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Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A.…
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Stranger in a Strange Land (original 1991; edition 1991)

by Robert A. Heinlein (Author)

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The epic saga of an earthling, born and educated on Mars, who arrives on our planet with superhuman powers and a total ignorance of the mores of man.
Member:Grobiewan
Title:Stranger in a Strange Land
Authors:Robert A. Heinlein (Author)
Info:Ace (1991), 528 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:to-read

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Stranger in a Strange Land (Uncut Edition) by Robert A. Heinlein (1991)

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Showing 1-5 of 138 (next | show all)
Oh dear! A classic that is starting to show its age...I have heard about this book since I was a kid. (SF Classic.. blah, blah, 60's counter culture classic along with Lord of the Rings, blah, blah...) The book has sections with great writing BUT.... in the year 2012 it reads like a BAD SF pulp novel. The human male characters have a '50's feel in their dialogue, their actions, etc. Ditto with the women. Valentine Michael Smith, the man from Mars, is fleshed out, probably one of Heinlein's more interesting characters. But the machine gun dialogue, the 1950's Playboy-Women-as-Sex-Objects, and the odd mish-mash thinking about Religion turns this one time classic into a sleeping pill. ( )
  Steve_Walker | Sep 13, 2020 |
It's a worthwhile exercise to reread a book that you first read 40 years ago--if you can stand to. I'm still interested in Heinlein, whose massive (if disturbingly flawed) biography prompted me to revisit his most famous novel. I've long been curious about the "original uncut version" released in 1991; the bio explained that Heinlein spent months laboriously cutting the book to meet the publisher's arbitrary word limit. I'm happy to report that the uncut version is so much better than the original edition that I'm surprised the cut version is still in print. To meet the tight word count, Heinlein didn't just remove soliloquies and non-essentials; he eliminated scenes and shortened others that, as first written, had been more of a pleasure to read. The book made enough of an impression on me as a teenager that I was able to identify differences even after all these years.

Of course, the idiosyncrasies and anachronisms that mark all of Heinlein's writing have only become more noticeable over the years. Heinlein was famously good at anticipating future technologies (with the notable exception of microchips), but he was hopeless at predicting changes to society and mores--in fact, he didn't even try. His future society (undated, but judging from references to the timeframes of certain characters' childhoods, is meant to be somewhere in the 1990s) is much like that of the pre-beatnik '50s, complete with grotesquely cheesy advertising, traveling carnivals, and Puritan hypocrisies. Women who are married work at being wives. Unmarried women work as secretaries, nurses, or performers, and are the continual target of what comes off now as offensively sexualized condescension, although it was then considered benign, and none of the female characters are in the least offended by it. (There's a case to be made that Heinlein's view of the sexes had its origin not in the '50s, but in the '20s, when he came of age. I should add that if you're likely to be offended by what your great-grandfather might have said—about rape, for example—you'll be grossly offended here.) It's that 1950s world of the future, not the futuristic overlays of flying cars and world government that it's combined with, that now seems the most mind-bendingly unbelievable.

But if you can get past the fifties-with-jetpacks setting, it's a remarkably engrossing novel: the closest that Heinlein, a proud commercial artist, ever came to creating literature. The characters have more complexity than in most of his other books, and their personal and situational dilemmas are convincing. The central idea--the "what if?" that must lie at the heart of every successful science fiction story--can be put this way: What if all human beings are capable of seemingly superhuman, even supernatural powers, and need only the insight that comes from learning a foreign language--Martian--to unlock them? What if the learning of this language also means that one necessarily becomes free of neuroses, jealousy, and all urge to harm? A human baby, the newborn survivor of an Earth expedition, is raised by Martians and brought back to Earth at the age of 25. At first a helpless political pawn, he comes to maturity at the same time that he learns the customs of his biological people, and devotes his life to sharing what he alone, of all the humans on Earth, understands about human potential.

Before the plot comes to its only plausible conclusion, we've been drawn into what is possibly the most warmly pleasant Utopian community in fiction.

This is an adventure story and a philosophical provocation in one. Although in parts it's so retrograde as to challenge your suspension of disbelief, it's astoundingly beyond the bounds of the conventional thought of its pre-Mad Man era, whose tiny black-and-white televisions broadcasted shows presented by chain-smoking, narrow-tied pitchmen. And if ultimately, its implied prescription for the human condition doesn't match what we've since learned about the variety of human experience, the book will still entertain you and make you think twice about what you know. ( )
1 vote john.cooper | Sep 3, 2020 |
Enjoyed it more the first time, back in the '70's. This time seemed long on dialogue and short on plot. To make the metaphysics more interesting I would need some explanation of how it might be possible. Telekinesis and mind reading, for instance. Heinlein had more of an argument with religion than I needed to hear, hoped he worked it out. I would have a preferred an more natural approach than myth and miracle.

