Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

Image Whew! Ya’ll, this was a weird one. I’m not sure I am prepared to explain it well. I’ve never read much Science Fiction until this LOST Challenge, and I probably won’t read a lot more when I’m done. But in the famous words of  Hugo “Hurley” Reyes, and so many others, “Never say never, dude.”  At least I can say I’ve read what was heralded by many as “The most famous Science Fantasy Novel of all time”. (This reading challenge has afforded me all kinds of reading bragging rights.)

Valentine Michael Smith was a human, born on the planet Mars and raised by Martians, then was returned to earth to learn the ways of his people, the earthlings. He arrives a very shy and vulnerable young martian-man with the attention of the whole world upon him. When it is quickly discovered by a reporter and a nurse that the leader of the Federation, is seeking to take advantage of Mike by somehow stripping him of all his riches, they join together to bust him out of the hospital where he is being held and observed, and get him into hiding. (I’m not really clear on the details of how Mike was so rich. The novel explains it, something to do with how he “owns” Mars. It was clear that he was loaded and the government wanted control of his money.) Imagine that…

The first quarter or so of this book was wildly entertaining. Weird, yes, but it was funny, action-packed, there were cool futuristic modes of transportation and some regular ole realism in the people. This part of the book introduced me to one of my favorite characters I’ve encountered in literature, Jubal Harshaw. Jubal is a doctor, lawyer, writer and a bunch of other smart things.  He’s a crabby old man that loves art, knows all about philosophy and has a nauseating distaste for organized religion. The way religion is presented in the story is with the large, loud, massive churches and their attention getting schemes and love of money. (That kind of makes me sad because it feels like the author views all churches or religion the same way). Aside from his opinions on religion, Jubal saves the day when he takes Mike in as a refugee and brilliantly concocts a plan to protect him from the Federation or anyone else wanting to take advantage of him.  That, to me, was really the best part of the story. After that, it gets….

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The whole religion thing fascinates Mike, much to the frustration of Jubal. But Jubal desires that Mike learn to make his own way in the world and find his own happiness. Mike finds it in beginning his own  Church of All Worlds, a church where they learn the Martian language, share water, grow closer, (you can guess what that means), and “Grok the fullness”. Grok is a martian term that is never explained in the book but is used frequently from the beginning. You as the reader begin to understand the word to mean “understand”, but as you read further you see that it means so much more. It is a term that means a deep knowing, a familiarity, a feeling of knowing completely.

I missed Jubal in the middle of the book. He comes back at the end but he is not quite the same. Nevertheless, he still ends up saving the day, in a completely different way than before: a way I never would have expected and didn’t especially like. Sigh…people change.

Favorite moments with Jubal:

“Anne, I’ve got a sick-making one. It’s about a little kitten that wanders into a church on Christmas Eve to get warm.
Besides being starved and frozen and lost, the kitten has- God knows why-an injured paw.
All right; start: ‘Snow had been falling since-‘”
“What pen name?”
“Mmm…use Molly Wadsworth’, this one is pretty icky. Title it The Other Manger. Start again.”
He went on talking while watching her. When tears started to leak from her her closed eyes he smiled slightly and closed his own.
By the time he finished tears were running down his cheeks as well as hers, both bathed in catharsis of schmaltz.
“Thirty,” he announced. “Blow your nose. Send it off and for God’s sake don’t let me see it.”
“Jubal, aren’t you ever ashamed?”
“No”.
“Someday I’m going to kick you right in your fat stomach for one of these.”
“I know. Get your fanny indoors and take care of it before I change my mind.”
“Yes, Boss.”
—————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

“Which reminds me: I don’t like to be called ‘Doctor.'”
“Sir?”
“Oh, I’m not offended. But when they began handing out doctorates for comparative folk dancing and advanced fly-fishing, I became too stinkin’ proud to use the title. I won’t touch watered whiskey and take no pride in watered-down degrees. Call me Jubal.”
“Oh, but the degree in medicine hasn’t been watered down.”
“Time they called it something else, so as not to confuse it with playground supervisors…”

I loved that non-politically correct old man.

LOST Connection

Stranger in a Strange Land is the title of a season 3 episode where Jack is the central character. We see him in a back flash vacationing on an island in Thailand. He meets a woman and spends most of his time with her but she keeps her job a secret. As Jack is prone to do, he obsesses about getting the information he wants, follows her, and finds that she is a tattoo artist. But she doesn’t just tattoo people, she identifies people by marking them.  Jack  forces her to read  him and mark who he is on his arm. She marks him, then he gets beat up and thrown off their island. Later we learn what his tattoos say: “He walks among us, but he is not one of us”. (Jack says that this is what they say, but it is not what they mean).  Hmmm…

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I know a lot of you are Science Fiction fans. Have any of you read Stranger in a Strange Land? What were your thoughts?

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5 thoughts on “Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

  1. I read this years ago when I was in college and predictably – I loved it. I think my mom read it around the same time and she hated it. She definitely got weirded out by the sex stuff, I think. I have to wonder how much I would grok it this many years later. 🙂

    I also really enjoyed Starship Troopers – but these are the only two Heinlein’s I’ve ever read.

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