February 2011 BOTM: Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Hobbit, Jan 30, 2011.

  1. Hobbit

    Hobbit Administrator Staff Member

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    Another classic this month.

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    According to Wikipedia,

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    Might be worth pointing out which edition you're reading!

    Is it worth the status given as a classic? Or is this the start of the decline of readable Heinlein? Discuss!

    Mark
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2011
  2. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Month™

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    I'm about one quarter of the way through my (new) copy. Initial impressions are that it is readable but dated.
     
  3. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

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    Some spoilers here, for those who haven't finished.

    I read the old copy, as it's what I had around the house already. My impressions were exactly as yours, Ropie, until it had gone on for about 225 pages. Then I just decided it was like eating white rice just because it wasn't offensive. I wasn't doing anything for me.

    It may be that the uncut "risque" version would have suited me better. As I understand it, a lot of what was cut was due to the publisher thinking it was too progressive for the time or some such. What's left in the old version is a bunch of stuff that I'm sure was very progressive and "OOH, WOW" in the early 60s, but that now seems...I don't know, dull?

    The book really did seem like an excuse for Heinlein to go form topic to topic explaining how wrong the world was at the time. Now a character will lecture Mike on money and how evil it is. Now a character will lecture Mike on religion and how bad it is. All the while, Mike, with his alien view, will be dumbfounded that people can operate this way and then make cutting observations on how to do it better. To me it all felt very thinly veiled, particularly because in a lot of respects the issues he's addressing are very 1950s issues and, even if we haven't moved past all of them yet, we're at least much more aware that they are issues.

    I got tired of the carnival ride around that 200 page mark and put it aside. I then devised an ending that I thought would be appropriate for the book (and I'm not kidding...in my ending he changes the way a bunch of people think, then is killed) and then looked up a synopsis and guess what?

    So all in all, as a first Heinlein book, I'm not impressed. I'd be willing to hear why I'm off base and try it out again sometime (or at least finish it), but to the point I reached, I felt like I could be reading much more interesting things.
     
  4. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Month™

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    You've got me worried now, Erf. I'm actually quite enjoying it at the moment - the prose is pretty good and I'm not having a problem with too many of the issues, except the "make us a cup of tea will you, love?" sexism! That was hardly Heinlein's fault though given the times.

    How do I know if I'm reading a cut or uncut version? It's a 2003 ACE books American version, as shown in Hobbit's picture, but makes no mention of being 'unabridged' or otherwise as far as I can see:

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  5. algernoninc

    algernoninc Now I'm an axolotl

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    I guess I am a hippie at heart, because the book worked well enough for me to read it three times and to count it as one of the major classics in the SF genre.. I am aware of the preachiness and the slightly dated morality, and I still prefer it to the ultraviolent mood of today.

    I have also experienced the premonition about the end of the story that Erfael mentioned about halfway in. Of course on subsequent reads I already knew the plot, but I still had fun with the amoral, anti-establishment stance.

    I would like to see the reaction of said 1960 editors to Richard K Morgan.
     
  6. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

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    If I were you, Ropie, I wouldn't let that opinion color your reading. You and I have very different tastes, and you may find things to be right up your alley.

    And I don't think you're implying this, alg, but it had nothing to do with lack of the current violent trend. I'm a pretty liberal guy, went through music school (these tend to be hotbeds of liberality), know people who are of just about every sexual persuasion, every religious persuasion, vegetarian, vegan...in short, I've been exposed to a lot of progressive ideas. As a result, the ideas presented here are just kind of ho-hum, been-there kinds of things for me. It could be that from other perspectives, in particular those less exposed to as wide an array of lifestyles and ideas, there are still things that push the bounds here.

    Ropie, If you're published in 2003, you probably have the new version. I suspect everything published after 1991 has the full text. At least, I can't imagine them publishing both versions side-by-side.
     
  7. Hobbit

    Hobbit Administrator Staff Member

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    OK: try this one!

    In the new version, first page, Part One, Chapter 1, first sentence.

    If it says 'there was a Martian named Smith' it's the new edition.

    The old edition says 'a Martian named Valentine Michael Smith'.

    The next sentence: 'Valentine Michael Smith was as real as taxes but he was a race of one.' only exists in the 1991 edition.

    Hope that helps!

    Mark
     
  8. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Month™

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    Mine says, 'Once upon a time there was a Martian named Valentine Michael Smith' which I assume means I have the old version :(
     
  9. Hobbit

    Hobbit Administrator Staff Member

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    And no second sentence, Ropie?

    Having the original edition may not necessarily be a bad thing. As I've said before, I prefer the shorter version myself. If this is where Heinlein's lecturing/posturing takes rein, then the longer version does little to improve that, IMO.

    Here's the thing. Read what you have: if you enjoy it then you've enjoyed what most readers read in the first place and enjoyed.

    Do you need to read the longer version?

    (Btw: this might be the cover for the ACE revised edition:

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    See what they've added there?)

    Mark
     
  10. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Month™

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    Thanks for all that, Hobbit. I probably would have gone for the un-cut edition had I realised there was one before but you're right - I am enjoying what I am reading and that's what counts.

    Regarding the 'lecturing', up to page 180 I have encountered little that has bothered me. Some things critical of organized religion stood out but that was no bad thing and the theories were interesting.

