But what do I know? I'm just a twice clicken brown shirt teabaggin tjroll. Right? --PatP

Not now. There are dirty, swaying men at my door. They’re looking for Brian. I need to go deal with that. --Thor

If Joss Wedon was near me, I'd of kicked his ass. --PaulC

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Man From Mars

Never have I wanted so badly to not finish a book. And Sandworms of Dune doesn’t count. That I don’t want to finish because it’s garbage. I don’t want to finish Stranger In a Strange Land (by Robert A. Heinlein) because I don’t want it to be over. It’s my new favorite book. I’ve been saying that a lot lately. First it was Neuromancer, and I don’t know what it will be next. But right now it’s Stranger.

Before I get started, a word of caution. If you are a Republican, or any other breed of evangelical Christian, don’t read this book. It will seem like an attack on your religion and you people respond with claws to anything you mis-represent as threatening. In short, your religion will not allow you to enjoy this book. That makes me sad (because I want everybody to enjoy this book), but it is nonetheless true. Prove me wrong. I will happily recant (that’s an invitation, not a challenge. No claws, please). If you happen to be that rare case of Human who has both religion and an open mind, read this book. You will like it.

I was reading on the toilet just now when what it is that I love about this book hit me. The theme is interesting, the philosophies discussed are intriguing. But that’s true of any good science fiction. What I love about Stranger In a Strange Land is that it’s charming. It’s full of little human moments (or, at least, there are enough of them for me to find it remarkable). Like Firefly (“you’re nice too, Captain.” “No I’m not. I’m a mean, old man.”). From Jubal’s “secretaries” throwing him into the pool, to Michael’s inevitable initial fascination with and mis-understanding of religion (and Jubal’s natural discomfort at discussing/explaining it), the characters are real, and act like it.

Heinlein (who somehow seems to avoid the common pitfall of modern literature: imbuing each of his characters with the same voice) introduces you to his characters the same way a good movie director does. He doesn’t present you with a dossier and say “This is Michael Bluth.” He throws you into their lives in media res and lets you figure out for yourself what kind of people they are. And you fall in love with them. When you discover something about them that doesn’t quite make sense with your picture of “who they are,” you don’t feel confounded. You feel rewarded, just like you do when you discover something about a real person that deepens your understanding of them.

For me, this was true even of the characters I didn’t like (Ben Caxton and Duke), and the ones you’re not supposed to like (Secretary General Douglas and his wife). I found myself sympathizing with them, because they are all whole persons, with real motivations and shortcomings.

This isn’t like Dune, and it isn’t like Ender’s Game. You’ll think it’s like Brave New World or Fahrenheit 451, but I promise it’s not. While it certainly has themes in common with all of those (mostly) great books, Stranger In a Strange Land is a unique work of classic science fiction. It plays with your mind, and if you can escape your preconceptions of righteousness, you will enjoy it.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


  1. Great book, loved it.
    dood, the fact that you read on the toilet? Didn't need to know. Oh, and on a related note, I don't want to borrow the book.

    The thing with Heinlein is that he was, uhm, hmm, not sure of the word, an "idealist" maybe. Anyway, read "Farnhams Freehold" or the Lazarus books. GOOD reads, but as you say, the right/religious/conformists will hate it. Don't get me wrong, he throws out some BJORKED things in those books, but they make you think, yes, one of the things that you probably think is that Heinlein is twisted, but still...

  2. Thou art God.

    And I read on my DROID. I don't do DTB's anymore. So you can't borrow my book.

  3. Note to self-touch not the Droid of others.

    "escape your preconceptions of righteousness......" You nailed it. Five words that describe Heinlein on religion. The dude was way before his time. Are you reading the original 1961 version that was cut by those prude nasty greedy publishers or the 1991> version? I read Heinlein as a kid, and my preconceptions of righteousness were molded by him. Note, I don't go to church. I belong to no religion. In fact, (gasp!) I am not even Christian. I believe in the individual over the collective. I'm usually a libertarian type till I go all Neoconservative when it comes to national defense. Crazy, right? That's what happens when you let your kids read sci-fi, I guess.

  4. I read the 1991 edition. My state of mind was more molded by Dune and Ender's Game (great book, but don't give that guy any money) cause that's what I read as a kid, but this follows the same vein.

  5. Xplain please. You, as a Christian, got issues with the CLDS? I don't care. Christian squabbles mean nothing to me. I'm not vested, as it were, so I don't care about dogma. Ender is a great book, period. Don't slap it down cuz the author is a heretic(the original title to S
    IASL was Heretic)

  6. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkRYaMiP4K8

  7. A) Stop calling me a Christian. I have a mind of my own and refuse to be associated with a religion.

    B) I have a problem with anybody who's too batshit crazy for the garden-variety religious nutbag groups. Like teabaggers and ex-mormons who left (or were kicked out of) the conservative groups because the organization wasn't conservative enough to contain them.

    C) Ender's Game is a great book. I own a copy. I also own a copy of Top Gun. But I won't be giving any more money to the church of scientology, and I won't be giving any more money to batshit crazy Orson Scott Card. Anybody who thinks Sarah Palin is unfairly portrayed as a bimbo is either stupid or up to something sinister. And after reading a bit of his blog, I can say with some certainty that Orson Scott Card is just plain fruit loops.

    D) I will never badmouth his books, because I love them. I want people to read them and enjoy them. But I'll not give any more money to the conservative propaganda machine just now. I also love Mission Impossible, but Tom Cruise is a weak-minded member of an evil, destructive religion that won't get any more money directly from me.

  8. Also, I like Carlin's two commandments, but I gotta credit Jim Wright (stonekettle.com) for the one commandment: Don't be a dick.

  9. Agreed. I try to live by that one. So, you know I love old school sci-fi. Grew up on it, as it were. Check out these retro ads


    Lockheed and the fourth dimension. Sounds like an early grunge band.

    Orson Scott Card. Yea. Went to his blog. Took me about a minute to get to the fruit loop. Great books, totally batshit crazy. Dude got issues. All I knew was he was a Mormon.(How do you satisfy an Amish woman? Two Mennonite....:)

    Sorry. I didn't know you weren't Christian. It seems like you are. Seems to me you got an evangelical phobia(NTTAWWT IYKWIM). Like, you born again left behind banjo playin toe in the air hillbilly MFs totally jacked my religion thang. Kewl. But please stop association them with those of use who believe the federal government is getting just a little too big for its britches. Yea, it would be really scary if the Tea Party took over the government,...and...um,... left us alone. Who would tell us how to live? Who would deny us our freedoms? Who will protect us from big oil, big tobacco, big pharma, big agra? Who would decide the tithe? We NEED our nanny, right?