Beginning in my pre-teens and continuing thru my late 20’s I read large amounts of ‘sci-fi’. This mainly consisted of what I call the ABC‘s of science fiction (Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke) plus a lot of Harlan Ellison and H.P. Lovecraft toward the end. Then I discovered cable television and I began watching more than I read. Giving up cable several years ago has rejuvenated my interest in reading and I find myself finishing one or more books per week. Searching for books to enjoy I found several “top 100 novels of all time” lists and looked them over. ‘Stranger In A Strange Land’ by Robert A. Heinlein published in 1961 is often mentioned. My research also revealed ‘Stranger’ as one of the leading novels embraced by members of various ’60s counterculture movements, the most notorious being Charles Manson’s “Family”. Having never read any Heinlein, those facts along with the hype touting ‘Stranger’ as the most famous sci-fi novel of all time convinced me to give it a try.
Out of 438 total pages the first 225 were what I would consider “OK” sci-fi. Nothing I would consider outstanding but still passable. The final two chapters wrap up the tale nicely but wading thru what is in-between is tiresome to the point of boredom. And yet I suspect that is exactly the section that inspired hippies, drop-outs, free-lovers, new-agers, and who knows what other movements to develop and explore their set of beliefs. Maybe it was more suited to that era but I don’t think it plays as well now in the 21st century. I did manage to extract a page or so of witty observations copied into my paper journal, mainly about religion, but within the context of the book all of these (and more) add up to one long negative overview of how various churches/faiths/Gods behave(not that I disagree) mouthed by Heinlein’s character ‘Jubal Harshaw’ which I interpret as a proxy for Heinlein himself. Other authors come to mind as having successfully integrated social/political/religious commentary into their work while maintaining at least a sense of humor; Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Robbins and even (yes, that’s right!)William S. Burroughs. The “hero” of the story, a human born and raised on Mars by Martians(‘Valentine Michael Smith) seems secondary to the presence of Jubal thru-out the book. A better title would have been ‘The Cosmic Awakening and Spiritual Liberation of Jubal Harshaw’.
Up next? One of my favorite movies but I’ve never read the book – ‘A Clockwork Orange’ by Anthony Burgess.
I’m singing in the rain
Just singing in the rain
What a glorious feeling
I’m happy again