Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Stranger in a Strange Land #1

Stranger in a Strange Land

Rate this book
NAME: Valentine Michael Smith

Valentine Michael Smith is a human being raised on Mars, newly returned to Earth. Among his people for the first time, he struggles to understand the social mores and prejudices of human nature that are so alien to him, while teaching them his own fundamental beliefs in grokking, watersharing, and love.

525 pages, Paperback

First published July 1, 1961

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Robert A. Heinlein

786 books9,270 followers
Works of American science-fiction writer Robert Anson Heinlein include Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966).

People often call this novelist "the dean of science fiction writers", one of the most popular, influential, and controversial authors of "hard science fiction."

He set a high standard for science and engineering plausibility and helped to raise the standards of literary quality of the genre. He was the first science-fiction writer to break into mainstream, general magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, in the late 1940s. He was also among the first authors of bestselling, novel-length science fiction in the modern, mass-market era.

Also wrote under Pen names: Anson McDonald, Lyle Monroe, Caleb Saunders, John Riverside and Simon York.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
118,828 (38%)
4 stars
93,601 (30%)
3 stars
59,956 (19%)
2 stars
21,936 (7%)
1 star
12,967 (4%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 9,685 reviews
Profile Image for Shannon .
1,221 reviews2,213 followers
March 3, 2010
Apparently a classic of the sci-fi cannon, I'd never heard of this book until it came up on a book club here. It took me a long time to read only because of lack of time, and a rather annoying trait the author has that I'll go into later.

This is one of those books that tells us more about the period it was written in than anything else, so it's important to note that it was first published in 1961 and later again in 1968 - when moon fever was running high and people seemed to have high expectations for human achievement.

Events are set in an undisclosed future but the older characters seem to remember the first moon landing, so I wouldn't be surprised if Heinlein was thinking of it being set around about now. With a mix of very daggy technology like "stereo tanks" (TVs) and large, clumsy listening devices, alongside hover crafts and spaceships to Mars, the scope of the setting is hampered by a 50s' imagination.

Stranger in a Strange Land is about Michael "Mike" Smith, the "Man from Mars", offspring of two of scientists on board the original mission to Mars, who was raised by Martians. He is more Martian than human, especially in his thinking and outlook and philosophy, when he is brought back to Earth. Heir to a shitload of money care of his parents' heritage, it's unsurprising that the bigshots on Earth are wanting to keep him locked up tight. A nurse at the hospital where he is first kept, Jill, offers him a glass of water and in that one action becomes a "water brother" - the highest accolade for Mike. She rescues him from the politicians with the help of her journalist friend Ben and takes him to the home of a grumpy, reclusive man, Dr Jubal Harshaw, who lives with three young women who serve as secretaries - Anne, Miriam and Dorcas - and two men who take care of the property - Duke and Larry.

Mike's particular talents slowly reveal: he can vanish things, including people, if he recognises there is a "wrongness" in them; he can withdraw from his own body and shut down his body so there is no heartbeat; he can teleport and think telepathically; he can absorb books in minutes and regulate his own body, making it muscular and mature at will; and so on. All of this can be done with understanding of the Martian language, which Jill starts to learn.

He's completely ignorant of human ways, of human concepts - things like jealousy, possessiveness etc. are all alien to him. He doesn't understand religions and he has never laughed.

After months on the road with just Jill, learning and "grokking", he finally knows why humans laugh and how to do it himself, and gets the human condition. It leads him to start his own "church", though it's more of a way of life open to people of all religious denominations, with free love and open mindedness, and abilities gained through mastery of the Martian language. With Mike set up as a new Messiah, a prophet, there's only one logical conclusion for this story.

As a story, Stranger in a Strange Land is enjoyable and original. Yet, as a story, it's also bogged down with sermons, with Heinlein's opinions, and a very out-of-date mentality. It reads very 60s and 70s, though it was written before then. Not as far-sighted as it would like to be! It's especially noticeable in the relations between men and women, which have that faintly liberated tinge that's all really lip service, and a great deal of sexist language. Which is ironic, really, considering Mike's free love cult. There's also an affectionate insult for a Muslim character who's nicknamed "Stinky" that I couldn't help but be offended by.

It does make it hard to read, though, when you come across lines like this, as spoken by Jill very matter-of-factly: "Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it's partly her fault." (p304) While today the statistics are more like "nine of ten times, a woman's rapist is someone she knows", the idea that it's "partly her fault" is still considered true by way too many people. To hear this come out of Jill's mouth makes it especially awful.

Another example is Jubal saying: "Pipe down, Anne. Close your mouth, Dorcas. This is not a time when women have the vote." (p382) Granted, they ignored him and did what they wanted anyway, but there're a lot of these flippant, dismissive remarks all through the book. Product of its times, sure: just not at all futuristic.

Then we come to the proselytizing, which the book is rife with. Today, reading this book, the opinions shared are very "yes, so?" - old hat, in other words. Though it is fun to read the rants, the set-up is cringe-worthy. Jubal is the main lecturer, and the characters around him serve as props. There are a great many "Huh?"s from educated and knowledgeable people so that Jubal can share his abundant wisdom. One "huh?" is okay, but when each long paragraph of Jubal is responded to with a "huh?" it gets a bit silly. Frankly, it's bad writing. It reminded me somewhat of The Da Vinci Code, which also uses characters to expound the author's theories on religion etc. at great length.

While these things did at times make it harder to read the book, essentially the book is easy to read and often quite fun too. Jubal's sermons (and when Jubal isn't around, other characters fill the role, like Ben and Sam) can be a bit heavy-handed and obvious but a lot of it I agree with, so it wasn't rubbing me up the wrong way. Mike is a challenging character to write, because in order to write a naive, ignorant character to this extent, you need to be incredibly self-aware. Heinlein has fairly good success here, and Mike's growth, maturation, development and resolutions fit the character and work. He has charisma and is definitely intriguing; yet because he lacks the human flaws, he's also somewhat unapproachable and alien: a good balance to achieve.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,882 reviews16.6k followers
January 28, 2021
One must read Heinlein's signature work to understand what all the fuss is about, from both sides.

For the RAH fans and Sci-Fi crowd, this is an excellent book, a masterpiece of the genre. For the opponents, and I understand there are many, he systematically makes a lot of folks mad, from conservatives and theologians, to feminists, and even pro-government liberals. He was way ahead of his time, and yet also rooted in a pre-war mindset that was probably infuriating to young baby boomer readers and especially to the baby boomer’s parents. But the influence on the genre and on the larger culture is unmistakable.

And the next thing is that this really transcends the science fiction genre. Heinlein, excusing his later life meanderings into the weird and sexually uninhibited, was a great writer. He uses a Sci-Fi story about a man from Mars as a vehicle for him to explore and to expound upon a great many subjects, most notably theology, ideology, social and sexual mores, and popular culture.

Love it or hate it, or don't GROK it at all, this work will no doubt inspire strong emotion, this is a powerful book and a must read for SF fans.

*** 2021 reread - Share water, brother.

This time around (I think this is the third time I’ve read it) I was picking up on both the theological vibe Bob was throwing down as well as some subtle and nuanced humor I had missed before.

