Great Hugo Readthrough 1962: Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land

This book is why I haven’t updated in so long. Blah.

First Readthrough/ Reread: Reread
Acquired: Library

Other Nominees:
Daniel F. Galouye: Dark Universe
Harry Harrison: Planet of the Damned (also known as Sense of Obligation)
Clifford D. Simak: The Fisherman (also known as Time Is the Simplest Thing)
James White: Second Ending

Background: There are actually two versions of this book: A heavily edited, 160,067 word book, and a 220,000 word uncut version published three years after his death. For this readthrough, I read the long version. I probably should have read the shorter one, since that was the one that won the award, but this was the one the library had, and I didn’t figure the extra bits would bother me too much. (Hah!)

Synopsis: The second Mars expedition has returned to Earth, carrying the only surviving member of the first expedition: Valentine Michael Smith, the child of two members of the first expedition, raised by Martians his entire life. The proceeds to detail attempts by the government to use him for their own nefarious purposes, his rescue by a brave nurse whose primary personal attribute is her sexuality, being sheltered by a wise and kind author/lawyer/doctor figure, coming into his own, exploring free love, the world, and religion, the mystical powers he possesses from his Martian upbringing, and eventually founding his own religion, being martyred, and eventually implied to have been an earthly incarnation of the Archangel Michael the whole time. Yep.

Verdict: Let me preface this by saying I legitimately enjoy the vast majority of Heinlein’s work, but… Oh my holy flying baboon fuck do I hate this book with the passion of a hellish fiery explosion fueled by every fart that ever was, is, and will be. When I picked up this book, I recalled not liking it when I read it as a kid, so I wasn’t excited in particular, but I figured “Oh, it’s Heinlein, it’ll still be readable, he’s pretty awesome.” NOPE. I read through the entire Wheel of Time series in a couple weeks, but it took me three weeks to finish Stranger in a Strange Land. THREE WEEKS. Every ten minutes I’d run across something that infuriated me so much I’d have to put the book down for another few hours. Incessant racism, sexism, rape shaming, homophobia… seriously, the only book Heinlein’s written that I’ve found more offensive is Farnham’s Freehold, which features a future where cannibalistic black people have enslaved all white people. (I got that one at a garage sale, then promptly disposed of it after a single readthrough.) Some of his other books have offensive scenes, (like the absurdly offensive rape scene in Friday), some of his books wouldn’t offend a person who was actively looking to be offended, but Stranger in a Strange Land? Constant casual offensiveness.
Pretending none of that was an issue, (HAH) what about the rest of the book? Well, the plot is tolerably constructed, if a bit, well, slow, but it still has a ton of stuff to piss me off. The wise, kindly doctor/lawyer/iconoclast/libertarian/famous author, Jubal, feels very much like a Mary Sue for Heinlein. Seriously, he gets declared the patron saint of the religion Smith founds. I absolutely hate Mary Sue characters, especially from authors I expect so much better from. I fucking hate that character so much. His only “flaws” in the book are obviously fake grouchiness, too much psuedohumility, and resisting a beautiful woman who halfway worships him thanks to the religion for all of twelve hours.
Also, the women in the book seem to be either largely interchangeable or rely entirely on a single distinguishing characteristic. Hell, later in the book it becomes a plot feature that the main female character, Jill, becomes almost completely interchangeable with another female character, Dawn. They’re constantly being mistaken for each other. Then there is the horoscope lady, the tattooed lady, Jubal’s three beautiful secretaries who are almost completely indistinguishable, the former bitter housewife turned free-love guru… yeah.
Oooh, then there’s the whole “Martians practice cannibalism” bit, that everyone gets so constantly upset about early in the book, until Smith teaches them that there isn’t anything wrong with it, then makes them all promise to eat him when he dies. That’s actually not a problem for me at all in this narrative, but when he does martyr himself in the end, what do all his worshippers and friends do? They fucking make plans to bury him. Doesn’t even address the cannibalism subplot.
Added on top of everything else, you have constant Galt-like monologues from Smith and Jubal. Fucking constant. I may have complained a little about Starship Troopers in that respect, but it’s nothing compared to Stranger in a Strange Land. The book is like an incredibly shitty rollercoaster of badly written sex and long speeches. Hell, Atlas Shrugged is the only book I’ve ever read with more irritating monologues, and that’s the book that actually has John Galt’s infamous fucking sixty page long self masturbatory speech.
I’ve never read any of the other books for this year, so I’m just going to say I wish it had been a No Award year.

Trivia: No. Nope. Don’t fucking care anymore. Peace, fuckers!

<1961: Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle For Leibowitz

1963: Phillip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle>

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