Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land sits high in the pantheon of sci fi, on the same shelf as Asimov’s Foundation, Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Herbert’s Dune. The cover of my copy claims it’s “The Most Famous Science Fiction Novel Ever Written,” and while that’s certainly not true now (if it ever was), it’s in the top tier. So I went into this with pretty high expectations.
I got about 80 pages in and stopped reading.
The premise is intriguing enough: a human, raised by Martians, comes to Earth for the first time. He doesn’t speak the language, he knows nothing about our culture, he’s trying to understand humanity from the middle of a media circus. Good stuff, right?
The problem is that our Martian friend – Valentine Michael Smith – is just about the only likeable character in the story.
Everyone else is astonishingly flat. The men are all fast-talking world-wise know-it-alls who never hesitate or take a breath. And the women – good lord, Heinlein’s women could not possibly be more cookie-cutter gender-stereotyped than they are. They’re forever bursting into tears, saying irrational things that need to be corrected, and generally just being “women” instead of people.
It’s a shame, because I get the sense that there really is a good story hiding under all the wreckage. I found myself curious about Smith, what his Martian culture was like, and where his interactions with humanity were headed. But the curiosity just wasn’t strong enough to overcome my intense hatred of the other characters – of what you might call the character of the entire book.
Maybe it’s just a personal thing. Anybody else read this novel? What did you think? Did you make it farther than I did?