The biblical and other religious references are unmistakable but I think RAH was also having some fun in a way that Kurt Vonnegut did in his inimitable novel Galapagos. We see a literary paradox where religious systems are tilted off kilter while at the same time the fundamental nature of religion is supported. The gambling and drinking Fosterites, though, is a gem in SF literature and should not be missed.

The sexuality.

It’s Heinlein and people are going to get naked and are going to get busy. Have fun with it. Misogynistic? Eh. Yes, there are a few clearly objectionable scenes, one stands out, but if someone can get past this, it’s a great book. And no doubt, Bob loved the ladies.

I need to make this an annual re-read, too much fun.

Profile Image for Christy.
Author 5 books401 followers
July 4, 2008
This is a book that it seems like I should like. It deals with issues of religion, including a strong critique of religion as we know it, presents socially progressive ideas about sex and relationships, and relies upon a fundamentally humanist, individualist philosophy.

In the end, however, I can't get past a few things to really like this book.

1. The word "grok." I understand the meaning and significance of the word within the book and I understand why Heinlein chose to create a new word to carry this meaning, but "grok"? It's an ugly word and it gets used about 150 times too many in the book.

2. The use of mystic religious concepts and practices. Heinlein critiques traditional, human religions, but he is unable or unwilling, finally, to leave behind the trappings of religion, relying upon them to bolster his argument. This bothers me because it feels like manipulation, like a man trying to have it both ways by using the religiosity and losing the religion. Michael admits that his philosophy, his truth, "couldn't be taught in schools" and says, "I was forced to smuggle it in as a religion--which it is not--and con the marks into tasting it by appealing to their curiosity" (419). He admits that he is manipulating his audience (just as Heinlein manipulates his) as well as admitting that the people he is trying to save are no more than marks, dupes to be conned. This is entirely too cynical for my taste and does not accord with the whole "Thou art God and I am God and all that groks is God" philosophy.

3. The sexism of the text, which is inseparable from its heteronormativity and even homophobia. Despite Heinlein's progressive (especially for the time) ideas about sexuality and desire, he reinforces the gender dichotomy repeatedly, putting women and homosexuals in their place as he does so. Sometimes this is obviously negative and hard to miss, especially for a modern reader: "Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it's partly her fault" (304). At other times this is done with apparently positive statements: "Male-femaleness is the greatest gift we have--romantic physical love may be unique to this planet" (419). A statement like this one is troubling not because of its emphasis on romantic physical love but because of its insistence on the male-female gender dichotomy as a necessary component of that love.

A more substantial example arises when Jill discovers that she likes to be looked at it, that it makes her feel desirable. She says, "Okay, if a healthy woman liked to be looked at, then it follows as the night the day that healthy men should like to look, else there was just no darn sense to it! At which point, she finally understood, intellectually, Duke and his pictures" (302-3). The realization that she likes to be looked at is fine as far as it goes, although the immediate leap from there to pornography is definitely a problem (pornography of course having huge and unavoidable issues of power wrapped up in it that this analysis neatly sidesteps). Following Jill's realization of her own desire to be looked at, Mike comes to see that "Naughty pictures are a great goodness" and they go together to strip clubs to enjoy the live version. However, "Jill found that she 'grokked naughty pictures' only through a man's eyes. If Mike watched, she shared his mood, from sensuous pleasure to full rut--but if Mike's attention wandered, the model, dancer, or peeler was just another woman. She decided that this was fortunate; to have discovered in herself Lesbian tendencies would have been too much" (307). Here, Heinlein brings together his progressive, free love ideas about sex itself with his more traditional ideas about gender roles and his leaning toward homophobia. The conclusion Jill arrives at here is that a) sex and desire are good, b) women are the spectacle, never the spectator, and c) lesbianism is completely taboo, even for someone who is otherwise interested in opening herself up to sexual love in its many forms. This one scene simply brings together these ideas that recur throughout the second half of the book. Repeatedly, it is made clear that homosexual behavior is a danger for Mike to avoid and that women's role in sexual behavior is essentially passive.

4. The emphasis on self, whether in self-love, self-pleasure, self-control. There are two basic ideas here. One is stated by Patricia Paiwonski, Mike's first convert, who says, "God wants us to be Happy and He told us how: 'Love one another!' Love a snake if the poor thing needs love. Love thy neighbor . . . . And by 'love' He didn't mean namby-pamby old-maid love that's scared to look up from a hymn book for fear of seeing a temptation of the flesh. If God hated flesh, why did He make so much of it? . . . Love little babies that always need changing and love strong, smelly men so that there will be more babies to love--and in between go on loving because it's so good to love!" (288). Love is wonderful, love is a good goal, but this is a love I am suspicious of, for it is a love based on feeling good, based on happiness. There's nothing wrong with feeling good and being happy, of course, but if feeling good and being happy are the primary goals of life, then that opens the door for abuses of others in the name of love or happiness and seems a rather meaningless goal in and of itself. Hedonism alone is not enough for me.

The second basic idea is Mike's final message to the people: "The Truth is simple but the Way of Man is hard. First you must learn to control your self. The rest follows. Blessed is he who knows himself and commands himself, for the world is his and love and happiness and peace walk with him wherever he goes" (429). Again, this is not a bad goal--for once, finally, Mike brings a message of personal responsibility to add to the free love and grokking that has constituted most of the rest of the book. However, to expect the rest to follow from that kind of responsibility and self-control is just silly. This is The Secret, this is "name-it-and-claim-it" theology, this is bullshit. Like the idea that God wants us to be happy so if we all try to live for our own happiness, it will all work out, this is a philosophy that believes that YOU are the center of the universe, that everything will work out for the best.

This is the complete opposite of the philosophy provided in Kurt Vonnegut's Sirens of Titan. Vonnegut also emphasizes love and finding a kind of happiness, but in his universe, those things are refuges in the midst of chaos, small things we can each do to make the world we live in a little better, a little more livable, not means to become masters of the universe. For Heinlein, God moves from out there to in here, validating each individual person's individual desire and decision; for Vonnegut, there is no God, not out there and not in here. For me, that is much more appealing.
Profile Image for Keith.
Author 12 books235 followers
May 10, 2022
Well, I don't quite know what the hell that was. I'd gotten it into my head at some point that you weren't anything until you got reading this out of the way, but it was probably one of the most odious reading experiences I've had in my adult life -- especially for a book I volunteered to read. One bonus star for the last five pages or so being not-quite-as-totally-awful as the rest of it, and that's about it. And I feel dumb writing a bunch of obvious shit for the five people in the world besides me who haven't read this yet.

But for those five people, I can tell you what I've learned:

1) If you have a choice between reading the version of a book that got everyone excited about it, or the unabridged version published decades later because it was the author's "preferred" version, LORD GOD READ THE SHORTER ONE. Do not make the mistake I made. "Unabridged" does not mean "cooler." It means "longer." It means "unedited, sloppy, and even questionable." But mostly it means "longer."

