ALL BLOG POSTS AND COMMENTS COPYRIGHT (C) 2003-2016 VOX DAY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRODUCTION WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The review as demolition

John C. Wright considers the question of whether the great works of SF, Stranger in a Strange Land, also merit consideration as Great Books:
Stranger in a Strange Land

The conceit of this satire is that a Man from Mars views our earthly customs with innocent eyes, and sees their absurdity. A human baby orphaned on Mars and raised by highly-civilized but utterly inhuman Martians: as an adult he is brought back to Earth. Escaping from the intrigues of an unscrupulous government, and finding himself possessed of vast wealth, he wanders the world. When he finally understands the human condition, he starts a Church, trains Disciples, and is eventually martyred.

The theology is what we might call solipsistic libertarian pantheism: all self-aware creatures are God, and enjoy the privilege God has of disregarding the laws and customs of mankind. The Man from Mars preaches a doctrine remarkably like that of the Adamites and similar movements preaching nudism, communalism, pacifism, free love: the Adamites held themselves to be immune to Original Sin. One may do whatever one wishes, because the only law is that there is no law.

In case you don’t recognize it yet, what is being presented here as a profound new Martian religion is no more than the counter-cultural bromides of the Flower Generation.

As Gods, the members of the Martian Church are responsible to no higher power for their evil actions, but fortunately are so enlightened that they commit no evils they consider evil. The author merely has it be the case that Mike’s followers do not suffer from lust, or greed, or pride, or envy, and therefore they can share all goods in common, share concubines without any ill-will, and, for all I know, share each other’s toothbrushes without any risk of spreading bad breath. The Church suffers no schisms and no disputes or debates, because everyone is perfect. There is no St. Peter who denies his Lord. There is no Judas.

There is also no healing of the sick and no forgiveness of sins. Instead, Mike the Martian kills various people, such as hypocritical preachers or men guilty of no capital felonies found behind bars. But it is explained that since Martians believe in reincarnation, killing a scofflaw without benefit of trial is no crime; and keeping a man behind bars is an offense to human dignity, unlike, say, sharing a concubine, which is perfectly dignified.

Mike the Martian, raised by sexless creatures, has the attitude toward copulation one might expect from a totally ignorant and innocent nonhuman: he regards it as a pleasant recreation, or as a religious ecstasy. But for all his orgies, he never actually manages to father a family, or vow faithfulness to one woman. Neither he, nor anyone in the book, mentions any connection between the use of the reproductive organs and reproduction.

But Mike is a Nietzsche-style Superman, and therefore beyond good and evil: whatever he does, fornication or murder, is right and good by definition. You see, because he does not come from earth, and therefore has no experience or understanding of human things, his conclusions about how we should conduct ourselves is automatically right; the wisdom painfully gained over generations by our forefathers is worthy of nothing but scorn.

Mike is stoned to death by an angry mob at the end of the book, and he flies to heaven wearing a halo. I am not making this up: he has wings and a halo. This event has no set up in the plot: unlike a similar story in the Book of Matthew, there is no foreshadowing of the martyrdom, no metaphysical or theological purpose, and nothing in Mike’s previous preaching gives any indication that passive submission to violence is meritorious in his philosophy. It sort of just happens, and we are supposed to feel sad and angry at the stupid yokels in the mob. (Please note the mob is white Christian Americans, probably from the Deep South. They are not outraged Muslims, or even irate Sikhs or Hindus. It was not even a crowd of unruly Irishmen. This would not have served the author’s purpose.) Whether or not the mob contained any persons whose relatives were killed, or daughters seduced, by the Man from Mars is not stated.

We are assured (in his last bit of dialog with Jubal Hershaw, his mentor) that Mike’s followers will carry on spreading the Gospel of Free Love, and will come to rule everyone else: the stupid people will all die out.

Even objecting to the eating of human flesh is regarded with righteous indignation. Not the cannibalism: that is merely a custom worthy of respect. The objection is what is objectionable, so much so that the Righteous are morally obligated to discharge loyal employees from the work whereby they earn their bread, and throw them out into the street with scorn, if they voice any queasy reservations. Does someone have even the most minimal standards of human conduct, such as even the most remote ages of history learned at the dawn of time? He is a sinner! Virtue consists only of having no virtues at all!

The moral of the story: religion is a scam, marriage is a trap, people are stupid, do as you please when you please to whomever you please. Such is the message carried from a superior civilization to the poor backward dolts on Earth. Oh, brother.

    Timeless? Being a satire is no disqualification here. Jonathon Swift’s GULLIVER’S TRAVELS is just as critical of human laws and customs, and it is timeless. A story about a lone iconoclast, a Diogenes-style cynic mocking the Pharisees will always have an appeal. If the author had stuck to mockery, and not gone out of his way to advertise the Adamite heresy, I might call this timeless. The whole philosophy of irresponsibility popular since 1968 has had a sufficiently obvious effect in increasing the sum of human misery that I doubt it can maintain its appeal. Whatever preaches disregard for the long term, either in marriage or in war, has nothing to say once the long term arrives.
    Infinitely Re-Readable? My personal experience has met no book that wore out its welcome more quickly and more completely. I found it a delight to read when I was a child and thought as a child, for I was eager to hear that my childish impulses and little teen lusts were a sign of my great mental and moral superiority over The Stupid People (by which I meant my elders to whom I owed obedience). Flattering the innocent wears thin on a second rereading, when they are not so innocent. The unserious copulations with unmarried women seemed, on rereading, as unrealistic as the amours of James Bond: mere sexual fantasy. When I read the book again as a grown-up, the book was a chore to read. Far from being re-readable, this is a shallow book that gets shallower on every return visit.The ideas presented are so comical, and so comically naive, one wonders if the author intended an irony: the Martian-raised man is ignorant of human nature, so that when he attempts to put into practice ideas that could never work on Earth, he is justly killed for his inability to adapt to reality.I seem to recall a similar scene in GLORY ROAD, where Oscar the hero is upbraided as a fool by his fiancee, Star the Sexy Space-Empress, because he refuses to have an orgy with the attractive wife and three attractive daughters (one underage) of his generous wife-sharing host. It is explicitly stated there that those who do not adapt to the customs of their hosts are fools deserving death. I do not recall any scene in any Heinlein book where the hero is traveling among Puritans or pious Muslims and adopts the chastity and reserve in fashion among his hosts. For that matter, I don’t recall a scene where the hero has to sleep with the ugly wife of a generous Eskimo to avoid offending his host. Apparently the rule of doing as the Romans do when in Rome is restricted to the times when Romans are having an orgy, and, at that, only when pretty people are invited.

    Relevant? There is talk in here about the nature of justice and the family and God and art. So at least some deeper points are addressed. But the work is certainly relevant, if not to the Great Conversation among the Great Books, then at least to the Good Conversation among Good SF.STRANGER broke new ground by breaking conventions, and is among the first SF to attract a wider attention outside the genre. A book meets this criterion if the books that come after it, in this case, later SF books, have to take into account what the author has done here, and take a stance for or against, lest they risk being dismissed as irrelevant. For better or worse (I think it very much for the worse) the notion of moral and cultural relativism, once raised in this book, eliminates the possibility of an alien planet or alien culture being portrayed as having our values and our philosophy: if such a planet is portrayed, the author must give a convincing explanation to account for the similarity.A clean-limbed fighting man of Virginia landing on Mars and rescuing a princess from a four-armed Green Martian cannot now simply marry the girl, without the reader wondering about their marriage customs.

Let us turn to our next three criteria:

    Is the language graceful? This is not a fair criterion for a satire: one must ask a satire if it is biting or witty or funny, with that peculiar acrid humor natural to satire. I would say at least in part this book matches that criteria: there are quotable lines. The word “Grok” has entered at least partly into the popular vocabulary.2. Are the characters multifaceted and natural? Well, Jubal Hershaw is a character that is memorable. I remember him in all the other Heinlein books also, include A TRAMP ROYALE, which was autobiographical. You sort of know the kind of things he’ll do and say: he has a Mark Twain sense of humor and a Nietzsche contempt for the common man. He is a hedonist, selfish and ornery, a self-made man. He is a soapbox for his author’s voice. The other characters in the book are either two-word descriptions (the ornery newshound, the phony preacher, the crooked politician) or one-word descriptions (the girl). I seem to recall that there are four characters fitting that description “the girl”, and they are as alike as the sexbots from AUSTIN POWERS. Mike had to memorize their pores and freckles to tell them apart, but the author does not give us even that.No character ever steps out of character: the crooked politician never shows a moment of honesty, the phony preacher does not have a wife and family, the ornery newshound does not have a hobby or a past or a pet peeve.

    3. Is the book wise? This may well be the shallowest book I have ever read, bar none. Something like GALACTIC PATROL, or CHESSMEN OF MARS, pure heedless adventure, is actually deeper and wiser than this dressed-up preachy-book praising adultery, anarchy and atheism: it is shallower than a shallow book because it pretends to be deep. In real life one might be called upon to act as boldly and thoughtfully as the Gray Lensman or with the unselfconscious chivalry and hardihood as the Warlord of Mars. A simple paragon of honesty and bravery is actually a more profound moral philosophy than a simple disregard of moral philosophy.

Is it a good Science Fiction book? Yes indeed! I dislike this book intensely, even loathe it, for it deceived me in my youth, and lying to a child is a vile crime. But judging the innate worth of a book is not about whether one like or hates it. This book does the thing that Science Fiction is meant to do: it looks at the Earth through alien eyes, it evokes a sense of wonder, it paints a future different from our present, yet close enough to our present to make cutting comments about it.

As philosophy, the book is trite, and the message is the message of the serpent of Eden: break the laws that have been placed on you, and you shall be like unto a god! This is heady stuff, and it is easy to get intoxicated, and very easy, horribly easy, to ruin your life and the lives of innocent people around you following self-centered and idiotic ideas like the ones painted to seem so attractive here.

But as art for art’s sake, it is a perfectly workmanlike product, even a superior product. Despite certain lopsidedness in the plot pacing, STRANGER is indeed classic SF from the Good Old Days. It has earned its place on the Baen Top Ten list. If this book had a soul that could be sent to hell, I would say it has also earned its place in the Eighth Circle of Dante’s Inferno: for it is a malignant fraud.
So, I'll take it that's a no?

Labels: ,

233 Comments:

1 – 200 of 233 Newer› Newest»
Blogger Tommy Hass July 18, 2015 1:54 PM  

I hate it when "mature" people ruin my enthusiasm for good old Fritz.

Anonymous WhiteKnightLeo #0368 July 18, 2015 1:54 PM  

Given how different the world of 'Starship Troopers' is from this, I'm going to have to assume that Heinlein changed a lot between these two volumes.

Blogger Eric July 18, 2015 1:56 PM  

I just finished reading this book that I found in my wife's overflowing bookcases. I hated it and thought I must be crazy given the popularity of the book. Wright makes me feel like I might not be crazy after all, or at least I'm not the only one crazy.

Blogger Tommy Hass July 18, 2015 2:00 PM  

And absolute savaging btw, like the part mocking how only hedonist customs require participation.

Anonymous Scintan July 18, 2015 2:01 PM  

It is a great book. It's a shame that John couldn't overcome his biases in order to write a review worth reading.

But, on the other side of the coin, that's why much of art is like beauty, and variable depending upon the person viewing it.

OpenID theasdgamer July 18, 2015 2:03 PM  

Is it gauche to put this book in the early wank-SF genre?

OpenID theasdgamer July 18, 2015 2:05 PM  

But, on the other side of the coin, that's why much of art is like beauty, and variable depending upon the person viewing it.

True, swine haute cuisine always has a turd in the soup.

Blogger bob k. mando July 18, 2015 2:08 PM  

Stranger is, in fact, not really anything but an inversion of the story structure of "For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs".

both works express Heinlein's derision and disdain for bourgeoisie morality.

in Stranger, Mike the ubermensch is transported from an alien planet and culture to confront a bourgeoisie society.

in For Us, bourgeoisie Perry is transported forward through time to be confronted by an ubermensch society.

in neither case is there much variation between the 'morals' and customs of the ubermensch.

considering that Heinlein wrote 'For Us' in 1938, 'Stranger' in 1961 and his bizarre sexual works of the 70s, one can see that while he may have shifted away from his orthodox Socialism ( he campaigned for Upton Sinclair in the early 30s ), he didn't really change that much philosophically.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/For_Us,_The_Living:_A_Comedy_of_Customs

Blogger JACIII July 18, 2015 2:10 PM  

Looks like the Japanese weren't likely to invade California after all, eh, John?!

I have never before seen a topic go from initially addressed to a dead horse beating in a single essay.

Blogger bruce July 18, 2015 2:16 PM  

@'Jubal Hershaw is a character that is memorable. I remember him from all the other Heinlein books too-'

According to Patterson's biography, Heinlein was deeply hurt when people could not tell his wise old rascals apart. He'd based them on real different men he'd known in youth. Maybe it's like those damn longhairs knowing who the boys and girls are.

I don't think John Wright would like Giles Goat Boy.

Blogger bruce July 18, 2015 2:16 PM  

@'Jubal Hershaw is a character that is memorable. I remember him from all the other Heinlein books too-'

According to Patterson's biography, Heinlein was deeply hurt when people could not tell his wise old rascals apart. He'd based them on real different men he'd known in youth. Maybe it's like those damn longhairs knowing who the boys and girls are.

I don't think John Wright would like Giles Goat Boy.

Anonymous Cugel July 18, 2015 2:22 PM  

I read this when I was very young, maybe 19. Even then I thought this was a poor effort by Robert Heinlein. The authorial voice was loud and hectoring, you felt like telling the author: Robert, keep your voice down. Also, I remember thinking that anyone raised by "utterly inhuman aliens" would be most likely insane, depressed and unable to function, let alone communicate.

Blogger ScuzzaMan July 18, 2015 2:23 PM  

It's a shame Scintan couldn't overcome his biases in order to write a comment worth reading.

I'll leave you with a Heinlein quote:
"Critics create nothing and thereby feel themselves qualified to judge the works of creative people. There is logic in this: they hate all creative people equally. "

(No, you cannot apply this to Mr Wright; his portfolio of esteemed creative works is beyond refute. What have you to compare?)

Blogger Salt July 18, 2015 2:24 PM  

It is a great book, and JCW's review proves it.

Despite certain lopsidedness in the plot pacing, STRANGER is indeed classic SF from the Good Old Days. It has earned its place on the Baen Top Ten list. If this book had a soul that could be sent to hell, I would say it has also earned its place in the Eighth Circle of Dante’s Inferno: for it is a malignant fraud.

