why I note that Heinlein was progressive in some respects and why my concerns about treatment of sexuality are only one point among many. All the other points are ones that Heinlein's contemporaries could easily have also made.


Lola Then we can throw Mark Twain's book down the drain and call it racist since it used the N word liberally. We can mark the bible as crap for the sexist and murderous and barbaric moral it tries to teach. How dare Heart of Darkness say white men smell worst than rotten hippo. How dare the catcher in the rye have Holden hire a prostitute that looks no older than his little sister. And lord of the flies? kids murdering each other? Nonsense.


message 7: by Meggan (last edited Apr 20, 2012 09:21AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Meggan I disagree with Lola. Someone tell me: what is actually progressive about the ways that this book portrays love? It seems like NOTHING is progressive because if it was truly radical then love would have no attachments to traditional gender and sexuality. Gay people were practicing exactly this kind of polyamory in the 60's (especially in the separatist communes). It just didn't occur to Heinlein to queer anything in this book. In my view you can criticize him for it because non-heterosexual, non-gender typical sex has always existed. Moreover I think it's okay to scrutinize the text more harshly than Twain or the Bible because it's science fiction. SF writers are supposed to be more forward-thinking than most. Moreover, the idea that "the times" assemble themselves in neat evolutionary stages is false. I think some Victorian writers understood love, and how women love, more fully than Heinlein. This is why I adored Thomas Hardy when I was 15 but hated Heinlien at the same age. Even though I couldn't wrap my head around the politics of sexuality and gender at that age, I thought that one writer saw a woman as a human being; another saw her as a cipher for his own message of free love, which I would argue is actually not so "free" at all.


message 8: by Christy (last edited Apr 20, 2012 12:13PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Christy Meggan, I don't think it's okay to critique science fiction differently from non-science fiction in terms of how progressive it should be. Science fiction is often (though not always) focused on the future, but that doesn't equate to forward-thinking in social or political ways and it needn't do so (though I'd prefer it to personally). And whether it's set in the future or not, science fiction is ultimately just as much about our present ideas as realist fiction is.

Lola, there are a couple of problems I see with your argument. The first is that you're assuming that critique of a book is the same thing as saying it's worthless. It's very much not. A book can be flawed and still be worth reading. Stranger in a Strange Land is, in my view, very flawed, but that doesn't mean I'm arguing it's crap or worth throwing out.

The second problem I see is in your examples. The accusation that Twain's work is racist because of its language is built on a misreading of the text. Twain is not endorsing the racism of the time or the language but critiquing it. People who want to ban Twain's work do so because they don't look past the surface. My criticism of Heinlein is built on the plot, yes, but it isn't just that a particular thing happens in the book that I'm objecting to but the message that goes along with that plot. Heinlein has an argument to make; I don't like his argument. That's different from saying that I don't like the way he makes his argument, which is what's happening in the Twain example.


Kate @Lola: A lot of people do view the Bible as massively problematic. I do. Twain's use of the n-word is more ambiguous because Huck and Tom are so clearly meant to be unreliable narrators. I would argue that Twain did have some (probably unavoidable) issues with racism, though.


message 10: by Russ (new)

Russ O'connell Around the time this was written, a comedian named Shelly Berman had a record out that wondered at the use of word. "what if the word for love was gronge. Can you imagine "my darling I gronge you,.". Grok became the new word of the age for total understanding. Collage students used it, it made it's way into books, look it up in Wikipedia. The 60's were a time of great change for many things, sexuality being one of the major changes.
I always thought that Heinline's main theme was not subjugation of the genders but sharing. Jill looked after Mike but Mike changed his appearance for her. The three secretaries took there orders from there boss Jubal but not from subjugation, from love and respect. Any interaction between two people was fine, as long as one was not hurt by the other. Heinline asked us to question our beliefs, and if found wanting change them. He asked us to approve homosexuality if that's what someone wanted to do, do it, just don't hurt each other.
I saw a reference to Brave New World al later book that did not attain immortality was brave new world revisited. Interestting readin, pointing out the things that had come true from the book. Early sci-fi did an admirable job of encouraging us to explore new Rheims while trying to also include an enjoyable story. I think Heinline did well if it was just a story, and better if it raised our awareness of our beliefs.
In the 60's I was stunned to read it, shocked by his beliefs, applauded his vision, and after rereading it recently still do.