2) Anyone who says they're able to "look over" the unrelenting misogyny of this book is, like, freaking insane. The misogyny. is. Unrelenting. It is so completely unrelenting that I kept wondering if the whole thing was a put-on. Like, huge swaths of text about how Martian idealism will negate Earthly material needs are interrupted just to mention that even with said idealism, women will never want to stop shopping. I mean, are you kidding me? That can't be anything but trolling, right? Like, I have read books written in the past before, dudes. The delivery date on this book is no excuse for the fact that the women in this book -- I mean, I don't know how to describe it. It's crazy. It'e like they're supposed to be a different species or something. Either Heinlein is pulling the reader's leg, or he's a gender-specific sociopath.

3) This is not really a separate point, but since there's like 100 pages (at least) devoted specifically to the beauty of orgies, up to and including lady-orgies, I'm shocked at the lengths Heinlein goes to in order to emphasize that none of the male characters are gay, or would ever consider being gay. Again, it's a dated book, or whatever? But the introduction clearly states how Heinlein was trying to break every taboo he could think of, up to and including cannibalism.

Cannibalism. But no gay dudes. Even the Martian is like "Of course, as I preach the power of sexual utopia, I could never ever, never ever, never ever hook up with a dude. But I could totally teach all the ladies to be better at hooking up with dudes. I could do this by having sex with all of them."


4) Jubal Harshaw. We need to talk about Jubal Harshaw. If you talk to anyone about this book, after you get through the rampant misogyny and the no-gay-dudes and the this-book-is-terrible, some asshole will go "Yeah, but Jubal Harshaw, amirite?" Like the idea that you have one character that sort of has a personality makes up for all the other characters having less than none. Let me frame it for you this way -- at the beginning of the book, Jubal Harshaw is a hack writer living in self-imposed exile surrounded by women who are basically all secretaries / mothers / daughters / girlfriends to him. By the end of the book, the Martian cult members all believe he is the father of their Martian Jesus, and then he gets laid by a young woman who's used her spooky Martian powers to transform herself into a clone of the one female character everyone in the book is in love with.

So maybe that sounds like a cool spot to be in, right? Not to mention Harshaw is written as being the smartest person on the planet, negotiating with the media and the government in one swoop in order to protect the Martian Jesus -- not in a pure-holy-genius way, but a this-old-maverick-can-outthink-all-you-whippersnappers-and-corporate-shills kind of way. Like the pure doggone common sense of being a middle-aged fiction writer will get you a harem of mom-secretary-daughter-girlfriends, make you more powerful than the UN, and make you the father of Martian Jesus.

Heinlein was a middle-aged fiction writer when he wrote this. SO IT'S NOT EVEN YOUR WISH-FULFILLMENT. IT'S HEINLEIN'S. AND THAT DUDE'S FREAKING DEAD.

4)We need to talk about the Martian sex cult. First, I'm calling it this because it's totally what it is, even thought technically it's a bunch of humans living in sexual utopia through learning Martian mind tricks. But Martian sex cult is funnier and truer. As I said earlier, there's at least 100 pages devoted to an attempt to break down the reader's preconceived notions about sex cults not being creepy, and how they make everyone happier. But look, maybe Heinlein didn't have old episodes of "Real Sex" to watch on the internet, but now we do, okay? And sex cults are creepy, fireals. In fact, 100 pages talking about their non-creepiness does not make them less creepy. Guess what it makes them the exact total fucking opposite of.

And I'm just saying, maybe if there'd been one little guy-orgy in all those pages, like to replace all the dudes talking about how they were having sex with each other's wives? I'm just saying that would be a start. But mostly no. Because even then? You have this psychotic group-think thing that is totally mind-wipingly terrible and makes me hate everyone alive for liking anything about this book.

5) In reviewing this, I'm going through it in my mind and heart again, and you know? I fucking hate it. I fucking hate this book. I was never actually convinced that Heinlein wrote all this stupid contradictory gender-politics stuff or insane cult stuff in order to troll the reader, which would be the one way I could possibly excuse everything else. The book is ethically dishonest, Heinlein was a scumgoat, and Jubal Harshaw is a turd.

But the cover? It's pretty cool.
Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
805 reviews3,846 followers
October 31, 2021
An innocent and naive Marsian is heavily influenced and changed by getting in contact with humankind, a weird kind of hero´s journey to the shoals of primate nature.

I would call it possibly his best work, as it deals with sexual freedom, the development of tribalistic rituals, colonialization and property rights, and has a character that goes through a development curve and isn´t kind of always the same without changes as in his other novels.

How religion, paganism, and consumerism could fuse is an always welcomed topic in sci-fi and Heinlein added his version of it to the varieties. It was his declared intention to provoke the stiff moralizers of that time and much of the influence of his work could be led back to his conscious provocation of scandals. Or it was just for the art, but I objectively think that this is the red line through all of his works, to boost his sales by beeing progressive and just wait for the bigots and their bite reflexes while counting his money.

Heinlein had already clumsily been dealing with nakedness as a sexual topic in „The puppet masters“, and the improvement regarding integrating that element more subtle is visible. Now it are more the elements of free love, alternative lifestyles, and breaking of conventions that are in the main focus.

He didn´t write Sci-Fi like Asimov and Clarke, that did worldbuilding, but just transferred timeless human problems with sexuality, politics, religion, ethics, and philosophy to a period of the future and didn´t include a cultural revolution that would normally come with a new age. Including that would have forced him to do more plotting and storyboard work to get the quicker flow of today´s series, something he didn´t want or could do.

Because there will always be controversy around Heinleins´ work and changing world views, I want to add some personal opinion at the end of each review of one of his works.

It seems a bit as if Heinlein had been a lifelong searcher for the right ideology, as he switched from one extreme to the other, leaving marks of it throughout all of his works. This is the biggest contrast to others, who kept their work clean from bias and agenda and it certainly built both his legend, fanbase, and critics by provoking and polarizing. Of course, it´s the freedom of art to integrate serious elements, as long as they are not dangerous, but the thin red line tends to be pretty blurry and while some see him as a visionary for alternative society models the others describe him as a conservative, hate-filled, insecure man.

I don´t really care what his motives might have been, his work is something special and different, it´s just a prime example of why professional artists should keep their work clean from personal agendas, because that just, justifiably, feeds the trolls and ruins ones´ reputation as for example seen with the great three titans of sci-fi. Asimov: robots, psychohistory, foundation. Clarke: epic, subtle, philosophical, each time reading finding new depths, extremely complex. Heinlein: Meh, his writing was average, but did you know what kind of mindset he had regarding... See? While people will endlessly debate about the ingenuity of and inspiration from Asimovs´and Clarkes´work, they will remember Heinlein as the kind of strange uncle with borderline attitudes.

Tropes show how literature is conceptualized and created and which mixture of elements makes works and genres unique:
Profile Image for Kate.
53 reviews
March 8, 2007
(Note: Original pub date is 1961)

Fuck you, Heinlein!!! That's like 3 or 4 hours of my life I'm NEVER GETTING BACK. This isn't a book, it's a pompous recitation of every one of your pet peeves and pet theories, delivered through the mouths of your utterly two-dimensional "characters" during the course of a nonexistent plot. You can throw all the orgies and kinky sex you want in there, but it doesn't make your book edgy or profound, and it sure doesn't make you a good writer.