It's so bad in John's eyes, yet a "classic SF from the Good Old Days", it deserves to be listed among the greats for evoking the above review.

I watched "Earth versus The Flying Saucers" the other day. It's so bad yet also so Camp. One of the greats of its day.

Blogger Mike Smith July 18, 2015 2:24 PM  

Take two. I don't believe Wright had actually read, certainly not more than once. There's an entire subplot that sets up mike's death which further implies mike is the archangel Michael. It's not subtle and it's impossible to miss

Blogger ScuzzaMan July 18, 2015 2:28 PM  

I read it two or three times, and I'd forgotten that. But I suspect that Mr Wright is, like me, old.

'Twas a long time ago

Blogger pyrrhus July 18, 2015 2:32 PM  

Yep, Stranger In A Strange Land was cultural marxist garbage all right....

Anonymous Donn #0114 July 18, 2015 2:33 PM  

Look the book is entertaining but hardly worthy of the praise heaped on it over the decades. I have read the book more than twice because it is entertaining. So is sipping whiskey. You just can't make a diet of it and at it's base it works because it is poison.

Heinlein had some serious sexual issues. Except the book where he gets to shtup his mother and maybe grandmother he doesn't get any more depraved. No I take that back I will Fear No Evil he/she talks about incest with her newborn child. That's depraved.

Blogger Mike Smith July 18, 2015 2:33 PM  

It also seems weird to me to say Heinlein intended that Mike's death come across as sad-anget inducing for the reader in that Heinlein has his character surrogate have that reaction only to be chastised by Mike-others for it, itself an oddity in the narrative. Lazy reading and-or careless writing

Blogger Sean July 18, 2015 2:37 PM  

When I read this a few years ago, I found it so ridiculous, I had to satire it myself.

http://wereseal.blogspot.com/2008/06/lost-chapter-from-stranger-in-strange.html?m=1

Anonymous Poli_Mis July 18, 2015 2:39 PM  

But the iron maiden song of the same name is so awesome.

Blogger bob k. mando July 18, 2015 2:44 PM  

14. Salt July 18, 2015 2:24 PM
It is a great book, and JCW's review proves it.
...
I watched "Earth versus The Flying Saucers" the other day. It's so bad yet also so Camp. One of the greats of its day.



self beclowning comments need no defenestration.

Anonymous Marceline the Vampire Queen July 18, 2015 2:45 PM  

"I don't think John Wright would like Giles Goat Boy."

I don't think ANYONE would like Giles Goat Boy. Or that other long piece of nonsense that dude wrote (actually, more than one piece of nonsense.)

Mr. Wright's opinions are certainly worthy of consideration. Personally, I neither like nor dislike the book, I simply value it for its weird take on alien life as actually, genuinely alien, viz. not earthly and not metaphorically somehow human. Same way I like TH White's depiction of the ants in Once and Future King (a far better book on all grounds anyway). I think The Mote in God's Eye does a more satisfactory job regardless, but that's like arguing whether you like your pizza with mushrooms or pepperoni.

Blogger VD July 18, 2015 2:47 PM  

I read it when I was in high school. I thought it was lame old hippy stuff for people who needed justification for banging girls.

The idea of evil uptight Christians tearing Mike apart actually made me laugh. Heinlein always made me think he would have been a lot happier if he'd just left his second wife and banged a few redheads instead of obsessing about it for 30 years.

Blogger wrf3 July 18, 2015 2:50 PM  

Wright is, of course, critiquing Mike through the eyes of an earthman. Of course he won't like what he sees. He's just another member of the crowd who murdered Mike at the end of the book, except that JCW does with words what the crowd did with rocks.

Of Wright's many complaints, this one is particularly telling: Neither he, nor anyone in the book, mentions any connection between the use of the reproductive organs and reproduction. Of course not. Mike is no different from a Roman Catholic priest, who brings people into the family through the preaching of the Gospel of Martian, i.e. "learn Martian and thereby enter into a new way of living." All Heinlein did was take a page from the RCC. And, of course, there were babies. Dorcas had babies that were protected by Patty's boa constrictor as well as dandled on Jubal's knee. It was, in part, the children that restored Jubal's interest in life and took his thoughts away from his final "black capsules."

Wright also remarks, There is no St. Peter who denies his Lord. There is no Judas. He says this as if it were a bad thing. In our world, the Gospel and the subsequent indwelling power of the Holy Spirit should produce that kind of life in us. It is, after all, the goal of every Christian to "be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." Why Wright finds that the study of Martian actually produces the effect that the gospel should produce in us a bad thing is quite a mystery.

The same complaint is repeated: the Martian-raised man is ignorant of human nature, so that when he attempts to put into practice ideas that could never work on Earth

The book makes it very clear that Mike doesn't remain ignorant of human nature. There is one poignant scene at a zoo when Mike finally groks humanity. And doesn't like what he finds. And so he sets out to change it, just like Christ set out to change it.

And there was healing in the book. People who learned Martian didn't get sick.

And on, and on, and on.

Wright said, My personal experience has met no book that wore out its welcome more quickly and more completely.

Given all of the factual errors in Wright's review, we must not have been reading the same book. Now, just where did I leave my copy of the uncut version?



Blogger Mike Smith July 18, 2015 2:53 PM  

It is also worth noting that despite pretty much free love being a thing in the book homosexuality is problemitized in the book. To wit, Jill having mike make his face more masculine, that gays will never be offered water, Harshaw strange aside about misguided males sending letters to mike. Yes its implied homoerotic things go down in the nest but the status is unclear and the extent is not cleat. For good or for I'll, I don't think anything goes for Mike. Male homosexuality seems to be excluded, hypocritically.

Blogger wrf3 July 18, 2015 2:59 PM  

Oh, and Wright was wrong about there being no St. Peter who denied the Lord. Duke refused to eat with Mike and left Jubal's household. Only to realize the error of his ways and come back. So, even that parallel is there.

Blogger Jack Ward July 18, 2015 3:07 PM  

@WhiteKnight 2
I read once that Starship Troopers fitted into Heinlein's writing schedule before Stranger as a backlash to the rising anti-patriotic movement in this country.

In Stranger, Mike, at first, had considerable difficulty communicating, having to pause for mental consideration of the conversation, how it related to his Martian training and how to answer what seemed like incomprehensible questions. His powers of mediation and mental attack, Martian trained, were highly evolved. I don't remember anyone specifically saved or returned from the dead. The implication is that that could be done. But, with the Old Ones [ghosts] available for consultation at almost anytime why worry about reviving anyone? As for cannibalism, it was mentioned at least one point that Mike was surprised that he had not been notified that it was necessary to reduce the corporeal population for a cookout or to stretch meager food supplies. On Mars, it was considered an honor to voluntarily 'discorporate' for such reasons. Afterall, after discorporation you became an Old One. And, the corporeal group had to eat.
Have not read it in years although I have read it several times back then. It might be interesting to revisit. I would be surprised if it seemed as good now as then.

Blogger bob k. mando July 18, 2015 3:14 PM  

24. VD July 18, 2015 2:47 PM
Heinlein always made me think he would have been a lot happier if he'd just left his second wife and banged a few redheads instead of obsessing about it for 30 years.



my impression was that Heinlein was always an 'open marriage' kind of guy, though i've never read any biographies of him.

is this not true?





25. wrf3 July 18, 2015 2:50 PM
Wright also remarks, There is no St. Peter who denies his Lord. There is no Judas. He says this as if it were a bad thing.



no, he says it because he recognizes that men are weak and fail.

even if i concede that Mike is the great be all, end all of the human condition and philosophy, his *acolytes* will not all be instantaneously transformed into paragons of perfection without weakness.




26. Mike Smith July 18, 2015 2:53 PM
Yes its implied homoerotic things go down in the nest but the status is unclear and the extent is not cleat. For good or for I'll, I don't think anything goes for Mike.



that's another recurring theme in the Future History; Heinlein's Marysue characters may observe homo affection but they prefer not to engage in it themselves.

this is something else that leads me to think that Heinlein was conversant with the swinging community. wife swapping is one thing. male on male is a serious escalation.

Blogger wrf3 July 18, 2015 3:21 PM  

bob k. mando wrote: his *acolytes* will not all be instantaneously transformed into paragons of perfection without weakness.

Did you not read the book, either? Of course they weren't instantly transformed; that's why there were different levels of accomplishment, depending on the amount of Martian one had learned. Only Jubal was admitted to the Ninth circle without having learned Martian first.

Blogger bob k. mando July 18, 2015 3:25 PM  

30. wrf3 July 18, 2015 3:21 PM
Of course they weren't instantly transformed;



which is why someone should have betrayed Mike WHICH IS WHY YOUR POINT ABOUT 'NO BETRAYERS' WAS WRONG.

and note, leaving Jubal's household does NOT count as a 'betrayal' of Mike. it represents a failure to convert NOT a failure of a converso to adhere to his new principles.

i have read the book, but it's been decades. so yes, it's pretty fuzzy for me.

Anonymous Quartermaster July 18, 2015 3:34 PM  

I think it safe to say that's a "no."

Blogger Blume July 18, 2015 3:41 PM  

Every gods Christian souls hate this book with a burning passion for it is a lie of the devil that corrupts the innocent and young.

Blogger Edd Jobs July 18, 2015 3:49 PM  

Heinlein posited a future Mormon culture in which polygamy has made a comeback. (Given the recent Supreme Court redefinition of marriage, Heinlein's take seems prescient.) It was from that Mormon foundation that Mike structured the marriage practices of his offshoot religion.

When jealous lightweights like Wright and Scalzi attack Heinlein, petulant whining always results.

Anonymous koo-koo knievel July 18, 2015 3:52 PM  

Eh, g'ahead, hey, knock yerselves out. Meantime me and the other grownups are busy with real literature.

Anonymous Ostar July 18, 2015 4:03 PM  

Edd Jobs
When jealous lightweights like Wright and Scalzi attack Heinlein, petulant whining always results.

Mr. Wright can defend himself from your spurious falsehood, but I will say this - criticizing a specific book is not the same thing as attacking an author, especially when you have praised that author fulsomely multiple times.

Blogger wrf3 July 18, 2015 4:03 PM  

Edd Jobs wrote: It was from that Mormon foundation that Mike structured the marriage practices of his offshoot religion.

Actually, I think Heinlein was interpreting "they neither marry nor are given in marriage" in a different way. Either nobody is married in heaven and there is no sex; or everyone is married in heaven. And since we read "they are like the angels" depending on our particular tastes, it's hard to make a definitive argument either way.

Anonymous Donn #0114 July 18, 2015 4:06 PM  

@ VD - I thought he was banging redheads as well as his wife. Scientology has lasted longer but the religion based on SIASL was no more dopey.

Blogger Edd Jobs July 18, 2015 4:15 PM  

Mr. Wright can defend himself from your spurious falsehood

What falsehood? Your rhetoric is weak.

Anonymous Nemo Maximus July 18, 2015 4:18 PM  

I thought this review was kind compared to his review of "The Desolation of Smaug".

Anonymous Big Bill July 18, 2015 4:22 PM  

I agree with Mr. Wright. I, too, enjoyed the book in my youth. But, much like most of Heinlein's preachy free sex and incest books, I find it unreadable and stomach churning now.

But it was of an Era and a place: post-WWII California. L. Ron Hubbard had his fling with sex and satanism, hanging out with pervy followers of Anton LaVey, Herbert Marcuse was preaching "polymorphic perversity", Kinsey was writing books tallying up baby orgasms induced by infant rapers, Marion Zimmer Bradley and friends were busy kiddie-diddling (her own daughter), and I am sure there were countless other writer/researcher/perverts wandering around writing and rutting in the bushes.

In retrospect, it was a very, very strange era and place in American history.

I wish I could blame the free-love hippies of the late 60s and 70s for what has befallen America, but they were just the first fruits of the seeds their elders planted in the 40s and 50s.

Blogger Edd Jobs July 18, 2015 4:26 PM  

Actually, I think Heinlein was interpreting "they neither marry nor are given in marriage" in a different way.

There was arguably a "Martian" component as well. From the text: The man-woman polarity which controlled all human lives could not exist on Mars. There was no possibility of "marriage."

Anonymous zeno July 18, 2015 4:27 PM  

@ wfr3

There is one poignant scene at a zoo when Mike finally groks humanity. And doesn't like what he finds. And so he sets out to change it, just like Christ set out to change it.

Wait. What? Me no think so. Thats not in the Mission Statement.

Blogger bob k. mando July 18, 2015 4:29 PM  

35. koo-koo knievel July 18, 2015 3:52 PM
Eh, g'ahead, hey, knock yerselves out. Meantime me and the other grownups are busy with real literature.




sounds like scoobius.



39. Edd Jobs July 18, 2015 4:15 PM
What falsehood? Your rhetoric is weak.



Mormons may have been polygamists but they were definitely NOT wife swappers or free love practitioners.

your ( nominal ) ignorance leads to grossly erroneous ( that is to say, false ) statements.

Anonymous zen0 July 18, 2015 4:31 PM  

@ 41. Big Bill

I wish I could blame the free-love hippies of the late 60s and 70s for what has befallen America, but they were just the first fruits of the seeds their elders planted in the 40s and 50s.

Which were the children of the Flappers of the 20's

23 skidoo, eh?

Blogger Edd Jobs July 18, 2015 4:37 PM  

Mormons may have been polygamists but they were definitely NOT wife swappers or free love practitioners.
Thanks for the non sequitur.

Blogger wrf3 July 18, 2015 4:37 PM  

zen0 wrote: Thats not in the Mission Statement.

What's not in the mission statement? Changing our nature? Because if that's what you're saying, then I'll have to remove all of those passages about the necessity of transformation out of my Bible.

Blogger bob k. mando July 18, 2015 4:42 PM  

46. Edd Jobs July 18, 2015 4:37 PM
Thanks for the non sequitur.


you're the retarded fucking dumbshit who asserted that Heinlein was basing a society on Mormonism. even AFTER i pointed out 'For Us ..."

whatever non sequitur there is, you introduced it.

Anonymous zen0 July 18, 2015 4:55 PM  

47. wrf3 July 18, 2015 4:37 PM

zen0 wrote: Thats not in the Mission Statement.

What's not in the mission statement? Changing our nature? Because if that's what you're saying, then I'll have to remove all of those passages about the necessity of transformation out of my Bible.


Maybe it is just the choice of wording, but human nature doesn't change, it is replaced. This is why Paul talks about his new nature and old nature warring in his members.

It takes death to shed the remnants of the old nature.
Maybe just a semantical point.