My interest in re-reading it was to revisit Jabal. Who doesn't want to be a curmudgeonly recluse with a staff, many of them beautiful, a private compound to house everybody, and to contemplate the cosmos? ( )
  Mark-Bailey | Aug 7, 2020 |
Oh, Stranger in a Strange Land. How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways.

Three! There are three ways. Ah ha ha ha haaa.

Two of these are about sex. So let's talk about sex, bay-bee. Heinlein wrote Stranger over the course of about a decade back in the 1950s and early 1960s. He dawdled because he didn't believe that the world was ready for such an orgy-fest of a novel, but with the advent of the salacious sixties he decided the time was right and published. Sounds pretty forward thinking, right? Alas not. Certainly not the aspects that fall under the remit of science fiction. The story seems to be set around the beginning of the twenty-first century, but the technology on show is obviously born of a clunky 1950s imagination. We have the usual flying cars and a permanent base on Mars, but little else seems to have advanced. And, despite the book's “controversial” reputation for its sexuality, that aspect is terribly steeped in 1950s American notions too. The shockingly futuristic group that the second half of the story turns around embrace nudity, open marriages, and getting jiggy in front of one another. Hurrah for them. So what are my two gripes with this side of the story? Well for all their happiness with sharing everything, Heinlein still refers to homosexuality as a “wrongness”. It's fine for one man to telepathically enter another man's head while the latter chap is “growing closer” to a lady so both men can enjoy it, but it's a big no-no for one man to enter another man in any other part of his body. The other problem I had actually made me angry enough to throw down the book and lament to my flatmate: “God! This book is horrible.” That came with the infamous moment when Heinlein has his female protagonist casually suggest that nine times out of ten, rape is the woman's fault. There's also plenty of casual sexism strewn through the text, and the attempts to paint it as otherwise are fairly transparent. A typical exchange goes thus.
“Run off to the kitchen now, sweetheart, the men are talking,” said the man with a cheeky smile.
“Oh you,” said the woman rolling her eyes. Then she ran off to the kitchen, because the men were talking.

The third problem to cause me anguish deals with the other major theme: religion. The book has been labelled blasphemous by some over zealous types. The basic tack taken by the novel is the same as that in E.M. Forster's short story Mr Andrews, that being: what if all religions are basically correct, but that human contact and closeness on Earth is the true source of happiness. Indeed, the glimpses of Heaven that Heinlein gives us portray it as a petty bureaucracy making the Universe tick, where everyone seems to have been cowed out of their Earthly faults by time rather than goodness. There's a caveat though, and therein lies my dispute. Heinlein seems to suggest that most religions are essentially true and harmless, if wrong in many ways, and by “most religions” I mean the Western Abrahamic ones. Eastern religions, particularly Hinduism, are roundly disparaged throughout. Which is odd. The church that the main characters form talks of God and is set up in a kind of hierarchical circle system like a fictional Christian church elsewhere in the story, and given the protagonist's implied true identity and messianic qualities there's little avoiding the conclusion that the Judeo-Christian-Islamic camp is considered the “right” one. But what are the values espoused by this church? Pantheism and reincarnation? I'm fairly certain they're Eastern religious values. And on one page the Hindu sacred texts are reviled for their depravity, on the next two characters say “Let's role play Shiva and Kali and see how many pages of the kama sutra we can get through!” Egads, it's appalling stuff.

While the above issues tainted my enjoyment they were all either brief half-sentences or else notions too large and book-encompassing to really get to me for too long. Ignoring Heinlein's hopeless attempts at progressivism, the actual story is okay, if nothing special. The first half is a kind of dry legal story about a man born a literal world away who happens to have inherited both political and financial power, and lots of it. The attempts to teach this naïf about the world and people around him and to defuse the problems inherent in his inheritance take up a great deal of the book. Then they're dealt with awfully fast and the story marches on to the second half, wherein the man from Mars finally completes his education and understands humanity, before trying to teach the world how to be better.