Although, bonus hilarity points to Mr. Heinlein for putting tons of lesbian stuff in there, but going out of his way to say that the men don't touch each other AT ALL, because that would totally be GAY, and I'M TOTALLY NOT INTO THAT, OKAY? HEY, HOW 'BOUT THEM NAKED CHICKS? Yeah, whatever Heinlein. Go tend to your masculine insecurities elsewhere.

....Ok, moving on.
Profile Image for Robin Hobb.
Author 294 books98.9k followers
March 13, 2014
I will state, without apology, that I have enjoyed every Robert Heinlein book I have ever read.
Do I always agree with his philosophy or his observations on life. No.

But he tells me a story, and while he is telling it, I don't put that book down.

I don't read books to find authors who agree with me or match some political template.

I read books for stories. And diversity in story tellers is good.
Profile Image for Petra on hiatus, really unwell.
2,457 reviews34.4k followers
June 1, 2015
"Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it’s at least partly her own fault." The most quoted sentence from this book.

He's right it is. A woman should shroud herself in black, even wear a veil over her eyes and for extra protection she should wear a big size of Doc Martin boots so it could be a man under the shroud (Michael Jackson used to do that) and always be accompanied when she goes out. Which should be rarely. Very rarely. When she is in the house (most of the time) she should have the view through windows obscured and a chain on the door. No man who is not related to her should enter. Not workmen, not the police, not her son's friends from school. No one. Then she won't be raped.

If she doesn't do all of the above, and she she is raped it is obviously her fault. If she does do all of the above and she is raped, then she should examine her conscience and see if there was something else she could have done to protect herself and didn't.

This sounds like Saudi Arabia right? Or Afghanistan or any of those countries. This is because I was reading how there are very few rapes in these countries. It wouldn't have anything to do with the harsher penalties that the courts often apply to the victim rather than the rapist would it? .

I suppose if you hold the attitude of it must be her fault '9 times out of 10' her punishment is just and knowing that, she isn't going to complain. Is this the world Heinlen, a large number of British and Caribbean judges (I don't know about American ones so much) would like to see? I don't think so, but then they still blame women. "She was drunk", "she wore a short skirt", "she was out alone at night", or even simply, "she was out", "she opened the door to a workman", she, she, she... Normal men don't rape, they like the woman to enjoy sex too. Rape is a crime of assault and violence. Normal men who like the idea of hard, violent sex like women who enjoy that kink too. Rape is never, ever, ever the response to lust by a normal man.

It would be best if a woman home-schooled her daughters so that they are never exposed to risk but since they will not be going out very much, probably education beyond reading, writing and using a computer is pointless as housework, cooking and childcare will be all she really needs and she can get that from the endless reality shows she will no doubt watch as there isn't anything else much to do. A lot of men in the world would like to see this, minus the computer use. A lot of men in the world actually enforce this on women. And they still have rape in those countries.

The book was brilliant and I read it years before I had my consciousness raised (horrible phrase). Just glanced at it again today and was reading some reviews and this rant just bubbled up, as they do.

5 stars for being a brilliant book. 1 star for attitude towards women, total misogyny. Average 3 stars.
Profile Image for Leonard Gaya.
Author 1 book934 followers
November 8, 2020
Stranger in a Strange Land could have been titled more straightforwardly Jesus Christ in pre-hippie America. This hefty book is, in a nutshell, about a Man from Mars (that is: a Man from Heaven), who lands somewhere in the USA, doesn’t “grok” (that is: understand) much about human culture, but starts getting some attention, performs a couple of miracles (telekinesis, telepathy), and gathers a few followers around him. As time goes on, this small group of fans becomes a cult; the general hoi polloi gets angry at the Man from Mars because of his blasphemous Peace-and-Love doctrine and end up bumping him off; the end. Read the Gospel instead: it’s the same plot, only much shorter.

The novel is a bit surprising, coming from the author of Starship Troopers, where he displayed many militaristic right-wing opinions about society and politics. In this book, written only two years later, Heinlein seems to have shifted his stance entirely, advocating “water-sharing”, “growing closer”, “grokking in fullness”, in plain language: libertarianism, universal brotherhood and free sex. The structure of the novel, however, is very similar to that of Starship Troopers: most of it is long-winded, mushy conversations, maundering about religion, sexuality, money, art and whatever else, from one chapter to the next, with a few exciting or funny wisecracks here and there. The character of Valentine Michael Smith (aka the Man from Mars) is bland and, for all his superior powers, sounds like a half-wit. His disciples, most of them sweet bimbo-dumbo tarts (Jill, Dorcas and al.), don’t add up much colour either. Jubal Harshaw, the old loudmouthed alpha macho (possibly the author’s alter ego, just like Colonel Dubois in Starship Troopers) is a bit irritating at length, but the only one who kind of plays his cards right throughout.

In the end, and while I grok this is a much-revered landmark of classic SF, it all feels like a tedious, over-extended and over-discursive piece of narrative. Due to its subversive, satirical undertones, the book might have had some appeal to the hipster counterculture of the 1960s but has practically lost its sharpness and edge over the years. The Penguin Galaxy hardcover edition I have been reading is the revised version published originally; from what I’ve seen, the uncut version published after Heinlein’s death is longer but slightly better.
Profile Image for Jareed.
136 reviews280 followers
June 8, 2014
“Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it’s at least partly her own fault.” (511)

Perhaps this is the single most quoted statement from this work, and also the statement by which Heinlein is critiqued and berated, the same statement by which this philosophically charged work is sullied by 1-star ratings. Whether by inadvertent straying into a faulty conception and erroneous application of intentional fallacy or the failure to recognize that Heinlein sought this work to stand as historicization of the prevailing attitudes at the time of writing juxtaposed with those of the future, as represented by the Man from Mars, the loss of substance predicated upon such mistakes are saddening.

Most reviews needlessly nitpick this book by implacably quoting sexist remarks offered to us by a cantankerous Jubal, who symbolized the attitude of a bigoted past, but that is missing the big picture, and missing the very idea this book seeks to impart. That is the point, to present homophobic, sexist, resistant-to-change personas that stand for the past, because in the end, we see that Jubal, is opened up to a new philosophy, divested of all improprieties and finds himself realigning his beliefs, a belief which is open to change.

By doing so, Heinlein, through Jubal and the Man from Mars, asks the reader, by extension, to reexamine beliefs and conventions. To disregard this by literally focusing on the sexism is to lose the quintessential aspect of the book.

See beyond the literal. Challenge the conventions.

This book is included in The Hugo Awards Reading List

This review, along with my other reviews, has been posted at imbookedindefinitely
Profile Image for Kelly H. (Maybedog).
2,584 reviews225 followers
April 3, 2010
Nowadays, most people seem to either love or hate Heinlein. Many read his children's books like Podkayne from Mars, Red Planet and The Rolling Stones, enjoyed the adventure and moved on to his adult stuff just to get more. The politics, sexism and lack of depth went over their young heads. To them, his books were just great adventure. And yes, for the era in which they were written, they were great adventure and less sexist than most SF at the time.

