Monday, 9 February 2009

Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert A. Heinlein

This is a Sci Fi experience read. That I did not finish. That I abandoned around 3/4 of the way in...

Stranger in a Strange Land is the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a young human who has been raised by Martians and is then brought to visit Earth. Having learned (from the Martian Old Ones) more about controlling his body than anyone else on Earth realises there was the potential to achieve, he has almost supernatural abilities.

This is really intriguing idea for a story - an innocent who is effectively from another culture who is not limited by human constraints. Initially there is great mileage from his initial interactions with people, with his very trusting and naive approach to relationships and his failure to grasp the principles of religion, money or to understand politics.

So, why did I not finish...? Well. There are a couple of things I really didn't like about this book. Firstly, it's badly in need of a good, hard edit. The edition I read was Heinlein's 220,000 word original submission (published by his widow in 1991) against the originally published version with just 160,000. I should mention that the first version received the Hugo Award for the Best Science Fiction Novel of the Year. The preface indicates this is because "...the editors required some cutting and removals of a few scenes that might then (1961) been offensive to public taste". I'll come onto public taste shortly but I'd say that excuse really can't account for the 60,000 word difference and I would have frankly welcomed a shorter version. Some of the painful conversational set pieces, especially around religion or sexual relationships, deserved (and received) a speedy skim read.

I began to really flag when the part played by the Fosterite church began to increase and then crumbled a bit more as I felt that there was a pretty misogynistic attitude developing towards the female characters. I got to a point where I no longer cared about any of the characters and then I read these words from a central female character who has taken up a career as a show girl and who has just spent four pages describing how her new "Martian honesty" allowed her to admit that she enjoyed being looked at by men. Telling Michael not to get involved unless she was in danger: "...I was coping with wolves when you were still on Mars. Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it's at least partly her own fault. The tenth time - well, all right."

Hrmmm. For fairly obvious reasons, I decided life is far too short to continue to read this book - especially when I have discovered so many great other Sci-Fi authors are out there during this challenge.


Anonymous said...

Wow - that quote would've been a deal-breaker for me, too. In fact, it's pretty much killed my desire to try Heinlein's work.

Peta said...

Very off-putting but I don't know if it is totally out of character or not. I think that at some stage in the future I will give Starship Troopers a go but only because it is a genre classic and I won't rush to read it. A shame really as Heinlein was one author I was really looking forward to reading in this challenge.

An Englishman in New York said...


You should definitely try "Starship Troopers" I thought it was an interesting book.

noonie said...

I was driving alone across country and when this line was spoken, my jaw literally dropped. I was uncomfortable with some of the misogyny earlier, but credited that to the time the book was written..but come on!