Blogger maniacprovost July 18, 2015 5:02 PM  

I want to see an example of this 'real literature' I keep hearing about. Balzac wrote soap operas. Dumas and Hugo wrote improbable action adventure. Austen and the Brontes wrote cheesy romance. Thomas Hardy? Pedantic message fiction. Updike is insufferable and Herman Melville is boring, though Moby Dick was pretty amazing. Walter Mosley dabbled in scifi, which was garbage. Only Faulkner can genuinely outclass genre fiction without borrowing from it... I think. The Aeneid is fantasy, The Inferno is Christian fantasy, and Hamlet is horror.

Anonymous grey enlightenment July 18, 2015 5:03 PM  

wow strong words for a book that is beloved my many . The premise of martians sounds silly though and is an example of the absurdity of 50-60's 'golden age' of scifi that thankfully is no longer a plot staple.

Blogger rcocean July 18, 2015 5:10 PM  

Books like this and Ayn Rand are popular with young men. Its easy to believe - when you're young - that if all the old farts and their 'uptight rules' would just go away life would be grand.

Mr. Wright's bit about having orgies with only the pretty ones invited was wonderfully satirical.

Blogger rcocean July 18, 2015 5:12 PM  

I wonder how many women are fans of Ayn Rand or Heinlein? Probably the same number that follow Nietzsche or like Stoical philosophy.

Anonymous grey enlightenment July 18, 2015 5:17 PM  

Maybe the book is popular simply because it's so absurd and idealistic . People read, much like when the watch tv or go to the movies, to get away from this reality to temporarily enter a new one.

Blogger Edd Jobs July 18, 2015 5:34 PM  

you're the retarded fucking dumbshit who asserted that Heinlein was basing a society on Mormonism. even AFTER i pointed out 'For Us ..."

Such feminine hysterics.

What do you think Fosterism was? Perhaps you should read the work instead of relying on Wikipedia for your opinions.

Blogger bob k. mando July 18, 2015 5:36 PM  

54. grey enlightenment July 18, 2015 5:17 PM
Maybe the book is popular simply because it's so absurd and idealistic .



nah. it was of it's time and place. it was just prior to the Boomer culture explosion and prefigured much of that. which is why they adopted it.

once the Boomers are gone i doubt it will be thought of any more seriously than something like Sail Beyond the Sunset.

the whole incest/adolescent sex thing Heinlein was so into, and spent so much time defending within the later works, is still a bit much for the bourgeoisie he had spent his whole life despising.

Blogger VD July 18, 2015 5:46 PM  

When jealous lightweights like Wright and Scalzi attack Heinlein, petulant whining always results.

That's a stupid statement. Neither Wright nor Scalzi have attacked Heinlein. Why do you think criticism of a single work is based on jealousy?

Do you think Roger Ebert was jealous of every film director he criticized? That's just a bizarre perspective.

I liked the first three ASOIAF books. I disliked and criticized the last three. Does that mean I wasn't jealous of George Martin before, but I gradually became jealous?

Blogger VD July 18, 2015 5:48 PM  

nah. it was of it's time and place. it was just prior to the Boomer culture explosion and prefigured much of that. which is why they adopted it.

That's my perspective as well. I suspect that there is a strong correlation between one's feeling towards the Boomers and one's feelings towards the book.

It's fairly obvious Heinlein never had any children or he wouldn't have had such a grotesque fascination with incest. His juveniles were much better books than his nominally adult fiction.

Blogger Edd Jobs July 18, 2015 5:53 PM  

Neither Wright nor Scalzi have attacked Heinlein.

"This may well be the shallowest book I have ever read, bar none."

Did you read the rant before posting it?

Blogger ajw308 (#98) July 18, 2015 6:07 PM  

As JCW stated in the last Brainstorm, SJWism is a religion with lots of dogma and rituals. This book bows, nods, and acknowledges the appropriate sacrificial elements. By being inline with their theology, it hasn't offended them (yet) and coming from a respected author, they hope to ride a little further. Besides Heinlein's a science fiction author and "science" is one of their talismans.

Besides, not dying from dehydration by drinking water is a social construct. I was a young teen and that implication was where the book list me. I finished it, but I understood ( not grokked) that some things were just hard wired/coded into the human existence.

At best it was silly entertainment, not something that made me think.

Blogger VD July 18, 2015 6:07 PM  

Did you read the rant before posting it?

I read the review. It was not a rant. Do you understand that the author Heinlein is not the book Stranger in a Strange Land?

Blogger D. G. D. Davidson July 18, 2015 6:11 PM  

Did you read VD's response before replying to it. Calling a book shallow is criticizing a book, not attacking the author.

Blogger Barf Barfolo July 18, 2015 6:12 PM  

Nailed it!!

;)

Anonymous Astrid July 18, 2015 6:14 PM  

I liked the first three ASOIAF books. I disliked and criticized the last three.

Hmmm, I really don't know how you felt about A Storm of Swords then....

Anonymous Godfrey July 18, 2015 6:19 PM  

There are times Wright reminds me of Chesterton. This is one of those times.

Blogger Edd Jobs July 18, 2015 6:30 PM  

Do you understand that the author Heinlein is not the book Stranger in a Strange Land?

Heinlein authored the shallowest book Wright ever read, bar none? Right, no attack on Heinlein there.

Blogger Mindstorm July 18, 2015 6:32 PM  

It's possible to admire the quality of craftsmanship and at the same time to be repulsed by the use it is put to.

Blogger rcocean July 18, 2015 6:33 PM  

"It's fairly obvious Heinlein never had any children or he wouldn't have had such a grotesque fascination with incest."

All part of his obsession with pretty young girls. I wonder what he thought of Humbert Humbert?

Blogger rcocean July 18, 2015 6:34 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger rcocean July 18, 2015 6:35 PM  

Yes, the whole "you only criticize because your jealous" has to be the lamest response to book criticism. I'd put it right next to "Yeah, I bet you couldn't do any better!"

Blogger Cail Corishev July 18, 2015 6:37 PM  

In retrospect, it was a very, very strange era and place in American history.

And everything of the time reflects it, seemingly much more than other eras. I've been reading about Vatican II, which was called in 1961, the same year this book came out. Even within the Tradition-bound Catholic Church, people were openly talking about throwing away the past and creating everything anew. There was a real sense that everything not only could change, but must change, so that humanity could advance to some higher level and bring peace on Earth. We kinda laugh at all the hippie/New Age/free love stuff now, but many then took it completely seriously as the way of the future. And they managed to embed much of it into the culture, even if they had to tone down the flower-power trappings to do it.

I wish I could say something smart about the book, but this is one of those that I'm certain I read years ago, yet I can't remember a thing about it except a vague memory of feeling like it was hitting me over the head with something. Probably I was too young to understand what, but it doesn't look like I'll need to put it on my re-read list.

Blogger Emmanuel Mateo-Morales July 18, 2015 6:38 PM  

@Edd Jobs

1. Who the fuck cares if John did? Heinlein was kind of dick, and it's a miracle he didn't end up being the kind of dick that El Ron Hubbard turned out to be (that we know of, at least). Heinlein kind of has it coming.

2. No buddy. Saying someone penned shit isn't an insult on their character. At best, it's an insult at their talent, which isn't anything to get worked up over.

3. A real attack on Heinlein would consist of someone calling him a fuck-faced, socialist and libertine weasel who couldn't get his limp honky cock out of his head long enough to seriously consider if the perverse lifestyle he constantly advocated would do good in actual three dimensions and what he would do to his child if it turned out to be a girl considering this. That's how you attack someone!

Blogger Joe Keenan July 18, 2015 6:39 PM  

The book is popular because it confirms peoples passions, tells them to indulge them and ignore moral constraints, that violation of the moral order is the means of enlightenment. I think de Sade said much the same thing. Like Heinlein's "Masterpiece" most Sci-Fi is trite and soon forgotten, assigned to the dust bin set aside for trendy confirmational lit. Does anyone still read Asimov, Heinlein and L Sprague de Camp? No. It shouldn't surprise, most of its' formative authors were developmental delayed nerds rationalizing away their inadequacy. The genre hasn't developed much since its founding and probably never will, it's always been a literature reflective of the neuroses of the respective nerd class. As the neuroses morphs earlier works thus become unintelligible to the new class of nerds, who, like their forenerds, view everything through their own neurotic sensibilities. "Good" SciFi is often nothing more than what developmentally delayed adults say it is.

Anonymous Krul July 18, 2015 7:00 PM  

It's been a while, but the only thing about Stranger that really stood out to me and lingered in my memory was the Martians. I found the Martians fascinating, I think because Heinlein focused on their thought processes. He doesn't even describe their physical appearance, if I remember correctly.

What made the aliens so interesting is that, through them, Heinlein gave us a glimpse of a truly alien point of view. It's the perspective of beings who are telepathic and who can continue to function after death almost as though they were still alive.

Of course that's the ONLY thing that stuck with me, and it's a very minor, though vital, part of the story. The bulk of it, the story of Michael, I just remember as a standard fish-out-of-water story capped with a standard messiah story.

Blogger bornagainpenguin July 18, 2015 7:01 PM  

I'm thinking not only has it been too long since Mr Wright has read the book I find myself pondering the question of which version he read? There were two edits of the book in question. The one the author managed to get published after gutting almost an entire work's worth of words and the unedited release of the manuscript found after his death. While they share plot similarities they are two different books in my opinion.

It has already been commented that the Fosterites were based on a combination of traits from the Mormon church and some of the most excessive emotionalism of the snake-handling Appalachian Pentecostal sects, not catholicism. Jubal himself seems to embody a very strong Baptist background in his rants to Jill. There are multiple perspectives brought to bear in the way the characters speak to each other.

But the whole bit about an orgy with just the pretty people invited displays a distressing lack of actual reading of the work!

What do you do about Patty? The text describes her as a mousy housewife and while I can't find it said outright I've always mentally pictured her as slightly overweight (not HAES or BBW, just pleasantly plump) due to mentions of her being uncomfortable in clothes and in warm rooms. She is one of the water brothers and is invited to orgies as a result.

Indeed what do you do with Jubal? Self-described as an old goat, certainly at least as old as say Hugh Hefner--he is invited to these orgies towards the end of the book. How do you get to pretend that everyone is beautiful people at that point...?

It's certainly alright to find parts of Stranger in a Strange Land to be distasteful or disturbingly naive, but do bear in mind not only was it published over fifty years ago, it was actually written in parts over almost two decades. We have no notes to tell us which parts were written during which times. Consider the rapid changes made in this country since 1948 to 1960 and ask yourself if some of the assumptions would have been quite so naive at the time they were written?

Considering Theodore Sturgeon's _If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?_ story came out a mere six years later it's important to realize that the book was a part of its time and place as well as influencing the works which came later. We don't always honor a work for its subject matter, sometimes we honor it for its influence.

Anonymous A. Nonymous July 18, 2015 7:18 PM  

Did you read VD's response before replying to it. Calling a book shallow is criticizing a book, not attacking the author.

Entirely OT, but I never thought I'd see the internet's foremost Catholic dracophile commenting on this blog.

Blogger Edd Jobs July 18, 2015 7:19 PM  

At best, it's an insult at their talent

Wright attacking Heinlein's talent sets a new standard for chutzpah.

Anonymous Sheila July 18, 2015 7:28 PM  

I read this in high school, I think - I know I was desperate for something to read and got it out of my brother's book case. I vaguely recall some of what Mr. Wright discusses, but honestly don't remember enough clearly - so obviously the book made no great impression on me. I do recall the ending and finding it improbable, at best. I also recall "grok" and cannot say I've ever used the term, nor have I been impressed by those times I've noticed it used (far too often, imho) in this blog's comments.

Anonymous Donn #0114 July 18, 2015 7:33 PM  

We get it Edd you want to suck Heinlein's libertarian, gun loving, free love dick. No shame in admitting that if that's how you feel.

See now that's a personal attack on you. An entirely shallow and I am sure baseless one but shallow none the less. Just for the sake of illustration of course.

Heinlein enjoyed writing about incest, polygamy, every form of sexual perversion and packaged it as normal 'free thinking' literature. Now that's an attack on Heinlein not his works, entirely true of course but no less an attack.

Just for the record I like his books.

Blogger wrf3 July 18, 2015 7:36 PM  

bornagainpenguin wrote: But the whole bit about an orgy with just the pretty people invited displays a distressing lack of actual reading of the work!

Indeed. Jubal's idea of beauty is Rodin's La Belle Heaulmiere. Heinlein wrote:

Anybody can see a pretty girl. An artist can look at a pretty girl and see the old woman she will become. A better artist can look at an old woman and see the pretty girl she used to be. A great artist can look at an old woman, portray her exactly as she is...and force the viewer to see the pretty girl she used to be...more than that, he can make anyone with the sensitivity of an armadillo see that this lovely young girl is still alive, prisoned inside her ruined body. He can make you feel the quiet, endless tragedy that there was never a girl born who ever grew older than eighteen in her heart...no matter what the merciless hours have done.

Anonymous Krul July 18, 2015 7:37 PM  

"When jealous lightweights like Wright and Scalzi attack Heinlein, petulant whining always results."

*cue conga line music*

Pro - jec - tion
Pro - jec - TION!
Pro - jec - tion
Pro - jec - TION!

OpenID malcolmthecynic July 18, 2015 7:40 PM  

Wright attacking Heinlein's talent sets a new standard for chutzpah.

Edd doesn't believe in literary criticism, guys. He thinks that real, like, art-eests like Heinlein are above the petty squabbles of us mere mortals attempting to understand His Greatness.

To Edd, if one does more than bask in the glow of the art-eests art, one is a disrespectful lout, and should be shunned, yea, shunned!

Or, Edd is a troll.

I wonder what Edd would do if he read John's extremely high praise of "Starship Troopers" from "Transhuman and Subhuman"? Probably explode from the cognitive dissonance.

Nah, just kidding, he'd just lie even more.

Blogger Blume July 18, 2015 7:51 PM  

I still read De camp, Asimov and heinlein.

Blogger Cataline Sergius July 18, 2015 8:00 PM  

The sad thing about Heinlein is that his juveniles had a very American voice, in a way that most of his contemporaries, simply didn't.

I still take those down and read them every few years.

And Stranger is where he seems to have lost that voice. It did come back in a muted pitch in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress but that of course was the end.

The utterly god awful, I Will Fear No Evil came next.

My first memory of Stranger was disappointment. The juveniles were just fine but I had been forbidden to read Stranger because that was a "dirty book." And it had driven Charles Manson insane.