Christy I agree that Heinlein's main point was about freedom and choice and sharing, not subjugation of anyone; however, that doesn't mean that there isn't some sexism still there. I'm not even arguing that Heinlein put it there intentionally, just that it is still there. It's difficult to challenge your own views and to try to invent a new way of thinking about relationships and (most likely) impossible to do so completely, and I tend to think that the remaining sexism is present as an element of the time period that Heinlein didn't succeed in eliminating.


message 12: by Kate (last edited Jul 16, 2012 11:28AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kate Christy wrote: "I agree that Heinlein's main point was about freedom and choice and sharing, not subjugation of anyone; however, that doesn't mean that there isn't some sexism still there. I'm not even arguing tha..."

I'm not even willing to give him that much credit. There are plenty of male authors who lived well before Heinlein's time (Hardy, Dostoevsky, Dumas) who wrote rich and compelling female characters. There was still sexism in those authors' books, but you didn't get the sense that they saw all women as basically interchangeable, which is the sense I get from Heinlein. :/


Christy Yeah, true. I was trying to be generous. :-)


message 14: by Stew (new) - rated it 5 stars

Stew Could it be possible that the reason the work is so "flawed" in so many ways is that Heilein wanted us to do what we are doing now; exploring through conversation. The moderator of a debate doesn't give cogent arguements for either side, but provides the devise for a good discussions. One can't appreciate the light without the dark or the good without the evil. Could it be that Heilein wanted to bring sexism into dicussion by highlighting it? Could it be that the female characters are themselves chauvinistic to spark refelection on the idiocy of that self same idea? If the characters have flaws, or there is an underlying tone to the book, I believe it comes from Heilein's desire to make us reflect and ask questions, not any other nefarious reason. Heilein was a brilliant man, lauded by his contemporaries and only he and the Old Ones fully grok.


message 15: by Stew (new) - rated it 5 stars

Stew P.S. Kurt Vonnegut enjoyed this book.


message 16: by Kate (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kate Possible, but I think extremely unlikely.


message 17: by Stew (new) - rated it 5 stars

Stew Heilein was a military man. I find it hard to believe the discipline he was taught would allow him to "accidently" let inequities is society bleed though into his works without being noticed. Consider the writers you mentioned previously; they deliberately went against the socially accepted ideas of woman to paint them in a light alien to their time. Any work of fiction is a deliberate contrivence by definition, ergo under the complete direction of the author. A story does not spring forth fully developed like Athena from Zeus' forehead, but something that is fostered and massaged into existence. One needs to be objective when experiencing the creative efforts of others, not subjective. When allowing your own prejudices to interfere, you run the risk of missing the point. Life itself is not butterflies and honey, don't fault Heilein for highlighting shortcomings, take the lesson to heart and try to effect change in your own way, even if is just a change in perception.


message 18: by Kate (last edited Sep 26, 2012 01:17PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kate I think that by automatically assuming that we are wrong and Heinlein was infallible, you're mostly just letting YOUR prejudices show. Being a 'military man' doesn't protect you from being wrong--I know plenty of 'military men,' in fact, who are extremely sexist.


message 19: by Stew (new) - rated it 5 stars

Stew I need to apologize. I did not mean to imply a personal attack, nor did I imply that Heilein was infallible. Being that I am related to a couple military men, I understand that they can have just as many foibles as a lay person. I mean to highlight the fact that they possess a level of mental and physical discipline that the average person does not have. They are mandated to maintain an acute attention to detail to which very few civilians are held. It is this attention to detail that leads me to believe such a person would be deliberate in their writing style. I understand your points and understand how you came to them, I am merely offering a counter-point. I revel in expanding my own understanding through debate. Just remember that some things are meant to be taken literarily, not literally.


message 20: by Lola (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lola Kate wrote: "@Lola: A lot of people do view the Bible as massively problematic. I do. Twain's use of the n-word is more ambiguous because Huck and Tom are so clearly meant to be unreliable narrators. I would ar..."

You obviously NEVER read a Mark Twain biography.


Devon Ewalt To suggest that Heinlein is sexist because some of his characters are sexist is like suggesting Faulkner was racist for having racist characters and accurately depicting the state of his time and place, or that Conrad was racist for doing the same. It is up to the writer to hold a mirror up to life, not to necessarily depict a world free of the natural limitations holding us back. Sometimes we learn more about how not to be by being exposed to the very things that disgust us.


Christy Devon, I'm not sure if you're responding to my review or the comments on the review, but I would argue that there is a difference between saying that the text is sexist and presents sexist ideas (what I argue) and saying that Heinlein himself is sexist (which I am careful not to argue since I don't know Heinlein or his personal views, only what comes through the text).

