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VINE VOICEon 26 October 2008
I'm not for a moment going to try to defend the literary merit of Heinlein's work. This is, truly, a dreadfully badly written book, a book which cries out for harsh editing. And yet I felt it necessary to write a review to counterbalance those which precede me here, because, although this is a bad book, it's a truly great bad book. It's a book that anyone interested in twentieth century popular culture should read, and a book which will remain the subject of serious literary debate long after all the Booker Prize winners are forgotten.

The reviewers who say this book is too long are right. The reviewers who say it's badly written are right. The reviewers who say it is sexist are... missing the point. Yes, one of the protagonists, who seems to be Heinlein's alter ego, is astonishingly misogynist.

But that's part of why this novel is interesting. It's a visceral satire on the values and mores of Middle America of its day - and, given that Middle America changes only slowly, it still reads true of Middle America today. Sarah Palin might burn it - and has good reason to fear it.

It's a book stuffed with ideas, many of which are very funny; and it's a book with, despite its surface misogyny, a very interesting exploration of gender relations and gender politics which still bears reading. Overall, I strongly recommend that - if you've any interest in a literature of ideas, in the tradition of satire in English letters - you read this book. It's the very best dreadful book you will ever read.
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on 28 December 2003
This book is Heinlein's most famous effort, still selling very well today in both its original (1961) 'cut' version, and in the 'uncut' version (about 60,000 words longer), released after his death by his wife, Virginia Heinlein. It is an extremely complex satirical book, with multiple literary and philosophical allusions and referents, and with attacks and comments on many of the basic tenents of American life and social structure, including sex, love, marriage, politics, government, religion(s), economics, tattoos, art, writing, astrology, journalism, TV, military, inheritance laws, cannibalism, prejudice, prisons, and carnival life. Heinlein's aim was for this book to create questions about all of a reader's basic assumptions, to gore every sacred cow, to upset all the apple-carts. In some ways, he succeeded beyond his dreams, as the book was 'adopted' as their bible by many of the '60s counter-culture movement, even to the point that several churches were established with this book as their basis (most notably the Church of All Worlds). Heinlein himself was rather terrified by this use, as he never intended the book to provide answers, only to force questions.

The plot line is fairly simple: A child born to the first Martian expedition, Valentine Michael Smith ("Mike"), is raised by the Martians and brought back to Earth as a young man, where he receives a rather eccentric education into the ways of man by those who befriend him. Once he feels that he understands humanity, Mike undertakes to educate humans in the philosophy of "Thou art God" in such a way that the truth of that statement is a provable tautology. As such, he becomes a self-proclaimed messiah, with the usual fate of messiahs that upset everyone's idea of what is 'right'. But those who have accepted his 'education' will continue on...

The book makes heavy use of irony and contrasting poles of thought, such as Mike (the innocent) vs Jubal Harshaw (the voice of experience), the Church of All Worlds (Appolonian) vs the Fosterites (Dionysian), the Carnival (heaven ) vs the Zoo (earth). Most of the character's names are important in terms of their 'meaning', elucidating and enhancing many of Heinlein's points. Due to its structure and theme, this is one of the few SF books that has been subjected to a fair amount of academic analysis, a process that continues to this day. Some critics have gone so far as to say that the book is not science fiction, but rather a modern example of a satire, belonging in the same realm as something like Jonathon Swift's "A Modest Proposal".

This book has contributed some new words to the English language, most notably "grok" and "water-brother", and may have the best simple definition of love found anywhere: "Love is that condition in which the happiness of another is conditional to your own". (Note: this definition appears only in the 'cut' version, apparently thought up while he was editing the original version of the book down to what was at the time 'publishable' length).

Although this book reads very easily, with Heinlein's typical unforced, everyday American prose style, the concepts and questions he presents are neither simple nor trivial. Not all of his points are directly explicated - it is worthwhile for the reader to carefully look for some of the hidden, non-obvious parallels and historical referents that are scattered throughout this book. This is not a book that should be skimmed or read casually, and even a second reading may not uncover all of its buried allusions and ideas. In a few places the age of this book and the cultural conditions of its time need to be kept in mind, else you may receive the incorrect impression of just what Heinlein was driving at. You don't need to agree with all his points, but reading this will make you examine of your own assumptions and beliefs, take a look with new eyes at the world around you, and find your own answers.

This book was very much a ground-breaker when first published, so much so that Heinlein had great worries that it would not be saleable at all. With its publication it drove the field of science fiction back towards the world of major literature, and has greatly influenced much of what has been published since its debut.

