Laughing my way through Heinlein

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.

About Rati Mehrotra

Science fiction and fantasy writer. I blog at: ratiwrites.com Thanks for dropping by!
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10 Responses to Laughing my way through Heinlein

  1. Priyanka says:

    LOL! You are right. They are too ridiculous to even be offended at.
    However, popular media- books, movies, TV, print etc sometimes leaves much to be desired. It looks as though the thinking hasn’t changed much. See:
    http://www.businessinsider.com/these-modern-ads-are-even-more-sexist-than-their-mad-men-era-counterparts-2012-4?op=1

  2. Hi Rati, I’ve not read it, probably won’t bother, but from the snippets you’ve shared here, if it had been written now, it would probably pass as genius in ironic humour. 🙂

  3. Widdershins says:

    It’s either laugh or bang one’s head against a wall.

  4. You are so right about this book, thank you for being so blunt. I have been reading Heinlein lately and am almost done with this one. Can’t wait. Some of his are good but you are so right about the female characters. He makes so many 1960s chauvinist comments in Stranger in a Strange Land that I have considered not bothering with him again. There is a comment about rape that I’m going to post about when I’m done. I have to hand it to you for finishing it as it is not one of his short ones.

    • To be honest I struggled to finish it. I skipped to the end, which I usually never do, even with boring books. The only bit I really liked was the saying “I am only an egg”.

  5. bean-writer says:

    Ha! I read a lot of Heinlein when I was a kid, and even then I knew that there was something terribly “off” about the way he portrayed women, and sex, and relationships between the genders. Stranger in a Strange Land isn’t even the worst–that has to be Friday. Even as a kid I knew it was completely awful.

    And yet. . . as I kid I ate these books up. I thought they were entertaining. I don’t know what I would think now, and I really don’t care enough to go back and read them again–not when there’s so much else to read out there. But as for Stranger in a Strange Land. . . SPOILERS

    I do remember that I liked Mike’s martyrdom scene at the end. I concur with his followers, that he went out with some style.

  6. You’re right, it’s certainly not the worst out there. As a kid I devoured books that I wouldn’t give my own kids today, because I realize that they are sexist, racist or xenophobic. Many books by famous authors (like Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton) have actually been edited for content and illustrations to be more palatable to today’s audiences.

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