Review: Stranger in a Strang Land by Robert Heinlein

I did not much care for the beginning of Stranger in a Strange land. It wasn't bad in any way and the aliens were interesting. The problem was that it took a long time to get started and even once it felt as if it was to the point it wasn't. Once it did get to the heart of the story though it was very interesting with more philosophy than science but all of it very interesting.

The story begins with a trip to mars which was made up of couples. Captain Smith had a child with the wife of the ships doctor. The birth was a troubled one and the woman died during it. The doctor then killed the captain and finally himself. This left the child to be raised by the martians who lived on the planet with no human influences.

Once he reaches Earth it is clear that he can do things no human can. The most notable is that he is able to simply remove things from existence. He can also make himself perfectly healthy, levitate things, read emotions and even minds and a few other things.

The first part of the story is about his freedom and learning to understand humans. He thinks differently than them and yet becomes 'water brothers' which is effectively family. And he begins to teach them. This leads into the second half of the book where he begins a sort of church. A Church which has a lot of very interesting philosophies which can effectively only work because the people in it do not think like humans.

One of the most interesting ideas is the word Grok. This idea is one that means drink in martian but it also means a lot of other things. In effect it means to understand and to become and more. The word is throughout the book and this idea is very interesting.

It is hard in some ways to reconcile the ideas in this book with those in other Heinlein books that I have read and it certainly feels like a book out of the 1960's with a lot of the ideas, such as free love, that were common then. In addition there is a lot of humor in the way that the women are treated because they are often seemingly ignored or put down by the men in the book but really never are as they almost always come out on top of every one of those encounters. Even the man from mars who is superhuman in almost every way is largely controlled by the women and the old man who appears the worst is the one that gives them the most authority.

This is not a fast book and there is very little actual science fiction in it. The aliens are never actually in the story and the world of earth is really not that different from ours. This is not really a problem but if you are looking for a science fiction adventure this may not be the best choice but I really liked this story because while it is filled with things that I would never really do or believe it almost makes you believe them while reading it and there is logic to almost everything making it a very interesting snapshot of the 1960's.

On a serious note this is not a book for children. There are ideas, language and far more which are simply not appropriate for children.