Stranger in a Strange Land

From Academic Kids

Stranger in a Strange Land is a science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein, which was first published in 1961. It tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human raised by Martians on Mars, as he returns to Earth in early adulthood; the novel explores his interaction with -- and eventual transformation of -- Earth culture. The title of the book is a quote from the bible.Template:Ref

The book was a breakthrough best-seller, attracting many readers who would not ordinarily have chosen science fiction. Late-1960s counterculture was influenced by its themes of sexual freedom and liberation. It has long been rumored that the book was a favourite of Charles Manson, who used some ideas from the book in his own commune. (However, as indicated in the posthumously published Grumbles from the Grave, Heinlein asked his attorney to investigate this rumor when it first surfaced, and his attorney was unable to verify it; indeed it appeared that Manson himself was barely literate.)

When Heinlein first wrote Stranger, his editors required him to cut it from its original 220,000-word length, and to remove a sex scene. The final result was near 160,000 words, and this version, published in 1961, received a Hugo Award. After Heinlein's death in 1988, his wife Virginia found a market for the original edition, which was published in 1991. Critics disagree as to which edition is better.

Like many influential works of literature, Stranger made a contribution to the language: specifically, the word "grok." In Heinlein's invented Martian language, "grok" literally means "to drink" and figuratively means "to understand," "to love," or "to be one with." This word rapidly became common parlance among SF fans, hippies, and computer hackers, and has since entered the Oxford English Dictionary among others.

A central element of the latter half of the novel is the religious movement founded by Smith, the "Church of All Worlds." This church is an initiatory mystery religion blending elements of paganism and revivalism with psychic training and instruction in the Martian language. In 1968, a group of neopagans inspired by Stranger took it upon themselves to found a religious group with this name, modeled in many ways after the fictional organization. Their Church of All Worlds remains an active part of the neopagan community today.

On a lighter note, Stranger is also often cited as containing the first description of the waterbed, an invention which made its real-world debut a few years later in 1968. Charles Hall, who brought a waterbed design to the United States Patent Office, was refused a patent on the grounds that Heinlein's descriptions in Stranger and another novel, Double Star, constituted prior art. [1] (http://ebbs.english.vt.edu/20th/txts/heinlein/heinlein.lore.html)

Stranger was written in part as a deliberate attempt to challenge social mores. In the course of the story, Heinlein uses Smith's open-mindedness to reevaluate the institutions of money and monogamy, and the fear of death.

Much of the novel is didactic, consisting of long speeches by the character Jubal Harshaw, a fiction writer who acts as Heinlein's mouthpiece and alter ego, presenting many points of view that typify Heinlein's opinions as expressed in his works in general. This is less of a dramatic flaw than in other novels containing Heinlein mouthpieces (e.g., The Cat Who Walks Through Walls and Time Enough for Love), since Harshaw's hardheaded Mark Twain-style realism is effectively contrasted against Smith's mystical and alien point of view. Smith eventually enshrines Harshaw as the patron saint of the church he founds (much to Harshaw's initial chagrin.)

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Notes

  1. Template:Note Moses flees ancient Egypt, where he has lived all his life, because Pharaoh learns that he has killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew. He marries Zippo'rah. Exodus 2:22: "And she [Zippo'rah] bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land." KJV 3
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