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Stranger in a Strange Land
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message 1: by Bri, Wielder of Trolljnir (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bri (mythbri) | 26 comments Mod
My apologies for posting this discussion thread later than I had planned - my increased workload and the craziness of the holiday conspired to make me overfed, lazy, and reluctantly doing work-reading instead of pleasure-reading lately.

Anyhoo, on to the analysis:

Stranger in a Strange Land, I will have to admit, is not my favorite Heinlein novel. Heinlein is not my favorite science fiction author, either, although I fully acknowledge his place in and contribution to the genre. And because of my own personal belief system, I don't have much patience for Messiah tales. I do, however, want to give this novel full props for introducing the word "grok" to the nerdy lexicon. It's such a great word!

Mike is an interesting character, if by interesting you mean mostly passive and useful for high-lighting the characters around him, instead of displaying real personality traits of his own. His bonds with the "water-brothers" he makes during his visit to Earth are strong, and he displays a noble kind of loyalty to them, backed up by his enhanced mental acuity. The power to kill with a thought is no joke.

However, Mike's naivete is never really tempered by his increased understanding of Earth life, even when it appears that he's sold out to become adored by the Fosterite cult. The negative reaction Mike and the Fosterites get from religious fanatics who believe that he is the Antichrist is not something that can be fixed by nudity and "love". Mike is "martyred", if such a meaningless death can be considered martyrdom.

What's really interesting about the Fosterites, on a personal level, is that the timing of the writing of this novel coincides with the founding of a guru religion that my grandparent currently belong to - and one in which they were involved almost immediately after its inception. They, too, went through various interpretations of their guru's teachings - including concepts like free love and other sexual ideologies. The parallels that I saw between what I know of my grandparents' experiences and what Heinlein wrote about the Fosterites made for interesting reading.

Finally, I can't close this brief analysis before commenting on how Heinlein wrote the female characters in Stranger (this type of writing appearing in Heinlein's other novels as well). I realize that we must, to an extent, consider Heinlein to be a product of his time. But the way that gender is framed in Stranger is problematic. Mike comes from Mars, completely ignorant of the fact that there are female members of his own species (men are from Mars, anyone?). And looking at this as Heinlein intends (for the first part of the novel, anyway), he presents human women as the alien species. It is not Mike who is the Stranger here - it's women. Women, whose worth is determined by the men they associate with, who are blamed for aspects of their own marginalization (like when Jill claims that 90% of women are responsible for their own rapes), and who are mere vehicles for the philosophy that Mike and the Fosterites celebrate in their cult.

What do you all think?


message 2: by Bri, Wielder of Trolljnir (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bri (mythbri) | 26 comments Mod
To be clear, I'm using the term Fosterites as shorthand for the religion that Mike starts after his clash with them, since most of the Fosterites end up joining him anyway.


message 3: by Brendan (last edited Nov 25, 2012 02:01PM) (new)

Brendan | 2 comments Brando Lars Here
I'm Assuming that everyone here has read the book I will skip over actual plot points and just describe what “I got” from the Tale”

While Reading Stranger in a strange land I was struck by the age of the novel. I finished the novel before inquiring about it's original publishing date and was in NO WAY surprised to find that it had been printed in the early 60's. For better or worse the story magnified many of the cultural changes that were taking place or on the cusp of occurring during that tumultuous time. When the Man from Mars was brought back to earth from his accidental exile on Mars and locked into Isolation I had a sneaking suspicion that it was to protect us from him as much as to give him time to acclimatize to his new environment, I have to say that I was a little disappointed to learn that nobody knew about his unique abilities. The Captain of the Champion had his suspicions but no actual proof. I enjoyed the cold logic of necessity that Michael employed when eliminating threats, harboring no malice, towards this obstacle just removing something because of a perceived "Wrongness" at the time.
More than the Starring characters in this novel I think enjoyed the supporting cast. Namely Jubal. I might even argue that he was the star of the book while Mike and Jill were just cogs in the engine designed to move the story forward. Jubal was a far more entertaining and better-developed character. I do realize that we (the reader were watching the development of Mike as an Egg into an Individuality responsible for his own actions but all in all I found that to be less entertaining than the elements with Jubal in them.)
Like Bri , the line from Jill regarding Rape stuck in my craw but I chalked it up to the age of the novel. I do actually remember shaking my head at that line.
I enjoyed the novel however I don’t feel that it deservers to be acclaimed as one of the greatest Sci-fi books of all time. I can deduce the metaphor of how we are all Michael trying to find ourselves as we struggle through life as easily as I understand the “You are god” greeting. Stating how here on this plane of existence every interaction we have with others has repercussions in their lives. Do we want to be the god of wraith that people are afraid to meet during their day or would we rather be a beneficent Deity who tries to leave things better off than how they found them. More often than not I tend to swing like a pendulum between both of these states, in the end I still hope that I do more good than bad in my life. But I knew this of myself before I read Heinlein’s tale.


