Saturday, September 18, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 41

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

Stranger in a Strange Land
by Robert A. Heinlein

Stranger in a Strange LandOne of the things that has always fascinated me about late author Robert A. Heinlein is the breadth of his themes within his own writing. Looking at it from an early 21st Century point of view, it's amazing the same person wrote Starship Troopers, which today would be judged a pro-conservative and pro-military novel, and Stranger in a Strange Land, which by today's standards would be a pro-liberal if not out-and-out hippy novel.

I'm not suggesting either of these two novels completely fall into those categories, but mean my remarks as a general observation. I'm not trying to offend anyone, or sway their personal viewpoints or their viewpoints of either of these books.

But even if you disagree with what I have to say about these two books, you'd have to agree they are widely different from one another.

As I've covered Starship Troopers already, today I'll focus upon Stranger in a Strange Land.

This novel takes place in the future, when mankind is sending explorers to the planet Mars. The first ship to the red planet never comes back. The second ship finds Martians, and a human, Vincent Michael Smith, who is an orphan of the first human crew to come to Mars.

Being raised by Martians, Smith is quite different from other humans. He has some psychic abilities, and his mindset is not that of a human, but of a Martian.

He is brought to Earth, where he becomes a pawn of various governments, and eventually he starts his own religion.

I won't give away further details. You'll have to read more on your own. But this is a seminal soft science fiction novel, one of the best ever written and one of Heinlein's best books.

If you've ever heard the word "grok," which sort of means "to understand," then you've already been influenced by Stranger in a Strange Land. Heinlein created the term for this book, the counter culture of the 1960s picked up on it and the term is not uncommon today.

I'll also add that this novel was a Hugo winner, and in my opinion is one of the few Hugo winners I've read that I actually felt deserved the award.

Up next: On Moral Fiction, by John Gardner


David Barron said...

And then you read "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" by the same author and you get yet another different morality and political set-up. Good ole' Heinlein, he knew how to do polemic!

Charles Gramlich said...

This was the first heinlien I didn't like. In fact, I disliked it pretty thoroughly. I loved Starship troopers and The moon is a harsh mistress, and the others I'd read by him but I could not find myself liking this one.

Ty Johnston said...

Charles, while I liked the novel, and can understand why someone might not. It's definitely different, even for Heinlein.

The first Heinlein I didn't like? Probably Job. It was too far out there for me, but I haven't read it since it came out in the 80s, so maybe I'd feel different about it today.

David Barron said...

Going to have to agree about Job. Especially as I liked the plot until the third act when it just got weird and silly, instead of well, comical or just.

If you didn't enjoy this one at all, you might not like some parts of "Time Enough For Love", my personal favorite.

Scathach Publishing said...

I've never read this, but I've always meant to. Just never got round to it, I suppose.

I liked Starship Troopers, but I saw the film first, and was a bit amazed at just how different the book was.

As to your offer, I'd love to guest blog. I'll let you know a date soon, but you can suggest a topic. I have enough topics to come up with.

Scathach Publishing said...

Awesome subject for my guest post, thanks Ty. How does the 1st of October suit. I wanted to start my blog tour with a bang, lol.

Ty Johnston said...

October 1 sounds greats. When you've got it ready, e-mail your post to htjohnston(at)