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Stranger in a Strange Land

A book by Robert A. Heinlein

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A cult sci-fi classic now out of time and out of place!

  • Jan 9, 2010
  • by
Valentine Michael Smith is genetically a human. But he was born on Mars and he is now the only survivor of the first manned mission to Mars. When the second mission to Mars rescues him and brings him back to earth, they discover that is 100% Martian by culture, language, upbringing, education and understanding. They even discover that he has some exceptionally potent psychic abilities that, by human experience, are all but supernatural. Never having heard any human language and never having met a woman, he is a true "tabula rasa" when it comes to sex and sexuality, war and fighting, business, money and economics, religion and, indeed, all aspects of human culture and the cultural implications that are inherent in any of earth's many languages.

As if it wasn't enough that his arrival on earth caused a global sensation, the US government was aghast to come to the realization that a piece of earth-side legislation known as the Larkin Decision had the unforeseen implication that Valentine Michael Smith was not only the owner of Mars but also its sovereign. He was also the sole inheritor of the combined wealth of the entire crew of the first mission and, as a result, (despite having no knowledge of what money even meant) was now wealthy beyond imagining.

Events which transpired at Bethesda Naval Station, where Smith was housed after he first arrived on earth, conspired to place him under the watchful eyes of Gillian Boardman, a nurse at the hospital, Ben Caxton, a journalist, and Jubal Harshaw, an aging grumpy author with some definite ideas as to the rights and wrongs of the world. The novel, as you might imagine with this introduction, relates Michael Valentine Smith's journey through earth's culture, his reactions, his assimilation of the ideas and language of the earth and, ultimately, his proactive responses to what he has learned.

In the time of Timothy Leary, Haight-Ashbury, hippie culture, free love, flower children, "drop in, tune out", student protests against the Vietnam War, communal living and so on, it is little wonder that Stranger in a Strange Land, winner of the 1962 Hugo Award, became a much-loved cult classic. But, sadly, reading it almost 40 years later is to discover that Jubal Harshaw, one of the primary characters, is simply Heinlein's mouthpiece standing on a soapbox loudly spouting endless (and frankly outdated, dreary and boring) diatribes and opinions on organized religion, cults and churches (which, in Heinlein's mind, appear to be virtually indistinguishable one from the other), culture, language, imperialism, and, of course, sex and sexuality.

Certainly, Stranger in a Strange Land can be read with some interest because of its historical relevance to the period but it hasn't aged well at all. Modern readers born after the 60s will almost certainly find it both bizarre and quite tiresome. Even as a Heinlein fan who first read (and enjoyed) it shortly after its initial publication (and like other young people of the day was wont to ask my friends if they "grokked" the story), I found it a great disappointment today.

Recommended only out of academic interest. I found it a tough slog to even finish it today.

Paul Weiss

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More Stranger in a Strange Land reviews
review by . July 31, 2011
posted in Ubergizmo
In the 60s everyone wanted to
  In retrospect, Robert A. Heinlein's STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND seems quaintly sub-adult in its message, not much of a story, a very average "didactic" novel. In its decade, be it admitted, the turbulent 1960s and early 1970s, STRANGER was on everyone's lips. Even today, in 2011, it is selling more strongly than probably 90% of the books still in print. What was its astonishing appeal 30 and 40 years ago? What gives it staying power, even if fading?   From what I …
Quick Tip by . February 23, 2011
posted in SF Signal
   I've only read this book oh, about 30 times - but I've been slacking of late;  I don't think I've re-read in the past five years or so.      For someone not familiar with Heinlein or his works, this novel is one of the must-reads for any SF fan who wants to seriously acquire the label.  It's considered to be a major contributor to 60's counter-culture and provides some interesting insights into our own society
review by . September 18, 2010
This was the first book by Robert Heinlein that I read and from reading the first paragraph I was sucked into the genius that is this author.      Heinlein's books are thought provoking, enigmatic and sometimes a bit wacky. They make you think then turn everything upside down and shake it around. Stranger in a Strange Land was a roller coaster of new discoveries and to this day remains one of my favorite books of all time.      Heinlein's writing …
Quick Tip by . November 06, 2010
Not for me. I had a hard time connecting with it. What did you like about it?
Quick Tip by . October 08, 2010
I told my children that they were not fully my children until they read this. They are all grateful.
Quick Tip by . October 05, 2010
What can I say? This is one of the all-time classics of all time, with pointed commentary on politics, society, religion and human sexuality.
Quick Tip by . September 29, 2010
This one was oddly addictive, embarrassingly unputdownable.
Quick Tip by . June 11, 2010
Worth reading every year or so, not just for the import of Heinlein's message, but also for the absolute FUN and joy of reading it. Never gets old. A must for any Heinlein reader - or sci-fi anti-establishment reader. ENJOY!
Quick Tip by . July 05, 2010
very interesting notion of a human minority raised by aliens and trying to adapt
Quick Tip by . July 04, 2010
Every person searching for himself would get a lot of help from this book. Imagine being a human on Mars, raised by Martians, then returning to Earth to see our culture (of the not-to-distant future). You'll get a completely new take on what it means to be human -- or, more accurately, "Thou art God." Read it to understand. Wonderful!
About the reviewer
Paul Weiss ()
   A modern day dilettante with widely varied eclectic interests. A dabbler in muchbut grandmaster of none - wilderness camping in all four seasons, hiking, canoeing, world travel,philately, … more
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Stranger in a Strange Land, winner of the 1962 Hugo Award, is the story of Valentine Michael Smith, born during, and the only survivor of, the first manned mission to Mars. Michael is raised by Martians, and he arrives on Earth as a true innocent: he has never seen a woman and has no knowledge of Earth's cultures or religions. But he brings turmoil with him, as he is the legal heir to an enormous financial empire, not to mentionde factoowner of the planet Mars. With the irascible popular author Jubal Harshaw to protect him, Michael explores human morality and the meanings of love. He founds his own church, preaching free love and disseminating the psychic talents taught him by the Martians. Ultimately, he confronts the fate reserved for all messiahs.

The impact of Stranger in a Strange Land was considerable, leading many children of the 60's to set up households based on Michael's water-brother nests. Heinlein loved to pontificate through the mouths of his characters, so modern readers must be willing to overlook the occasional sour note ("Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it's partly her fault."). That aside, Stranger in a Strange Land is one of the master's best entertainments, provocative as he always loved to be. Can you grok it? --Brooks Peck --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.

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ISBN-10: 0441788386
ISBN-13: 978-0441788385
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Publisher: Ace Trade
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