Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Stranger In A Strange Land

Once again, the “classics” are leaving me cold.

I’m not done with what is arguably Heinlein’s best-known work, and I’m not sure I’ll finish. Oh, the first two parts are interesting enough. V. M. Smith and his interactions with the people of Earth hold one’s attention well enough, covering a lot of the ground that the C.J. Cherryh “Foreigner” series would later examine in excruciating detail: “Aliens and humans don’t think alike!” Yep. We established that, alright. And let’s be honest, there’s vast and fertile storytelling ground in that concept.

Too bad we’ve spent half the book so far centered on one word: Grok.

All of these clever humans Michael ends up surrounded by, and they can’t find the words in English (or presumably any other language) to approximate this Martian term… that Heinlein conveyed moderately well several times in that same stretch of the book. In, you know, English. Ahem. Well, we wouldn’t want the characters to be as clever as the author, would we? Hey, let’s hit the readers over the head with “grok” a few more times! Some of the conversations late in the second section are interesting, but most are absurd from overuse of grok this, grok that, grok you.

But that’s not where the book has lost me. I can roll my eyes and get past all of that, especially for the sake of the solid sociopolitical theater in the Jubal arc, but I’m perplexed at the Digby And Foster Show. I’m barely into the book’s third section and… all of a sudden, after all of Jubal’s ranting and railing about religion, now we’re peeking into the Heavenly Bureaucracy? For laughs? And the crazy love grokbirds have taken on a tattooed evangelist, and that’s going to be played seriously? Um.

It was the second appearance of Digby And Foster: Angels In Heaven that pulled me out of the book completely. I looked at the time (a bit later than I should’ve been awake, but not too late), firmly closed the book and turned out the light.

I don’t know if I’m going to finish this thing. So, dear readers, I ask you: Is it worth it?


  1. Uncle Pete

    Been a very long time since, but I finished it. Thought it was a crock of poop at that time, on a par with “The Fountainhead,” iow – ghastly. But you gotta decide for yourself, eh.

  2. Lil

    Please tell me you’re reading the unabridged version! It’s a lot longer, sure, but the overall impression is so much better than the version that was originally published. (And for all the hoopla over “Stranger,” it’s not his best work. Just about anything he published after 1980 is better.)

    Heinlein is one of those writers that you really have to put yourself in the mindset of how America was prior to the 1960’s in order to enjoy and really understand his stories. And his writing style definitely isn’t for everyone (I, for one, can’t stand C.J. Cherryh). My advice is to finish the book, then don’t think about it for a few weeks before deciding on your overall opinion.

  3. Wonderduck

    So, dear readers, I ask you: Is it worth it?


    Go read something good by him, like Starship Troopers or The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, or my favorite book by Heinlein, Double Star. Hell, just about anything by RAH is better than Stranger, except for Farnham’s Freehold.

    The counterculture got a hold of Stranger, at a time when they really were influential… and thought they saw some of themselves in the book. As a result, they talked it up, made it up to be more important than it really was. I’m glad they did, they made Heinlein a boatload of money, and no SF writer deserved it more, but I’d’ve rather seen other books of his get launched into orbit they way it was.

    This is coming from a duck who has every Heinlein book in his library, most of them older than he is, so I do know a little bit of what I speak. Avoid Stranger like the plague.

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