Classic Book Review: Stranger in a Strange Land

This is straight up one of the worst reading experiences I’ve ever had the misfortune to suffer through.

The Book

stranger_in_a_strange_land_coverStranger in a Strange Land
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
First Published in 1961, though the uncut version (which I had the displeasure to read) was from 1991
I got it from the library and have no regrets for not spending money
I’m not going to leave a Amazon link for you to support this drivel – BUY AN INDIE BOOK INSTEAD IF YOU MUST WASTE SOME MONEY

I almost gave up multiple times, but I suffered through because of an inability to quit anything and a desire to just trash this book on my blog

Non-Spoiler Review

It was awful.  I regret everything.

1/5 Discoball Snowcones (but only because Goodreads doesn’t let me do 0)

1 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

The plot was dull and just dragged.  I read the uncut version, and I can’t imagine a world in which the original 1961 version wasn’t better.  What the hell could those extra 60k words have done to make this piece of shit better?  It was altogether too long.

I tried as hard as I could to remember that this book could have been a product of its time, that I shouldn’t judge its blatant sexism and less-blatant-but-obviously-present racism.  At the same time, the sexist thoughts in the book were a major part of the premise.  The faultiness of these thoughts, especially to a millennial or younger person, ruins the entirety of this book.

The premise of the book could be summarized as “Men are violent pigs who, without plentiful access to infantile, useless females, ruin the societies and creations they make.”  That’s really all the book was about.  The plot and characters were neither believable or, honestly, very detailed despite the sheer length of the work.  It was a failed attempt to explore the above theme.

There was so much sexy things in this book that didn’t feel like they added to… well, anything.  The book wasn’t erotica, and the explanations that ‘sex occurred’ almost felt like those stories an 8 year old tells when they first learn the word ‘sex.’ Heinlein’s attempts felt juvenile and barely coherent.  In my opinion, sex in stories is best done if:

  1. The act matters for plot reasons; even better if it’s not for a revenge motivation
  2. The book is written and billed as erotica or as a steamy romance

None of that was true for this steaming turd of a book.  I suppose sex in this book mattered for plot reasons if you consider that they made a sex cult in the end…?

The female characters, though I suppose Heinlein could have argued at the time were strong, were just objects for the Man from Mars – the main character – to collect.  If the entire premise of the book was that sex brought togetherness and understanding, having the female characters be so vapid and unquestioning really didn’t serve to make me believe him.  Though not as obvious, there was also a clear disdain for male homosexuality (and a slight distaste for female homosexuality, though not nearly as prominent).

Next week:

I’m reading Dusk by Susan Gates.  It was loaned to me by a friend, and it’s a pretty short read, which was necessary for now (especially when you see what’s coming next month!).

19 thoughts on “Classic Book Review: Stranger in a Strange Land

  1. joanne the geek says:

    In those days science fiction was a bastion for male writers. It wasn’t until the end of that decade you began to get a few more women writers like Le Guin, or gay writers such as Delaney. I’ve never bothered with Heinlein. From what I know about he was rather too right wing for my tastes.

    I remember reading The Midwich Cuckoo’s by John Wyndham which was written in the 1950s I think. I found it very dated and very male centric. The premise that some flying saucers land in a village in England and impregnate all the women in the village while they’re all unconscious I found rather disturbing. If it had been me writing a story line like that (which I don’t think I would) then I would have made the men pregnant as well… Of course a writer like Wyndham would never done something like that. Sorry for this aside which has nothing to do with Heinlein…

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      True. I had decided to read this because I wanted to be competent in classic sci-fi, but dude… not worth it! I have this feeling a lot of modern sensibilities will suck out the fun of reading many old works.

  2. joanne the geek says:

    Yes I suspect a lot of classic sci-fi has dated rather badly. I’ve got the short story collection Expedition to Earth by Arthur C. Clarke, and a lot of the stories in it are quite interesting, but there are no women anywhere in it. At the moment I’m slowly going through a collection by Brian Aldiss and I’m hoping he might be a bit more inclusive…

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      Clarke is one of my favorites. I did Rendezvous with Rama earlier and loved it – though I did notice the women were often, but not always, sex objects. However, I think this was probably Clarke’s ill-fated attempt not to seem gay (which he was). Can’t be sure, though, and it doesn’t really give him a good excuse!

  3. Sophia Ismaa says:

    Well, wow. Sounds like a terrible book. I don’t know how much we can blame it on being a product of its time. I understand if the original one was sexist and homophobic given that it was written in 1961, but by the 1990’s you wouldn’t expect the uncut one to be so sexist or homophobic, after all George Martin managed to write a series in the 90’s without promotion of sexism. Hmm, from the above comments it seems that classic sci-fi tends to contain sexism as well. I agree that it doesn’t make sense to be bashing all men in a book (I still stand behind men are trash because obviously it doesn’t mean all men), however, in a book shouldn’t the characters merely be more fleshed out of instead of caricatures?

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      I think every character in this book, regardless of sex, race, or any other protected characteristic, was garbage. They were all flat. The main character was a total Mary Sue. It was a product of its time, sure, but it was also bad, so the shitty 60’s politics were just exacerbated.

      • Sophia Ismaa says:

        Hmm, do you think that, regarding Sci-Fi and Fantasy, the earlier works usually contain flat characters? That was George Martin’s main criticism of Lord of the Rings. I would say Boromir and Frodo were the most complex characters, but the very few. Even though the politics sound terrible, that part still sounds interesting. The flat characters, however, is enough for it to be a no though.

      • H.R.R. Gorman says:

        I don’t think all old works are that way. Asimov’s Elijah Bailey alone is enough to convince me of that. And I think LotR was that way because of the attempt at a mythological feel, which Tolkien very much succeeded at. Twain wrote complex characters into Huck Finn. Stranger In A Strange Land was just bad, in my opinion.

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