My intro to the man was a little different: I was dallying at the library because I wanted just one more book (I was 12 I think). My mom was trying to get me to leave so she glanced at the paperback rack where I was standing, grabbed "Stranger in a Strange Land" and said, "If you want to know how weird your father is, read this book." How could I turn that down? I grabbed it and devoured it as soon as I got home.

I loved it, the free love was eye-opening, and I announced when I was finished that I was bisexual. I've never turned back, although my mom was understandably disbelieving, never really even hearing me. (She was later shocked when I first dated another woman.)

The book affected me profoundly but I am afraid to read it again because I'm sure I'll hate it. So I have a love/hate relationship with Heinlein. He was my second favorite author by the time I graduated from high school having read everything he wrote. By the time he died, I had wised up and realized what he was really about. Libertarian politics anger me. His twisted sexism, the kind where a woman tells a man he's smarter because he needs to believe he is and yet has very little power, makes me want to vomit. And I hate to think what kind of racist drivel I'd find.

But if there was a book that actually changed my life, this is it. Yes, I was 12, and yes, I would have come out eventually and yes, I would probably strongly dislike the book now. But Stranger was my favorite book for a long time. For its place in my past, my enjoyment of it at the time I read it, and the effect it had on my life, I must give it five stars. Just don't ask me to defend it.
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews805 followers
October 29, 2018
“Democracy’s worst fault is that its leaders are likely to reflect the faults and virtues of their constituents—a depressingly low level.”

Now, why does that resonate so hard? Great line even though it is not representative of Stranger in a Strange Land’s major theme.

Stranger in a Strange Land is Heinlein’s best known and most popular book. It is not his most controversial novel but seems that way because it is the most widely read one. His later books Friday and I Will Fear No Evil are, to my mind, much more controversial, but also verges on being unreadable. This is not the case with Stranger in a Strange Land, which is a hoot from beginning to end.

Robert Heinlein did not want Stranger in a Strange Land to be labeled as science fiction because he wants readers to view the novel as a sociopolitical allegory exploring the origin of a new religion, social mores, sexual liberation and other challenging themes. It is very easy to find stacks of in-depth analyses of this book online, but when I first read it in the 80s I was unaware of the themes, subtexts etc. At the time I only read sci-fi for the escapism and this book did not disappoint.

Looking at the basic plot it is not surprising that Stranger in a Strange Land is labeled as science fiction. The story concerns Valentine Michael Smith, known to the public as “the Man from Mars”. Mike (as he generally referred to by the other characters) was born on Mars, his parents and the rest of the crew the colonization starship Envoy mysteriously died. 25 years later another expedition from Earth discovers Mike as the lone survivor, having been raised by Martians. Mike is brought back to Earth, he is soon taken into the care of bestselling author Jubal Harshaw. This is where he learns—at superhuman speed—the English language and the peculiarities of human culture. Once he “groks”* humanity he sets out to found a new religion based on Martian philosophy, featuring learning the Martian language, developing telekinesis, polygamy, “thou art God” and various other alien practices. His “Church of All Worlds” picks up many followers but is viewed with disdain by the authorities and followers of the established religions, who are out for his blood.

Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov are often referred to as the “Big Three” sci-fi authors. During my formative years as a sf reader, Heinlein was my favorite of the three, followed by Asimov then Clarke†. He just seemed like the funniest, the most “badass”. A couple of years ago I reread his Starship Troopers, a book I enjoyed very much as a teenager, and found it to be overly didactic and consequently rather dull. Prior to this Stranger in a Strange Land reread I half expected to be similarly disappointed. This turns out not to be the case, the didacticism is there, but presented in a much more entertaining package. I particularly enjoyed the early parts of the book when Mike is depicted as a sort of space Mowgli. His sudden withdrawal into a corpse-like meditative state, his incomprehension of nudity, money, ownership and all social mores in general, makes for some great comedy. While the book is not exactly densely plotted I enjoyed his development from idiot child to a Crocodile Dundee-like character, and eventually to a messiah.

Art by SharksDen

The first half of the book reads more like a conventional sci-fi romp, the second half, which consists of more dialogue than plot, is where Heinlein throws his challenging ideas at the readers. From the several discussion forums I have read, quite a few readers decided to abandon the novel when the sexual issues come in thick and fast. As a more mature reader I could not help but notice the sexisms in the book, a lot of the bantering in the dialogue is fun, but the female characters are often talked down to by the men. The (non-graphic) depiction of free love is also cringe-inducing. As for the seemingly libertine ideas put forward by Mike, Jubal and several characters I would have to be crazy to agree with them all, but Heinlein’s intent was never to convince the readers of these ideas but to provoke them to think, to try looking at “conventional wisdom” from new angles, even crazy ones.

Heinlein’s literary skills are ahead of most of his sci-fi contemporaries when he is not busy being sexist, his prose and dialogue fairly sparkle. Jubal Harshaw is probably the most vivid and vibrant character I have ever encountered in a sci-fi book; he obviously has all the best lines, probably because he acts as an avatar (self-insert) for the author. Valentine Michael Smith is almost as memorable because of his oddness. Unfortunately, none of the female characters are well developed or believable.

For me, Stranger in a Strange Land is a flawed gem that sensitive female readers will probably find distasteful and feminists will find intolerable. I suspect Heinlein would have approved this state of affairs, as his intent for the book is to challenge the readers through satirizing the accepted social mores. If you can tune out the sexism (a product of its time) it is well worth reading; certainly required reading for anyone who wants to be “well read” in science fiction.

* “Grok” is the most famous neologism from this book. In essence it is a level of understanding so profound that the subject (or object) of this understanding becomes a part of you and vice versa.

† The ranking is the reverse these days, I like Clarke best, then Asimov, then Heinlein. Lately, I have come to appreciate Clarke’s epic hard sci-fi plot and speculations more than the other two biggies possibly because I read very few Clarke books in the 80s, at the time finding him too dry and not very humorous.

• This review is of the “uncut” version as Heinlein first conceived and written it, first published in 1991. The abridged version was published in 1961, both versions have their fans (and detractors ). I read the 1961 version in the 80s, unfortunately I can’t remember what the differences are; but I do think some of the dialogue in this uncut edition is rather longwinded. The 1962 Hugo Award was, of course, for the abridged version. Thanks, Denis for raising this issue.

• Some of the background info for this review was gleaned from this Mental Floss article.

• An interesting Goodreads group discussion about this book, which remains a problematical read for many, and Heinlein would not have wanted it any other way.

• From Quora: Why are Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov called the Big-Three of Science Fiction?

“The Universe was a damned silly place at best . . . but the least likely explanation for its existence was the no-explanation of random chance, the conceit that some abstract somethings “just happened” to be some atoms that “just happened” to get together in configurations which “just happened” to look like consistent laws and then some of these configurations “just happened” to possess self-awareness and that two such “just happened” to be the Man from Mars and the other a bald-headed old coot with Jubal himself inside.”

“When one is of my age, one is necessarily in a hurry about some things. Each sunrise is a precious jewel . . . for it may never be followed by its sunset.”

“Gratitude is a euphemism for resentment. The Japanese have five different ways to say 'thank you'-and every one of them translates literally as resentment, in various degrees.”

