Monday, July 11, 2016

The adventures of SPACE JESUS in the alternate future!

So, as a few folks probably know, I finished the last book reviewed on here a few days prior to my reserves showing up at the library, which forced me to dig around my shelves to find something I hadn't read before. Which ended up being Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, which I must have picked up at a book sale at some point. (I thought maybe it was Dad's copy, but the printing date of this edition was 1981, so I'm doubting it.)

Anyway, I know people who love this book, and I know several people who's reviews are unprintable here in what I maintain as PG-space.

I'm kind of coming down between the two factions and giving it a "Meh".

For those who haven't read it, it basically follows the life of one Michael Valentine Smith, born of an affair between two people on a mission to Mars. The crew all died (and it's hinted the wife of the father had something do with that, since she wasn't the mother), except for the baby, who was raised by Martians.

Mike comes back with the second journey to Mars, who arrive 25 years after the voyage Mike was born on. Something about WWIII causing a real dent in space exploration. There's a whole bunch of political rambling about how Mike is the sole owner of Mars under the laws of the World government, which leads to Mike being locked up in a hospital. Thankfully, Nurse Jill and her sort of beau Ben (who's a journalist), manage to break him out after becoming a Water Brother with Michael. (Sharing water becomes a major theme throughout the book. Given the scarcity of water on Mars, it takes on a mythological significance to share the water of life.) Jill manages to sneak Mike out of the hospital after Ben gets vanished, and gets him to an old lawyer's house. Jubal, an attorney and curmudgeon, takes Mike in, and more or less raises him while negotiating with the Secretary General of the world government to keep Mike safe.

Mike eventually goes out to learn to be human while applying Martian principles to the experience. He takes Jill with him. The do the Carnival circuit. They meet Patty, who's a Fosterite, a sect that's basically televangelists who don't care about sin, as long as you sin using church approved materials to do so. She recognizes Mike as a Holy Man.

Skip ahead a bit, and Mike starts a church with him at the head. (I'm sure people who've read the book will quibble with that statement, but for the sake of writing this, it's true as far as it goes.) Everyone we've met through the course of the book winds up in the Nest, the 9th circle of water brothers. Those that Grok.

And in the end, because this is space Jesus, he gets his own version of the Passion, and in what I assume was supposed to shock readers in 1961 (or see who actually groked the meaning), Jubal and Duke eat part of his remains to complete the groking.

Now, as I mentioned above, this was written in 1961, so it predates the Sexual Revolution  by a few years, so I imagine people were downright SHOCKED and APPALLED by Mike's rather libertine lifestyle. Whereas people who grew up after the Sexual Revolution are SHOCKED and APPALLED by the rather large amount of sexism that drips off the page. (Jill makes a comment I see quoted in most of the negative reviews about how 9 times out of 10, a woman who gets raped did something to encourage it. There's also quite a bit about a woman's role at various points.) However, even within the confines they're placed in, the women are actually better written as characters than I had expected. They're liberated enough to do as the please, even if most of the time, that involves finding their pleasure with a man.

Also, unlike say, Dan Simmons, Heinlein has no qualms with Islam. (Had he lived longer, that might have changed... by all accounts, he started off quite liberal and drifted quite right over time. While much of his philosophy here leans libertarian, he did advocate military service as a social duty to gain rights.) This gets amusing to keep in mind, since the Nest is mostly a communal society, even if Mike does recognize in the end that human nature will destroy such arrangements on a global scale.

Oddly enough, though, the book reminded me the most of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, up until Mike's grokking of the human condition at the end. Well, that, and Mike dying, instead of using his virility to break free of the chains of leeches on his right to copulate with Dagmar.... While the end results of both philosophies differ, both share a libertine approach to relationships. However, unlike Rand, Mike goes Eastern with saying that we are all God. Not a separate entity, but a spark we all share. And, of course, Mike can grok and express where his philosophy fails in the end. Heaven forbid John Galt do similar.

I will also admit that I found myself laughing early on as Madame Vesant, astrologer, counseled the Secretary General's wife based on star charts, realizing that Heinlein predicted Nancy Regan's relationship with Joan Quigleyabout 20 years before it happened. Then again, he predicted hippies about 7 years early.

In the end, I'm reminded of a line from one of my favorite musicals: "Nothing you have said is Revelation." I've run across much of this under different auspices and from earlier sources. However, its influence on modern Science Fiction can't be denied. And it's not hard to see how it has influenced my friends who read it earlier in life than I did. So, "Meh".

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