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Stranger in a Strange Land (original 1991; edition 1991)

by Robert A. Heinlein

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6,694108559 (3.82)183
Member:herzogbr
Title:Stranger in a Strange Land
Authors:Robert A. Heinlein
Info:Ace Trade (1991), Paperback
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Stranger in a Strange Land (uncut edition) by Robert A. Heinlein (1991)

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    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert M. Pirsig (emf1123)
    emf1123: If you're in your late teens, reading both of these books back to back (stranger in a strange land, zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance) is a good quality mindfuck. I doubt that either have the same influence as one ages, though.
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» See also 183 mentions

English (108)  Bulgarian (1)  All languages (109)
Showing 1-5 of 108 (next | show all)
I expected sci-fi with social commentary. Instead I've got religion packed porn script. Yeah, there was social commentary, but it wasn't about people from the future. No, Heinlein was describing his highly conservative society. And, c'mon, inhabitable Mars? I can't buy it unless it's far in the future or far back in the past.

OK, maybe I'm exaggerating. I have no problem with sexual scenes or religion. But it was unexpected. And I cannot stop giggling that "The Man from Mars. Let's grow closer" is a perfect title for some very adult movie. ( )
  aviskase | Apr 20, 2016 |
An enjoyable classic. ( )
  ndpmcIntosh | Mar 21, 2016 |
An interesting read with ideologies reminiscent of the Free Love movement, and expressing some now antiquated views. The viewpoints and world were fascinating, though the style and plot were bland for my tastes. ( )
  LaPhenix | Mar 9, 2016 |
Valentine Michael Smith is the son of two of the eight astronauts of an ill-fated first human expedition to the planet Mars. Orphaned when the crew died (the full story of how this happened is not portrayed, but his parents were unambiguously murdered by his mother's husband, who later committed suicide), Smith is raised in the culture of the native inhabitants of the planet, beings whose minds live in another world (compare Waldo). The story portrays Valentine Michael Smith's adaptation to, and understanding of, humans and their culture, which is portrayed as an amplified version of consumerist and media-driven 20th-century America.

After the arrival of a second expedition to the planet some twenty years later in the naval ship Champion, Smith is taken "home" to Earth, where he is consigned to (some futuristic evolution of) the Bethesda Naval Hospital by the orders of the Champion's ship physician Sven Nelson. However, he is effectively imprisoned in a hospital by the current world government, a successor to the United Nations styled the "Federation of Free States," which wishes Smith to transfer to itself any rights by discovery, under Human law, that he may have to ownership of Mars. Smith is also something of a political pawn in factional struggles within the Federation, and to make matters worse he is heir to the fortunes of the entire exploration party, not just his parents, including several valuable inventions which were not developed commercially until after their deaths. In short, he is a man besieged on all sides by those who wish to use him to further their own ends.

Nurse Gillian Boardman, who regards men as secondary to her work, works at Bethesda. Since Smith is physically weak and oppressed by the comparatively heavy atmosphere and gravity of Earth, he is confined to a "hydraulic bed"[5], and further, since Smith has not yet ever seen a female human (all the crew members of the Champion were male), Nelson has ordered that Smith be attended by male staff only, including nurses. Regarding this as a challenge, Gillian slips past the guards to get a peek at Smith, and in doing so inadvertently becomes his first female "water brother" by sharing a glass of water with him. To him this is a holy relationship based on the customs of arid Mars. Later on when a doctor meets him and attempts to converse, strange effects of custom and mistranslation ensue, including apparently catalepsy. Obviously Smith is not ready for mainstream attention quite yet.

After her watch, Gillian prepares for a date with one of her lovers, investigative journalist Ben Caxton. He sends a robocab to take her to another place, where they catch a second cab and eventually go to his place. Ben informs her that the cloak-and-dagger act is necessary because being associated with him is dangerous.

However, Jill tells Ben about her strange and wonderful experience, and Ben explains to her some of the bizarre interplanetary politics swirling around Smith, and finally she agrees to place a bug to monitor Smith. Later, when she and Ben watch a "stereovision" telecast of the "Man from Mars", she knows instantly that he is a fraud (since the real Smith doesn't really understand English or even more basic human customs). Ben sees the substitution as political and not scientific: he wonders if the real Smith will ever be allowed out into the world. Ben attempts to see and unmask the phony Smith, but disappears. Meanwhile, Gillian tries to persuade Smith to leave the hospital with her. He is willing to go anywhere with a water brother, but they only get as far as Ben's apartment before agents attempt to kidnap them. Smith causes the agents to disappear, and he is so shocked by Gillian's terrified reaction that he enters what seems to be a catatonic state. She has to carry him away in a large suitcase with wheels.

They reach the enclave owned by Ben's friend and fellow gadfly, Jubal Harshaw, an eccentric millionaire writer of fiction, TV scripts, and other kinds of mass-market pablum, who also happens to be a qualified medical doctor, a lawyer, and an advisor to certain public figures. Harshaw's five employees include three beautiful women who act as secretaries, walking dictation machines and cooks, as well as restraints on his excesses, along with technical helpers Duke and Larry. With Gillian, they teach Smith human customs and behavior, including sexual behavior.

