Thursday, December 30, 2010

Stranger in a Strange Land

Robert A. Heinlein
Ace, 1961 (my copy is from 1987)
Size: Average (my copy has 438 pages)
Theme: Alien culture
Narrative: Third-person (most of the book is in the form of dialog)
Main character: Valentine Michael Smith
Recommended minimum age: Young adult
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: LIKELY

This book receives mixed opinions from me, which ends up fitting very nicely with what appears to be the general consensus from many readers. On the one hand, the writing is relatively poor and the story could be better narrated. I found the book to be very boring in some particular excerpts, and even had to lay it down a few days at one point. Compared to traditional fast-paced, action-packed, sci-fi adventures, this book offers an introspective and controversial slow-paced plot. Still, it made me ponder over some controversial issues, and when I finished reading it, I felt it was definitely worth it. It should not be taken as a light reading for a few afternoons at the beach, but as a mechanism for you to analyze your own beliefs, values, and perspective on life. That being said, do not expect a life-changing eye-opening experience.

The plot narrates the story of Valentine Michael Smith (Mike), a human raised by Martians, who travels from Mars to Earth as a young adult. His language skills are near inexistent, as are his social skills, and he evolves considerably along the book. As you read through it, you come to terms with his particular language, and you eventually end up finding it interesting. Having a totally different view on life, and with powers and capabilities beyond those of anyone on Earth, Mike has to come to terms with the society he’s trying to adapt to, while attempting to teach his ways to the people who he interacts with. In contrast to Mike’s innocent and positive take on life, we have Jubal Harshaw, a rich, extravagant, egocentric author, who takes it upon himself to look after Mike and make sure he learns about the real world and the pleasures it offers.

The book is essentially a satire of modern society, touching issues such as morality, politics, religion, prejudice, racism, and the ambiguities inherent to all these. Being almost half a century old did not hamper its contemporary pertinence. Some new words and concepts were introduced by this book, such as grok, water-brother, and a very particular definition of love. It is a worthwhile addition to any library, but not every reader will appreciate its depth.

Spoilers (warning: the following text contains information that may hamper/ruin how much you enjoy the book):
At the end of the book, Mike has already a considerable troupe of followers who have embraced his teachings. However, he faces alone an annoyed mob on the street, who shift to enraged as they hear him speak further of his beliefs, and who start to assault him. He is beaten to near death and ends up disappearing, in a truly messianic way, with the final words of “Thou art God”.

No comments:

Post a Comment