I knew, before I picked up Stranger in a Strange Land, that I would probably find parts of it dated and offensive to women, and possibly racist. It was, after all, written in 1961. What I did not expect was to laugh immoderately at nearly every page.
The book won a Hugo, and the cover claims it is the ‘most famous science fiction novel of all time’. The plot, briefly: Valentine Michael Smith is a human who has been born and brought up among aliens in Mars. He is brought back to Earth, and thus has to deal with the ‘alien’ culture of humans. He is innocent and yet all-powerful, able to ‘disappear’ people merely by thinking it. Also, women faint when he kisses them, because, apparently, he does it so well.
Note: The women in this book exist only to serve the men. I suppose this reflects the time in which the author wrote the book – men occupied most, if not all, positions of power. And yet, if the best science fiction is predictive of future technology, race and gender relations, then how terribly Stranger in a Strange Land has failed.
Here are some ‘gems’ from Heinlein’s protagonists:
“It pleased him that these women did not chatter, did not intrude into the sober talk of men, but were quick with food and drink…He had been shocked at Miriam’s disrespect toward her master – then recognized it: a liberty permitted cats and favorite children in the privacy of the home.” (Nice, eh?)
“A woman who can’t cook is a waste of skin.” (Ewwww.)
“If Gillian had not had the character that made her a nurse, he would not love her. It was not the figure-eight in which her pert fanny moved when she walked, nor the lush view from the other direction – he was not the infantile type, interested solely in the size of mammary glands!” (Well, thank goodness for that…)
“Left to himself, he would have long since achieved nirvana…dived into his belly button and disappeared from view, like those Hindu jokers.” (I had no idea Hindus could do this! And me a Hindu, too…)
And that’s just a choice few. For me, the book was worth reading for the laughs, and also for the insight into the science fiction genre in the 1960s. Otherwise, I really do not recommend it.