For such a long book it's a bit short of substance. The vast majority of it is one character, Jubal Harshaw, delivering chapter-long soliloquies on the law or philosophy or religion. I was reminded of Ian Malcolm's morphine-monologues on evolution and extinction in [b:The Lost World|8650|The Lost World (Jurassic Park, #2)|Michael Crichton|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1386864575s/8650.jpg|1212784]. Except Malcolm's ramblings had a reason—he was having painful surgery under various drugs and being made to talk to take his mind off it. Heinlein seems to have written Harshaw's long speeches and then fleshed out the chapter with incidental dialogue from other characters, prompting the speech here and there. Moreover Malcolm's lectures were interesting, Harshaw's less so; but then I'm more interested in evolutionary theory than legal theory, so that's probably to be expected.

The protagonist's growth as a human being is all a bit artificial too. He ambles around for a hundred or so pages, not understanding anything (or not “grokking” anything, as the novel pointlessly writes each time) and then—Bam!—he suddenly gets it, gains a level, and repeats. The first time this happens it's losing his virginity that triggers it, the second time it's seeing chimpanzees hitting each other in a zoo. It's awkward at best and, if this were just a story about a man from Mars learning to be a man on Earth, then it would fall flat on its face. For all these myriad faults, though, Stranger in a Strange Land somehow manages to claw its way into mediocrity. Quite why it's considered a classic of science fiction utterly baffles me, but maybe if I understood that I would understand humanity in its totality, and that would be a very dull day indeed. ( )
  imlee | Jul 7, 2020 |
This one transformed and cemented me as a young adult, totally screwing me up and enlightening me at the same time, showing me that living in a crazy christian culture doesn't mean I have to stay there, or that great imagery can be used soooooo damn subversively. :)

And above or below that, it was a fantastic tale of striving for wisdom, learning that semantics MEANS something, and that I can be blown away by the fact that so much philosophy and striving and understanding, (read Grok,) could be thrown into one single novel and still be a wild tale.

So why all the hate, Ya'll? Oh good ole' Jubal is a stand-in for Heinlein's soapbox tendencies, sure, but he's also a wild character in the sense that he is what he is. He loves women, but says awful things, but on the other hand, these women respect him enough to throw him in the pool and blow raspberries at him, too. As we all should, today, to all men who act as a Mad Man from 1962, all heavy-drinking, heavy-opinions, and "apparently" sexist. But no one really believes that about him when they get to know him. He's a good man and a loudmouth author and all his other progressive ideas like equality between the sexes are SHOWN to us, repeatedly and repeatedly, by actions and deeds and a closer look at all the philosophies. It's the difference between expression and reality. He expresses as the time allows, but in reality he supports everyone. That's Jubal for you.

But he's not even the main character, just the most loud one.

Mike is. He's an alien, yo, born of man but raised by Martians with heavy-ass psychic powers, yo. And he's innocent of mankind, too.

This is his story. Who tries to capitalize on the man who owns Mars, who protects him, how he learns to adapt and later to understand us crazy humans, and what he does with his gifts.

The novel could be an indictment of modern times, a brew-on of absurdity when it comes to religion and religious thinking, a wildly prescient vision of the sexual liberation movement just a few years down the road, (or perhaps the seminal novel that informed the sixties love movements,) or it could be a wonderful shout-out to us all to start trying to UNDERSTAND one another, for grok's sake.

So I think it's wonderfully delicious. You know. To say that Heinlein is a sexist reactionary? When he, like, is the spirit of the sixties? Huh, water-brother? You Grok?

This is easily one of my favorite, if not my most favorite Heinlein, not just because it got into my soul when I was a kid, but because it's just one of those works that lives and breathes and still brings a big smile to my face. :) Oh, and it's one of my top 100 works of all time and it won the Hugo of '62, not that anyone really cares, because it just SPEAKS to so many people. :)

That's controversy for you. :) ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert A. Heinleinprimary authorall editionscalculated
Heinlein, VirginiaPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hundertmarck, RosemarieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schumacher, RainerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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FOR
ROBERT CORNOG
FREDRIC BROWN
PHILLIP JOSE FARMER
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Once upon a time when the world was young there was a Martian named Smith.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Please distinguish this "original, uncut" version of Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (1991) from its edited first publication (1961). This would be ISBN #s 0-399-13586-3, 0-450-54267-X and 0-441-78838-6 and Science Fiction Book Club editions of 1991 (#17697 and a leather bound edition). There is a 60,000 word difference between the two. Thank you.
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The epic saga of an earthling, born and educated on Mars, who arrives on our planet with superhuman powers and a total ignorance of the mores of man.

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Raised by Martians on Mars, Valentine Michael Smith is a human who has never seen another member of his species. Sent to Earth, he is a stranger who must learn what it is to be a man. But his own beliefs and his powers far exceed the limits of humankind, and as he teaches them about grokking and water-sharing, he also inspires a transformation that will alter Earth’s inhabitants forever...
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