Smith demonstrates psychic abilities and superhuman intelligence, which are coupled with a childlike naïveté. When Jubal is trying to explain religion to him, Smith understands the concept of God only as "one who groks", which includes every living person, plant, and animal. This leads him to express the Martian concept of the oneness of Life as the phrase "Thou art God". Due to his education on a different planet, many human concepts—such as war, clothing, and jealousy—are strange to him, while the idea of an afterlife is something he takes as a given because the government on Mars is composed of "Old Ones", the spirits of Martians who have died. It is also customary for loved ones and friends to eat the bodies of the dead, in a spirit of Holy Communion.

Harshaw realizes he cannot keep the young man concealed forever, and after an attempt by Federation police to arrest Gillian and reclaim Smith is frustrated by the young man's Martian-taught abilities, Harshaw brokers a deal under which the Secretary-General, in his individual capacity, will act as trustee for Smith's immense wealth. Harshaw is able to make his implication stick that human law, which would have granted ownership of Mars to Smith, has no applicability to a planet already inhabited by intelligent aliens who do not have the concept of ownership.

Writing in the early 1960s, Heinlein accurately predicted the existence of enormous Evangelical/Fundamentalist megachurches as corporate entities controlling their own television networks and other businesses, similar to the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, and other historical entities. The Fosterites train squadrons of teenagers and young adults, the Spirit-in-Action League, to physically attack other religions, newspapers, etc., who fail to respect their version of the truth. Ironically, the Fosterites, along with all other religions, turn out to be true agents of divine forces. During his stay with Harshaw, Smith is taken to a Fosterite service and introduced to Bishop Digby, whom Smith apparently kills for reasons never fully explained (although it is known that Digby rejected Smith's assertion that "Thou art God"). Subsequent to this incident, Smith realizes that he himself is responsible for his own choices, and begins to behave in a more Earthly "humanistic" manner.

Once accustomed to the human race, Smith moves out with Gillian and joins a traveling circus as a magician. Although his "magic" is real—levitation and teleportation—he is a failure as an entertainer, because of his inability to understand people's need to be deceived. He eventually learns to understand humanity ("Jill, I grok people!") when he comprehends how painful and unjust life is by watching monkeys mistreat each other in a zoo. He also realizes that most humor is based on laughing at distress or indignities suffered by others.

Smith realizes there's no need for so much misery, and asks Jill what he needs to do to be ordained. He then starts a Martian-influenced "Church of All Worlds," which teaches its members how to rise above suffering, such as "pain and sickness and hunger and fighting." However, parts of the religion, such as group sex, communal living, and ritual cannibalism, make Smith's church a target for enemies following more conventional religions.

Smith's church combines elements of the Fosterite service with the ambience of mystery religions and initiation, similar to the Ordo Templi Orientis. Members learn the Martian language, and consequently acquire psychic abilities like Smith's: they become virtually superhuman. The church is eventually besieged by Fosterites for practicing "blasphemy," and the physical building is destroyed. However, at the moment of destruction, Smith teleports the members of the Church and all important materials to a resort hotel he owns in the same city. As this hotel was previously bought through a series of dummy corporations, there is no direct association with Smith for the Fosterite goon squads to immediately follow.

In a last conversation with Harshaw, Smith fears that people will not accept a nonviolent path because humanity must have violence for "weeding out" the unfit; Harshaw tells him that if he has faith in the movement he has started and their ability to show people what is possible through self-discipline, then in all likelihood Smith's following will eventually dominate the world religiously and politically (it appears that they are already well on their way to doing so). A mob gathers while they talk; Smith goes out to address them and is brutally killed, his final words spoken to a grasshopper: "I love you" and "Thou art God". It is obvious that he is letting himself be sacrificed. Harshaw is shocked at how blasé the others are at Mike's death and attempts suicide by swallowing three unidentified pills; Mike returns as a voice in Jubal's head and both helps Harshaw vomit the pills and causes him to realize that Mike's sacrifice was only of the body, not of the soul. Smith is explicitly portrayed as a modern Prometheus, and implicitly as a messianic figure; in the ending of the book, one interpretation is that he is in reality the archangel Michael, who has assumed human form. The book ends with Mike promoted to another plane of existence, similar to Heaven, but a place where work is to be done. The original Rev. Foster appoints Rev. Digby as Mike's assistant.

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
Describes a world where everyone could be happy. A sci-fi book that transcends the genre, it also highlights how we tend to isolate ourselves from others. The message of "sexual freedom" influenced the emerging culture of the 60s. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert A. Heinleinprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Heinlein, VirginiaPrefacesecondary 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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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0441788386, Paperback)

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 mention de facto owner 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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:20 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

A young man from Mars comes to Earth & must learn our strange ways. Annotation. One of the greatest science fiction novels ever published, Stranger in a Strange Land's original manuscript had 50,000 words cut. Now they have been reinstated for this special 30th anniversary trade edition. A Mars-born earthling arrives on this planet for the first time as an adult, and the sensation he creates teaches Earth some unforgettable lessons. "A brilliant mind-bender".--Kurt Vonnegut… (more)

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