Stranger in a Strange Land

Rating: 0

Robert Heinlein

I've heard that this is supposed to be Heinlein's best book, and I have liked some of his other books, but I probably have to give it a 0; I'd say that his best is probably The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

The general scenario is that we are in the future, and a spaceship has been sent to Mars to investigate what happened to a mission to Mars a couple of decades earlier that never returned. They find the remains of the previous mission, they find Martians, and they find a human who it turns out is the son of a couple who were on the first mission. He's alternatively known as "Mike" and "The Man from Mars" through the rest of the book. Mike is brought back to Earth, and we quickly learn that he's different from the rest of us. Not surprisingly, this different is really "better".

So, the book proceeds with us watching Mike learn English and find out what Earth is like. There are various political and financial reasons why different people and governments want to control Mike, so he spends a lot of time hiding with the help of his friends, who are also a pretty weird bunch.

In places this book is really fun. Looking at humanity from the perspective of a human who wasn't raised as one is interesting, since his differences and advantages can't be explained away by him being from a different species. Humanity is faced with the fact that they could be and do more. There are some funny confusions about social norms as well.

Religion takes a beating, as does the concept of women as competent people. What else can you expect from Heinlein? But both attacks were a bit wearisome after a while since he didn't have anything new to say and some of the characters he was making fun of actually seemed like decent people.

Ultimately, I thought the book ended on a bit of a disappointing note. I can't imagine it ending any other way, but I think that Heinlein wrote himself into a bit of a corner. I lost interest at many points through the book. Late in the story a totally bizarre plot and set of characters which sort of ran at a tangent to the rest of the story was introduced and I found that somewhat disruptive as well. Finally, though the idea of social engineering was brought up and in an interesting way, it was not followed through on by more than some comments to the effect that "this type of thing takes a long time so of course you won't see any changes".

If you like Heinlein and haven't read it, you'll probably like parts of this and finally find out what that whole "grok" thing means. But if you aren't a fan, I'm not sure I would bother.


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