# Sunday, August 26, 2018

SIASLI do not hold Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein as the science fiction classic that some readers rate it. But I give it an extra star for the introduction of the word "grok" - a word meaning many things, but mostly : "to understand something so well as to internalize its meaning". "Grok" has been adopted by geek culture - a culture in which I spend a great deal of time these days - to indicate comprehension of a complex technical topic.

Vernon Michael Smith ("Michael") was stranded on Mars as an infant when his spaceship crashed, killing all other crew and passengers. He was raised by Martians until he returned to Earth decades letter on the next manned ship to and from Mars.

The governments of Earth view Michael as an oddity -  a noble savage with an intelligent mind, who lacks the advantages of civilization. But Michael is civilized according to Martian culture. And he possesses great powers taught him by the Martians, including the ability to direct his consciousness to leave his body and the ability to make objects and people move or disappear with just a thought.

The government tries to keep Michael a prisoner; but he escapes with the aid of Jill - a nurse in the hospital where he is confined - and Jubal - a retired author living in seclusion. While on the run from the government, Michael joins a circus and then a church, where he rises to a position of leadership. The church preaches the pursuit of joy and free love, which pisses off many other Americans.

As time passes, Michael becomes more like his fellow Earthmen. But he also influences them to adopt many of his Martian ways.

Michael's parallel to the life of Jesus is unmistakable. He is first exposed to the public in his adulthood and he quickly enters the public consciousness, impressing people with his powers, before taking over and influencing a small religion - an action for which he is hunted down and persecuted.

There are some troubling bits of sexism in this book: "Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it’s at least partly her own fault", according to Jill, the main female character of the novel. One can chalk this up to the book's 1961 publication date or condemn the author as a misogynist. To its credit, Jill and other characters are stronger and more assertive than most characters appearing in novels of this era.

And there are long passages of preaching by Jubal, Michael, and others that sometimes grow tiresome. I would prefer the philosophy is told through the narration, rather than the characters making speeches.

But Stranger in a Strange Land is an enjoyable story, if you take the time to grok it.

Sunday, August 26, 2018 9:49:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
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