Book Reviews -- Fiction
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Title: Stranger in a Strange Land
Book Review 3.4.2011
(c) 2011 by Heidrun Beer. All rights reserved.
Despite its many pages, "Stranger in a Strange Land" is simply the story of a human boy, Valentine Michael Smith (called "Mike" most of the time), who is born to an astronaut couple on a Mars mission. When dire circumstances wipe out the human beings who could raise him, he is adopted by Martians and raised by them together with their own offspring.
When he is grown, they send him back to Earth to learn about his roots. He arrives there in an adult body, but without any command of Earth language or Earth customs. Instead, he has been trained in Martian language, Martian culture, Martian philosophy and - last but not least - Martian skills, which to human eyes come close to working wonders - telepathy, telekinesis and more of the like.
Jill, a caring nurse, and Jubal, a fatherly friend, manage to get him out of the "care" of politicians who have a dangerous appetite for the enormous wealth that the boy happens to have inherited. While Jubal protects him from attacks, Mike is learning Earth languages and customs from his new friends. He is also teaching them the Martian frame of thinking - and Martian terms and expressions that are wondrous and unique.
Experiencing nature, people and the rest of the world is done by "grokking" - we would probably call it "permeation with all senses, physical and non-physical, fully turned on". "Thou art God" is their way of greeting each other. This constant daily recognition not only of human beings but also of all other living things as an expression and personification of God makes for an impeccable logic in thinking, feeling and acting, a logic that Heinlein illustrates down to the smallest detail.
A special bond develops between people who have shared the "water of life" with each other in a solemn ceremony (water being extremely rare on Mars and therefore especially precious). "Water brothers" melt into a "bigger me", they share their thoughts, their feelings, all their belongings as if they were one multi-faced person.
At first sight it looks somehow like communism, but it is much more than Marx' concept (which was purely physical) - Heinlein's water brotherhood is first and foremost based on spiritual awareness, spiritual perceptions, spiritual one-ness. Lyssa Royal's description of the "4th density consciousness" sounds more like it.
With such a holistic attitude it is inevitable that their "growing closer" always includes the body, the most solid innermost layer of a human being's energy structure. In their blissful encounters with water brothers, they never cut the body out, or leave it behind - not more than trying to walk through a door while leaving their bones behind. So, while based on emotional closeness and spiritual union, physical intimacy is also an integrated part of their melting, of their merging, as natural as breathing - never cheap, never shallow, always of total intensity, total purity, with total commitment.
Interspersed between the events, Heinlein turned this book into a collection of Platonian dialogues with a close friend, to whom he explains history, politics, religion and art, among many other things (each of these essays is of classical relevance in its respective field).
He also explains morals to him as they play out when Martian philosophy is applied to human beings - Martians have a different biology, they don't have human love, passion and sexuality.
He sees the human/Martian crossbreed of love as more loyal, more responsible, more of everything positive than humans typically have. He even manages to back it up with the Bible ("To the pure, all things are pure")! Then comes a broad historical background of human morals (for which he has the most scathing comments throughout the whole book), where he shows how often the attempt to establish such a communion has failed, despite the issue being so central:
Can a spiritual being, whose love connections grow out to all sides like the branches of a tree, live without damage to his or her core integrity if he or she prunes away all branches except one in the attempt to "buy" another spiritual being's commitment (who is then expected to make the same bloody sacrifice)? And can a spiritual being live without damage to his or her core integrity if he or she demands such a brutal mutilation, often at a high cost of life force bleeding away, and lost creative potential? Mothers would scream out if anybody demanded to kill all their children except one. But killing love connections every day is considered good morals. Is it also ethical?
Heinlein does not answer this question once and for all, as it is just as individual as a person's choice of religion or any other personal choice, but he certainly has his opinion. About one of the girls who participate in Mike's special way of running a family (Heinlein calls it "a plural marriage - a group theogamy, to be precise"), he says: "I feel sure that Gillian is incapable of being corrupted. She has an invincible innocence which makes it impossible for her to be immoral [...] I am afraid that you - and I, too, I admit - lack the angelic innocence to abide by the perfect morality these people live by."
So we watch a free love environment forming, where jealousy and possessive mutual ownership of lovers no longer exist (Heinlein creates an extra character who goes through all the agony of growing out of these all-too-human frailties). Now what boggles the mind is that it is this very book which paved the way for today's "Polyamory" movement - with over 500.000 "consensual, ethical, or responsible non-monogamous relationships in America in 2009" (Source: Wikipedia)! Speaking of one writer making an impact on a culture! Heinlein must have had his finger closely at the pulse of society - in its FUTURE - he described what is now a major social current at a time where it was still an unthinkable thought.
When Mike turns his movement into a church, such a lecherous, blasphemous cult must of course be persecuted with all legal and illegal foul tricks by the powers-that-be... I will not tell the end of the gripping thriller story that develops here, just so much: a layer of it plays out in the non-physical world, where people do the planning and scripting of Earth events between their incarnations - Heinlein perceiving the future again, decades before Michael Newton and Robert Schwartz published their studies about our pre-birth planning of life's "movies".
And no, I also won't tell what Mike's position is in this strict and very efficient heavenly hierarchy. It's too exciting to find out while reading the book :-)