I agree that it is not the job of the writer to depict a perfect world, but I am still bothered by the attitudes represented in this book.


message 23: by [deleted user] (new)

This is about racism, but I think it extrapolates nicely.

http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=b0Ti-g...


Christy Yes it does - thanks, Ceridwen!


message 25: by Stew (new) - rated it 5 stars

Stew Christy, I believe that is exactly the point Devon and I is trying to make; you are moved by and compelled to speak by things that digust you about this book. I maintain this was the intent, not a serendipitous occurance. I agree with Devon that Heilein is a controversial mirror deliberately held up to the Janus-like countenance of society solely to highlight the inequity of the duality by invoking strong negative reactions from his audience. Are happy, P.C. stories the only ones that have something to be learned from them? We learn most effectively by mistakes that we make, most of the time with a negative outcome. Heilein is merely doing for us what in some part the Old Ones do for Martians; offering understanding and expierence the eggs.


message 26: by [deleted user] (new)

Nope, you're still making an intent argument, Stew, only this time, you're claiming Heinlein intended us to feel disgusted by the gender essentialism and general lameness of the views about homosexuality in this book. I reject the notion that simply provoking an emotional response is enough - I am capable of getting pissed off by bad editing and stupid gimmicks, and that doesn't mean that those things are some kind of smart commentary on sloppy editing and stupid gimmicks.

Are happy, P.C. stories the only ones that have something to be learned from them?

And, I see this kind of thing so often it makes me a little sad. Christy thought this book was only ok - that's what the two stars means - and pointed out some serious problems if you are reading in this day an age. Does that move to some sort of position that fiction should be sanitized and censored? No. That's an unsupported leap.

Are there valuable things in this book for certain folk? Sure. My husband, reading this at 13 or so in the middle of a crushingly religious family thought the free love stuff and the expressions of the value of physical pleasure really eye-opening and new. It challenged some of his perceptions. Great. But it's been 30 years, and the whole free love thing is a ton less relevant, not simply because my husband is an older dude now, but because the whole concept of free love is freighted with historical baggage which makes it hard to take seriously. (For me, at least, but I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one.)


message 27: by Stew (new) - rated it 5 stars

Stew Ceridwen, I agree with you; my points are ones of intent. I never met him and don't know his mind, as Christy stated earlier, save for the works he has left us. I merely want to provide a different perspective and also ensure that the mastery of his writing is not dismissed. Bigoted ideas or not, the writing is awe inspiring.

I also see your point about the emotional response to sloppy editing and gimmicks not making for smart commentary on the same notions. But some of the biggest social changes in world history have come from the emotional response evoked by an inequity of some social institution when realized. The emotional response is either legitimized or relegated to ridiculous based on the context. Emotion is a driving force, the magnitude of which is only defined by the passion one has for the topic. Social change starts with someone being emotionally induced into action and convincing others of the importance of the cause. This book was in part a catalyst for social change because of the passion of the readers for certain elements.

I am curious as to why this work should be judged using contemporary ideals? I have always used literature to transport me to another time or place to encompass myself in concepts and ideas that may be foreign to me. Of course the concepts seem wonky in modern terms; arguably anything not written in the last decade would probably start to slide into anachronism. Why don't we judge it for the accurate portrayal of concepts as they existed when it was written? The ideas may be dated, but the fact remains that this book helped define a generation, an accolade not many can claim. Lets not throw the baby out with the bath water because society has changed.

Let me make it clear that I don't agree with the concepts of sexism or racism or free love. But I do believe this is a great work of fiction, written by a master. Christy, I apologize if I am detracting from your review, I just enjoy good debate!


message 28: by Nick (new) - rated it 2 stars

Nick I thought your review was spot on. I'd like to add you as a friend so I can see what else you've read.


message 29: by Greg (new)

Greg I think maybe some of you may be missing the point. This novel is a historification. Much like the Crucible, which moved the setting back in time to better examine the prevailing attitudes(namely Mccarthyism), this novel moves the time period to the future so that it can examine the prevalant sexist and racist values of the current time of the novel.

