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Thread: Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW kaylim's Avatar
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    Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

    I just finished reading this book and all I have to say is ... how mediocre. (spoiler alert; btw)

    Maybe it is a generational thing. I know this book came out in the early 1960s and was something of a publishing sensation at the time. But coming from a 26 year old, I just thought the plot was sloppy and sacrificed a creative story for preachy philosophy.

    I actually thought the beginning of the book was pretty good and interesting. It set up the man from mars as someone in need of protection from the government, who was trying to get his fortune, and involved the characters taking risks to keep him safe while he learned about the world around him. There was also things about the "future world" that were kind of interesting at first, especially the world government.

    But after that, the book stopped making sense for me. There didn't seem to be anything at stake. The characters just kind of joined the man from mars' cult of polygamy and sex without much of a fight which baffled me. Then, towards the very end, the book started to get interesting again with people coming after his cult; but its too late cause the books over.

    Maybe I just didn't "grok" the goodness of the book? Anyone else read this?

  2. #2
    Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred Chris P's Avatar
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    I read it back in high school and came to about the same conclusion you did. I read it about 30 years ago so it's not generational. I too saw through Heinlein's poorly disguised pontificating through the mouth of Mike. Nobody has ever actually grown up on Mars, so Mike's perspective is still earthly.

    However, I too thought it had a great start. Also, the fact that I only read it once 30 years ago and can still remember enough to talk about it without resorting to Wikipedia says tons about the staying power and memorability, even with its faults.
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  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW kaylim's Avatar
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    I noticed online that a lot of people commented about misogyny in the book, especially Jill's line about 9 out 10 times rape is partly the fault of the woman but that didn't bother me that much (although it did cause me to raise my eyebrows) because there are tons of books, especially old ones, that have a crummy view of women in general. But yeah, its interesting that you came to the same conclusion. I saw reviews saying that this was the best science fiction novel ever written, and I just can't believe that to be true.

  4. #4
    Herder of Hamsters AW Admin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kaylim View Post
    I saw reviews saying that this was the best science fiction novel ever written, and I just can't believe that to be true.
    It was certainly influential, but no, it's not the best SF of all time (which, frankly, is pretty stupid categorization since we haven't yet stopped writing SF). It's not even the best Heinlein.

    Heinlein was very much a product of his era (remember that he was born in 1907). He was not a feminist. If I had to pick my favorite Heinlein, I'd pick The Moon is A Harsh Mistress. It suffers from some of the same problems, but I think it is overall a better novel.

  5. #5
    Touch and go robeiae's Avatar
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    I prefer Friday, myself. Mostly because I think it has a good number of very perceptive observations. Also The Number of the Beast. Though it is true that sexism is rampant in these, as well, especially the latter.

    As to Stranger in a Strange Land, it was very influential when it came out, to people who were growing up in the late fifties and sixties. It's not so relevant anymore; the story can't and doesn't have the same impact on current readers, I think.
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  6. #6
    blue eyed floozy shakeysix's Avatar
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    I started Heinlein early--I think "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathon Hoag" was the first. I was an advanced reader early in the game but I was young for that one. I remember that I did like it but getting through it was not easy. Glory Road and Star Beast were some of the first. I liked them and the Moon is a Harsh Mistress, too. I think about 7th grade I read Methuselah's Children. By that time I was beginning to catch on to authors instead of books. Andre Norton had been my favorite but Bradbury took her place, I want to guess about 8th grade. Let's just say that a Bradbury paperback cost .39 cents when I started reading him.

    Podkayne was my favorite Heinlein character. I liked Clark too, but Uncle Tom was getting a little creepy. I read Stranger at 14 or 15. I thought it was great but Jubal was getting a little creepy. By Farnham's Freehold I had enough preaching and turned back to Bradbury. It seemed to me that Bradbury stood up better with less bluster. By 12th grade I was out of Science Fiction and into Somerset Maugham. Now I read only non-fiction but still have a soft spot for Andre Norton. Not so Heinlein, when I outgrew him I never wanted to go back. . --s6

  7. #7
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    It might be a Heinlein thing. I tried to read Starship Troopers and could not quite finish it. He had this habit of stopping the story so he could discuss 'history and moral philosophy' every time he did i lost a little more interest in the story until it finally gave out, like 9/10's of the way through it. So it might just be his way...

    On the other hand I read Starbeast and Red Planet and i loved both of those! then again they were meant for a younger audience so try those and see what you think.
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  8. #8
    practical experience, FTW talktidy's Avatar
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    No way is Stranger the greatest SF novel ever written. I tend to think reviews like that come from those who have not read widely.