    So far - a book I probably would not have read without the impetus of the book club is proving to be well worth while. Hope to have it finished this weekend for further discussion.
     
  11. Sparrow

    Sparrow Banned

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    Then don't bother risking his other work, because Stranger in a Strange Land is one of his best two or three books.
     
  12. Hobbit

    Hobbit Administrator Staff Member

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    See, I'd disagree with Sparrow here: there's lots of Heinlein I prefer to Stranger.

    For me, Stranger is too much posturing, too much an attempt to lecture and shock. It is opinionated, (not that other Heinlein isn't!) more so than much of Heinlein's other stuff, where there is, y'know, a plot worth following.

    In summary, too much emphasis on style and opinions, not enough plot/content. Too much 'this is what I think, how dare you think different.'

    Personally I would go for Puppet Masters, Friday, Moon is a Harsh Mistress (another one that lectures but is reined in by a plot), most of the juveniles, Podkayne of Mars, Starship Troopers, Citizen of the Galaxy....

    But it will be a matter of taste.

    Mark
     
  13. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Month™

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    I gave up after 100 pages or so of MIAHM. I can't remember exactly why but may have been to do with the slow moving plot, though in any case I can remember not getting into it at all. I enjoyed Tunnel in the Sky which is part adventure, part social commentary, easy to get through and quite a lot of fun.

    SIASL has impressed me so far, and I think I can understand why it would be considered one of the most famous SF novels of all time (as it says on the cover of mine): it has not actually got a lot of SF in it! It's much more like the story of a foreigner (albeit one with 'super powers') getting by in a new land. It's a bit like Superman.
     
  14. Hobbit

    Hobbit Administrator Staff Member

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    Think you might be onto something there... the SF aspect is very minor. The tale is, after all, a means for Heinlein to expound his ideas.

    Good point though: if Smith had just been an 'outsider' from say, an unexplored area of the Amazon rainforest, would it matter?

    I doubt it, but do others agree?

    Mark
     
  15. Sparrow

    Sparrow Banned

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    I agree to a point.

    But with Heinlein his political and social views are rarely deconstructed. Characters go from one end of a story to the other and appear to have changed only very slightly. His stories are often a "see I told you so" kind of affair.
    Compare Heinlein to Frank Herbert and his Dune saga. Herbert had his own political and social bent, but he wasn't afraid to turn those themes on their head and completely deconstuct them until they represented an opposing view altogether. He understood what a cautionary tale should do, fool the reader into believing they know who or what is good, and then pull the rug from under them.

    Even Orson Scott Card, a guy with his own far-right leanings, understood that the most well-meaning character can become a monster, and wasn't so engaged with his own message to show the unintended consquences of unbridled fanaticism.
     
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2011
  16. Hobbit

    Hobbit Administrator Staff Member

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    Guess what, Sparrow: I agree with this!

    Jubal, for example, is not a character who changes particularly in this book, but is a character who is usually 'right' and therefore doesn't need to change. In fact, the world needs to change to see his point of view, rather than he be changed by the world around him.

    And this is an archetype of the later Heinlein writing in particular: see also Lazarus Long in the Time Enough for Love incarnation.

    What it must be to know everything and be right all the time... and having recently read the recent biography of Heinlein, I'm now getting the impression more than ever before that these characters are who Heinlein wanted to be...

    Hmm.

    So: lets deal with the big question: what is the point of Stranger in a Strange Land? What do readers get/grok from it that they didn't get before?

    Is it that alternate lifestyles are OK, that it's OK to live a life without social restrictions, or at least less than 'normal society' would suggest? That different is fine and that we are really all different? Might explain that attraction of the 1960's...

    Or is it that it points out that we're all going to hell in a handcart and that society needs to change if we are to continue/evolve?

    Thoughts please!

    Mark
     
  17. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Month™

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    It may have given a different flavour, and the fact that Mike (Mike!) is from Mars allows Heinlein a free reign with regards to his special powers and (on occasion) absolute dim-wittedness which both bring in a lot of new plot devices and humour. That said, the way Mars is described does make it sound a bit like a far off region of South America! And the fact that the book doesn't really deal with tight SF ideas most of the time is not a problem for me, as long as it keeps me reading for whatever reason.

    Yes - I don't know much about Heinlein but I get the feeling that Jubal is close to a fictionalized Heinlein in this tale.

    I'm still only 2/3 of the way through so can't fully answer this. However, I have to say the first scene in the Fosterite chapel (with the fruit machine and the dancers, etc) was absolutely some of the best writing I've encountered in SF for some time. Brilliantly paced, very funny and packed full of ideas; so entertainment would figure highly as a 'point'.
     
  18. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Month™

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    I have just got to the carnival chapter (I'm reading SIASL side by side with other books) but it's more like page 280 in my copy. Is this literally where you gave up, Erf?
     
  19. Hobbit

    Hobbit Administrator Staff Member

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    Might be a difference in printing, Ropie? UK/US editions can vary sometimes.

    Mark
     
  20. livens

    livens Registered User

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    Wouldnt you know it, walked into my bookstore today and there was a 1991 hardback for $3... It seems they always get in the SFFWorld BOTM just in time :)

    So far I like the prose, but its definitely dated to the 1960's. Space travel and we're still using punch card computers lol!

    But the dated tech doesn't bother me, I think its fun to read and cool to see the 1960 perspective of things. So Ill keep reading.