William | 8 comments I voted for this book because growing up it was one of the books that really spoke to me. Personal responsibility in all action and choices. The need to drink of something fully to Grok it. (Such a wonderful concept.) I really loved the theme of the novel that we are all God and God is all of us. These concepts helped develop me as an individual and a member of society. Even when Mike was founding his religion he stuck to the message that you are in charge of your life and you can be more if you choose to. Loved that. I will always love this book for that reason. BUT. Upon rereading it this time, I've come to understand something about myself. I've changed. The things I liked about the book I still do. The rest of the book was CRAP. (I hate saying that. I am a huge huge Heinlein fan.) From the objectification of women to the unrealistic stereotypes half his cast portrayed just infuriated me. Jubal Harshaw the saving grace of this book. I could make allowance for his treatment of women in this as the times. But that would be unfair to the other books of the era that were portraying strong independent females in SCIFI. Mike is supposed to be the every man, the one we identify with. He was the most uninspired passive aggressive jerk I've ever seen. Jill being written as a nurse makes sense for the time but the way Hienlien brought her into the story "was a competent nurse with her hobby of men" just turned me off to the character. That should not have been her defining characteristic. Ben was a closer fit to the everyman that we identify with but even his change by the end of the book was unbelievable. I couldn't finish it. The main premise I still love. But the changes in me as a reader no longer allows me to enjoy the story.


message 5: by Brendan (new)

Brendan | 2 comments I guess the saying " You can't go home again" fits for you here William. Sorry to hear that.


William | 8 comments Nope. But what made the twist of the knife even worse was I picked up Glory Road by the same author and the female protagonist in that story is 100 times more complex and strong then then the lead woman in Stranger.


message 7: by Bri, Wielder of Trolljnir (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bri (mythbri) | 26 comments Mod
It's really hard to get into a book when the character descriptions, and the characters themselves, are such a turn-off. I can see how the philosophy of the book would appeal to you, absolutely, but it's kind of buried in pointless, dated, meaningless stereotyping.


message 8: by Laura (last edited Nov 28, 2012 09:15PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Laura (ratatosk) | 8 comments I read this book in middle school and loved it. I identified with Smith. I wanted to save the world. It was one of the first explorations of the Western monomyth I’d read and I fell for it hard. I read it in high school and liked it. I sympathized with Smith. There were some other Christlike heroes I identified with more, but still a good romp. I liked that it took the piss out of the monogamy and Christianity that were making my parents miserable. I read it in college and it disappointed me. The misogyny and homophobia that I didn’t notice as a child just slapped me in the face. I can’t forgive the “grokking a wrongness” in gay men; I can’t forgive Jill’s rape comment.

That said, I still have some affection for it. I haven’t read it for more than 20 years, but still have it in the basement.


William | 8 comments What makes "grokking a wrongness" in gay men even worse Laura is that in I Will Fear No Evil, Time Enough for Love, Number of the Beast, and various other works of his, he not only changes position, but advocates that everyone should do it. One extreme or the other. That is one of the many many things about Stranger on this read that just made it unbearable. The total and complete flip flop.


Laura (ratatosk) | 8 comments I kinda liked Number of the Beast, though I haven't read it in more than 20 years and I suspect it wouldn't age well. I Will Fear No Evil was terrible. At the least, it needed a hard edit. I don't remember Time Enough for Love very well -- was that one of the Lazarus Long books? Those missed me entirely. I didn't get the whole eugenics-to-live-forever thing.


William | 8 comments Number of the Beast does age well. I've read it recently and it does hold up. Yes Time Enough for love is a Lazarus Long. It the second novel featuring him and his family. Number of the Beast ends up with the cast working together with the Long Family. It was more of clone the whole body and transfer consciousness from one to the other type thing that increased their natural longevity.


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