Monday, January 07, 2008

Books in 2008, #2

#2. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

So, this was pretty good...up to a point. Meaning once I realized the novel wasn't really going to about Valentine Michael Smith, but rather how others around him used his stature and fame to further themselves onward I began growing restless. I wasn't interested in politics, in religion, in deep thoughts. Aliens and First Contact moments, please. I wanted more of Mike and how he interacted with new surroundings. I wanted him to make more bad people to disappear. Less grokking, too, though I now see just how pivotal that term, on a whole, is to the novel's structure. No grok, no God.

The first half of the book deals mainly with the Martian's trip home to Earth where he is "imprisoned" at Bethesda Naval Hospital. There, a somewhat man-disliking nurse by the name of Gillian Boardman finds herself attracted to the mystery that is the Man from Mars and, by the guiding hand of journalist Ben Caxton, steals him away from the scientists that plague him with test after test after test. This was good stuff because it was dramatic. Lots of tension and uncertainty, and then when men come to chase after them the real powers of Mike reveal themselves and people disappear. After that though...there's basically a mountain full of talking.

Not that talking can't be interesting. Jubal Harshaw clearly holds his own, making any scene involving him more readable than not. But heavens above do they go on and on and on about the most minuscule of things. Details are over analyzed. Everything slows down once Jubal realizes he can't keep the Martian forever.

Mike moves away from Jubal with Jill. He gives the traveling circus a shot, trying to pass off as a magician. Once bored with being unsuccessful, Mike aims a little higher: becoming ordained. His church is one that follows the rules of group sex and cannibalism. A good time for all. This is what everything has been leading up to, and truthfully, it doesn't disappoint. Again, there could've been more tension, more action and less gabbing and reiterating of things the reader already knew. But alas, all good things must come to an end, and the Man from Mars goes out with a bang. A messianic bang, that is.

The beginning and ending are Stranger in a Strange Land's strong points. The middle is, well, a middle, muddling about as characters go off on their own. I felt a bit cheated in that we never really got to go into Mike's head and see what he was seeing--and how he was seeing it--but I guess that would've made for an entirely different read. Lots of cool SF aspects too, namely Fair Witnesses and stereo TVs. Things that bothered me were the blatant misogyny that downplayed characters such as Jill and Patricia Paiwonski.

I guess I've read the Cut version. The Uncut version is, not surprising, much longer. I can only imagine myself disliking it because I already feel like the book is lengthier than it needs to be.

This now marks being the seventh Hugo-winning novel I've read so far.

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