“Amanda L said: 4 stars
The first mission to colonize Mars ends in tragedy when all eight of the colonists die; however, there is one survivor: a baby named Valentine Michael Smith. Twenty years later when Earth sends another ship to Mars, they find Mike, who has been raised by the Martians, and bring him back to his "home" planet. Mike is neither completely human nor completely Martian and has to learn what being human is. In the process, he meets a few people who he can trust and quite a few people who just want to use him for the vast amount of wealth and power he has inherited. Mike does eventually come to understand what makes humans different from all other beings in the universe, something that humans don't appreciate ourselves. After recognizing the strengths and flaws of humanity, he embarks on a personal mission to make the human race better.
As most science fiction novels do, Stranger in a Strange Land takes advantage of placing the action in an alien world in order to criticize aspects of human society. Heinlein uses Mike's innocence to criticize organized religion, human being's unwillingness to take personal responsibility for our actions, and society's values, among other things.
I'm not a huge science fiction fan, so I'm very picky about which books I read. While not one of my favorites, I'm glad I picked this one up because it's given me quite a lot to think about. The things I liked about this book include the fact that it takes place in a relatively familiar setting (I have trouble getting through sci fi/fantasy novels that make me remember massive amounts of details about completely new worlds) and parts of the social commentary (I don't buy all of Heinlein's arguments). The things I didn't like about it were that the first couple hundred pages were far too predictable and the whole cult mentality that encompassed the end of the book. Overall, the questions of defining what it means to be human versus what it means to be Martian and of how Mike would cope with being both and neither at the same time provided a strong enough underlying theme to make the novel worth reading.
Jen M said: 3 stars
Review: Despite having been aware of this polarizing novel for a couple of decades now, I didn’t really know anything about the story until right before starting it, when I looked up a bit of the history of it. In some futuristic version of Earth, it is discovered that a survivor of the first expedition to Mars has been raised as a Martian. Now returned to Earth as a young man, Valentine Michael Smith (“Mike”) is viewed somewhat as a freak, somewhat as an ambassador, and in great deal as a commodity. Without drilling too deeply into the plotline (which can be found in numerous other locations for those that wish to know it), Mike evolves mentally from infant awareness to guru-esque philosophy in relatively short order and suffers the consequences of thinking differently than the mass public.
I went into reading this book with great trepidation. Having read some reviews already before even starting, I was curious to see into which camp I’d fall: those that are fans or those that loathed it. Now finished, I find myself unpleasantly right down the middle. Normally I don’t mind middle of the road impressions of books; it means the story was fairly decent and well-paced…nothing wowed me and nothing bored me. It was “a’ight”. The middle of the road for this one, though, isn’t settling well.
There are some that strongly oppose Heinlein’s characterization of women in this novel, that he has trivialized their worth by making them subservient even when in apparent positions of strength, and that they are demeaned by the men who pat them on the heads like obedient puppies. While I did see the points where these aspects were evident, there were also moments where it seemed the women went along with it just to indulge the idiot men and that, given the need, they’d easily bowl the men over and take on the power. I found myself more irritated that Heinlein didn’t seem to have the imagination to think of women of the future in any other way but it was more of an eye-rolling event than a reason to dismiss the whole book.
Other reviews/summaries reflect on the extensive soapbox that Mike’s mentor, Jubal Harshaw, likes to pull out to comment on religion and political happenings in the storyline. Unlike the objections to the treatment of women, this was a viewpoint I could support. Viewed as a thinly veiled mouthpiece for Heinlein himself, Jubal often starts off on an interesting point, but his tendency to meander on and on while the recipient of his vocal vomit responds with an occasional “Uh” grew tedious and tired and made the novel way longer than it needed to be.
I was also disenchanted with the Earthization of Mike as the time progressed. While it was inevitable given the rate of his information absorption, I found the story after the point where Mike and Jill leave the shelter of Jubal’s home to be boring and hard to chug through. I was much more interested in the learning and discovery process; the moment Mike discovers sex, it seems like it became all about that, and this got old quickly.
Add to this the overuse of the then-new term “grok” (meant to convey, among other things, a sense of complete understanding), and this book that was probably shocking at the time of publication seemed a bit dated and forced now.
I definitely didn’t hate the book, as some seem to. I can see how it has obtained (and retained) a place of honor in literary milemarkers. But I also didn’t particularly like the book, and that has left me really disappointed. Rather than being “a’ight” it was just kind of “eh”, and that’s a bummer.
Book Worm said: ★★★
This is the story of the man from Mars, Michael Valentine Smith the legally legitimate heir of 3 human parents who has subsequently been raised on Mars by the Martians.
When he is 20 Smith returns to earth understanding nothing about the politics or culture of the planet he is a sweetly naïve boy who is lucky to be rescued from corrupt government forces by Jill a nurse and Jubal a writer and lawyer.
The first half of this book was really interesting and involved the social and political considerations of how a return to Earth could affect a human who has never experienced the planet, it was interesting and entertaining especially the political and monetary ramifications.
The second half of this book went downhill for me and dealt with Smiths reaction to human religion and how people treat each other something he thinks he can improve upon.
Kristel said: ★★★
This is the story of the Man from Mars, Valentine Michael Smith. Michael is all human, the off spring of the first humans to land on Mars. They never made it back home and Michael was raised a Martian. Michael is brought to earth for the first time ever where he encounters a culture and language foreign to him. It is a futuristic novel, looking at the earth in the future. Some things are very futuristic but mostly the novel is the author's excuse for a drawn out social commentary on love (free love) and religion. The story itself had some interesting parts and some of the commentary was also interesting, but enough already. This story could have been a 100 pages less. I thought I was going to give in 4 stars but because it just took tooooo long to finish, it ended up a three star. This book is suppose to be the author's masterpiece. It is suppose to be the father of all sci fi. It supposedly was an incredibly popular novel though I never read it before. It is quite dated. You have to remember that it was published in 1961 so the author was probably working on it in 1960 or even earlier. It is considered a look at the hippie generation; free love, communal living etc. It treats women as pets and servants to men. The book made a good discussion book however, if curious to know more, stop over at 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die and read the discussion questions.”