I was fourteen when I got my hands on it. I quickly worked out that something was very wrong here. As a dirty book, Stranger fell drastically short. The problem is that I didn't like much else about it either.

Even at that tender age, I saw that this was a very uneven work.

Stranger bears all the hallmarks of a book that had been in the back of an author's filing cabinet for a long, long time. It got pulled out every now and then. Got worked on a for a bit and then shoved back in.

In a lot of ways I suspect Stranger started life as For Us The Living. It was the book he always wanted to write and when he did, he received all kinds of plaudits and adulation for it. But only because it came along at exactly the right time. Heinlein could never repeat that feat no matter how hard he tried and he knew it.

GEARSHIFT: Is there any truth to the story that Charles Manson named one of kids after Valentine Michael Smith?

Blogger bornagainpenguin July 18, 2015 8:02 PM  

@wrf3

That was actually one of my favorite parts of the book!

Everyone almost immediately grasps the interactions of religion in the book, many of them see immediate parallels to the whole hippie free love movement but they miss great tidbits like Jubal's lecture on art. It was only at that point in reading it when I was a teenager that I realized why I didn't like most of what was considered "art" these days.

There is so much richness in the book that it seriously irks me when people choose to dwell on only the surface instead of seeing the whole.

Anonymous bw July 18, 2015 8:03 PM  

dressed-up preachy-book praising adultery, anarchy and atheism

Well, he was OTO after all.

Blogger Danby July 18, 2015 8:08 PM  

I read Stranger in High School. I had jsut read starship troopers, and it was the next one on the library shelf. I thought the first part (about the first third, maybe?) was RAH at hist best, trying and largely succeeding to portray a truly alien culture and mindset.
Then Michael escaped from the govt, and Heinlein continued portraying an alien culture with an alien mindset, except these were supposed to be mid 20th century Americans. Almost every single character rung false with me. None of them behaved like any human I had ever met. Between that and the endless preaching, it became pointless, annoying, stupid, ham-handed, and worst of all, boring. It was less interesting to me than watching golf, which is the worst insult I could have for a book. I gave up about halfway through.
This is actually the first I heard of the conclusion of the book. It's at once exactly wrong for the character, the world RAH built, and the story, and the sort of slap-you-in-the-face preaching that turned me off to the book in the first place.

Utter dreck.

Last Heinlein book I ever read.

Blogger wrf3 July 18, 2015 8:14 PM  

bornagainpenguin wrote: There is so much richness in the book that it seriously irks me when people choose to dwell on only the surface instead of seeing the whole.

Amen. I'll throw out the provocative statement that, after reading Stranger for the fifth time, I've come to the conclusion that Heinlein understood Christianity better than most Christians.

Anonymous zen0 July 18, 2015 8:28 PM  

@ 82. malcolmthecynic

> Or, Edd is a troll.

I checked Mr. Wrights blog post and the comments. Funny, did not see Edd Jobs there with his objections.

Does he fear to do so? Is this a form of passive aggression?

Blogger murphaticlaw July 18, 2015 8:28 PM  

Of course it's a no, a dogmatic fideist reviewing SIASL is like a Vegan reviewing Kobe beef.

Part of the problem is that Mr. Wright is simply mistaken about what happens in the book, the rest is his belief that the taboos he believes in are the only way to look at things.

The first paragraph shows that he just didn't get it, he made the same mistake I did the first time I read SIASL as a 10 year old, getting all upset that Mike dies.

Except he doesn't die...he can't die....and neither can anyone else.

This IS NOT a religious belief in the traditional sense, it is not a matter of faith, but direct experience. For all of Mikes life he has seen his fellow Martians think their bodies dead, and after helping to eat their bodies he continues his relationship with them.

Heinlein was doing what he did better than anyone else, asking a “what if” question and then exploring the possible answers.

What if we can 'prove' that we have immortal 'souls', what happens to religion and politics?

What if learning the skills necessary to directly experience your 'soul' also gives you control of your body?

Mike doesn't preach “...nudism, communalism, pacifism, free love...” although you can twist things around if you want to claim that. He never addresses the concept of Original Sin at all.

The closest RAH comes to defining 'sin' is behavior that hurts others needlessly. Regardless, RAH never suggests than “One may do whatever one wishes”, nor does Mike or any of his students ever claim they are 'perfect', and there are no concubines, that's simply the wrong term to describe a 'group marriage”

I realize to Mr. Wright a church without original sin and a messiah might as well be a language school in disguise, but Mike is not the messiah. And the reason there is no sinful lust, greed, pride, or envy is that there is no need for any of those behaviors to a person who has learned to speak 'Martian'.

Blogger D. G. D. Davidson July 18, 2015 8:30 PM  

Found it through Mr. Wright, of course. I admit it's a bit rougher than my usual haunts. If J. C. Wright's blog is the salon of Christian sf, then this is the biker bar.

Anonymous Godfrey July 18, 2015 8:30 PM  

wrf3
I'd say he understood the human condition less than most humans.

Blogger D. G. D. Davidson July 18, 2015 8:35 PM  

Criticism is a different talent from art, which is why someone may be good at one but not the other. Wright happens to be good at both, but even if he weren't, criticizing Heinlein still wouldn't be hubris.

Here's an idea: take your own advice and spell out what's wrong with the review rather than attacking the author personally.

Anonymous zen0 July 18, 2015 8:47 PM  

@ 90. murphaticlaw

What if we can 'prove' that we have immortal 'souls', what happens to religion and politics?

Dude. The religious expressions of the majority of Christendom assumes an immortal soul. So that part would not change.

This is the root dogma of the eternal torture theory.

Blogger Eskyman July 18, 2015 9:01 PM  

Well, Mr. Wright has a nice way with words; he expresses himself very clearly. His opinion is evident, and many share it.

I'm just old fashioned. I still read Heinlein, and de Camp, Asimov and other 'old masters.' Few authors today can be compared to them. I'm sorry that Mr. Wright wrote his critique, and that I read it; my respect for Mr. Wright has diminished, though I admit he writes a pretty good stick too.

I want to restore meaning to the Hugo Award in part because RAH won this award, for this novel, in 1962. The Hugo meant something then, it meant that this novel was the very best that science fiction could produce (though many years it was highly contested, with many great novels.)

Now this award means the novel so 'honored' is dreck; awarded because the author held the correct pc beliefs, was the correct color, ethnicity, gender, and has the appropriate head-tilt. BAH!

Heinlein deserved that award. His work, his novels (even this one, not my favorite) instantly transport me into a new world, where I see- with different eyes- things that never were- nor are, which are real; effortlessly, instantly he sweeps me away into his story. Until something calls me back to this... mundane reality.

I like your books, John Wright; they don't do that for me though. I have to work a bit to catch your drift, sometimes, that I never have to do with RAH. And somehow... I just don't see Heinlein running down an earlier author... which isn't a point in your favor, or so it seems to me.

Blogger bob k. mando July 18, 2015 9:02 PM  

Wright
But as art for art’s sake, it is a perfectly workmanlike product, even a superior product. Despite certain lopsidedness in the plot pacing, STRANGER is indeed classic SF from the Good Old Days. It has earned its place on the Baen Top Ten list.


59. Edd Jobs July 18, 2015 5:53 PM
Did you read the rant before posting it?



as i assumed, you're a lying, manipulative sack of shit and the whole 'Heinlein was just trying to extrapolate Mormon polygamy' was a canard meant to confuse.



70. rcocean July 18, 2015 6:35 PM
Yes, the whole "you only criticize because your jealous" has to be the lamest response to book criticism. I'd put it right next to "Yeah, I bet you couldn't do any better!"



to be fair, Roger Ebert is actually a pretty big data point in favor of this argument.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beyond_the_Valley_of_the_Dolls



73. Joe Keenan July 18, 2015 6:39 PM
Does anyone still read Asimov, Heinlein and L Sprague de Camp?


self beclowning posts need no defenestration.




79. Donn #0114 July 18, 2015 7:33 PM
Heinlein enjoyed writing about ... polygamy



polyamory. he wrote extensively about multiple husbands as well as multiple wives. in pretty much everything except his juveniles.


84. Cataline Sergius July 18, 2015 8:00 PM
GEARSHIFT: Is there any truth to the story that Charles Manson named one of kids after Valentine Michael Smith?



it seems implausible that someone would have named their child 'Valentine Michael' by happenstance:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Manson

but Manson was bonkers long, LONG before he would have read Stranger.


80. wrf3 July 18, 2015 7:36 PM
Jubal's idea of beauty is Rodin's La Belle Heaulmiere.



i don't see anything of a carefree young girl or beautiful woman in that.

Anonymous Tom C. Heinlein July 18, 2015 9:10 PM  

The M-O-O-N is a harsh mistress, laws yes!

Blogger automattthew July 18, 2015 9:14 PM  

Did Heinlein have a Phineas Gage incident? Because many, MANY of his novels are not only suitable for young boys, but nearly required reading. But then he suddenly went apeshit with the sex and incest?

Why didn't Kip and Peewee do it? Inquiring minds want to know.

Anonymous Mark McSherry July 18, 2015 9:18 PM  

Heinlein's biographer, William H. Patterson Jr, published THE MARTIAN NAMED SMITH in 2001, sub-titled "Critical Perspectives on Robert A. Heinlein's STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND."

Patterson makes a passionate defense of the work. From the back of the book "...Patterson and Thornton have, for the first time, exposed the complex and tangled structure of this magnificent contribution to American literature, and demolished Heinlein's disingenuous claim to be a mere storyteller. For the first time, behold STRANGER in all its glory: as a masterwork of satire and social commentary from the hand of one whose recognition as a truly great American writer is overdue."

Patterson notes that "Heinlein always chose his characters' names with care", so an "Appendix: The Significance of Names in STRANGER" is included.

Blogger ray July 18, 2015 9:18 PM  

"In case you don’t recognize it yet, what is being presented here as a profound new Martian religion is no more than the counter-cultural bromides of the Flower Generation."


The WHAT? 'Stranger' was published in 1961, years before the Flower Generation attained to power or influence. Many Boomers were still in elementary school when the book came out.

Bob Heinlein wasn't a hippie, or a proto-hippie, or a Boomer, he was a product of the Greatest Generation, with deep ties to military intelligence, corporate America, and the occult -- including palling-around with Rocket Jack Parsons, one of the most powerful sorcerer/scientists America ever produced. Think Rocket Jack was cool? Then you're a tool too.

Like many other preparatory tactics, 'Stranger' was govt/intel psyops attempting to create and shape the 'Flower Generation'. It was part of a much larger strategy, much of which centered in Bob's favorite haunt, btw, Laurel Canyon. Like many of Bob's products, 'Stranger' teemed with feminism, female-idolatry, sexual promiscuity (under cover of 'love'), moralistic nonsense, and Crowley-style libertinism. The book borrows half-truths from Scripture, then uses them to slander God's servants and kingdom. It's Templar/Jacobin Gnosticism with biblical make-up smeared on.

It's as if following the birth of Baptist John, satan contacted the prince of Rome and arranged for a legion officer named, oh let's say 'Blobert Heinous', to popularize a heretical vision of the coming Kingdom, an anti-Christic vision, and then to make Baptist John the protagonist of the travesty. An easy and effective way to undercut and de-legitimize the messianic and apostolic persons and activities to follow. No mass-com back then unfortunately.

The best propaganda always contains elements of truth, and 'Stranger' is a prime example. And the best propaganda (like Enlightenment ideals) appeals across generations, and to varied classes of politics and consciousness. In 1965, 'Stranger' was rising, informing the pre-leftie Boomers of what 'religion' really meant (stupid politics and do-as-thou-wilt luciferianism). Today, 'Stranger' appeals to the Right, the Other Side of the Mob who filled their pockets and sold out God and nation over the past fifty years, whose resentment and blame-shifting is best summed by this:

"Whether or not the mob contained any persons whose relatives were killed, or daughters seduced, by the Man from Mars is not stated."



Whoa! hate much? lol I'm sure Herodias could help you solve that little problem.


The Right and the Left didn't gorge themselves upon Babylon lo these many decades running. No maam! It was The Man From Mars who is responsible for the condition of America... running around half-naked all day, being a vocal Feminist, murdering at will, and raping our (sorta, ok well, not) virgin daughters. SOMEBODY is at fault here and it damn sure ain't John C. Right and Co.

As for 'aliens', Scripture makes it clear that off-planet entities have incarnated on this planet, even to the beginnings of the race, and that such entities also can have influence over the minds of individuals, collectivities, and nations. This only comes as a surprise to fake-Christians who don't actually study or love the Bible.

Anonymous zeno July 18, 2015 9:27 PM  

98. automattthew July 18, 2015 9:14 PM

Did Heinlein have a Phineas Gage incident? Because many, MANY of his novels are not only suitable for young boys, but nearly required reading. But then he suddenly went apeshit with the sex and incest?


Post Facto Justification Syndrome?

Blogger automattthew July 18, 2015 9:44 PM  

zeno, you've out-abstrused me.

But I think you may be correctly calling me out for wishing for what I want to be true.

OpenID malcolmthecynic July 18, 2015 9:47 PM  

What is with all you people? Wright is a fan of Heinlein! This is not subtext, he outright praises him many times, has written passionate defenses of him, and in "Transhuman and Subhuman" is clearly, and rightly, over the moon in his praise of "Starship Troopers".

I am baffled at how many people can't seem to grok (ha) the idea of an author hating one novel an author wrote but loving another, or hating an author's worldview but loving the author. Surely anybody who is a fan of Joss Whedon's work, such as myself, can understand that. Right?

Put another way: How many people who read Vox's blog are actually SJW's?

Blogger Marissa July 18, 2015 9:53 PM  

whose resentment and blame-shifting is best summed by this:

"Whether or not the mob contained any persons whose relatives were killed, or daughters seduced, by the Man from Mars is not stated."


Calling out a murderous, seductive character is " blame-shifting". Gotcha.

Blogger Marissa July 18, 2015 9:59 PM  

I wonder if the creator of Star Trek read this book and thought, let's do this with a charismatic human killing and screwing his way across the galaxy, no apologies needed. For some reason SJWs love the Martian colonizing and degrading humans but when the humans do it to aliens, it's ahem problematic. Which should show you what SJWs truly hate--not exploitation or humiliation--but humanity.

