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Stranger in a Strange Land (Penguin Galaxy) Hardcover – October 25, 2016
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An Amazon Book with Buzz: "The Second Home" by Christina Clancy
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“Serious science fiction and fantasy readers cannot resist the classics. . . . That’s what makes the Penguin Galaxy series so appealing. . . . Each of the novels here has earned their place in the halls of literary history. . . . Their small form factor and minimalist covers call out to readers and make them fun to read all over again.” —Kirkus Reviews
“A brilliant mind-bender . . . Wonderfully humanizing . . . The name of the leading character in Stranger in a Strange Land is as familiar to millions of literate persons as Oliver Twist or Holden Caulfield.” —Kurt Vonnegut, The New York Times
“Certainly among the most influential . . . science fiction novel[s] of all time . . . A resounding success.” —The Guardian
About the Author
Neil Gaiman (series introduction) is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty books for readers of all ages, including American Gods, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, The Graveyard Book, Coraline, and the Sandman series of graphic novels. He is Professor in the Arts at Bard College.
Alex Trochut (cover designer) is an award-winning artist, graphic designer, illustrator, and typographer. He has designed for The New York Times, The Guardian, Nike, Adidas, The Rolling Stones, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi and was nominated for a 2016 Grammy Award for Best Recording Package. Born in Barcelona, Spain, he lives in Brooklyn.
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Since I was required to red the uncut version, I did some research to ensure this kindle version was right, and it definitely is not. I had to drive all over town to find what I needed, but. Am now reading them side by side to make notes in my kindle version for reference later, and I can assure you of two things: the kindle version is not uncut, and the uncut version is far richer in language and content and just a better read. Many of the deep philosophical concepts Heinlein included in his novel are simply missing - or abbreviated to the point of near-invisibility - in the edited version. I had been wondering what all the fuss was about, until I retread the first five or six chapters in the uncut copy. This is truly a marvelous novel - if you read the right one.
"SISL was never censored by anyone in any fashion. The first draft was nearly twice as long as the published version. I cut it myself to bring it down to a commercial length. But I did not leave out anything of any importance; I simply trimmed all possible excess verbiage. Perhaps you have noticed that it reads “fast” despite its length; that is why. I WILL FEAR NO EVIL does not read as “fast” because it never received its final trimming; I became extremely ill and could not do it, and would not allow an editor to do it because my stories are fitted together like jigsaw puzzles and it is awfully easy, in trimming, to leave out an essential piece. So I WILL FEAR NO EVIL is not as good a story as SISL, in my opinion--too slow--even though, again in my opinion, what I have said in it is just as important. But I’m pleased enough that I was able to finish it at all; it just missed being posthumous. (Mrs. Heinlein signed the contract; I was too far gone even to write my signature.)
"The original, longest version of SISL is in a fireproof vault of the library of UCSC and can be seen there by any scholar who convinces the special collection librarian that he has a legitimate interest. But it is really not worth your trouble, as it is the same story throughout--simply not as well told. With it is the brushpenned version which shows exactly what was cut out--nothing worth reading, that is. I learned to write for pulp magazines, in which one was paid by the yard rather than by the package; it was not until I started writing for the Saturday Evening Post that I learned the virtue of brevity. (And I am still too wordy in a private communication such as this, or in conversation.)"
(--Robert A. Heinlein to Oberon (Tim) Zell, 2/28/1972, personal correspondence)
Top international reviews
Definitely not Heinlein's best, although to be fair Starship Troopers was his first book of his that I read and that set the bar VERY high.
Apart from some really outdated (at least by Western civilisations standards) ideas, I found I wasn't too offended at all.
Yes, Jubal does call his female employees 'girls' but they do give as good as they get and he clearly values them and sees them more as extended family members. There are some strong and professionally accomplished female characters at least mentioned and some sympathy for the plight of women if you read to the end: Sam in conversation with Jubal suggests that a logical outcome of Mike's teachings and methods might result in a time when 'women are free of guilt and fear'. Many of us now are but in fewer countries that you might comfortably admit. And don't think it didn't cost some 'discorporations' to get here!
Things seemed to get a little weird towards the last third of the book but actually, I didn't find it, as many have accused, a book of two halves; the latter half being ill thought out or too self indulgent. To me it seemed a natural progression of the themes and ideas introduced in the first half of the novel. Group sex is most definitely featured but not salaciously or in any kind of lurid detail. Religion is approached, really from an agnostic perspective and may offend anyone with firm religious beliefs who cannot tolerate different viewpoints. I am an atheist so for me, the spiritual element is a device or framework for wider topics relating to social and economic issues and conventions. (Or, I could just be wrong). In fact the modus operandi of pseudo religious cults is discussed and brought to mind the controversy surrounding the 'Moonies' and more recently, Scientology. Personally, I don't think the inclusion of the 'angel' scenes adds anything at all but they don't take up more than a few pages so easy to ignore.
