Kelly H. (Maybedog)'s Reviews > Stranger in a Strange Land

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
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May 25, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: why-favorite, what-sf, what-lgbtq, when-reread, why-favorite-author
Read in August, 1979

Nowadays, most people seem to either love or hate Heinlein. Many read his children's books like Podkayne from Mars, Red Planet and The Rolling Stones, enjoyed the adventure and moved on to his adult stuff just to get more. The politics, sexism and lack of depth went over their young heads. To them, his books were just great adventure. And yes, for the era in which they were written, they were great adventure and less sexist than most SF at the time.

My intro to the man was a little different: I was dallying at the library because I wanted just one more book (I was 12 I think). My mom was trying to get me to leave so she glanced at the paperback rack where I was standing, grabbed "Stranger in a Strange Land" and said, "If you want to know how weird your father is, read this book." How could I turn that down? I grabbed it and devoured it as soon as I got home.

I loved it, the free love was eye-opening, and I announced when I was finished that I was bisexual. I've never turned back, although my mom was understandably disbelieving, never really even hearing me. (She was later shocked when I first dated another woman.)

The book affected me profoundly but I am afraid to read it again because I'm sure I'll hate it. So I have a love/hate relationship with Heinlein. He was my second favorite author by the time I graduated from high school having read everything he wrote. By the time he died, I had wised up and realized what he was really about. Libertarian politics anger me. His twisted sexism, the kind where a woman tells a man he's smarter because he needs to believe he is and yet has very little power, makes me want to vomit. And I hate to think what kind of racist drivel I'd find.

But if there was a book that actually changed my life, this is it. Yes, I was 12, and yes, I would have come out eventually and yes, I would probably strongly dislike the book now. But Stranger was my favorite book for a long time. For its place in my past, my enjoyment of it at the time I read it, and the effect it had on my life, I must give it five stars. Just don't ask me to defend it.
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Comments (showing 1-24 of 24) (24 new)

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message 1: by Daniel (new)

Daniel So, Kelly, who was your favorite author by the time you finished high school then?

message 2: by Jen (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jen There's a character in The Jane Austen Book Club (a sort of continuing short story collection) whose father also is a Heinlein fanatic. The book is brought up as an explanation for the unraveling of this father figure.

message 3: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Interesting! Great review!

Peter I also picked up Stranger in a Strange Land off the bookshelf at a very young age (11-12). I'd learned to enjoy reading on Spiderman and the Chronicles of Narnia. This book taught me to LOVE reading. Heinlein was as much a creature of his time as anyone, but at least he was making a concerted effort to identify and define his and his culture's prejudices. If you really want to see him pick apart the stereotypes and delve into prejudices, read Farnham's Freehold. Be warned, like Stranger, there is much in it to offend just about everyone. But you get the chance to look at those things that offend you, and more importantly, those things you accept as right, in a new light.

message 6: by Kelly H. (Maybedog) (last edited May 17, 2012 10:31PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kelly H. (Maybedog) Daniel wrote: "So, Kelly, who was your favorite author by the time you finished high school then?"

Oops, I thought I'd answered you but I didn't. Sorry! C.S. Lewis was my favorite author from middle school until well into adulthood for his Space Trilogy and Till We Have Faces A Myth Retold. Until I read Lewis's adult fiction and the book in question, Ellen Raskin, l'engle madeleine and H M Hoover were my faves.

Kelly H. (Maybedog) Abigail wrote: "Great review, Kelly!"

Thank you!

message 8: by Rey (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rey Walker I, too, read this book young. I swiped it from my mom's shelf. I never thought about how liberating the book may be for someone examining her sexuality. For, me the book was liberating for religious reasons. I was already questioning the fit between me and the Catholic Church, and this book let me see that other forms of spirituality were just as valid and right for their practitioners. I've not read many other Heinlein books, but I agree that I avoid re-reading this book because I don't want veil the lifted from a book that changed my world at a young age. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

message 9: by Tom (new)

Tom Your comment is right on. I both love and hate Heinlein. Great ideas, but much that needs to be overlooked, or at least understood in the context of his time.

Peter William Warn "For its place in my past, my enjoyment of it at the time I read it, and the effect it had on my life, I must give it five stars. Just don't ask me to defend it."

Couldn't have said it better myself. Fortunately you've shared your balanced, reasoned and persuasive critique so I don't have to try. I retain fond memories of reading this when I was a little older than you were when you found it, but I shudder to think of what re-reading it might be like.