Blogger bob k. mando July 18, 2015 9:59 PM  

98. automattthew July 18, 2015 9:14 PM
Did Heinlein have a Phineas Gage incident? Because many, MANY of his novels are not only suitable for young boys, but nearly required reading. But then he suddenly went apeshit with the sex and incest?



c'mon, man. how many times have i pointed out 'For Us ...' in this thread? that was written in 1938 AND WAS LIKELY HIS FIRST STORY.

in it, Heinlein also advocates forcibly separating children from their parents and sending them to government indoctrination centers ... as a matter of 'public health'. because allowing children to be taught about religion and sexual modesty is against society's interest.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/For_Us,_The_Living:_A_Comedy_of_Customs#Secularism

Heinlein's juvenile period was nothing but him censoring himself because he recognized that his true attitudes could not be published prior to 1950.

Blogger automattthew July 18, 2015 10:08 PM  

malcolmthecynic,

Even our own are not immune from binary thinking.

Heinlein has written not only one of my top five SF novels (Double Star) but also a fair number of the most disturbing and disgusting novels I've ever read (Number of the Beast, To Sail Beyond the Sunset).

Is it identity politics all the way down? Sometimes it seems so.

Blogger automattthew July 18, 2015 10:10 PM  

bob k. mando: "Heinlein's juvenile period was nothing but him censoring himself because he recognized that his true attitudes could not be published prior to 1950."

Acknowledged. But.

In his juvies, and sometimes even in his works for adults (Double Star), he comes across as at least a theist. Was that all Mrs. Grundy?

Blogger automattthew July 18, 2015 10:12 PM  

or Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs is a science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein, written in 1938 but published for the first time in 2003.[1] Heinlein admirer and science fiction author Spider Robinson titled his introductory essay "RAH DNA", as he believes this first, unpublished novel formed the DNA of Heinlein's later works.

The published version of the novel contains an afterword by Robert James, Ph.D., Heinlein Society member and Heinlein scholar, explaining how the only known surviving typescript of this "lost" work was finally discovered in a garage.[2]


Jesus, bob! Can't you recognize bullshit? Don't you think it would
be a useful item to add to your intellectual toolkit to be
capable of saying, when a ton of wet steaming bullshit lands on
your head, "My goodness, this appears to be bullshit?"

Blogger automattthew July 18, 2015 10:15 PM  

WHAT IS THE FIRST RULE OF SJW CLUB?

Blogger automattthew July 18, 2015 10:17 PM  

Starman Jones, plot kicked off by such a disturbing account of the consequences of broken families that my 10 year old boy bailed out after the first chapter.

Blogger automattthew July 18, 2015 10:20 PM  

Citizen of the Galaxy in which the genetic necessity of maintaining moieties on trader ships becomes a major plot point. Incest? Not even.

Anonymous 334 July 18, 2015 10:27 PM  

Anyone who can put JCW and the word "lightweight" in the same sentence does not have a take worth considering.

Blogger bob k. mando July 18, 2015 10:30 PM  

108. automattthew July 18, 2015 10:10 PM
In his juvies, and sometimes even in his works for adults (Double Star), he comes across as at least a theist.



a - don't mistake a few minor works for the author.
b - he was raised in rural Missouri and Kansas City, which is where he acquired extensive knowledge of Christianity




109. automattthew July 18, 2015 10:12 PM
Jesus, bob! Can't you recognize bullshit? Don't you think it would
be a useful item to add to your intellectual toolkit to be
capable of saying, when a ton of wet steaming bullshit lands on
your head, "My goodness, this appears to be bullshit?"


ah, i see.

you're going to take the opposite end of the conspiracy theory elephant from ray.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_4bp8bBNVw



91. D. G. D. Davidson July 18, 2015 8:30 PM
I admit it's a bit rougher than my usual haunts. If J. C. Wright's blog is the salon of Christian sf, then this is the biker bar.



barkeep, get that man a Milwaukee's Best, on me!

Anonymous Starship Trooper July 18, 2015 10:30 PM  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQKVqVpoMxw

Blogger Cataline Sergius July 18, 2015 10:31 PM  

Heinlein's juvenile period was nothing but him censoring himself because he recognized that his true attitudes could not be published prior to 1950.

It's not just that. He was also being heavily edited by Alice Dalgleish at the time. If you look at the Baen series of reprints, where Heinlein's original materials have been reinserted. You can see how big a difference she made.

More revealing is the stuff that got cut out of Puppet Masters. In my own humble opinion the expanded version of that one isn't as good.

Anonymous AnalogMan July 18, 2015 10:56 PM  

I think Mr Wright has been too kind to the book. I agree with most of what he has said, but there is so much more that he should have said.

I disagree with his assessment that it is good SF. He hasn't touched at all on the science. The central thesis, that a human child raised by Martians will grow up to be a Martian, with all kinds of magical mental powers, is puerile hippy blank-slatism.

If I recall correctly, the dialogue also frankly sucks. Not only in this book, but in all of his later work. It's stilted and littered with so many "my darling"s and "my love"s that it's sickening. It's as if he's found a style that's easy to churn out and can't be bothered even to try to differentiate his characters' speaking styles. They all sound the same.

I tried to read the book twice, the second time because I didn't remember the first effort. Both times, I gave up in disgust and anger at myself for the time I'd wasted, instead of quitting much earlier. That Mr Wright read it through, twice, should qualify him for some sort of award for devotion to duty; that, or castigation for foolishness.

At least, now I know how the story ends. And I still don't care.

Blogger Expendable Faceless Minion July 18, 2015 11:13 PM  

113. 334 July 18, 2015 10:27 PM
Anyone who can put JCW and the word "lightweight" in the same sentence does not have a take worth considering.


Said 334, putting "JCW and "lightweight" in the same sentence...

Blogger Daniel July 18, 2015 11:46 PM  

Of course, a fighting man from Virginia cannot now marry Caitlyn from across the street without the reader wondering about or marriage customs...

Blogger bob k. mando July 19, 2015 12:21 AM  

115. Starship Trooper July 18, 2015 10:30 PM
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQKVqVpoMxw


that's not cocaine.

silly hippy, LSD is for kids.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kHYdhw-HyY

Blogger Expendable Faceless Minion July 19, 2015 12:27 AM  

Sorry, JCW, Your hatred of the book has blinded you.

Your review is factually wrong in a great number of places. I suspect that you just weren't paying close attention. So I'm just gonna start listing them...

There is also no healing of the sick -- dead wrong. 'not so much as a sniffle in the nest' also the wife of one of the later converts talks about how her husband had cancer, and fixed it himself after learning martian.

and no forgiveness of sins. 'They'll take you back with open arms and never ask why you left'.

Mike the Martian kills various people, such as hypocritical preachers from context it's obvious Bishop Digby got so upset that he attacked 'hurried' mike and forced the involuntary discorporation.

or men guilty of no capital felonies found behind bars. Several of the nest 'carefully went over a long list deciding who needed it. So they probably were quite guilty of a great many things.

since Martians believe in reincarnation Martians don't believe in reincarnation. Their spirits hang around after they die and are senior members of society.

killing a scofflaw without benefit of trial is no crime They weren't mere scofflaws. And the purpose of a trial is to determine guilt, not give all criminals a chance to go free by playing "Wheel of Justice". If the guilt is absolutely known, a trial is a waste.

sharing a concubine, which is perfectly dignified Your statement implies the concubine is property to be shared. She is a free woman, with the power to choose and kill anyone instantly. SIASL specifically states it is impossible to rape such a woman.

...reproductive organs and reproduction. There are several pregnancies resulting from sex in the book.

[Mike is] beyond good and evil: whatever he does, fornication or murder, is right and good by definition 'Beyond good and evil' means that everything he does is NEITHER good nor evil'. Your statement is internally contradictory. And it's a very important point to the book that he isn't a force of good.

because he does not come from earth, and therefore has no experience or understanding of human things, his conclusions about how we should conduct ourselves is automatically right Utterly wrong. Mike even laments how his understanding leads him down so many wrong paths dealing with humans.

the wisdom painfully gained over generations by our forefathers is worthy of nothing but scorn. It is a huge revelation, physically shaking him when he realizes there are things that the 'Old Ones' don't understand. And he is constantly referring to Jubal for advice. And Jubal often quotes the Bible.

Blogger Expendable Faceless Minion July 19, 2015 12:29 AM  

Mike is stoned to death by an angry mob Minor point of fact, while he's stoned, it's the shotgun ('give him both barrels') that does the fatal damage. Though he still voluntarily discorporates.

he has wings and a halo. This event has no set up in the plot The folks in heaven say Mike might very well be Archangel Michael, since he hasn't been at the solipsism tournaments lately. Then he shows up and is running the office. He pretty obviously is Archangel Michael, who is fully entitled to wings and halo.

the martyrdom, no metaphysical or theological purpose It's called 'The blow off' referring to the end of a carnival act that sends the 'marks' home satisfied. The church all understood it, which is why they were happy about it. Jubal is only an honorary member and doesn't understand stuff yet, so he's sad.

will carry on spreading the Gospel of Free Love No, it's the gospel of learning martian, and thus being able to control oneself and much of the universe around them. The 'Free Love' is just a side benefit. This is rather like calling Catholicism "The Gospel of feeding Wine and Crackers to underage kids."-- technically true but 180 degrees away from the actual point.

will come to rule everyone else: the stupid people will all die out. again with the internally wrong statements. Nobody rules in the church, and if the stupid die out, there won't be anyone to rule over.

Cannibalism So, SJW, what's your opinion of the ritualistic symbolic cannibalism in religion? "Take, eat, this is my flesh. Drink, this is my blood."

[cannibalism:] The objection is what is objectionable, so much so that the Righteous are morally obligated to discharge loyal employees from the work whereby they earn their bread, and throw them out into the street with scorn, if they voice any queasy reservations. Had you read the work you'd have seen that the employee was discharged for refusing to eat at the same table as a guest in Jubal's house. There was no moral obligation, Jubal admitted it was simply a case of Jubal himself being a "cast iron son of a bitch" and nobody else was going to tell him who was fit to eat at Jubal's table. Jubal also admitted that he was also sickened by the idea, but his stomach wasn't his boss.

The moral of the story: religion is a scam No, SIASL clearly states ALL RELIGIONS ARE TRUE. Foster and Digby, of Fosterism are both in heaven, hobnobing with angles.

marriage is a trap Marriage was called useful, and is still practiced. Jubal seriously contemplates marrying Dawn Ardent.

people are stupid Then why bother teaching them Martian?

do as you please when you please to whomever you please. And die if your doings are evil, as the religion eliminates victims.

from a superior civilization to the poor backward dolts on Earth. Well, they have cracked physics and the culture is MILLIONS of years older. So yeah earth is a bit backwards.

The rest is preaching against perceived Adamite heresy and JCW's opinions, of which I mostly disagree

Blogger bob k. mando July 19, 2015 12:34 AM  

football is always on topic:
http://i.imgur.com/jI6XNWd.png

Blogger Expendable Faceless Minion July 19, 2015 12:35 AM  

The "SJW" after cannibalism was supposed to be "JCW" it was merely a typo, no grave insult is intended, as our esteemed guest is obviously not an idiot.

Blogger Expendable Faceless Minion July 19, 2015 12:36 AM  

123. bob k. mando July 19, 2015 12:34 AM
football is always on topic: http://i.imgur.com/jI6XNWd.png


That just gets nastier the more you think about it.

Blogger Groot July 19, 2015 1:00 AM  

110. automattthew
"WHAT IS THE FIRST RULE OF SJW CLUB?"

Lie about not talking about SJW club?

@Expendable Faceless Minion:

Nice. It has been decade upon decade since I read the book, but I like the book better than I remember liking it at the time because of your spirited defense.

@bornagainpenguin:

Rhadamanthus?

Blogger Danby July 19, 2015 1:09 AM  

Amen. I'll throw out the provocative statement that, after reading Stranger for the fifth time, I've come to the conclusion that Heinlein understood Christianity better than most Christians.

A statement that could only be made by a person who does not in any way understand Christianity or Christians.

Blogger chuck July 19, 2015 1:35 AM  

"Stranger in a Strange Land" was boring, I don't recall if I even finished it, and I came of age in the sixties. I don't think Heinlein wrote any really good books after Starship Trooper, although some of his late works had occasional good bits that ran for a chapter or two before they evaporated into nothing. I had the impression he was using up left over material from his early years.

Blogger bob k. mando July 19, 2015 1:52 AM  

102. automattthew July 18, 2015 9:44 PM
zeno, you've out-abstrused me.



thus spake zenobstrusa.

you know he's going to use it.

Blogger Eric July 19, 2015 2:27 AM  

Given how different the world of 'Starship Troopers' is from this, I'm going to have to assume that Heinlein changed a lot between these two volumes.

Starship Troopers, the book immediately preceding Stranger, came out two years earlier. It's not like he changed that much as an author, either - he wrote The Moon is a Harsh Mistress five years later. I love much of his work, but the adolescent sexual fantasy stuff like Stranger and I Will Fear No Evil aren't worth bothering with, IMO.

Blogger IM2L844 July 19, 2015 2:34 AM  

He got sucked in by Ayn Rand's nonsense.

Blogger ScuzzaMan July 19, 2015 2:38 AM  

"This book does the thing that Science Fiction is meant to do: it looks at the Earth through alien eyes, it evokes a sense of wonder, it paints a future different from our present, yet close enough to our present to make cutting comments about it."

For my money, this is where Mr Wright meets Mrs Wrong. As my own memory of the work is fuzzy (I read it last over 25 years ago) I can forgive minor factual errors in his account. I cannot let pass without comment such a major error as this, on the whole nature and purpose of science fiction.

There's simply no science in Stranger In A Strange Land. Yes, it is fiction and it fulfils this function of fiction as Mr Wright describes it. But the science aspect of science fiction is neither (A) necessary to this function nor (B) present in Stranger In A Strange Land.

What are the essential science aspects of the story? We sent people to Mars, and we have hovercars. About as science fiction as Meet George Jetson. There is no exploration of the science of the time, nor any necessary inter-relation between the state of science and the story itself. No discussion of the engineering challenges in going to Mars or returning therefrom; just a cartoonish wish-fulfilment fantasy presumption that science will eventually produce all good things. (Keep that point in mind; it is one of the essential attributes of any religion.)

On the other hand, the work is (like any number of other Heinlein works) as thoroughly a religious opus as any book can be. It's focus and intent is to make a religious statement and not merely a statement about religion as humanly practiced, but to stridently advocate for a new religion.

Far from seeing himself as the new Jules Verne, Heinlein presents himself as the new Saul who becomes Paul. Stranger In A Strange Land is his New Testament. His Letter to the recently-pagan Corinthians, telling them not that what they’ve been doing is heinous sin, but highest worship of every man’s one true god, his own penis.

