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  1. #1
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    February 2011 BOTM: Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein

    Another classic this month.








    According to Wikipedia,

    Stranger in a Strange Land is a 1961 science fiction novel by American author Robert A. Heinlein. It tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human who has returned to Earth in early adulthood after being raised by Martians on the planet Mars. The novel explores his interaction with—and the eventual transformation of—Earth culture. The title refers to the Biblical Book of Exodus. According to Heinlein, the novel's working title was The Heretic. Several later editions of the book have promoted it as "The most famous Science Fiction Novel ever written."

    When Heinlein first wrote Stranger in a Strange Land, his editors at Putnam required him to drastically cut its original 220,000-word length down to 160,067 words. Scenes that might have been considered too shocking at the time were removed. In 1962, this version received the Hugo Award for Best Novel.

    After Heinlein's death in 1988, his wife Virginia arranged to have the original uncut version of the manuscript published in 1991 by Ace/Putnam. Critics disagree over whether Heinlein's preferred original manuscript is in fact better than the heavily-edited version originally published. There is similar contention over the two versions of Heinlein's Podkayne of Mars.

    While initially a success among science fiction readers, over the following six years word-of-mouth caused sales to build, requiring numerous subsequent printings of the first Putnam edition. The novel has never been out of print in the US. Eventually Stranger in a Strange Land became a cult classic, attracting many readers who would not ordinarily read a work of science fiction. The late-1960s counterculture, popularized by the hippie movement, was influenced by its themes of individual liberty, self-responsibility, sexual freedom, and the influence of organized religion on human culture and government, and adopted the book as something of a manifesto.


    The 1991 version, retrieved from Heinlein's archives in the University of California, Santa Cruz special collections department by his widow and published posthumously, which reproduces the original manuscript and restores all cuts. Both Heinlein's agent and his publisher (which had new senior editors) agreed that the uncut version was better; indeed, what was seen as objectionable in 1961 was no longer so thirty years later.
    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 by Hobbit; February 24th, 2011 at 09:43 AM.
    Mark

  2. #2
    Member of the Month™ Ropie's Avatar
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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.

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    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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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.

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    Member of the Month™ Ropie's Avatar
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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:


  5. #5
    It never entered my mind algernoninc's Avatar
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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. #6
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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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.

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    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    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'
    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
    Mark

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    Member of the Month™ Ropie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hobbit View Post
    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'.
    Mine says, 'Once upon a time there was a Martian named Valentine Michael Smith' which I assume means I have the old version

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    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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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:



    See what they've added there?)

    Mark
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    Member of the Month™ Ropie's Avatar
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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. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Erfael View Post
    ... 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.

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

  12. #12
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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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
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  13. #13
    Member of the Month™ Ropie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hobbit View Post
    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....
    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.

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    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    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!
    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
    Mark

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hobbit View Post
    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

    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 by Sparrow; February 6th, 2011 at 08:05 AM.

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