Black Hole Reads: Stranger in a Strange Land


Valentine Michael Smith is born during a mission to the red planet, and gets raised by the Martians. When a human airship comes and takes him back to the Earth 25 years later, he’s completely innocent and confused, knows nothing about his own people and planet and has to learn everything from scratch. Also, he finds himself with a immeasurable inheritance that causes the goverment to segregate him in order to lay hands on his patrimony and political privileges. He’s lucky enough to meet a bunch of shrewd but well-meaning friends who help him shake the goverment off his back and move to a safe home. Thanks to his supernatural powers, charisma, good looks and, of course, money, he soon adjusts and finds his place in the world.

This novel seems to have influenced ’60s counterculture and inspired the free-love revolution. The main charachter is an individual who is completely estranged from human behaviour codes, and his naive reactions prompts his mates, as well as the  reader, to reflect on how arbitrary and artificial morals are. There are no absolute ethic values; even truth is relative.

The movement founded by the man from Mars looks like a hippy commune. But are the women really liberated? They’ve definitely lost their inhibitions in favour of sexual freedom, but their role is still that of a helper to the man: they all look like Barbies, do all the cooking and the most they can achieve professionally is becoming a nurse or a stereotyped sexy secretary. The book sounds hypocrite and still full of the petty bourgeois values of conformist ’50s America. After all, an author who has a female character state “nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped it’s partly her fault” can’t be very progressive.

However, although I would not certainly define Heinlein’s novel a masterpiece, I’ve quite enjoyed it in spite of the sexist mentality, because it has the light tone of a comedy, but is also an excuse to discuss philosophy. With a heavier tone, all those pages and pages of debating on various moral issues would be unbearable.