--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
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Reviewing Stranger in a Strange Land is quite a challenge. Is it the best science fiction novel ever published? I would say yes. Is it my favorite? No; it's not even my favorite Heinlein novel. To add a little more irony to the pot, Heinlein himself insisted that the book is not really science fiction to begin with. Stranger really marks a huge turning point in Heinlein's career. Unhappy with the brand of "juvenile" writer and the editing that position constantly entailed, Heinlein was determined to write a truly adult novel, one with no taboos, no limits, and no restrictions of any kind. With Stranger in a Strange Land he accomplished that in spades, basically taking on the heretofore sacrosanct subjects of sexuality and religion. Heinlein was not sure that anyone would even publish this story that took him 12 years to write; what was published was a mere figment of the original manuscript, 60,000 words having been cut out. Even though Heinlein did the editing himself, it had to have felt like jabbing an ice pick into his own heart to do it. Thankfully, we can now read the complete, original manuscript the way Heinlein intended the story to be told.
The plot is deceptively simple. The first manned mission to Mars never made it home to Earth. The second mission, twenty years later, found Valentine Michael Smith, an infant born on Mars and the only surviving member of the ill-fated first mission. Having been raised by Martians, Smith is literally a stranger in a strange land when he is brought back to earth with "miraculous" abilities and a Martian philosophy of life. The Federation government basically hides him away from prying eyes, partly in fear of the legal and political dangers posed by his unique status. Having been raised by Martians, the human experience is completely new and rather frightening to him. He has never even met a woman until nurse Jill Boardman sneaks into his room to get a glimpse of him. Fearful that the government is going to keep Michael basically imprisoned (or worse), Jill helps sneak him out of the hospital, and the two of them end up at the home of Jubal Harshaw. Jubal is an outspoken, older man who lives a thoroughly individual lifestyle, but he commits himself to helping Michael escape his perilous situation. Michael quickly begins to absorb human knowledge and, less quickly, begins to understand the confusing mentality of human beings.
Halfway through the novel, you may be asking yourself why the book was so controversial; the answer becomes clear as Michael now steps out into the wider world. He and Jill move around incognito, and Michael learns more about people. After a stint as an unsuccessful magician, he eventually decides to become a preacher. He's not preaching a religion, though; he offers humans a new way of living and thinking, one based on the Martian system he grew up in. This new lifestyle involves a lot of nudity, a lot of open fornication, and the constant repetition of a mantra of sorts naming yourself and those around you God. The "I am God, you are God" theme is essentially Heinlein's means of emphasizing the personal responsibility of each individual for his own life. It is not strictly antireligious, but certainly it is not an idea that would go over well among most fundamentalists. I say most because I am a fundamentalist myself, but I understand what Heinlein was saying and recognize the fact that, after all, this is fiction. Frankly, though, the free love theme bothers my sensibilities and causes my viewpoint of the novel to change somewhat. Even though disapproval began to temper my enthusiasm toward the end, I certainly cannot give this book less than five stars.
Science fiction readers had never read anything quite like Stranger back in 1961; its originality, bold themes, and fearless writing hit with the force of a hurricane, and science fiction has never been quite the same. The Hugo Award this novel rightfully won barely begins to give it the honor and acclaim it deserves. I cannot recommend this novel highly enough, albeit I must enclose a caveat with my endorsement. This book has the power to shock readers even today; do not let your own beliefs take away from the wonder to be found in the pages of this novel. Stranger requires and deserves a completely open mind from anyone who would approach it; it also requires multiple readings to even begin to plumb the depths of its riches.
Anyone wanting to understand and get a true appreciation of the genius of Robert Heinlein really must read Stranger, but I would not recommend picking this book up before you have sampled some of Heinlein's other wares. It would be a real shame to let any adverse emotional reaction to the themes of this novel deprive you of the joy and wonder to be found in countless other Heinlein stories and novels.
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on 7 December 2010
There are at least two editions of this book: the shorter one originally published in the early 60s, with significant cuts imposed by the publishers, and a much longer one published by Heinlein's widow after his death. I read the latter.

Because it's Heinlein, there's politics here: just as with The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress and Starship troopers there's emphasis on personal responsibility; and like in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, there's lots on freedom from interference by the state and sexual freedom with lots of polygamy. Heinlein clearly doesn't trust politicians, saying in this book that they're all primarily interested in power over their fellow man for its own sake, as opposed to using their positions and power for good. He is, perhaps, somewhat naïve in saying that one politician in particular can be trusted with money because he's only interested in power - because money is a great tool for getting, maintaining, and abusing power. It's no coincidence that modern politicos get more generous with their budgets as elections approach!

