Monday, September 21, 2009

Finally finished Stranger in a Strange Land

Posted by Simcha 5:56 PM, under | 5 comments

I finally finished Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein, and it only took me two weeks, which is about a week and a half longer then it usually takes me to read a book.

Since I am not much of a science fiction reader I didn't start out with high expectations of enjoying the book, but to my surprise I did become rather engrossed by it. At least in the first half of the book. In the second half, the tone and pace suddenly changed and I found myself plodding along, continuously hoping the end was near.

Here's a brief summery of Stranger in a Strange Land:

A delegation to Mars discovers that while the members of the previous expedition had all died, there had been one survivor, the newborn son of two of the crew members. This baby, Valentine Michael Smith, remained on Mars where he was raised by the local Martians, for the past 20 years. Excited by their discovery, the members of the second expedition bundle Smith off onto their ship and bring him back to Earth.

On Earth, Smith is faced with a culture and mind set that he is completely unfamiliar with. While he is human in body, Smith's mindset is utterly alien. And so, with the help of friends, he attempts to learn about humans and their behaviors. At the same time, Smith causes the people around him to reevaluate their own beliefs and standards of behavior. Eventually Smith starts the "Church of All Worlds" where he encourages his followers to shed all of their inhibitions and ingrained conceptions of what's acceptable in order to become happier and healthier human beings, thereby becoming more like the Martians that Smith was raised by.

As I mentioned above, the first half of the book went smoothly enough and I even found myself enjoying it. There was action, suspense, a little romance- everything that I usually enjoy in a book. But in the second part of the book, all of the characters that I had come to like, were suddenly behaving like whacked-out nut jobs on pot. All of Smith's friends and followers were suddenly running around naked, participating in wild orgies, babbling on about how everyone is God and dropping the word "grok" into every sentence at least twice.

As a side note, apparently the word "grok" had become so popular after the publication of Stranger in a Strange Land that it was even included in the Oxford English Dictionary. I warn you though, that one is likely to find themselves unconsciously using this word in casual conversation after reading this book. I'm not sure of it's the catchy sound of the word itself or the fact that it is repeated so frequently that, but if you are not careful you will find your self using it as well. I'm embarrassed to admit that I myself came close to doing it once.

But back to my review. I just found it unbelievable how easily everyone in the book gave in to Smith's beliefs and point of view. A couple of characters showed some slight resistance but they were soon converted, though the reason why is not quite clear. But Heinlein did do a very good job of evaluating accepted social mores by viewing them through the eyes of someone who is completely unfamiliar with them. Smith arrives on Earth with vastly different ideas about everything, from marriage and death to cannibalism. And while I was not quite as taken in by the Martian theology and lifestyle as the characters of the book, I did find the different view points that were presented to be interesting.

While I doubt I will be rereading Stranger in a Strange Land anytime soon, I do at least feel like I have taken a step forward in my goal of familiarizing myself with the scifi genre. And if I ever find myself drowning in a conversation with a group of scifi devotees, at least I have one book I can casually bring up inorder to save face. I bet I even get extra points if I throw in a "grok."


Your review made me laugh out loud. This one is definitely not going to make it onto my TBR list but your review was highly entertaining. Thanks

I'm glad you enjoyed the review, though I'm sure it says something about me that I can't properly appreciate a classic :)

I gave up about halfway through when I tried to read this book.

Have you tried to read any of Anne McCaffrey's books? She's got so many good ones (The Pern series - start with Dragonflight, or The Crystal Singer series, or The Ship Who Sang, or if you like ESP type books then The Rowan).

You might also try Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card which I just read this year and it's on my all time favorites now (the sequel is ok, but the rest of the series I'd pass on).

Oh, and have you read any books by Sheri S. Tepper? She writes a kind of feminist sci-fi/fantasy. My favorite book of hers is The Gate to Women's Country, but Beauty is a close second.

Sorry to go on and on, but there really are some fabulous sci-fi books out there and I'd hate for this one to turn you away from them.

You wrote a great review, by the way!

Alyce, I read the first Pern book many years ago but I didn't really get into it. I also read Ender's Game and enjoyed it somewhat but the science and technological aspects of SF always get in the way of my really enjoying a scifi book. When I read Doomsday I kept thinking 'this book would be really good if she (Connie Willis) just left out all the technological stuff,' though I guess then I would just be left with a fantasy book.
I've never read Sheri S. Tepper. Perhaps I'll try her next, though I'm leaning towards an Arthur Clarke book so that I could feel like a really hardcore scifi reader :)

I definitely think you'd like Sheri S. Tepper then, because she doesn't really get to much into the technical sci-fi stuff. I was excited to get my first Arthur C. Clarke book in the mail today - Rendezvous With Rama. Who knows when I'll have time to read it though.

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