One of the main thrusts of the novel was to juxtapose the attitude of the cantankerous old man Jubal, who represented the attitudes of the past, with those of Michael, who represented the future. Jubal's attitudes are deliberately presented as wrong-headed. He is old, cantankerous, and fixed in his ideas. He is resistant to change--much like society itself. Thus, he was meant to represent the modern reader of the society in the 50s and 60s, and to a degree society itself. Jubal believes himself to be foward thinking, as most of us do(and did in the 60s), but he discovers that in actuality he is not, and he is forced to re-align his perceptions.

Most of you keep citing various quotes made By Jubal and the other characters as sexist and improper. That's the point. Jubal and his secluded clan are presented as the best examples of freethinkers from the modern world. They believe that they are functioning on a moral high ground. Michael is introduced into this collective, and he re-educates them to a new way of thinking.

While sypathetic, the writer clearly did not agree with Jubals views, nor did most of the other characters. The whole point of the book, and argueably that of the climax of the book itself, is the conversion of Jubal to a new way of thinking. Thus enabling him, and by extension the reader, to challenge their current beliefs and morals.

Free your mind and the rest follows!


Mysie What a fascinating conversation after such a great review. I don't want to add to the conversation much, except about this idea that the sexism was done to purposely get a rise out of the reader. I really don't think so - the sentiment is in just about everything I've read by Heinlein. And you can't blame it all on Jubal, either. I don't know why "Greg" thinks there are quotes by Jubal trotted out as examples of sexism, when it seems all of Christy's examples are from Michael or Jill. Which is another reason why I think these topics aren't written to add to the social commentary. Michael is supposed to be the future, to be the "better" way, and yet there he is mired in sexism and homophobia. (Am I wrong? Did Michael express homophobia? Or was it just other characters?)

No, what I really came here for is to let Christy know that I've written about her review on my blog. It's a great review, but I don't much agree with it, so I thought you should know about it in case you want to respond. Cheers!

http://mysie.blogspot.com/2014/08/str...


Bobby Bermea Wow, you're brilliant.


message 32: by Bobby (last edited Jan 28, 2015 09:06AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bobby Bermea Greg wrote: "I think maybe some of you may be missing the point. This novel is a historification. Much like the Crucible, which moved the setting back in time to better examine the prevailing attitudes(namely ..."

Oooh, I don't know, man. It's hard not to read much of Jubal's sermonizing as his functioning as Heinlein's mouthpiece. There are pages and pages where Jubal just goes on and on spouting off about religion, politics, the nature of humanity, even art. If anything, Ben Caxton appears to be the representative of old school thinking -- until he's converted at least.

What exactly is Jubal Harshaw "wrong-headed" about? Generally, he is smarter, wiser, funnier, more capable and more charismatic than everybody else in the book -- except for Mike. And Jubal is the one who delineates to Ben Ben's own prejudices and talks him into going back to Mike's church.

And we never see a debate where the other side is presented. No one contradicts the sexism or homophobia. As Christy points out, it is presented as part of the "rightness". Mike never tells Jubal he's wrong about not letting him kiss or grow closer with "pansies", man and woman is the way it's supposed to go down.

I first read this book when I was in my early teens and I loved it. I recently re-read it because my nephew is reading all of my old science fiction loves from the past. I still enjoyed it a great deal but frankly, it was pretty astonishing and no I don't think Heinlein was presenting a disturbing aspect of humanity in order to critique it. I think what you see is Heinlein reaching the boundaries of his extensive imagination -- and they're more provincial than you think. I don't think he thought abuse of women was cool, and I don't think he thought they should get paid less for the same amount of work but there's no denying his patrician attitudes. Frankly, the passage cited above, coming from Jill no less, about women being looked at and why porn is okay etc., is the most damning of all. It is absolutely grinding to read with 21st century eyes.

I'm not changing my score on the book. I'm still giving it four stars. It had a huge impact on my young mind and the way I see the world. And I like to think I took the positives away from the book without the negatives. Because I was raised at a time when a lot of what it is in Stranger was just the way things are. I didn't even notice it. But heck, when I was a kid, two men getting married was science fiction. As was the possibility of a black president.
I don't think there's a problem with acknowledging the weaknesses in the work of an artist, even a great one, which Robert Heinlein certainly was. And I don't think you have to be "missing the point" of Stranger in a Strange Land to recognize and name those weaknesses.


Bobby Bermea The flip side to all this, of course, is that Stranger in a Strange Land has always been controversial, even when it first came out. But the reasons why it was controversial -- and even revolutionary then are not why it's controversial now. And the stuff that is controversial now, wasn't then. That's an achievement in and of itself.


