REview: Stranger in a Strange Land

If you know the term grok, then  you have either read this book or know somebody who has, or of course know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody…
I would have said I had not read this one of Heinlein’s.  I would have been wrong. It’s the weirdest thing.  Because I definitely read it, but the things I remember, the things that made the deepest impression on me were not the things most people would remember, do remember, or expect other people to remember.  Grok?  I knew it because of friends, but I would have told you had never read a book with that term in it.
What I have never forgotten is the exact scene where Jubal asks Ann, the Fair Witness, to describe a house she sees and tell them what colour the roof is.  She answers very precisely that the roof on this side appears to be white (or whatever), making no assumptions about the side she cannot see.  For some reason, that impressed me strongly.  I wanted to be a fair witness. I thought everybody should be a fair witness.  I aspired to that kind of fair, neutral observation.  Turns out, it’s not a very popular goal.  Turns out, I don’t care that much.  Turns out, I’m also too human for it, although I do at least own my biases I think.
But anyway.  That is the main thing I remembered. I hadn’t remembered which book it was in, my impression was an H.G. Wells title.  But I did remember that a a couple other things- the Rodin statues conversation was fabulous.  The idea that a good kiss is one to which you devote your whole attention, not thinking about anything else.  Okay, I think I was 13, maybe.
But the other stuff, the ground-breaking, iconoclastic stuff about how jealousy is a bad, awful, selfish thing you never feel for your loved on and being in a loving relationship is all about multiple sex partners and that is what all women would want if they were only freed from the chains of taboos, free love and open ‘marriage,’ and  and so much more spoiled horse-radish, I read it and dismissed it.  I thought it was stupid and irritating and wrong then, and so I glossed over it, and I think it’s stupid and irritating and wrong now and wonder how on earth so many people, including Heinlein himself, bought into it.   He did claim he didn’t write the book to convince people of one thing or another or to start a religion, he wrote it to make people think.  I think it’s intellectually and philosophically a very lightweight book.

I did appreciate the irony that all the wisest, more level headed characters and the religious fanatics are equally, ridiculously wrong about the afterlife. There is one, and it’s nothing like anybody expected.  But it doesn’t seem all that different from a large, 1950s bureaucracy, either, although we mainly only see middle management, I guess.

I don’t agree with every jot and tittle in this review, but I do agree with a lot of it, and definitely the smug:

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One Comment

  1. Frances
    Posted September 19, 2017 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the review link – very interesting.

    I have problems with Heinlein, especially some of the later stuff, but grateful for certain little “wow, never thought of that!” insights which cropped up here and there. (And just the title The Cat Who Walks through Walls is a joy, far surpassing the actual content.: – though I love the notion of repotting the bonsai so it could grow.)

    I was intrigued by the Fair Witness thing, of course wondering about the training and safeguards against corruption. I’ve often wondered if interpreters for the deaf can be suborned.

    Never did understand the ending of Number of the Beast, even after reading the careful explanation some kind soul gave me. Slid right off my mind.

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