While most who read and comment here will not need this pointed out to them, it nonetheless needs pointing out; both Stranger In A Strange Land and I Will Fear No Evil are direct biblical quotes. Combined with Heinlein's long-running obsession with religious taboos he neither understood nor appreciated, one leaves his work with the unavoidable conclusion that even when he did write science fiction (I Will Fear No Evil qualifies far moreso than Stranger In A Strange Land, although otherwise sharing all its faults) he did so with a focus and intent far different from Mr Wright's definition of science fiction quoted above. That he sometimes, almost incidentally, if not accidentally, succeeded in meeting Mr Wright’s definition, is far beside the point. Far beside the point he was attempting to make, and far beside the point Mr Wright was making.

All of Heinlein's later works were about his emotional rejection of his childhood religious education, and lending an adult’s intellectual capacity to the retrospective ex post facto and ad hoc justification of that rejection.

And that is all.

Blogger maniacprovost July 19, 2015 3:07 AM  

Heinlein's juveniles didn't have free love, but the implied romances could be creepy. I mean, I liked them, but what does that say? Have Spacesuit, Will Travel is probably the best example of subtly sexualizing a little girl... Unless you move up to The Door to Summer, which is adult fiction.

Blogger John Wright July 19, 2015 3:09 AM  

"I don't believe Wright had actually read, certainly not more than once."

If I am to be disqualified for having a negative opinion of a book, and no proper disqualification presents itself, the barking mad loon evidently feels free to invent a disqualification -- namely, to say I have not read a book I have read many times in boyhood, youth and man -- which is specifically contradicted in the essay.

Blogger John Wright July 19, 2015 3:13 AM  

"Given all of the factual errors in Wright's review..."

Same again. The evasive critic invents a disqualification where none exists. Ironically, he misquotes even the passages where he quotes me word for word, and either mistakes or ignores the meaning of the words he is criticizing. Remarkable.

Blogger John Wright July 19, 2015 3:32 AM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger John Wright July 19, 2015 3:35 AM  

"Oh, and Wright was wrong about there being no St. Peter who denied the Lord. Duke refused to eat with Mike and left Jubal's household. Only to realize the error of his ways and come back. So, even that parallel is there."

As for factual errors, Duke does not in fact leave Jubal's employ. You are misremembering the scene. Duke asks to eat in the kitchen because he was disgusted with cannibalism. Jubal threatens him with discharge, but Duke reneges.

Go here: https://books.google.com/books?id=jBtDSf1VzQkC&printsec=frontcover&dq=stranger+in+a+strange+land&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CCgQuwUwAWoVChMI8smsi9PmxgIVzJWICh0s1QCh#v=onepage&q=xiii.%20&f=false

Look for chapter XIII about page 120

OpenID eidolon1109 July 19, 2015 3:38 AM  

I actually found SIASL to be a weirdly self-refuting work (or rather, one really excellent work, followed by a strange and pointless extension. It feels like a good movie and a bad sequel made by other filmmakers all rolled into one book.) The point I took away is that for the hippy lifestyle to work, to make any sense at all in the real world, reality would have to change almost completely.

In order to deal with all the many, many practical problems inherent to such immoral behavior, more and more superpowers are bestowed on the characters. Hm, all of them having sex with all the others would create a horrible mix of diseases for everyone -- they can heal all diseases though! They're above such petty things as defending themselves if someone breaks in to steal their huge money pile (necessary so none of them have to worry about money) -- but oh, they can just magically eliminate any intruder! All the women would be instantly pregnant with children other than their husbands, which would cause a lot of strife and trouble between them -- aha, now the women can decide whether to get pregnant or not! Any one of them using their insanely powerful Martian superpowers could cause mass devastation -- but wait, learning Martian (learning a language!?) makes everyone agree about everything, all the time!

It goes on and on, to the point that it really hammers home how stupid and ridiculous the whole arrangement is, and how impossible it would be that it could ever work in the actual reality we all inhabit.

Blogger John Wright July 19, 2015 3:44 AM  

"I'm thinking not only has it been too long since Mr Wright has read the book I find myself pondering the question of which version he read? "

I have read both versions. I thought the unedited version was inferior, starting with the first line, which is flabby. The edited version published in Heinlein's lifetime had a good narrative hook and a strong opening, wasting no words.

Blogger John Wright July 19, 2015 3:50 AM  

"What do you do about Patty? The text describes her as a mousy housewife..."

Who is the tattooed lady in the carney show, routinely appearing in the nude, and described as retaining most of her youthful beauty, though beginning to sag. You are the one not recalling the book, sir, not I.

OpenID eidolon1109 July 19, 2015 3:56 AM  

I also recalled no unattractive women being invited to the orgies, Patty being described such that I pictured her as formerly very attractive but simply getting a bit older (seems unlikely an ugly woman who performed in the nude would be very popular).

Also, they describe the attractive women as becoming more like each other in appearance, thus I assumed that all the women would make themselves more attractive, thus again eliminating any unattractive women. Men need not be physically impressive to be attractive to women, thus they need not be transformed in order for the orgies to contain only attractive people.

I kept wondering why exactly it was assumed that learning a freaking language would convince every married couple to violate their sacred oaths to each other, and where the example was of anyone who was capable of learning (not stupid) but who chose not to accept their behaviors and attitudes, but there were none. You're either smart enough to learn superpowers and libertinism, or you're a stupid murderous hick. I just can't see the depth that some of you see.

Blogger John Wright July 19, 2015 3:59 AM  

"Of course it's a no, a dogmatic fideist reviewing SIASL is like a Vegan reviewing Kobe beef. "

DISQUALIFY! Unfortunately for your attempt at ad hominem, I read the book the first four or five times when I was an atheist, and a youth, and believed the line of BS it was spinning out.

Each time I reread it, and had more real world real life experiences against which to compare it, the more cardboardy, unrealistic, and absurd all the characters became, merely sockpuppets talking to strawmen.

So it is hardly as if I misunderstood the idea that death is not the final state; I merely did not, as a youth, recognize the Gnosticism being preached, which is the idea that the world system is a deception and that all men are god who have been deceived into thinking otherwise. The idea recurs in a different form in THE UNIVERSE MAKER by AE van Vogt. It crops up routinely whenever Campbellian science fiction writers turn their hand to religious themes. It is the obvious speculation.

Blogger wrf3 July 19, 2015 4:15 AM  

JCW @ 135: "the evasive critic..."

If that was directed at me then show where I'm being evasive. Pointing out errors of fact is not being evasive.

Where did I musquote or misunderstand you (again, with the same caveat. Your post quoted me, but had no other substantive content)?

In @137 you wrote, "As for factual errors, Duke does not in fact leave Jubal's employ. You are misremembering the scene."

Not in the least. It is both true that Duke was as uncomfortable with Mike's cannibalism as was some of Jesus' disciples (cf. John 6) and that Duke left:

“But he wondered how long he could wait? In addition to the pending collapse of his “bomb” and the fact that he had promised Jill to take steps on behalf of Caxton, something new was crowding him: Duke was gone.
Gone for the day, gone for good (or for bad), Jubal did not know. Duke had been at dinner, had not shown up for breakfast.”

I did not say that these were consecutive events.

Blogger John Wright July 19, 2015 4:38 AM  

@ Expendable Faceless Minion

AH! I had indeed forgotten about one unnamed character, an ubermensch, being cured of cancer offstage by another ubermensch, using their Way Cool Martian psychic powers. So, in other words, the Messiah of Mars heals fewer people than the Elf Cleric in my last D&D game healed in four minutes more people than Mike the Martian healed in four hundred pages.

The other claims of falsehood are false: you should have restricted your claim to saying that I was exaggerating, but even that argument rests on an overly-literal interpretation of the meaning of such words as reincarnation or stoning. The fact that Mike was shot with a shotgun changes nothing in the criticism of the scene.

Such peevish literalism calls into question your reading comprehension. I am using some words (as all writing does) metaphorically or ironically.

Again, calling a woman a concubine who acts like a concubine on the grounds that she freely and openly decides for her own self to be an unpaid whore does not speak to the substance of what the criticism of the scene is.

So at best this is pointless nitpicking on your part, an objection not to the substance of what I said, merely distaste for how I worded it.

Other of your claims are merely foolish: Mike the Martian does indeed kill a number of men incarcerated, and your attempt to make this seem as if there is a proper legal process going on is foolish. He kills them because he is a superman, the ubermensch, and sees no need to obey human law.

Blogger John Wright July 19, 2015 4:41 AM  

"I did not say that these were consecutive events."

But neither did you recall the events correctly. Being gone for the day is not parallel to the betrayal of St Peter.

In any case, Duke does not leave Jubal's employ. He goes out for a walk to think things over. He is merely browbeaten for being a pharisee and mocked for saying cannibalism is against instinct. Later in the same chapter, he offers Mike a glass of water.

So, you erred, and you redoubled your error by not admitting error.

Blogger John Wright July 19, 2015 4:44 AM  

This whole effort to disqualify me is pathetic. I recall the text perfectly well, and have read it many times. In my youth, it was a favorite book of mine, and to this day Heinlein remains one of my favorite authors. No is it hubris if I criticize a grandmaster where his art is subsumed in his preachiness: that is an error one need not be a skilled artist to see. One need not be an acrobat to see that the wirewalker has tripped and fallen headlong.

Can no one, not any one, offer me a real argument that speaks to the meat of the matter? I am ready to battle giants. I tire of treading on ants.

Blogger ScuzzaMan July 19, 2015 4:50 AM  

If you tread on us, do we not secrete formic acid?

Blogger tim July 19, 2015 6:33 AM  

Nothing is sacrosanct. Riddle all the "greats" with copious denconstructive bullet holes of truth and let them sink into a subjective abyss of nothingness.

Blogger Edd Jobs July 19, 2015 8:00 AM  

96. bob k. mando

"Is Mike doing something that might get him jailed or hanged?"

"Uh, I don't know. Probably not."

"Well, if he's careful- The Fosterites have demonstrated how to get by with almost anything. Certainly much more than Joseph Smith was lynched for."


What did your Wikipedia opinion source have to say about Foster and his multiple temple wives?

Blogger Edd Jobs July 19, 2015 8:21 AM  

@John Wright

The theology is what we might call solipsistic libertarian pantheism: all self-aware creatures are God, and enjoy the privilege God has of disregarding the laws and customs of mankind.

The theology? Are you trying to say the theology of the book or the theological basis of Mike's new religion group? From the actual text:

Jubal nodded and looked sour. "Solipsism and Pantheism. Teamed together they can explain anything. Cancel out any inconvenient fact, reconcile all theories, and include any facts or delusions you care to name."

Mike is stoned to death by an angry mob at the end of the book, and he flies to heaven wearing a halo. I am not making this up: he has wings and a halo.

It appears you made up the "flies to heaven" and "wings" parts of your review. Perhaps you intended that review to be its own work of fiction, and I was simply too unsophisticated to appreciate your cleverness. You did manage to get the halo more or less right.

From the ending in which Mike's faith in the Martion old ones is shown to have been mistaken:

THE VERDICT TO BE PASSED on the third planet around Sol was never in doubt. The Old Ones
of the fourth planet were not omniscient and in their way were as provincial as humans. Grokking
by their own local values, even with the aid of vastly superior logic, they were certain in time to perceive an incurable "wrongness" in the busy, restless, quarrelsome beings of the third planet, a wrongness which would require weeding, once it had been grokked and cherished and hated.

But, by the time that they would slowly get around to it, it would be highly improbable
approaching impossible that the Old Ones would be able to destroy this weirdly complex race. The
hazard was slight that those concerned with the third planet did not waste a split eon on it.
Certainly Foster did not. "Digby!"

His assistant looked up. "Yes, Foster?"

"I'll be gone a few eons on a special assignment. Want you to meet your new supervisor."
Foster turned and said, "Mike, this is Archangel Digby, your assistant. He knows where everything is around the studio and you'll find him a very steady straw boss for anything you conceive."

"Oh, we'll get along," Archangel Michael assured him, and said to Digby, "Haven't we met
before?"

Digby answered, "Not that I remember. Of course, out of so many when-wheres" He
shrugged.

"No matter. Thou art God."

"Thou art God," Digby responded.

Foster said, "Skip the formalities, please. I've left you a load of work and you don't have all
eternity to fiddle with it. Certainly 'Thou art God'
-but who isn't?"

He left, and Mike pushed back his halo and got to work. He could see a lot of changes he
wanted to make-

Blogger Yorwak Kaheen July 19, 2015 8:42 AM  

Any book that makes both the progressive types like Scalzi and christian nutters like Wright mad is a good book by default.

Blogger Gordon July 19, 2015 9:32 AM  

Well, this was an interesting way to spend 45 minutes on a Sunday morning. I thought bornagainpenguin and Expendable Faceless Minion had some good points. It did seem that John Wright was writing his review from a hazy memory of the book, and that he misremembered some things.

I do agree that life as the water brothers lived it is pretty much impossible. Of course, the point was that learning Martian gave you the tools and the weltanschauung to be able to do it.

1962 was a very, very different world from today.

Blogger Expendable Faceless Minion July 19, 2015 10:02 AM  

146. John Wright July 19, 2015 4:44 AM
This whole effort to disqualify me is pathetic... I tire of treading on ants.


Sorry, this is abuse. Arguments are two doors down on the left.

You really are a pretty good writer, JCW. As proof of that, I'm going to steal this line:

One need not be an acrobat to see that the wirewalker has tripped and fallen headlong.

As much as you hated the book in repeated readings... Let's just parse that line. You repeatedly read a book that you loathe. Repeatedly. I'm guessing that you probably tried some of the free love and got burned. How many other books have affected you enough to ruin your life and/or those of people around you? We're talking religious scripture level greatness, here. There is a world of difference between hating a book and a book ruining a life.

Stranger in a Strange Land is a great book, because even it's stoutest of detractors read and re-read it. (I have personally worn out two copies, the first one being held together with green duck-tape for many years.)

And here it is, 54 years later, getting argued over, dissected, analyzed and sold. I haven't read the book in a decade, and have forgotten a great many things, but every 'peevish nitpick' above was taken from my own memory. It is a 'great' book to me, and to many others.

One's status in hell is determined by the quality of one's enemies. The great are often attacked by ants, but ants are never attacked by the great.

To paraphrase Steve Jobs, Robert Anson Heinlein made a dent in the universe with Stranger in a Strange Land. A very big one.

Anonymous Mark McSherry July 19, 2015 10:13 AM  

Mention has been made of FOR US, THE LIVING but I believe the true Heinlein precursor to STRANGER was his story "Lost Legion" (aka "Lost Legacy").