Jonathan S. Harbour You all forget the time period in which this book was written, and eventually published. As it is now, it had to be massively revised before it was suitable for a highly bigoted, fearful, intolerant American readership. In other words, most of the commenters here. Not much has changed in 50 years, sadly. If you don't grok it, move on. To assume one's convictions are THE convictions is just Medieval. It was due to books like this that we have accomplished so much in this paranoid, greedy, lonely culture.


message 35: by Kate (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kate Jon wrote: "You all forget the time period in which this book was written, and eventually published. As it is now, it had to be massively revised before it was suitable for a highly bigoted, fearful, intoleran..."

Actually, there are lots of male authors (Dumas, Dostoevsky) who wrote well before the 20th century and handled gender roles much better than Heinlein did. His time period does not excuse him.


message 36: by Brendan (new)

Brendan Fitzpatrick You obviously missed the part where Mike kisses Ben on the lips and jubal talks ben out of his homophobic reaction.


message 37: by Jonathan (last edited Jan 27, 2015 05:34AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jonathan S. Harbour Does not excuse him of what, Kate? His opinion? His criticism of idiotic American culture in the 1950s? This book is often cited as the bible for the 60s free-love anti-war movement. You would have him censored, wouldn't you? Let's take the book out of libraries because--despite it all--he portrayed women the way they were treated in the 50s. Has it occurred to you that MAYBE that aspect of his stories was satire, meant to shake up the absurd assumptions in this culture?


message 38: by Kate (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kate Yes, it occurred to me, and I considered the idea and rejected it. The man had some great ideas, and he was also sexist. I don't believe I ever suggested censoring the book; I said that his era was no excuse for his sexism. Since you've jumped from excusing him as a product of his times to saying that he was probably being satirical, I'm pretty sure you're aware that the man wasn't a paragon and are grasping at straws rather than admit it.


Jonathan S. Harbour I'm doing no such thing, I'm trying to get through to you that hindsight is 20/20 and you're ignoring the fact that this is 2015. 65 years of progress, and you're criticizing innovative ideas that were stuck in an unfortunate era. Thank God we aren't still like that! Thank God for MLK, Jr, JFK, and others who helped get American culture out of the dark ages. You're criticizing a book that could not have been printed in 1961 with any more shocking ideas. You're calling the MAN sexist and homophobe. Call the CULTURE those things. He wrote what people would accept, and pushed the limits as far as he dared. And, 1/4 of the ms had to be cut even so.


Bobby Bermea Jon wrote: "I'm doing no such thing, I'm trying to get through to you that hindsight is 20/20 and you're ignoring the fact that this is 2015. 65 years of progress, and you're criticizing innovative ideas that ..."

Actually Jon, I don't think you are giving Heinlein enough credit now. I think he'd resent being portrayed as simply a product of his culture. Heinlein wasn't afraid to be wrong, nor was he afraid to be called out on it. He can still be a brilliant, impactful and even revolutionary artist of his time and still have been wrong-headed about some things. It happens a lot. There's a reason why Jubal Harshaw goes out of his way to undercut any pedestal anyone ever tries to put him on.


Jonathan S. Harbour Yes, you're right, Bobby--but again, I sense a lot of sarcasm/satire in his portrayal of women. Remember Star Trek, circa 1965? Set 300 years in the future, and the women had to wear mini skirts and the ONLY female officer on the ship was a glorified phone operator. Aside from Nurse Chapel, but Roddenberry had dibs...

If you consider Friday, it's like he was trying to get into the head of a woman, or to convey that he already did understand women enough to concoct a story about a talented free woman in the future. Even in 1980 in this ridiculous culture an independent "free agent" woman was unusual.

No, I simply must disagree on the sexism label. You haven't heard of 50 Shades of Grey, have you? 100 million copies sold. How many men read it? No, I say, Heinlein wasn't sexist--he understood women perfectly. Especially in that time period.


message 42: by Bernhard (new) - added it

Bernhard Thanks for a great review. In many ways you are speaking my mind. Just finished it - was on my list for a long time - and almost couldn't precisely because of the nauseating homophobia etc.
Anyways: in the context of the time it was written it is certainly interesting and also as a testament to Heinlein's own internal conflict about society I guess...
Off to Vonnegut now to cleanse my pallet (wonder why he praised that book so much?)


Elizabeta Rus Just wow, everything i wanted to say and more!


message 44: by kazerniel (new) - added it

kazerniel "Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it's partly her fault" hoooly shit, this book goes straight off from my to-read list


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