A Strange Tale from a Strange Yester-Land

by Janie Jones

I’ve been trying to come up with a decent review of “A Stranger in a Strange Land,” but I’m struggling.

I feel disappointed and cheated.  I had been going along feeling like this was some great cornerstone work of Science Fiction Literature and had built up in my mind that this would be some amazing read which would leave me breathless.

Well, I’m breathless but not from having my breath taken away, it’s more like breathless from ranting.

I have been trying to figure out what the point of this tale was, and I’m just really coming up with nothing.  I find this book leaves me as frustrated as some of the students whose work I read.  It has potential, but dies a slow, painful and lingering death without being fully explored.  I feel it’s like Heinlein wanted to say something deeply significant, but couldn’t clearly distill his thoughts, ends up trying to do to much, does a little acid, and just gives up in the end.

Is this book about prejudice?

Is this book about a sexual revolution?

Is this book about a religious revolution?  I can’t even begin to guess what this book might be saying about Heaven, Saints and Angels.

Is this book about communism?

Is this book about homogenizing the individual into simply a mass of male and a mass of female where privacy, personal space and uniqueness is no longer a part of our experience, were even love knows no preference between one person and the next?  And where every emotion must be shared by all so one has no physical nor emotional belongings solely their own?

Is this book saying true happiness can only come from never having an iota of privacy ever again?

Is this book about the heavy handed corruptness of the government?

Is it about the depravity of the media?

Is this book about how society is become a spoiled, materialistic, hedonistic morass of irresponsible idiots?

Is this book about social redemption?

Is this book saying we are worth fighting for as a species?

Is it about all these things?  I obviously don’t know what was going on in Heinlein’s mind as he wrote this book, but he does seem to be putting a pretty heavy emphasis on free love and the preference of a communal life where jealousy, monogamy, money and social status is virtually eradicated.  If it makes me seem like a Puritanical prude, I still must admit, I’m not comfortable with this as a new social norm.

He also makes no bones about his believe that a corrupt government which stands in the way of achieving these imperatives should simply be “discorporated.”  And, that one individual alone, apparently, is righteous enough to decide whether a person’s beliefs, morals, politics, whatever, is a “goodness” or a “wrongness,” and in failing to measure up, can be eliminated with little more than a thought.  While I must admit there’s been a lot of moves made by various governments, my own included, and other social systems that seem a massive “wrongness” in need of removal, but my mind can’t help but ask, who really should have the right or the authority to make that decision on their own, uniformly and irrevocably?  An outsider?  A man with “superior” mental abilities?  Should this or should this not make me uncomfortable?  On one hand I’m all like, “Yeah, Mike!” the other hand is like, “Woah, let’s hope Mike doesn’t decide my social and political views aren’t a ‘wrongness.'”

I “grok” that this book was written in a very different time, and at that time it was probably a very heavy hitter indeed.  Now it just seems to lack a clear direction, tries to do to much and doesn’t really satisfy any of the questions raised.  I can accept that a good book doesn’t have to have a neat, tidy ending, but I do think more highly of a writer that finishes their tale with a strong, clear ending.  I believe the writer owes the reader a full culmination of their thought process with no loose ends, even if they don’t have all the right answers.  I wonder, as at times he seems to contradict many of these potential themes you might on the surface think he idealizes, if he doesn’t even know what he means or believes himself.  Perhaps however, this is exactly his point.  He wanted his readers to be a bit confused and frustrated and unsure.  Perhaps this is a feeling he struggled with himself and wanted to share, to make sure he wasn’t alone in his confusion; to open people to new ideas and argue over where our society is headed.  Like Micheal Valentine, we’re all still waiting for fullness.

Or maybe it’s none of these things and I’m just going way overboard.  Maybe it was just supposed to be light and fluffy and appeal to superhero worshipers, to the burgeoning sexual drives of the 14-21 male set of the 60’s.  It does also have something of a graphic novel quality and the narratives would not seem out of place at all in a dialogue bubble written in a comic font.  I can almost visualize that campy 60’s “Lost In Space” look spread out in glossy color full page art: blonde bobbed women with cone-shaped breasts and men with triangular torsos in immaculately lined navy suits and Brill Cremed swooped hair.  Yeah, it fits perfectly.

Heinlein I’m afraid leaves too many open doors leading to possibilities I find untidy, undesirable and no longer relevant for my taste.  Whatever the real case of Heinlein’s intent, he seems an intelligent man who suffered the fate of being a forerunner of a genre and now is being judged harshly by at least one amateur book critic from a different time and place.  To abuse a metaphor, I think it’s time to shut the book on this one and move on.

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2 Comments to “A Strange Tale from a Strange Yester-Land”

  1. As I’ve aged, I’ve developed the opinion that the greatest of writers don’t always get it right, can write without any real purpose and wonder if some do so with the thought of diddling with our heads.

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