Nicholas Armstrong's Reviews > Stranger in a Strange Land

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
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's review
Aug 03, 2009

really liked it
Read from September 26 to October 12, 2010

** spoiler alert ** As I find to be my way, I'd like to say what I didn't like: what, for me, held this book back from the greatness it had so steadily been climbing towards.

When a little more than two-thirds through the book, it changed rather drastically. All of the things I had understood before, all of the things which had been established, were turned on their head. The book took a dramatic enough turn that it felt more like a sequel and less like a continuation of the same narrative. This alone was enough to disturb me, but the tone of the novel, and I feel the meaning of it, changed as well. Where before the novel had stayed fairly grounded and been focused on analyzing human society and the like, it now focused much more wholly on love and intimacy. This in general I do not think would bother me so much except that the Dionysian, orgiastic love which blossomed in the characters was not shown as a possibility, but as a certainty. Not a single one of the characters did not join in with the wife-swapping madness that suddenly was the focus of the novel. If it had only been some of the characters then there would have been doubt, but since every last one joined, there is no doubt that the book's intention is to say that as far as this world is concerned (that of the book) this way of love is the proper way.

I cannot say much about Heinlein as I do not know much about him. I've heard communist rumblings and sexist rumblings and both actually seem to be pretty fitting, but my issue is that these are not pushed on me, the idea of free love is. I take it not as a point or prudishness that I don't want to bang everything that walks, but a point of pride. I actually agree with the novel on the idea of growing closer and "psychic impotence" if two minds are not alike; unlike the novel, however, I don't think I can make that connection with more than one person. Specifically, I have no desire to have sex with any of my friends and I have very different degrees of love. How I feel for friends is one way to love, family another, and romantic a third. Heinlein's (or the novel's) idea of love is revolting to me. I don't generally like most people and I think most of them are ignorant. I, for example, have no desire to sleep with someone with different political or religious views, this may make me king asshole in some eyes but it's my freedom. My main issue is that nothing before this section of the novel was presented as an 'only option' choice, but suddenly here we have this. There are no down sides presented and it is the only possibility for true happiness. I felt as if I was being preached to and, honestly, it pissed me off.

Another oddity, is the book suddenly takes a very religious turn. I cannot say for certain, but I'm pretty sure not all religions believe that when a person dies they go somewhere involving archangels. Heinlein is now presenting me with not only a way of living which is the proper one, but a religion. I don't particularly believe in anything after death, let alone these ideas of love, and now both are being presented to me as undeniable facts. Even if it is not Heinlein doing preaching, his characters are, and the end result is a disconnection from the text.

That out of the way, the book (when it isn't preaching) is phenomenal. The first two-thirds of the book offer incredibly complex and interesting characters (well, some of them) and a dialogue that cannot be paralleled. Heinlein casually turns discussions between friends to the logic and structure of our political and social systems. Never so apt was the title stranger than in this, where we see the perspective of our ridiculous world from the views of another.

Observations of world matters aside, the dialogue literally made me put down the book and sit back in awe. The only comparable wit and banter that I have read is in Shakespeare. Honestly, the back and forth of Ben and Jill is so similar to the stichomythia of Shakespearean comedies that it is chilling. Similarly, I've read no contemporary author who uses modern events and colloquialisms so easily as a part of wit. With all due respect, the dialogue and philosophizing is the closest thing to a modern Shakespeare as we may ever receive.

Ultimately, even the ending of the novel I had warmed to. I do think that mankind is, as a whole, a mostly hopeless race and that we want to think outside for our problems and our solutions. The dialogue between Mike and Jubal at the end was startlingly similar to the philosophical outlook of the book Illusions. Had I not read Illusions before, I think I would have found almost as enlightening the discussion. It is the self that most be advanced, not the ideas.

Even with the books faults (the sometimes disappearing characters, the preaching, the sometimes lack of explanation), it is a treasure. Nearly perfect is as good a definition as I can think, and really, nearly perfect is pretty damn good.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Rachel I'm glad you were as moved by this book as I was.

Nicholas Armstrong I don't think a person of intelligence could read it without being moved (or at least that is the hope). It isn't a critique so much as a look of humans entire way of existing, from our value system to our judicial system. Sometimes it's helpful to have someone outside of ourselves give us a little insight.

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