"The novella is an exploration of the possibilities that humans, with the proper training, have the potential to make use of a wide range of telepathic and telekinetic abilities. It is based on the presumption that most, if not all, humans have innate psychic abilities, but simply don't know it and therefore do not make use of them. This ignorance is encouraged by a mysterious and powerful cabal which benefits from keeping people unaware of their abilities."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_Legacy

Blogger ScuzzaMan July 19, 2015 10:16 AM  

Expendable;
Just for the record, I share Mr Weight's conclusion but I dispute there being any particular logic to the classification of the work as specifically science fiction. The major plot device is spiritual, not scientific.

Blogger ScuzzaMan July 19, 2015 10:17 AM  

Out! Out, damn spell-checker!

Mr Wright. Of course.

Blogger Danby July 19, 2015 11:00 AM  

@EFM,
I would posit love of Stranger in a Strange Land as a primary indicator of inability to relate to normal humans, neuroatypicality, sexual immaturity, and the presence of Atheist Aspie Syndrome.

It's so bad, I look askance at anyone who tells me they loved it.

It's worse than Atlas Shrugged, for cryin' out loud.

Utter Dreck

Blogger VD July 19, 2015 11:00 AM  

As much as you hated the book in repeated readings... Let's just parse that line. You repeatedly read a book that you loathe. Repeatedly

He didn't loathe it initially. That's the point. Your argument is misplaced.

Blogger Expendable Faceless Minion July 19, 2015 11:23 AM  

@VD:158. VD July 19, 2015 11:00 AM
He didn't loathe it initially. That's the point. Your argument is misplaced.



JCW said:
Far from being re-readable, this is a shallow book that gets shallower on every return visit.
JCW said it gets worse on every return visit. That says both that:
1: JCW didn't like it
2: JCW kept coming back for more.

My argument is well placed and congruent with the words written.

Blogger Cail Corishev July 19, 2015 11:28 AM  

My argument is well placed and congruent with the words written.

But not congruent with the entire review, or even with the portion quoted here. What does that tell you? I know what it tells me.

Blogger Danby July 19, 2015 11:29 AM  

Shut up Scoobius.
Or maybe Tad.
Either way, shut up faggot.

Blogger wrf3 July 19, 2015 11:30 AM  

JCW wrote: "Can no one, not any one, offer me a real argument that speaks to the meat of the matter?"

What's the meat of the matter? It's clear you don't like the book. Some of your reasons for your dislike are clearly based on factual errors about the contents of the book, as several commenters have noted. But correcting those errors may not change your opinion. One can dislike broccoli for all the wrong reasons; yet the right reasons won't make broccoli any more palatable.

It also seems to me that you don't like Stranger because Heinlein didn't write the story the way you would. For example, you see the lack of a great betrayal as a defect; but Heinlein is telling a different story, one where this is a feature. Mike's methods demonstrably made better people, people who truly cherished one another. The way that Christians should, but often don't.

This ties in with eidolon1109's comment, "but wait, learning Martian (learning a language!?) makes everyone agree about everything, all the time!" Heinlein is clearly using Christianity's method here. Learning Martian is the analog to learning God's language: immersing ourselves in His Word, being united in the death, burial, and Resurrection of His Incarnate Word, and being spoken to by the indwelling of His Spirit, where God speaks to us in "groanings that cannot be uttered" is supposed to transform us. Yet the Church presents itself more like the Fosterites than Christ's church.

You can complain that Mike's methods only work in the book, but the book begins with "once upon a time."

Heinlein is expressing his desire for a better world and perhaps his anger that Christianity wasn't delivering (at least in his opinion), because Mike's religion parallels Christianity: the Eucharist, Baptism, the Word. Is Heinlein saying that Christianity does not work (since Stranger is a fairy tale and fairy tales don't work in the real world), or is Heinlein saying that Christianity would work if done right? Or is he saying something else altogether?

Stranger is a brilliant book. But not everyone can see it, just as BKM wrote: "i don't see anything of a carefree young girl or beautiful woman in [La Belle Heaulmiere]"

Blogger ScuzzaMan July 19, 2015 11:57 AM  

EFM; he has said that he loved it on first reading, *because* HE was shallow when he first read it. His comment on its shallowness is made from a far older and wiser perspective.

You're barking up the wrong trouser leg.

Anonymous Donn #0114 July 19, 2015 12:32 PM  

He read a book more than once he found 'shallow'. I eat smores. and drink lemonade. Are they filling? Nutritious? Chock full o vitamins and minerals. Well no. They are not but I still enjoy them shallow as they are.

Would I allow my children a steady diet of smores and lemonade? Again no. You can enjoy hedonism for its own sake without wishing to indulge forever or thinking that the two tasty treats are at all the building blocks of something bigger or yet again something substantial that stands on it's own.

ASIASL? It lays down nice and flat too shallow for sparrows to bath it but it sure it pretty.

Blogger John Wright July 19, 2015 12:48 PM  

"What's the meat of the matter? It's clear you don't like the book. Some of your reasons for your dislike are clearly based on factual errors about the contents of the book, as several commenters have noted."

What utter rubbish you pen. I made no factual errors. Stop with that false narrative, please. Whether I dislike the book or not is irrelevant, and if that is the only thing you got out of the column, reread the column again and pay attention to what is being said, and do not pay attention only to your own subjective emotional reactions to the connotations of the words.

Good grief. Must I tutor you in how to read? One looks at the content of the argument first, sees whether it is self coherent (for if not, it is illogical) than sees whether it conforms to reality (for if not, it is untrue) and then see whether the questions of judgement are fairminded (for if not, it is unfair).

To argue against the conclusions after that, one must either call the justice of the remarks into question, or the truth, or the logic. Merely reporting your own emotions is none of these things. Merely disqualifying the speaker's right to speak is none of these things.

Blogger John Wright July 19, 2015 12:56 PM  

"It also seems to me that you don't like Stranger because Heinlein didn't write the story the way you would."

If you cannot stay on topic, think clearly, and express your objections in words, just shut your mouth. You here yet again are making the same informal logical error as you started off with, argumentum ad hominem.

Nowhere do I say or imply that my objection is the book is not written as I would write it, except in the trivial sense that no one wants to write a poorly written book. You are retreating into subjectivism, the indefensible defensive position that no criticism is legitimate.

And this defense of yours is doubly stupid when applied to me, of all people. I wrote 'Guyal the Curator' in order to show how I would write a Jack Vance DYING EARTH story, but I am not critical of Jack Vance. I wrote NULL A CONTINUUM to show how I would write a AE van Vogt Gilbert Gosseyn story, but I am not critical of AE van Vogt. And I wrote THE GOLDEN AGE to show how I would write an Olaf Stapledon story; I wrote ORPHANS OF CHAOS to show how I would write a Roger Zealazny story; I wrote COUNT TO A TRILLION to show how I would write a EE Doc Smith story; I just this week finished writing IRON CHAMBER OF DREAMS to show how I would write a David Lindsany story. In no case is the fact that I would write my version of their stories differently from them prove either that I am critical of the original author nor that any criticism is automatically invalid.

Your argument is merely idiocy, sir. As if I were to say, 'Your rebuttal of my argument is invalid on the grounds that it is merely your opinion of how you would have written the argument. You would have written my argument a different way. Therefore you do not get to rebut my argument.'

If that bit of nonsense is not a valid counter rebuttal to your rebuttal, then neither is your rebuttal a valid rebuttal to my argument, for that is the logic you are using.

Blogger John Wright July 19, 2015 12:59 PM  

@ ScuzzaMan

Do not blame your spell checker, sir. In this case, you should ask my bathroom scale, you may indeed agree that I am Mr Weight. Oy vey!

Blogger John Wright July 19, 2015 1:04 PM  

"As much as you hated the book in repeated readings... Let's just parse that line. You repeatedly read a book that you loathe. "

Your inability to parse English is astonishing. I congratulate you on a singular accomplishment.

What I said was that I liked the book at first very much indeed. It was perhaps my favorite book in my youth. At each rereading, I had gained more life experience, and saw more and more of the deviation between what the book portrayed and what reality said in contradiction to it. When I finally realized in my 40s that I had been utterly hoodwinked and sold a bill of goods, fooled, duped, and bilked, my dislike hardened into despite. I did not reread it thereafter.

Since I already said this once in the original column, I doubt restating it will make any dent on your invincible ignorance. But, if you notice, my column states that STRANGER is one of the ten greatest books of Science fiction, akin to DUNE and FOUNDATION and so on.

If you cannot make an argument against what I actually said, you cannot make an argument at all.

Blogger John Wright July 19, 2015 1:10 PM  

" It did seem that John Wright was writing his review from a hazy memory of the book, and that he misremembered some things."

What, again? So far, the only thing that anyone has provided as a factual error is that I forget one minor unnamed character is cured of cancer offstage, and this was used to contradict my statement that Mike the Martian, as when compared to other Messiahs, did not heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead, and preach salvation to the poor.

The only person who attempted to quote the text to me to show another alleged error in my memory of the book, namely, I said Duke the Handyman did not leave the employ of Jubal Hershaw, quoted in error, and inadvertently proved my point for me, that this was not parallel to the betrayal of Judas nor the renunciation of Peter, hence the characters were cardboard, that is, the good guys always agreeing with the author on all matters, with no major sins or errors, the bad guys always being simpletons or charlatans with no redeeming characteristics whatsoever.

Blogger John Wright July 19, 2015 1:17 PM  

Dear Mr Edd

You say "It appears you made up the "flies to heaven" and "wings" parts of your review."

To the contrary:

"Otherwise straighten your halo, square your wings and dig in"

Line from page 268.

The place where this conversation takes place is heaven. Digby is talking to Foster.

When an ant is reduced to claiming that I got the halo part correct, but not the wings, and he does not remember the book and I do, is when the ant has no argument to give, nothing to say.

Blogger maniacprovost July 19, 2015 1:22 PM  

This thread make me want to read it again.. but I won't. SIASL was the first 'bad' Heinlein book I read. It started off strong, and after that it became some sort of satire, but no one can agree what it means or what the point was.

Blogger Expendable Faceless Minion July 19, 2015 1:24 PM  

VD:
John C. Wright considers the question of whether the great works of SF, Stranger in a Strange Land, also merit consideration as Great Books: [article] So, I'll take it that's a no?

JCW:
Since I already said this once in the original column, I doubt restating it will make any dent on your invincible ignorance. But, if you notice, my column states that STRANGER is one of the ten greatest books of Science fiction, akin to DUNE and FOUNDATION and so on.

I think Vox just trolled us all, especially JCW.

Blogger Expendable Faceless Minion July 19, 2015 1:36 PM  

JCW, do you really consider all those arguing with you ants? Or just Mr. Edd?

Blogger D. G. D. Davidson July 19, 2015 2:11 PM  

@Expendable Faceless Minion

Wright says Stranger in a Strange Bed is one of the greatest books of sf, but also says there are no "Great Books," by a certain definition of great, in science fiction at all; that is, books on a level with Homer or Milton. There's no contradiction there, merely two clearly distinguished uses of the word "great."

For me personally, I find Wright's analysis of Stranger too generous. I thought the construction was exceedingly clumsy, starting off as one thing and veering into something else. The silly scenes with the angels did not fit the science fictional tone of the work and jarred me out of the story. The sermons preached in Stranger are not only contrary to reality, but, as eidolon1109 points out, self-refuting: the characters have to have superpowers to make everything work.

That, to me, was what most stood out about the novel when I first read it. It proposes a new model for society and acts as if it's dead serious about it, but also gives the characters magic abilities, gained in the most ridiculous way (by learning a language) to make the whole thing hold together.

For silly preachiness in a science fiction work, Stranger is about as silly as they come. Its only equal, that I know of, is Schenk's "Morphology of the Kirkham Wreck," which sets out to prove that God doesn't exist because people under stress will spontaneously develop godlike powers, or something. A close second is "The Cold Equations," which sets out to prove that God doesn't exist because stowaways who can't read warning signs are idiots.

Blogger Edd Jobs July 19, 2015 2:21 PM  

1. Mike is stoned to death by an angry mob at the end of the book, and he flies to heaven wearing a halo.

2. To the contrary:

"Otherwise straighten your halo, square your wings and dig in"

Line from page 268.

The place where this conversation takes place is heaven. Digby is talking to Foster.


NOT to the contrary, disingenuous squirming notwithstanding. Man up, don't double down.

When an ant is reduced to claiming that I got the halo part correct, but not the wings, and he does not remember the book and I do, is when the ant has no argument to give, nothing to say.

If you actually remembered the book, your response reveals a bloviating ass, not an ant.

Thanks for the insight.

Blogger bornagainpenguin July 19, 2015 2:29 PM  

@John Wright

I did indeed recall her to be the tattooed carnie lady. And if you re-read my comment you'll notice that I qualified myself on the pleasantly plump mental image I had of the lady. I cannot justify that image without actually re-reading the book, which I fully intend to do now that I've realized how long its been since I first read it.

I find the book mischaracterized though. It's not intended as a HOWTO manual of any sort, something that a distressing number of people fail to realize. This was true from almost the beginning though: Heinlein talks about the annoyance this would become in _Grumbles from the Grave_ as hippies all over started seeking him out to be their guru cutting into his writing time.

I can understand why it would impact people that way though. It's a seductive premise, almost certainly blasphemous. The whole thing falls apart though once you delve deeper into the book and once the reader realizes there isn't enough eros or philios to make up for the severe lack of agape in our lives--we need that love to make up for the holes in our personality and it is not a love that occurs naturally in man and must be sourced outside of him. Without power the whole thing falls apart. Those who can't realize that end up as nutty as Manson and his followers did.

Other people have been posting that the spiritual aspects of the story make it something other than science fiction--I say they're missing the point. This isn't a hard science fiction novel, it's a social sciences novel. It's not about the flying cars, the computers or even space flight and aliens. If you're reading _A Stranger in a Strange Land_ with that kind of focus you're quite obviously going to be disappointed!

Blogger bornagainpenguin July 19, 2015 2:30 PM  

Furthermore ASIASL is about Anne, the Fair Witness and what kind of society would find such a legal instrument to be useful. It's about the way even "free" societies can hobble the flow of information. The way-- what's that? That's all stuff from the first part of the book? Ok, fine--try this on for size: ASIASL isn't about how a man raised by aliens would find humanity, it's about the impact of language and worldview!

"Thou art God" isn't just a cornerstone in the fictional religion Mike puts together, it's also a bad translation of a word that is unclear in English. It's the shortest form of "rational anarchist" in small words possible. Translation errors abound but it's the quickest way to pass along the concept as a placeholder to be able to move forward in conversation and allow distillation and further examination. To get the full import requires one to immerse one's self in the culture and language the parent concept came from.