“could not avoid having government, any more than an individual man could escape his lifelong bondage to his bowels.”

Valentine Michael Smith
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews42 followers
April 22, 2022
Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein

The story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human who comes to Earth in early adulthood after being born on the planet Mars and raised by Martians. He struggles to understand the social mores and prejudices of human nature that are so alien to him, while teaching them his own fundamental beliefs. Though he is a man in his twenties, Smith looks at absolutely everything on this new planet through the ignorant eyes of a baby, and faces the job of learning how to be a human being.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش سالها پیش از امروز شاید سال1972میلادی

عنوان: غریبه‌ای در سرزمین غربت؛ نویسنده: رابرت آنسون هاین‌لاین؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده20م

رمان علمی و خیال انگیز «غریبه‌ای در سرزمین غربت»، اثری از «رابرت آنسون هاین‌لاین» نویسنده ی «ایالات متحده آمریکا» است، که نخستین بار در سال1961میلادی منتشر شده است؛ این اثر «هاین‌لاین»، از ستایش شده‌ ها در گونه ی ادبی علمی و خیال انگیز بوده است، و در همان سال انتشار برنده ی جایزه ی «هوگو» برای بهترین رمان علمی و خیال انگیز سال شد، اندیشه های آینده نگرانه «هاین لاین» که همانند «ژول ورن» و «آیزاک آسیموف» از زمانه ی خویش پیشروتر، و پدید آورنده ی خیالهای خویش بوده اند، آن خیالها در این کتاب جلوه گر هستند؛ کتاب در رده ی آثار خیال انگیز و برتر از دیگر کتابها بوده؛ و داستان کتاب درباره ی «والنتاین مایکل اسمیت» است، یک انسان سبز که به زمین می‌آید، او در سیاره ی «مریخ» به دنیا آمده، و توسط مریخیان بزرگوار گردیده، نویسنده در این رمان به بررسی شخصیت قصه و در جهت تحول نهایی فرهنگ زمینی می‌پردازند؛ این کتاب را سالها پیش از امروز خوانده ام باید دوباره اگر زنده ماندم به اوراق کتاب بنگرم و یادمانی نو از خوانش آن بنگارم

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 01/02/1401هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Robin Goodfellow.
37 reviews11 followers
February 18, 2022
Overlong piece of cardboard. Absolutely terrible.

Pedantic, banal, and frequently offensive. All the characters but one were flat. The one character with any actual character was a preachy asshole who looks a lot like a mouthpiece for the author. The plot was boring and completely squandered the premise. The prose was dull and the philosophy was cynical and tyrannical.

The book is transparently a playing out of the author's junior high, male power fantasies, while trying to be religiously subversive (emphasis on trying). Incessantly toxic and misogynistic, with smatterings of racism and homophobia for fun (and presented as such). The finale--the moment of supposed emotional culmination--was the hamfisted Jesus 2.0 martyrdom of the sex-cult ubermensch, who might as well have been conceived of by Ayn Rand.

Lowlights include stating that rape is often the fault of women and the planned selling of a baby because she is female. Additionally, the ridiculous exclamation of "Thou Art God" by the Martian man during coital climax, and a lengthy discussion between the preachy asshole and a Muslim linguist (referred to as "Stinky") about whether the four women present have souls and whether they are pretty enough to be Hooris (the virginal maidens of Paradise) followed by the sequential proposition of each by "Stinky". There is also a scene of coercive sex featuring what is essentially telepathic (and supposedly loving) group rape of the old preachy asshole... but, of course, he likes it.

Outside of the appalling moments, the story is rather mundane and can be summed up in several episodes as 1) a lengthy stay at a hospital, 2) a political conference, 3) a stint in a carnival, 4) the rise of a semi-religious sex cult, and then 5) the hamfisted conclusion.

The man from Mars has a couple of impressive powers, which he uses initially to innocently kill some people, but then subsequently he uses them primarily to undress people, dupe "marks" out of their money at a carnival, induce others to join his cult, and to dictate a Martian dictionary. There's very little in the way of truly speculative fiction here and it mostly consists of sock-puppet dialogue. Also, the chapter endings were awkward.

I wished to cease reading this continually, but persevered in order to say just how terrible it is. It is certifiable trash. If you own this book, burn it. If you're considering reading it, don't. I have read this book to save you. It is no wonder people thought so little of science fiction.
Profile Image for Markus.
476 reviews1,561 followers
February 7, 2017
I don't even...

I might try one of these books again in the distant future, and I might try the last of this guy's classics, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress at some point. But for now I can only say that Robert A. Heinlein is one of my least favourite writers of all time.

I might write a real review, but considering that I'm not particularly fond of reviewing thoroughly negative experiences, I don't know if I can be bothered.
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews926 followers
October 13, 2018
After my latest reread of Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, it took some time for me to decide how I felt about it. On the one hand, the story is innovative and thought provoking. On the other hand, the story gets clunky and is extremely sexist (something readers of Heinlein often see in his works, but usually not quite to this degree). I might revisit Stranger again someday. I like how the Martian language is presented and the idea of grokking is really fun. 3.5 stars rounded down this time.
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.8k followers
May 14, 2018
Very 1960s counterculture (grok, seriously?). Very weird.

Heinlein was kind of gross in his old age.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,099 followers
February 8, 2017
This one transformed and cemented me as a young adult, totally screwing me up and enlightening me at the same time, showing me that living in a crazy christian culture doesn't mean I have to stay there, or that great imagery can be used soooooo damn subversively. :)

And above or below that, it was a fantastic tale of striving for wisdom, learning that semantics MEANS something, and that I can be blown away by the fact that so much philosophy and striving and understanding, (read Grok,) could be thrown into one single novel and still be a wild tale.

So why all the hate, Ya'll? Oh good ole' Jubal is a stand-in for Heinlein's soapbox tendencies, sure, but he's also a wild character in the sense that he is what he is. He loves women, but says awful things, but on the other hand, these women respect him enough to throw him in the pool and blow raspberries at him, too. As we all should, today, to all men who act as a Mad Man from 1962, all heavy-drinking, heavy-opinions, and "apparently" sexist. But no one really believes that about him when they get to know him. He's a good man and a loudmouth author and all his other progressive ideas like equality between the sexes are SHOWN to us, repeatedly and repeatedly, by actions and deeds and a closer look at all the philosophies. It's the difference between expression and reality. He expresses as the time allows, but in reality he supports everyone. That's Jubal for you.

But he's not even the main character, just the most loud one.

Mike is. He's an alien, yo, born of man but raised by Martians with heavy-ass psychic powers, yo. And he's innocent of mankind, too.

This is his story. Who tries to capitalize on the man who owns Mars, who protects him, how he learns to adapt and later to understand us crazy humans, and what he does with his gifts.

The novel could be an indictment of modern times, a brew-on of absurdity when it comes to religion and religious thinking, a wildly prescient vision of the sexual liberation movement just a few years down the road, (or perhaps the seminal novel that informed the sixties love movements,) or it could be a wonderful shout-out to us all to start trying to UNDERSTAND one another, for grok's sake.

