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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Stranger in A Strange Land

Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Rating:
Reading Level: Adult

Pages: 438
Publisher: Ace Books, Penguin Putnam (G.P. Putnam's Sons, original)
Edition: 1987 (1961)


I found this "most famous science fiction ever written" quite a disappointing read: the style is stale; the tone is preachy, the world view and solution of the human condition is simplistic, and the "science" is shaky at its best, although it was a ground-breaking work of its time.

Just because this story features a "Man from Mars" does not excuse its lack of scientific explanation of the telepathic power and the super-human abilities of Michael and eventually those humans that he has taught. And since there is so much talking and telling, emotionally I was never invested or drawn into the characters and their experiences. This is also such a product of its time - a reactionary social commentary against the puritanical social norms of the 50s America. Although I am not sure that many comments do not apply today, the tale as a whole feels very outdated.

Although Heinlein allows his male characters and the narrative voice to sometimes praise the female characters in their resourcefulness and their intelligence, a slight hint of male-dominance and superiority courses under the surface throughout the story: the fact that the true heroes of the story are Michael and Jubal and although the women are given important roles, they are never truly in the decision-making positions speaks volumes. And I am unsure why all the mothers show constant scorn against their own children when the "message" is for them to all love each other equally and without bias. To reduce the human condition and complexity to one singular solution, disregarding the forces of artistic (music, literature, art, etc.) or other human achievements and needs seems so narrow-minded to make me unhappy! (Jubal couldn't find a single book to read in the NEST... my goodness!)

I did enjoy Jubal Harshaw's brazen honesty and fearless loyalty.

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