Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) by Robert A Heinlein

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Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) by Robert A Heinlein

Post  BoG on Mon Jan 19, 2015 12:40 pm

Wikipedia wrote:Stranger in a Strange Land is a 1961 science fiction novel by American author Robert A. Heinlein. It tells 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. The novel explores his interaction with—and eventual transformation of—terrestrial culture. The title is an allusion to the phrase in Exodus 2:22. According to Heinlein, the novel's working title was The Heretic. Several later editions of the book have promoted it as "The most famous Science Fiction Novel ever written".

Heinlein got the idea for the novel when he and his wife Virginia were brainstorming one evening in 1948. She suggested a new version of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book (1894), but with a child raised by Martians instead of wolves. He decided to go further with the idea and worked on the story on and off for more than a decade. His editors at Putnam then required him to cut its 220,000-word length down to 160,067 words before publication. In 1962, it received the Hugo Award for Best Novel.

Wikipedia wrote:The story focuses on a human raised on Mars and his adaptation to, and understanding of, humans and their culture. It is set in a post-third world war United States where organized religions are politically powerful. There is a World Federation of Free Nations, including the demilitarized U.S., with a world government supported by Special Service (S. S.) troops.

A manned expedition is mounted to visit the planet Mars but all contact is lost after landing. A second expedition twenty five years later finds a single survivor, Valentine Michael Smith. Smith was born on the spacecraft and was raised entirely by the Martians. He is ordered by the Martians to go with the returning expedition, much against his will.

Because Smith is unaccustomed to the relatively dense atmosphere and high gravity of Earth, he is confined at Bethesda Hospital, where having never seen a human female, he is attended by male staff only. Seeing this restriction as a challenge, Nurse Gillian Boardman eludes the guards and goes in to see Smith. By sharing a glass of water with him, she inadvertently becomes his first female "water brother", considered a profound relationship by the Martians.

When Gillian tells reporter Ben Caxton about her experience with Smith, Ben explains how as heir to the entire exploration party, Smith is extremely wealthy and following a legal precedent set during the colonisation of the Moon, the Larkin Decision, he could be considered to own the planet Mars itself. His arrival on Earth has prompted a political power struggle that puts his life in danger. Ben persuades her to bug his room and then publishes stories to bait the government into releasing Smith. After Ben is seized by the S. S., Gillian persuades Smith to leave the hospital with her, but they are accosted by more S. S. troops. Smith discards the agents irretrievably into a fourth dimension, then is so shocked by Gillian's terrified reaction that he enters a semblance of catatonia. Gillian, remembering Ben's earlier suggestion, conveys Smith to Jubal Harshaw, a famous author who is also a physician and a lawyer.

Smith continues to demonstrate psychic abilities and superhuman intelligence coupled with a childlike naïveté. When Harshaw tries to explain religion to him, Smith understands the concept of God only as "one who groks", which includes every extant organism. This leads him to express the Martian concept of life as the phrase "Thou art God", although he knows this is a bad translation. Many other human concepts such as war, clothing, and jealousy are strange to him, while the idea of an afterlife is a fact he takes for granted because the government on Mars is composed of "Old Ones", the spirits of Martians who have died. It is also customary for loved ones and friends to eat the bodies of the dead, in a spirit of Holy Communion. Eventually Harshaw arranges freedom for Smith and recognition that human law, which would have granted ownership of Mars to Smith, has no applicability to a planet already inhabited by intelligent life.
Strange Trivia: according to some people 'in the know' on the net, Heinlein made a bet with authors L Ron Hubbard and Frank Herbert on who can write the best sf novel on one of the three major religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism; this was Heinlein's result, on Christianity.
Wikipedia wrote:Reception
Heinlein's deliberately provocative book generated considerable controversy. The free love and commune living aspects of the Church of All Worlds led to the book's being excluded from school reading lists. After it was rumored to be associated with Charles Manson, it was removed from school libraries as well.

Writing in The New York Times, Orville Prescott received the novel caustically, describing it as a "disastrous mishmash of science fiction, laborious humor, dreary social satire and cheap eroticism"; he characterized Stranger as "puerile and ludicrous", saying "when a non-stop orgy is combined with a lot of preposterous chatter, it becomes unendurable, an affront to the patience and intelligence of readers".

Galaxy reviewer Floyd C. Gale gave the original edition a mixed review, saying "the book's shortcomings lie not so much in its emancipation as in the fact that Heinlein has bitten off too large a chewing portion." Despite such reviews, Stranger won the 1962 Hugo Award for Best Novel and became the first science fiction novel to enter The New York Times Book Review '​s best-seller list. In 2012, it was included in a Library of Congress exhibition of "Books That Shaped America".

Like many influential works of literature, Stranger made a contribution to the English language: specifically, the word "grok". In Heinlein's invented Martian language, "grok" literally means "to drink" and figuratively means "to comprehend", "to love", and "to be one with". One dictionary description was "To understand thoroughly through having empathy with". This word rapidly became common parlance among science fiction fans, hippies, and computer hackers, and has since entered the Oxford English Dictionary among others.
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