So I think it's wonderfully delicious. You know. To say that Heinlein is a sexist reactionary? When he, like, is the spirit of the sixties? Huh, water-brother? You Grok?

This is easily one of my favorite, if not my most favorite Heinlein, not just because it got into my soul when I was a kid, but because it's just one of those works that lives and breathes and still brings a big smile to my face. :) Oh, and it's one of my top 100 works of all time and it won the Hugo of '62, not that anyone really cares, because it just SPEAKS to so many people. :)

That's controversy for you. :)
Profile Image for Otis Chandler.
392 reviews114k followers
March 22, 2017
I really enjoyed this book. The concept of a man who had grown up on Mars and never seen another human until he was in his twenties is such a fun idea - and a rich canvas. Watching Mike try to grok humans gave a Heinlein great opportunities to point out some of our faults - and our advantages.

I think my favorite part of this book is the word 'grok'. I would bet that there are deep discussions over the true meaning of this word - but I will contend that its closest meaning in English is 'to be enlightened about something'. If you grok God you have reached enlightenment. If you grok music you truly understand in the way that Mozart understood it. If you grok another person you love them. If you grok programming then you truly love and are really good at programming - that, and you're also a probably a pretty big nerd for using a word like 'grok' :) I used it in front of my girlfriend and she still hasn't forgiven me, since I had to explain that it was "a Martian word"!

One thing that I grokked (yes I'm going to keep using it dammit) after finishing this book is that it is kind of a 60's manifesto for free love. I wasn't alive in the 60's, but given everything I know about the 60's from movies, books, etc it seemed that my grokking was right.
Profile Image for Paul Weiss.
1,250 reviews232 followers
March 22, 2023
A cult classic now out of time and out of place!

Valentine Michael Smith is genetically a human. But he was born on Mars and he is now the only survivor of the first manned mission to Mars. When the second mission to Mars rescues him and brings him back to earth, they discover that is 100% Martian by culture, language, upbringing, education and understanding. They even discover that he has some exceptionally potent psychic abilities that, by human experience, are all but supernatural. Never having heard any human language and never having met a woman, he is a true "tabula rasa" when it comes to sex and sexuality, war and fighting, business, money and economics, religion and, indeed, all aspects of human culture and the cultural implications that are inherent in any of earth's many languages.

As if it wasn't enough that his arrival on earth caused a global sensation, the US government was aghast to come to the realization that a piece of earth-side legislation known as the Larkin Decision had the unforeseen implication that Valentine Michael Smith was not only the owner of Mars but also its sovereign. He was also the sole inheritor of the combined wealth of the entire crew of the first mission and, as a result, (despite having no knowledge of what money even meant) was now wealthy beyond imagining.

Events which transpired at Bethesda Naval Station, where Smith was housed after he first arrived on earth, conspired to place him under the watchful eyes of Gillian Boardman, a nurse at the hospital, Ben Caxton, a journalist, and Jubal Harshaw, an aging grumpy author with some definite ideas as to the rights and wrongs of the world. The novel, as you might imagine with this introduction, relates Michael Valentine Smith's journey through earth's culture, his reactions, his assimilation of the ideas and language of the earth and, ultimately, his proactive responses to what he has learned.

In the time of Timothy Leary, Haight-Ashbury, hippie culture, free love, flower children, "drop in, tune out", student protests against the Vietnam War, communal living and so on, it is little wonder that STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, winner of the 1962 Hugo Award, became a much-loved cult classic. But, sadly, reading it almost 40 years later is to discover that Jubal Harshaw, one of the primary characters, is simply Heinlein's mouthpiece standing on a soapbox loudly spouting endless (and frankly outdated, dreary and boring) diatribes and opinions on organized religion, cults and churches (which, in Heinlein's mind, appear to be virtually indistinguishable one from the other), culture, language, imperialism, and, of course, sex and sexuality.

Certainly, STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND can be read with some interest because of its historical relevance to the period but it hasn't aged well at all. Modern readers born after the 60s will almost certainly find it both bizarre and quite tiresome. Even as a Heinlein fan who first read (and enjoyed) it shortly after its initial publication (and like other young people of the day was wont to ask my friends if they "grokked" the story), I found it a great disappointment today.

Recommended only out of academic interest. I found it a tough slog to even finish it today.

Paul Weiss
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,041 followers
December 6, 2017
I just re-read for the SF & Fantasy book club. I've read it a several times over the years. Worth the time & was no effort. It's incredible to me that he captured the 60's so well & it was first published in 1961. It would have been a lot less shocking toward the end of that decade, but he actually foresaw so much of the societal upheaval we had.

Typical of Heinlein, one of his main characters is a crusty old genius, Jubal Harshaw, who pontificates a fair amount. Heinlein kept his sexual revolution within limits that I could accept, unlike his works a decade later & beyond. He takes our basic preconceptions about society & religion out & examines them closely, often through Jubal's cynical POV (which I often agree with, so I like it) yet I can never put mine back unchanged. It helps to read this occasionally, if only to gain some perspective to look at my current society.

As an SF novel, he does have his gadgets, but leaves the science of their workings to our imaginations. In other words, he doesn't date his work with a lot of pseudo-science that is outdated. It helps this book stand the test of time a lot better. While the setting is sometime in the near future, it easily stays that way - it has since I first read it 35 years or so ago, anyway.

He also has Psi powers, which are available to any person who has the intellect & discipline to learn the Martian language & logic systems.

The characters are interesting, if not particularly deep or complex. A lot is left up to the reader, which I prefer. He sketches the outline & let's me fill the character in with my own prejudices. Occasionally, he swats them down.

All in all, it's an excellent book & a must read.
Profile Image for Baba.
3,616 reviews985 followers
March 23, 2021
The Hugo Award winning book, some say, the best of Heinlein's many novels. A man, Valentine Michael Smith who grew up on Mars, returns to Earth extremely wealthy (inheritances, plural) and comparatively more advanced and evolved, albeit completely new to mankind. Earth is a consumerist ridden, capitalist, soulless world. This is the story of how he acclimatizes to Earth, and how he uses Earth's consumerist tools and methods, coupled with his power and 'truths', to creates a 'religion/cult' that challenges the status quo. A very interesting and very original look at a 'stranger' in a strange land. 5 out of 12
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,215 reviews9,888 followers
May 2, 2018
I read this. Yes. When I was young. At the time it appeared to be fascism for hippies. Proto-Manson, then. I'm struggling to remember anything. He comes from Mars and he starts a new religion and he eats people. No - he gets eaten by people. I think that's it. A bit like Jesus. If Jesus was a fascist. You know what - I can't remember a thing. It's late.


Update - for why we never have to read this one anymore, see Robin's review here

Profile Image for Olivier Delaye.
Author 1 book221 followers
November 18, 2016
I'd heard about this Science Fiction classic for years before I finally decided to give it a whirl. For some reason I had always put off reading it... and to be totally honest I should have listened to what my gut was telling me. Now, I'm well aware of the fact that Stranger in a Strange Land came out in 1961, a period in time when values and mores were different, but the level of sexism and homophobia in this book is simply too much for me to bear.