This is my personal take on the themes, which I think are still very topical:
Imagine what an alien race would make of earth society. How would creatures who have no concept of ownership, gender or sex in a male/female sense, view the insane way we structure our cultures from politics to the absurdity of capitalism and the way we attempt to suppress our most basic drives?
What would creatures who know for a fact that corporeal existence is one part of the cycle, death being a natural step to the next phase, make of our multiplicity of faiths or as Jubal puts it: 'the capacity of a human mind to believe devoutly in what seems to me to be the highly improbable'. How would a race which embraces canabilism as a ritualistic and revered re-cycling of matter, no longer required by its previous owner, perceive our taboos? Incidentally, there is no real suggestion that the canabilism taboo does not serve humanity as a legitimate safeguard.
But I think the author is trying to challenge the reader to, in turn, challenge long held beliefs and social norms. This is what our human but Martian born and bred protagonist finally attempts to do and I think we still need to: challenge the status quo on many global social, moral, economic and religious issues.
Stranger in a Strange Land is ultimately, a call for more, 'growing closer' if you will or to give pantheism a chance and a plea for 'waiting fullness' before closing your mind to ideas that discomfit you or are at odds with your own philosophy.
For the ideas at the heart of the work; for the witty, amusing dialogue and the full fleshy character of Jubal Harshaw; for inducing via 40's/50's period dialogue, the uncommon but not unpleasant effect of reading the first 50 pages or so in black and white with Robert Mitchum narrating (that's just in my head), I am willing to forgive Robert A Heinlein for being a product of his era and let him off on the mild to moderate misogyny and bigotry charge. I wouldn't do this with a more modern or recent author but I hope anyone who has not read the novel yet and enjoys sci-fi will be able to do the same and 'grok' this novel as much as I did.
Honestly, I can forgive a lot, and I have read quite a few books that I was glad to see the end of, but I have never given up on a book partway through until today. Not an enjoyable read.
So, as to a review of the book? Well what can one say about such a mind blowing novel? I and many of my friends first read Stranger In A Strange Land in our mid-teens and it changed our out look on life forever.
It is a book which I will reread 'till they carry me out in that little brown box.
Every time it is read, thoughts on current religions beliefs and the aspects on modern man come into question!
I have a challenge for the big movie makers put Strangers In A Strange Land on the big screen and get 21st century feed back or are you too scared of the powers that be who (unknown to many) actually run this planet earth we all call home?
Sure, looking at it from today's point of view, most do not raise one's eyebrows that much, even if quite some are still relatively perceptive. The shock value has mostly gone for today's reader, on the other hand the book is still full of hilarity and makes for a good read.
As another reviewer pointed out the dialogues and people are mostly fairly self satisfied but this does not necessarily detract from it in my opinion (I guess I'd be riled by it, if I did not like the book, dialogues, concepts, etc.).
Finally, the comment about rape, also already commented upon is a massive detraction, although I suppose it might have been 'modern' back in the day.
That notwithstanding, it is a very interesting insight into the thinking of the 60s, and Heinlein's bravery and vision to play with pretty much all concepts in the book makes this truly a classic of science fiction writing.
You think the author was expecting such a review with a very provocative and even for today blasphemic work. And yet regarded as one of his best novels and a Sci-Fi classic.
Certainly many ideas that you see crop up time and again in other people's work in later decades and the arguments against society's systems are engaging if a little bar room rather than deep. And here the criticism that long sections of dialogue just seemed waffly between the good ideas when they came. And the Sci-Fi content itself a very small percentage and having that tendency of Sci-Fi in those times of picking up on themes in the public mind, like man's nuclear insanity against himself and emerging free love. Nonetheless, a breakthrough novel of its day and enjoyable to read in places.
Mr Heinlein left us a great heritage.
Plenty of professional objective reviews available ont'interweb.
WARNING: if you have issues with criticism of your Skydaddy, or more specifically with the greedy homophobic conmen who make a fortune out of contradictory, hypocritical fearmongering, this is NOT the book for you.
I agree that it has a somewhat didactic tone - characters delivering lengthy monologues on the central themes of religion, humanity, and so on. I understand the people criticising the book for being a thinly-veiled vehicle for Heinlein to deliver his personal view on those subjects.
However, when reading it (and most books) I try not to evaluate it critically. I rate it merely on whether or not it's an interesting and engaging story.
It's bonkers, it's occasionally moving, it's difficult to categorise. I recommend you read it.