Originally published on the lip of the 1960s Heinlein’s most popular book exists at that dangerous point in history where the patrician attitudes of the ’50s status quo collided with the rebellious freedoms of the ’60s.
Mike is the lone survivor of a human colony on Mars. Raised by Martians he returns to earth ignorant of human ways, brings free love and apparent magic to humanity, becomes the focus of a new religion and is soon martyred. As you might expect, there’s much playing with the notion of who’s the stranger and which is the stranger land?
Heinlein’s story is fascinating, teasing out almost every ‘ism’ you could imagine, along with some decidedly dodgy latent views on religion, female sexuality and male gender orientation. It’s very much a product if its time, and it’s a tough read now for any adult reader aware of the modern world around them.
I first read this when I was 12. It had a big impact in me. I loved SF and consumed everything I could find, and I think I’d just finished the first Dune with its grandiose universe. Stranger in a Strange Land brought the alien to my doorstep, I understood the temptations and the excitement, I identified with the strangeness and loneliness of Mike, and I remember wandering the streets of my hometown blinking and trying to see the world as he would see it; but of course, barely a teenager I didn’t understand the implications.
So, part of me is still in its thrall. I reread it recently and cringed but clung to my younger self and made it to the end, reveling in the nostalgic moment, and managed to dismiss the wiser council of my later years.
It’s still in my top 100, somewhere in the lower regions of the top 50 perhaps because it ignited my imagination on a way that connected me to the Outer Limits TV show, and the Apollo lunar space missions that gripped us all in the late sixties and early seventies.
- Virgil Finlay’s depiction of other worlds is always fascinating
- Robert Bloch covered sf, fantasy and horror
- H.P. Lovecraft created some incredible monsters in space and time.
- Top 100 SF & Fantasy Books: American Gods
- Top 100 SF & Fantasy Books: The Rebel Worlds (Poul Anderson)
Front cover photograph by Elise Wells, 2016