Kelly H. (Maybedog) I know what you mean. I actually have this thought about many books I've read and some were from adulthood. I have to accept that as I mature I've become more selective in my reading. :)

message 12: by Jim (new) - added it

Jim Excellent review, and I know exactly what you mean.:)

Sometimes the memory is better left alone...

Kelly H. (Maybedog) True true, but I just found out that the original novel, uncut, was released later and part of me feels I need to read that sexed up version for the full affect. Decisions, decisions.

message 14: by Jim (new) - added it

Jim Ooh, that is indeed a tough call. Hard to go wrong reading a classic in its original, uncut version.

But the key, if you go that way, is probably to make allowances for the 'context of the time', as mentioned above. I do that when I watch movies or listen to music. Not always so easy with books, and I am not sure why.

Kelly H. (Maybedog) Good point. With books it may be harder because it's more intimate. I'm in their head not just watching their bodies on a screen. These characters are in my head for quite awhile. Plus, the acting is often not as good in past movies. Although storylines have gotten stupider, I think we have a higher standard for acting, possibly because there are a hell of a lot more actos to choose from possibly because there's more training and possibly because the players are taught to be more subtle. Maybe because cinematography wasn't as good so I'm more aware that it's a movie?

message 16: by Heidi (new)

Heidi Kelly, I had the same reaction to this book when I was 15. I only read the first half however, when it started getting weird, I put it down. Now, I'm afraid to read it again! Thank you for your review!

Kelly H. (Maybedog) Thanks Heidi. Maybe we should both plunge in and just read the unedited full version. :)

message 18: by Scribble (last edited Sep 10, 2012 06:59PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Scribble Orca Kelly, you have to read this book Courtship Rite Courtship Rite by Donald Kingsbury.

Have have have. It's even better than old Heini for a 12 year old because (oh shit - I just remembered I was pretty young when I read this, so maybe not) the woman play quite a hand in power.

You might also like Kushiel's Dart Kushiel's Dart (Phèdre's Trilogy #1) by Jacqueline Carey

Kelly H. (Maybedog) The first one sounds great; cannibalism and polygamy? Sign me up!

I've heard mixed things about the second and don't think I'd like it. I'm not really into epic fantasy. Plus the sexual violence/BDSM and slavery would be unpleasant for me I think. But thanks for the recs!

message 20: by Heidi (new)

Heidi Kelly wrote: "Thanks Heidi. Maybe we should both plunge in and just read the unedited full version. :)"

Yes Kelly! I'm game.. just as soon as I'm done with the books I 'have to read' for work! :P
That'll be about another 2 months.
I'll let you know when I start it..


Kelly H. (Maybedog) Yes, do, and I'll try to read it at the same time so we can see how we both feel.

Ilana Hey Kelly,
No racism in any Heinlein I have ever read. I re-read Stranger uncut a few tears ago, an it's a bit long, but good adult Heinlein-reading.
Regarding sexism, if you view it against mi-west American values at the time (pre-1961), in which women weren't allowed a sexual side, Heinlein was a revolutionary feminist. Now it feels a bit over the top, but I put that down to him being a man. It was his fantasy.
A good read!

message 23: by Kelly H. (Maybedog) (last edited Mar 05, 2013 10:54PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kelly H. (Maybedog) Ilana wrote: "Hey Kelly,
No racism in any Heinlein I have ever read. I re-read Stranger uncut a few tears ago, an it's a bit long, but good adult Heinlein-reading.
Regarding sexism, if you view it against mi-w..."

Thank you for your comments.

Regarding sexism: Exactly.
Regarding racism: Never said there was.

I've long said that at his peak, he was a very forward thinker. He just stopped growing after that. Plus, I hate his Libertarian politics.

I gave the book five stars, though, and I've read almost everything he ever wrote.

message 24: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian Well there is a Muslim named Stinky. in 2016 that's at least a little racist. But the book was published in 1961 and was written in the 50's so you kind of have to grade on a curve there. It's not entirely fair to hold them up to the exact standards we have today. It's why I let a lot of the sexism slide. 1) We weren't fully evolved. We still aren't. 2) Jubal is ancient. He's probably going to hold onto at least a few prejudices. From what I've read, I can't see any sexism in Michael, though I might have missed something. It's a big book.

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