    I always had a soft spot for Space Cadet and Space Family Stone, if I remember that latter title correctly.

  9. #9
    Ferret Herder JulianneQJohnson's Avatar
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    I do not think Stranger is the greatest SF novel, I don't even think it's the greatest Heinlein novel. There are quite a few Heinleins that I love. Yes, he was a product of the culture of his time, and women didn't have much in the way of rights at that time. For the most part, I'm able to forgive that for a writer of that era, while I wouldn't for someone writing today.

    I never understood why Stranger was singled out. I prefer The Starbeast, Friday, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, I Shall Fear No Evil, and Job. I also enjoy many of his later books, though they do get rather infested with incest. I adore Time Enough for Love. I suppose I always viewed them differently than some do. I see those books as being written about a futuristic culture that has different morals than I, rather than an advertisement for incest.

  10. #10
    practical experience, FTW autumnleaf's Avatar
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    I've just finished reading this, and I do think it is very much a product of its time. I found Jubal the most interesting character, but I was waiting for his pontificating to blow up in his face, which it never did.

    The polyamorous "Nest" was an interesting concept but Heinlein never really explored the full implications because he tilted the rules too much in its favor: they had no money worries, jealousy didn't exist, birth control was 100% effective, there were no power plays, all the middle-aged people grew younger, and even the snakes were miraculously calmed by Mike's wonderfulness.
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  11. #11
    Get it off! It burns! Dennis E. Taylor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JulianneQJohnson View Post
    I do not think Stranger is the greatest SF novel, I don't even think it's the greatest Heinlein novel. There are quite a few Heinleins that I love. Yes, he was a product of the culture of his time, and women didn't have much in the way of rights at that time. For the most part, I'm able to forgive that for a writer of that era, while I wouldn't for someone writing today.

    I never understood why Stranger was singled out. I prefer The Starbeast, Friday, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, I Shall Fear No Evil, and Job. I also enjoy many of his later books, though they do get rather infested with incest. I adore Time Enough for Love. I suppose I always viewed them differently than some do. I see those books as being written about a futuristic culture that has different morals than I, rather than an advertisement for incest.
    I've always thought of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress as his best novel. SIASL seemed like obvious fantasy to me. As others have pointed out, everything went too well for the good guys, and everyone was just too damned noble.
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  12. #12
    I aim to misbehave Myrealana's Avatar
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    Reading Heinlein was one of the great pleasures of my youth (1980s).

    I read everything available. My parents tried to censor my reading at first, restricting me to his juvenile series, and the short stories, but pretty quickly, I was reading Stranger, I Will Fear No Evil, Friday, and the others. I think I first read Stranger at about age 13-14. I could barely put it down through the first half, but the second half was not as engaging.

    I have to say, I loved almost off of them until I got to "Job: A Comedy of Justice." That one just completely lost me. "Glory Road" was also a bit out there for me. I hated "Starship Troopers." When I first heard they were making a movie out of it, I had no interest. The actual movie didn't change that attitude at all.

    But overall, I still hold up "Stranger in a Strange Land" as one of the greats of classic SciFi, issues and all. In fact, even its issues with women and religion and society are part of what makes it worth reading with new eyes, IMO.
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  13. #13
    practical experience, FTW Cobalt Jade's Avatar
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    The only Heinlein I ever read was Friday, and I hated it. The kick-ass heroine finally gives up her career and becomes a PTA mom? No way.

  14. #14
    Just Another Lazy Perfectionist Brightdreamer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Myrealana View Post
    I hated "Starship Troopers." When I first heard they were making a movie out of it, I had no interest. The actual movie didn't change that attitude at all.
    The only way to watch that movie is with the Rifftrax commentary. (I say that because it's the only way I watched that movie, when they did it live. Danged near ruptured something laughing in some of those scenes - right up there with their take on The Room.)

    I keep meaning to try at least one Heinlein - I figure either SIASL or MIAHM - though it sounds like he doesn't hold up particularly well.
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  15. #15
    practical experience, FTW kaylim's Avatar
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    Slightly off-topic, but I think the movie 'Starship Troopers' is actually a parody that nobody really got when it first came out, hence the bad reviews. I read the actual book a long time ago. I was kinda young, but still smart enough to have problems with his fascist-esque vision of the future. As I understand it, Heinlein had been criticized by his contemporaries for it.

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