Mike uses his peculiar brand of Solipsism and Pantheism not because it is attractive "cotton candy" drawing people in, but because it's the closest translation framework he can work in to try and get key concepts across. As philosophy it's junk food, but it's the best way he's found to communicate core ideas. Understand that this isn't always the best way, it's just the best way he knows. When speaking to a primitive the best explanation can some times be magic.

(Consider here the way Star of _Glory Road_ tries to explain what she does with the pentagram--a schematic circuit diagram she says--would be a better description for her "magic" which she elsewhere describes as metaphysical geometries.)

Mike here plays the part of a soldier trying to explain an airplane to an island native, resulting in a cargo cult. Flying machines (air planes) which need special circumstances (run ways) that if the native provides then the sky will rain down manna (Hostess Twinkies? what did they get from those shipments) from heaven. Easier to simply say magic!

Only Mike isn't supposed to be a soldier from WWII; he's here as an advance scout from a superior civilization--he's Cortés about to over throw the Aztec Empire. Only instead of cannons he uses words. It is a conquest by culture which the book ends with. Not because he wishes to save their souls--to someone whose world view includes literal interaction with dead people the idea the soul is eternal is self-evident. No Mike wishes to save the people of Earth from the coming destruction he knows will come when the Old Ones of Mars determine the planet and its people to be beautifully flawed and needing to be removed.

This is hinted at in the last section of the book, where the narrator concludes the it would be improbable for the Martians to do anything because they would be up against a new Earth culture. A culture not constrained by the "magic" of the Old Ones because they have their own "magic" allowing them to counteract any action taken against Earth. Then too is the amount of time it takes the Martians to grok the people of Earth, who are not static. We change in a generation what would to them take a millennia to determine if a change should take place.

It's a very rich book. I think detractors who attack it on the basis of religious disagreement with the purported philosophy in the book miss the boat and see a debate which doesn't really exist. I could type more (much more!) but I've already written a book and I don't want to tire anyone out.

Blogger murphaticlaw July 19, 2015 2:41 PM  

@ 94. zen0 July 18, 2015 8:47 PM

“The religious expressions of the majority of Christendom assumes an immortal soul...”

Dude, that assumption is the religious expression of the majority of non-Christendom as well.

The key word there is assumption, and the point remains, “what if” that assumption didn't depend upon faith but was a proven fact?

Those Christians who believed in a flat earth on the basis of Lucifer's temptation of Christ were relying on faith to describe our planet, and were confronted with some stark and unpalatable options when it was conclusively demonstrated that the world was an oblate spheroid.

They could either deny the evidence disproving the flat earth model and insist that all claims to the contrary were an attack on their faith, probably by satanists.

They could decide that the 4 corners of the earth was a metaphor, which would open the door to questions about what other eternal truths were 'metaphors'

Or they could just stop claiming the world was flat.

And this example is hypothetical, I'm not claiming that the British would have failed to build an “empire upon which the sun never sets” with everyone, especially the sailors believing that if you sailed to far away from the land you would fall off the 'edge' of the planet.

I don't have any way to measure the effect such a profound change in world-view produced.

Just as I don't know how to measure the effect the knowledge of the souls existence, instead of a faith in the souls existence would have on the practice of the bazillion different versions of Christianity, but I suspect those changes would be major.

Just from a logistics stand-point, all the time currently spent trying to prove the objective existence of something we are told we must accept by 'having faith', would be freed up for other pursuits.....

@132. ScuzzaMan July 19, 2015 2:38 AM

Um no, this is quintessential science-fiction, written in a grand tradition of the genre, exploring what happens when new technology (space ships) opens up new and better (meaning more accurate) ways of modeling the universe and what changes that new data produces

Blogger Danby July 19, 2015 2:45 PM  

It's a very rich book. I think detractors who attack it on the basis of religious disagreement with the purported philosophy in the book miss the boat and see a debate which doesn't really exist. I could type more (much more!) but I've already written a book and I don't want to tire anyone out.

It's sludge. Sewerage with cotton candy floating on top. It's badly written, extremely poorly thought out, and boring.

Blogger murphaticlaw July 19, 2015 2:45 PM  

142. John Wright July 19, 2015 3:59 AM

What ad hominem? I didn't compare you to a Vegan, I just used that to denote the differences in world views.

Or wait, are you objecting to being described as a dogmatic fideist? I assure you I was being descriptive, I did not mean those terms in a pejorative sense.

Although if that is what you mean by ad hominum, why do you point out you read the story as an atheistic youth?

You certainly didn't write your review from a young atheist world view, if that's what you were going for, you failed miserably

In fact you are still doing it, by claiming the gnostic heresy is being preached, you are using your religion to slam a book you claim to be reviewing for literary merit.

You haven't been able to divorce religion from either the story or the real world, you are still thinking about this disguised language school as a church...which it is from a technical standpoint (see Jubal's conversation with Jill), because it isn't a church or a valid religion from your religious viewpoint.

I don't care if you want to criticize something, I'm just objecting to you presenting criticism based on your religious beliefs as an objective literary standard.

I mean, how is that different than what the SJW's do?

On a related note, this is the 2nd time I've seen someone use a Heinlein story as the basis of their masturbatory fantasies, which I find odd.

Although no stranger to onanism in my youth, I didn't see any of Heinlein's works, even the later ones, as justification for casual sex.

Specifically because in the first instance I'm not a hero in the land of the Doral and in the 2nd because I don't know how to speak Martian.

And generally because I don't think RAH ever promoted, or even presented a casual attitude toward intercourse.

Blogger Edd Jobs July 19, 2015 2:58 PM  

@Danby It's sludge. Sewerage with cotton candy floating on top. It's badly written, extremely poorly thought out, and boring.

The N.K. Jemisin school of literary review.

Blogger Danby July 19, 2015 3:00 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger ray July 19, 2015 3:00 PM  

"Calling out a murderous, seductive character is " blame-shifting". Gotcha."


Scapegoating is the word for it, Ms. Marissa. Like what you're doing.

Blogger automattthew July 19, 2015 3:06 PM  

It's sludge. Sewerage with cotton candy floating on top. It's badly written, extremely poorly thought out, and boring.

Yes. I read it as a youth, having loved everything I'd read by Heinlein before (excepting Revolt in 2100), and I could barely finish it. It was supposed to be his greatest novel, and it was boring. Stultifying. I just wanted everyone to die already. Even Number of the Beast had more interesting characters and plot ... until it went sideways. Job offended me, but I found it more readable.

Blogger Danby July 19, 2015 3:08 PM  

My apologies,
In a now-deleted comment I implied that Edd was fellating the now long dead RA Heinlein. This was a scurrilous attack and I apologize. RAH was not, to my knowledge, a homosexual.

Blogger Edd Jobs July 19, 2015 3:23 PM  

@Danby

I accept your apology.

Blogger ray July 19, 2015 3:30 PM  

"I am ready to battle giants. I tire of treading on ants."


Yikes. But Mike the Martian has a superman complex? LOL

You are not ready to battle giants. Read the Bible and work on your resentments first.

Blogger ScuzzaMan July 19, 2015 4:02 PM  

@murphaticlaw:

Yes.

Conan the Barbarian was a story about what happens when a big man acquires a big sword.

Thanks a bunch.

Anonymous Alas July 19, 2015 4:08 PM  

I wrote 'Guyal the Curator' in order to show how I would write a Jack Vance DYING EARTH story

That volume demonstrated that only Jack Vance can do Jack Vance.

Some can do a tolerably close homage, but only the master is the master.

Blogger bob k. mando July 19, 2015 4:17 PM  

138. eidolon1109 July 19, 2015 3:38 AM
but wait, learning Martian (learning a language!?) makes everyone agree about everything, all the time!


you see, all of you complaining about the 'magic language' or lack of 'science' in Stranger are only demonstrating your ignorance of the theoretical social sciences of the time.

this actually is an extrapolation of one of the 'social sciences'. Heinlein dabbled with Korzybski.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_semantics


149. Edd Jobs July 19, 2015 8:00 AM
What did your Wikipedia opinion source have to say about Foster and his multiple temple wives?



multiple 'temple wives' is your baroque definition of original Mormonism? how novel.

and stupid.




180. murphaticlaw July 19, 2015 2:45 PM
Or wait, are you objecting to being described as a dogmatic fideist? I assure you I was being descriptive, I did not mean those terms in a pejorative sense.



then either you do not understand the estimable Mr. Wright or you do not understand fideism.

fideism is, at the least, shaded with the understanding that reason and faith are antithetical.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fideism
"...or that reason and faith are hostile to each other and faith is superior at arriving at particular truths..."

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/fideism?s=t

for someone to assert that Mr. Wright REJECTS philosophy ... *shakes head*



172. Expendable Faceless Minion July 19, 2015 1:24 PM
I think Vox just trolled us all, especially JCW.



restating the same conclusion that the estimable Mr. Wright came to in his essay is ... trolling?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facepalm#/media/File:Paris_Tuileries_Garden_Facepalm_statue.jpg

Anonymous AnalogMan July 19, 2015 4:42 PM  

Edd Jobs @181

@Danby It's sludge. Sewerage with cotton candy floating on top. It's badly written, extremely poorly thought out, and boring.

The N.K. Jemisin school of literary review.


I have to say Danby captured the essence of the book. I wish that review had been printed on its cover - would have saved me a lot of time.

Blogger Marissa July 19, 2015 4:47 PM  

Right, accusing someone of committing murder if he did indeed appear to commit murder is blame-shifting and scapegoating. I'll alert our justice system.

Blogger ScuzzaMan July 19, 2015 4:52 PM  

@bornagainpenguin:

It is (in my opinion) neither a hard science nor a social science novel.

It is a story about a religion, being put forth for religious reasons, featuring a spiritual idea as its central plot device, and in its title.

Mr Wright's defence of it, as being science fiction anyway, makes more sense than yours. He wrote simply that using a Man from Mars as his false messiah makes it science fiction, and if he'd used the Man from Laredo that would have made it a Western.

It is you who are missing the point, because the authors point was that his own ideas about religion, spirituality, - i.e. reality - and thus about how men should behave, were superior to those of his parents, because free love.

When I was much younger I paid 10 bucks to watch a live presentation by Rael (Claude Vorilhon) and listen to his own ideas about a superior religion. His invented history was different but his own recipe for how men should behave could have been (and probably was) taken straight out of Stranger In A Strange Land, and if you'd seen the teenaged Tahitian girl this balding chubby middle-aged hippy was fucking at the time, you'd understand why.

But if you'd seen enough of life, as I had by then, to recognise the innate flaws in this idea, you'd recognise them in Stranger In A Strange Land, too.

P.S. There's no "A" before the first 'Stranger' in the title. If you're going to lecture others about what things mean, you need to get what the things ARE correct. Otherwise it rather makes it look like you're not quite as percipient as you might think yourself.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stranger_in_a_Strange_Land#/media/File:Stranger_in_a_Strange_Land_Cover.jpg

Blogger ScuzzaMan July 19, 2015 4:55 PM  

For the benefit of the anti-pedants pedants; that's not a jab about a typo. Read his comments; it is a consistently repeated error.

Blogger John Wright July 19, 2015 10:38 PM  

"What ad hominem? "

Disqualifying the argument rather than addressing the argument on the grounds that the opinions of the speaker are in disagreement with the work being critiqued is ad hominem.

Blogger bruce July 19, 2015 10:57 PM  

Stranger has good SF detail work- the mission to Mars and the 'winner takes all' mutual wills, the journalists living in pervasive wireless surveillance; the Secretary General of the UN as an honest political gangster. It's Heinlein dumbed down for mundanes, like Lucifer's Hammer is Niven and Pournelle dumbed down to pass under the Danelaw. It will stay on my Heinlein shelf, and in ten years or so when I reread all Heinlein I will get back to it. I don't like it like I like Expanded Universe. Mr Wright's review is well written and on target, as everyone who sees John Wright's byline expects, except for the cheap shot at Heinlein's Wise Old Men being indistinguishable. No doubt there was a generic Wise Old Man personality in Mauve Decade America, and no doubt all the different men Heinlein describes sort of fit, but I can tell them apart. So could Heinlein.

Blogger ScuzzaMan July 20, 2015 12:30 AM  

bruce:
Your defence, at least, has the advantage of being coherent.
What about Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell? It moves from past to future, features far more extensive treatment of the state of science and technology in each period, its effect on the cultural context and on the story itself.
Is it science fiction? The author does not say so, the publisher does not say so, the public do not say so.
You see, it contains these things, but it is not *about* them.
On his own blog, Mr Wright has already made this defence of the classification. To my mind it is superficially true, but irrelevant. I am not, in this instance, satisfied with superficialities.

Blogger John Wright July 20, 2015 2:23 AM  

@ Vile Faceless Minion

"I think Vox just trolled us all, especially JCW."

Actually, the first paragraph you quote refers to the Great Books of the Western World, the list compiled by Mortimer Adler.

The second paragraph you quote refers to Baen's list of great sciffy books.

Your attempt to make it look as if Vox and I are talking about the same thing is based on a gross misreading of the text.

Since the words themselves in the lines you quote make this clear, I can only suggest you read what you quote.

Blogger John Wright July 20, 2015 2:31 AM  

@ Vile Faceless Minion

"JCW, do you really consider all those arguing with you ants? Or just Mr. Edd?"

Anyone levels a personal comment about me, my writing, or my faith in lieu of addressing the points I raise in the argument is arguing in bad faith, and hence is absurdly easy to crush, hence is an ant. All I need do is point out that it is ad hominem, an attack on a person, not on a person's ideas.

For example, "It also seems to me that you don't like Stranger because Heinlein didn't write the story the way you would." is a remarkably antlike remark.

The idea of avoiding ad hominem is not complex. Pretend that I am in complete agreement with my atheist friend about what is wrong with the book, or my friend who is not a writer, or who is a better writer than I am.

Stop with these SJW style attacks on persons. Only inferior minds attack persons. Real man attack ideas. Real men do not disqualify arguments, but face them squarely.

Blogger John Wright July 20, 2015 2:34 AM  

"Or wait, are you objecting to being described as a dogmatic fideist?"

I am objection to you disqualifying what I have to say by your saying, in effect, that my argument that the book is bad should be dismissed on the grounds that due to my belief system I believe the book is bad. That is a logical fallacy, maybe two.

1 – 200 of 233 Newer› Newest»

Post a Comment

Rules of the blog
Please do not comment as "Anonymous". Comments by "Anonymous" will be spammed.

<< Home

Newer Posts Older Posts