If you have never read Robert Heinlein then you should. He has a gift for including social and political commentary in his novels. Stranger in a Strange Land is, in my opinion, one of his best works. You won’t agree with everything that Heinlein says in this book, but he raises questions that are worth thinking about, worth dealing with, and its an interesting story to boot. However, fair warning, this is a book that will challenge your beliefs, values, and ideas about what society should and could be. Hopefully, in reading it, those beliefs that need to change will change, and those that need to grow stronger will grow stronger.
In Stranger in a Strange Land Heinlein presents the reader with an outsiders perspective on human society. The story revolves around Michael Smith, the child of astronauts who is raised by Martians. Smith returns to Earth as an adult and a long series of strange and troubling events occur.
Heilein’s writing is generally very sparse, and this book is no exception. Heilein’s writing could almost be described as curt at times, but it is strong, and very good. If you prefer verbose writers who provide lots of adjectives and details, then you should subtract two to three points from this category, and probably 1 from the overall category.
The characters are the center of Stranger in a Strange Land, particularly Michael Smith himself. The commentary in the novel all comes from Smith’s point of view, however the characters surrounding him, particularly Jubal Harshaw, have a significant impact on how he sees the world, and Smith in turn has a significant impact on how they view the world. The reader watches as first Smith, and later the character’s around Smith grow in their view and understanding of the world around them. Again, you probably won’t agree with everything that Heinlein argues for in the novel, but the effectiveness of his arguments can’t be denied.
The world that Heinlein creates is the weakest point of this novel. Heinlein generally gives sparse details about the world in which his characters live. He creates two fictional religious movements, and doesn’t tell the reader much more than is absolutely necessary about them. While Heinlein provides enough details to create a world that is real and relatively believable, he does not provide us with much more than is necessary, and personally I like extras.
There isn’t much more that I can say about the plot without ruining the story for you. Michael Smith, the human martian, returns to earth and learns about human culture, then has a profound influence on others.
Stranger in a Strange Land is a slow book, but it is generally well-paced. Though it is slow, the action moves along steadily for the most part. However, there are a couple of dry spots the can be just a little bit of a struggle.
If I could give this book an 11 or 12 then I would. Stranger in a Strange Land, like most of Heinlein’s work, is a study in social commentary. Heinlein has a lot to say, and he says it well. However, this book is one of the most challenging that I have ever read. In Stranger in a Strange Land Heinlein attacks the very idea of cultural and religious mores. I’ve said this a couple of times, and I’ll say it again, you probably won’t agree with everything that he says. However, Heinlein brings up important arguments against cultural and religious mores, and religion in general, that we all need to deal with (whether religious or not).
Stranger in a Strange Land is, and will continue to be, a profound and influential work of social commentary (there was a church founded off of the ideas in the novel after all). It will challenge your ideas and preconceptions about culture and morality, and it will make you think through beliefs.
5 thoughts on “A Review of Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein”
Such an interesting book. It does a great job walking the line between commentary and plot. Some of Heinlein’s other books drift too far into commentary for my tastes, like Time Enough For Love and parts of Starship Troopers. It’s definitely a book that I find my thoughts drifting back to occasionally, even years after reading it and it has some great scenes and characters. Good review.
I’m a huge Heinlein fan, and have read Stranger in a Strange Land 2 or 3 times. I love beyond love the first half. I love it when Michael comes back to Earth and meets Jubal. I even love the ladies who work for Jubal (I know, as a pseudo feminist I’m not supposed to, but I was a Heinlein fan long before I knew what the word Feminism meant). But around the time Michael’s church gets started, I always seem to lose interest. Sure, I always finish this book once I’ve started it, but the end kind of loses me.
The first half of the book is great pure social commentary. Heinlein does an excellent job of breaking down societal conventions and showing them from a different perspective. The second half of the book is almost pure religious commentary, and Heinlein really lets his issues with religion out. He brings out some great points, but I think sometimes he goes a little overboard. Although Michael’s statement that religious founders are sexual deviants, while overly blunt, is not entirely wrong. Christ was celibate, Buddha spent a time living with a prostitute to learn ‘the art of love’, Muhammad had a number of wives ranging in age from 40 to 6 (though the marriage was not consummated until she was 9).
Stranger in a Strange Land was, well, strange. God Emperor or Dune kind of strange. Actually, probably stranger. Good strange, mostly, but strange none the less.