Saturday, December 29, 2012

This Week's Book: Stranger in a Strange Land

This finishes Book a Week 2012! It's been a fun ride. Watch for how things'll change a little around here in 2013.

December 23-29: Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

Science Fiction (1961 - 655 pp.) 

This is the original edition, packed with 60,000 more words than the already decently long first pressing. 

The premise of the book is incredibly interesting. If a human born and raised by a highly intelligent race of Martians came to Earth, how would he react to his surroundings? Valentine Michael Smith wakes up in Bethesda Hospital under military watch facing exactly this problem. His subsequent adventures are highly interesting in that Heinlein explores the world as a Martian might consider it, like the understandably insatiable attraction to water. The ability to levitate objects feels excessive but it adds enough sci-fi camp to be worthwhile. The libertarian, rational egoistic philosophy of the early part of the book plays off of the power-driven obsession various powerful parties have with possessing the Martian and his parents' sizable bank accounts. 

My chief qualms with Stranger in a Strange Land are its length and its overbearing armchair philosophy. Neither seem like necessary additions to what was a perfectly fine book. The last quarter or so felt unnecessary - I felt like the book had in all meaningful ways ended by then. Once the possibilities of how Michael could react to Earth were more or less exhausted, whether obvious (like not understanding money) or outlandish (whether he would be considered sovereign of Mars), there was nothing left to say. The creation of the Church of All Worlds feels more like a strangely inserted authorial fantasy than any short logical leap from a Martian landing on Earth. Stranger in a Strange Land is very successful at being science fiction. There it should stay. 

Ease of Reading: 9 
Educational Content: 3

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