The book also has a lot to say about religion. It's not entirely negative, treating it as being a useful tool for some to "achieve enlightenment" but not a necessary tool. It certainly doesn't have much good to say about our contemporary religions.

Finally, as a stylistic note, the vast bulk of the story is presented as dialogues between characters, including that which I sometimes slate other books for - expository dialogue. Here though, I didn't even notice that that's what was going on, thus proving that in the hands of a competent writer, this method can work just fine.

You should read this book.
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VINE VOICEon 8 June 2005
The title says it all. As you read this story of a stranger who brings more than novelty to his new world, different people will read different things into the story. I suggest you read "Stranger in a Strange Land" for your self and draw your own conclusions. Remember this is no longer the 60' so don't go out and build a water-brother nest.
If you read an older version of this book, then you have missed a little something. Many of the words were cut out of the book before it was published. Moreover, due to contractual agreements the missing part of the book could not be printed while Robert A. Heinlein was alive. Now dead the missing pages have been restored to many versions.
Now all bets are off. So count the words in the copy you are about to buy and be sure you have the whole thing. And for those people who read the original release I suggest you re-read to see what you missed
If you have not read other Heinlein books then you may not realize how his writing stile has changed over his life time. This book is more of a latter Heinlein style. Some people like both early and late Hein lend others prefer one or the other.
The audio versions have all the pluses and minuses of audio. So you will also want a copy of the book for reference.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 November 2009
The book is a force of nature. I can completely understand why Heinlein was such a shocker in his day - here's an author who actually wasn't afraid of making spectacular and disturbing attacks on the middle class morality of the day through his concepts.

Sure, looking at it from today's point of view, most do not raise one's eyebrows that much, even if quite some are still relatively perceptive. The shock value has mostly gone for today's reader, on the other hand the book is still full of hilarity and makes for a good read.

As another reviewer pointed out the dialogues and people are mostly fairly self satisfied but this does not necessarily detract from it in my opinion (I guess I'd be riled by it, if I did not like the book, dialogues, concepts, etc.).

Finally, the comment about rape, also already commented upon is a massive detraction, although I suppose it might have been 'modern' back in the day.

That notwithstanding, it is a very interesting insight into the thinking of the 60s, and Heinlein's bravery and vision to play with pretty much all concepts in the book makes this truly a classic of science fiction writing.
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on 28 May 2004
The basic story is about a human, born and bred on Mars, brought for the first time to the planet Earth as a young man. It's a story into the human psyche and the general conditioning and programming of all of us from stimuli such as advertising, religion and other propaganda's bombarded at us constantly throughout our life by society. This is done by looking at our principles, rules, regulations and morals through someone else's eyes who hasn’t been socially programmed.
The book when released in the 60's immediately had 60,000 words cut by the publishers who thought it was just to controversial, and only after Heinlein's death recently has the full version been available, even now in a more moderate and liberal society it still very hard hitting.
I have to read it every year, as this book truly inspires me, there is no other book like it, you grok!!!
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on 29 April 2001
...Make sure it's this one. I 1st read this when I was 18 & it had a profound effect on me then as it still does now. I always keep in mind that it was written in 1961 America as it is somewhat archaic in it's views on certain subjects. Yet this aside, it is one of the best ways to expand your mind without taking drugs. The unedited version is the best though & this edition loses a point solely because it's edited
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VINE VOICEon 22 April 2010
The title says it all. As you read this story of a stranger who brings more than novelty to his new world, different people will read different things into the story. I suggest you read "Stranger in a Strange Land" for your self and draw your own conclusions. Remember this is no longer the 60' so don't go out and build a water-brother nest.

If you read an older version of this book, then you have missed a little something. Many of the words were cut out of the book before it was published. Moreover, due to contractual agreements the missing part of the book could not be printed while Robert A. Heinlein was alive. Now dead the missing pages have been restored to many versions.

Now all bets are off. So count the words in the copy you are about to buy and be sure you have the whole thing. And for those people who read the original release I suggest you re-read to see what you missed

If you have not read other Heinlein books then you may not realize how his writing stile has changed over his life time. This book is more of a latter Heinlein style. Some people like both early and late Hein lend others prefer one or the other.

The audio versions have all the pluses and minuses of audio. So you will also want a copy of the book for reference.
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on 10 July 2002
I was recomended this book by a friend, and to be honest it is one of the best books I have ever read. It captured me from begining to end. It goes through all the moral, economical, political and physical implicatoins of a martian coming to earth.(believe me, it is in no way boring at all). This is a must read, a veritable masterpiece that I could not put down.
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