Just read the following passage: "Jill had explained homosexuality, after Mike had read about it and failed to grok—and had given him rules for avoiding passes; she knew that Mike, pretty as he was, would attract such. He had followed her advice and had made his face more masculine, instead of the androgynous beauty he had had. But Jill was not sure that Mike would refuse a pass, say, from Duke—fortunately Mike’s male water brothers were decidedly masculine, just as his others were very female women. Jill suspected that Mike would grok a ‘wrongness’ in the poor in-betweeners anyhow—they would never be offered water."

And another one: "After looking over a bushel or so of Mike’s first class mail Jubal set up a list of categories: (…) G. Proposals of marriage and propositions not quite so formal … Jill brought a letter, category “G,” to Jubal. More than half of the ladies and other females (plus misguided males) who supplied this category included pictures alleged to be of themselves."

And yet another--hold on to your seat, this one is a biggie: "Nine times out of ten when a woman gets raped it's partly her own fault."

Really, Heinlein, really? A DNF for me.

Author of the SEBASTEN OF ATLANTIS series
The Forgotten Goddess (Sebasten of Atlantis, #1) by Olivier Delaye
Profile Image for Brett C.
801 reviews183 followers
May 2, 2021
I have heard both good and bad things about this book. Overall, I did not enjoy it. The concept started out great: a human raised by Martians who is brought to Earth. His parents were part of an expeditionary team to Mars but lost contact during the mission. Twenty-five years later the sole survivor, a boy found and raised by the Martians, is discovered by another mission team and is brought to Earth.

Once on Earth he immediately becomes challenged and is viewed as the alien. His concept of interpersonal relationships, awareness, child-like speech patterns, and boundaries are very different. He had to relearn everything yet retained his psychic abilities and superior intelligence. The book gradually becomes heavily filled with sex/sexism, concepts of religion and church fanaticism, and free love. The plot is driven by the combination of these concepts to the very end.

The first part of the book was quite original and had a lot of potential. Then I felt the remainder of the book derailed by meshing these concepts in attempts to push the boundaries of social norms. I would recommend it anyway because you may have a different take on it. Thanks!
Profile Image for donna backshall.
677 reviews187 followers
December 1, 2020
On a mission to read all books on a "100 Best SciFi of all time" list, I came to Stranger in a Strange Land. After hearing so much about it over the decades, I figured I would love it. Drink it in. Grok it fully.

Sadly I have to admit I threw in the towel with only 20% to go, fearing it would dissolve even further into more tedious religious speculation and surprisingly uninteresting sexual exploration. (I've read sex scenes that were awkward, destructive and even gory, but "boring" sex is definitely a first.)

This book is less sci-fi as I know and love it, and more a decidedly cerebral, and sometimes abrasive, statement about the early 1960's culture in which it was written. Call me intolerant, but there were simply too many dated statements and assumptions thrown out for me to stomach, especially when I was looking for something otherworldly, adventurous and exciting. My displeasure rippled with all the "women have their place" acceptance, rose at some comment about how nine out of ten women are in some way responsible for their rapes, and bubbled over while I tried to endure the never-ending "growing closer" nonsense.

Apparently I do not have the patience of a Martian.
Profile Image for Julio Genao.
Author 9 books2,013 followers
January 5, 2015

also: legit-legit crazy.

but important on too many levels to ignore.

it was the right book at the right time—fifty years ago.

it shaped my earliest musings on the nature of sexuality and the path towards a future that didn't compel me to get my dick sucked in random alleyways and decrepit porn theaters after school—while still making it back home in time for family ties; never mind the pointed exclusion of homosexuality from heinlein's philosophical flatulence.

appallingly dated ideas about women; incredibly forward-thinking ideas about women also.

which means he knew what he was doing, didn't he, old heinlein.

read jareed: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

...and keep something fling-able to hand, just in case.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 30 books14k followers
May 23, 2009
Robert Heinlein was a good friend of AI legend Marvin Minsky (check out his people page! It's interesting!), and I've heard that they often used to chat about AI, science-fiction, and the connections between them. Here's a conversation I imagine them having some time between 1961, when Stranger in a Strange Land was published, and 1966, when The Moon is a Harsh Mistress appeared:

"Bob, this book's not so bad, but I felt it could have been so much better! OK, love the idea of the guy from Mars, who doesn't understand how people work and has to learn the most basic things about emotions, society, etc from first principles. You have some good stuff there. But I think you got a bit distracted with the super-powers and the sex. Sure, put in sex, all for it, but don't get Mike so involved in that part of the book. He should be more abstract I think. And I wasn't so thrilled by the fact that he never actually does anything much with his powers, except for start a minor cult and get martyred. Seems a bit negative. What does his martyrdom achieve, exactly?

Wait. I have an idea. Why don't you rewrite it so that he's an artificial intelligence? Really, that makes more sense. He's even more alien than a human raised by Martians. Oh, don't worry about that, I can help you with the technical details. Feel free to drop in at the AI Lab any time, we're all huge fans. People will be delighted. So, yes, as I was saying, he needs to do something. Maybe he's... the central computer in a future Lunar society? And he helps them start a revolution, and break free from Earth's tyranny? Even though what he's really most interested in is understanding how humor works? I don't think you need to change that much else. Call him Mike again by all means, so that people see the link. And you should absolutely martyr him at the end. Only, I think this time you should do it in a subtler and more ambiguous way. But sure, leave the door open about whether he's really dead."

"Hey, thanks Marvin! Terrific ideas! You know, sometimes I think you should be the science-fiction writer, and I should be the AI researcher. I'll definitely come by soon. With a draft, I feel inspired. Going to start as soon as I put the phone down. Take care!"
Profile Image for Michael || TheNeverendingTBR.
479 reviews190 followers
July 5, 2022
This book started really well with a compelling story and whimsical characters but the narrative slows and we endure long critiques of philosophy and religion.

I don't think it's aged well either, it's pretty sexist - which I suppose is typical of the time period.

I just felt like it went from a exciting and mysterious read to just plain dull.

It's also WAY to long, which made it tedious to get through and I was reading the uncut version.

Not my jam.
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,255 followers
June 15, 2012
Stranger in a Strange Land thinks more than it moves. There's tons of dialogue on philosophical topics only rarely broken up by the occasional plot-pusher. It often reminded me more of Plato's Symposium rather than the sci-fi novel I expected. I'm not saying that's bad, but sometimes when you're hit with the unexpected it throws you off and lowers the enjoyment level of the whole thing slightly. About halfway through I realized what was happening, readjusted my expectations and enjoyed the book for what it was. So, no harm, no foul.

Sex, religion, politics...all those tasty taboos and touchy topics are discussed, dissected, and often lampooned. However, without delving too deep into spoiler territory I will at least say that going in I would've expected the examination to be centered on

That being said, the book is docked one star in the rating, because in my opinion the preponderance of philosophy bandied about through out Stranger in a Strange Land is almost too much to bare. Some of it was downright delicious, some I could swallow, some I refused, while some I spat out as idealistic nonsense. Heinlein was not so naive as to believe all the dogma he wrote. He created characters to voice these disparate ideas, values, opinions, etc. Take them as you will, he seems to be saying. The important thing is that you listen with an open mind.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 9,685 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.