Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land is a classic science fiction novel that challenges the norms. With the content of the novel, it is amazing that it was even published but I am glad that it was. The novel in unlike anything else I have ever read. Keep reading for a short summary of the novel and and to find out why the book was so controversial upon its release!
Stranger in a Strange Land Summary
Just before World War III, a spacecraft named Envoy was launched towards Mars. Shortly after it landed, contact was lost. After twenty-five years passed, another spacecraft called Champion was launched towards Mars. They returned to Earth with a human who was raised in Mars is whole life named Valentine Michael Smith.
Smith is taken to a hospital and is kept away from everyone for “health” reasons. Nurse Gillian Boardman visits him secretly as her curiosity gets the best of her and becomes his “water brother” as she shares water with him. Her lover Ben Caxton is a reporter and wants to unearth the hidden man from Mars and turns to Gillian as she works in the same hospital that Smith is in.
Ben intends to help Smith escape but things go wrong as the government foils his plans. Gillian takes it upon herself and escapes with Smith. But she has doesn’t have a plan. She turns to the only person she can, Jubal Harshaw.
Harshaw has many occupations and is a brilliant man. He uses his wits to bring attention to Mike and save him from anyone who is after his money and claim to Mars. Smith learns to live like a human and how money, religion, sex, and social norms influence the inhabitants of Earth. With his powers, he tries to change the norms and make Earth better but he is met with resistance.
First published in 1961, the book was met with a lot of controversy upon its release. It was attacked by many critics but it still saw a lot of success. This novel went on to be the first science fiction novel to enter the New York Times best seller list. It also won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1962.
The novel took ten years to complete but that had been intentional by Heinlein. He later wrote why he waited to complete it. “I had been in no hurry to finish it, as that story could not be published commercially until the public mores changed. I could see them changing and it turned out that I had timed it right.”
I have to agree with him there because I can’t imagine this book being published as it was in the early 1950’s. The book challenges out stance on religion, money, monogamy, fear of death, and does not hold back. If this book was released in this day and age, Fox News would not talk about anything else for a whole year!
The book was the brainchild of Heinlein’s wife as they threw ideas at each other for a book. Heinlein decided to build on the idea and waited until the time was right to release it. The novel was cut roughly 25 percent by the editors at Putnam. That decision was the right one according to Heinlein and he ended up adding new stuff to the shortened version.
The novel was an amazing read and it is very unique and makes you think. Heinlein changes direction in the second half of the novel and it feels like another book as a result. There is a lot of explanations and it is necessary for Heinlein to set up the ending of the novel. It works out in the end but when you are reading it, you are wondering what has this got to do with anything?
While reading this book, some ideas will jump out you and others will sound insane. These are not Heinlein’s idea of how society should be as some people have wrongly assumed. He explained
“I was not giving answers. I was trying to shake the reader loose from some preconceptions and induce him to think for himself, along new and fresh lines. In consequence, each reader gets something different out of that book because he himself supplies the answers … It is an invitation to think – not to believe.”
Any book that makes you think is worth reading. The novel does a wonderful job of doing just that by using an outsider like Smith as one of the protagonist. If you are a fan of science fiction novels, then this is a must read. Happy reading!