“’Eskimos were invariably described as the happiest people on Earth. Any unhappiness they suffered was not through jealousy; they didn’t have a word for it. They borrowed spouses for convenience and fun — it did not make them unhappy. So who’s looney? Look at this glum world around you, then tell me: Did Mike’s disciples seem happier, or unhappier, than other people?’
’I didn’t talk to them all, Jubal. But — yes, they’re happy. So happy they seem slap-happy. There’s a catch in it somewhere.’
‘Maybe you were the catch.’”
I read the original uncut version of Stranger In A Strange Land, the edition that the author fought to the death to be the original release, but a battle, like many before him was ultimately lost to the ‘omniscient” powers that be. A book that for many ardent fans had the feeling of transcendence in regard to the whole idea of science fiction, but for the writer not fictional enough to be classified as fantasy. Finally with enough time after the death of the author, as well as staunch publishers in partnership with the assistance of a curator of a wife, the re-release of the unabridged version of Stranger In A Strange Land was flown to the bookstores, in all of its satirical and orgasmic glory. May God have mercy on us all.
The gist of the story is that by all appearances a seemingly normal earthling has been found and brought back to Earth after a failed expedition to the planet Mars. The botched mission led to a successful trip by the new post war America twenty-five years later. The sole purpose of the trip goes far beyond the need for intelligence and security, quite simply the people of Earth sought something to gawk at. This apparent lone Martian survivor and race of one Valentine Michael Smith is directed by his fellow guides to go back to the planet where the journey started. What troubles the travellers that found Valentine is that he looks like a human and walks like a human with no identifiable alien physical characteristics outside of the way he speaks.
To say he has undergone a culture shock would be a tad understated. Valentine has never seen a female before in his past life on Mars and has trouble deciphering true meaning in many of his dealings with hospital staff and political figures that are interested in his health status as well as his story. To the media the Man from Mars is considered the greatest human interest story of the last quarter century; an interplanetary love child who has the eyes of an angel and a face of an innocent. He also has this unexplainable gravitational force, compelling others to learn more; someone or something that is thoroughly honest, completely unemotional, and a purity that leaves humans having a difficult time relating to, but can’t help but be in its presence.
“Anybody can look at a pretty girl and see a pretty girl. An artist can look at a pretty girl and see the old woman she will become. A better artist can look at an old woman and see the pretty girl that she used to be. But a great artist–a master–and that is what Auguste Rodin was–can look at an old woman, portray her exactly as she is . . . and force the viewer to see the pretty girl she used to be . . . and more than that, he can make anyone with the sensitivity of an armadillo, or even you, see that this lovely young girl is still alive, not old and ugly at all, but simply imprisoned inside her ruined body.”
Since the dawn of time where the great man ape saw that ominous black monolith in the African sand humans have feared the unknown, and in the same breath can’t help themselves but be intrigued by it. Nurse Jillian Boardman and journalist Ben Caxton put together a scheme to extract Valentine from the security ridden hospital room that would allow Ben to get his exclusive story and Jillian her security in knowing that Valentine is free from the hands of the government’s possibly nefarious administrative forces. As Ben initiates the first stages of the scheme he becomes missing in action with no signs of foul play, Jillian subsequently charms Valentine with her never before seen feminine wiles and takes him in search of a safe haven. Together they figuratively bounce around from place to place, learning the ways of the Martian in the process ending up in the home of trusted lawyer, doctor, and writer Jubal Hanshaw. It is here where Valentine learns normal societal conventions, the totality of the political spectrum, as well as the differences and importance of religion in order to connect with others and understand Earth. The confines of Hanshaw is where legends are made.
“Democracy is a poor system of government at best; the only thing that can honestly be said in its favor is that it is about eight times as good as any other method the human race has ever tried. Democracy’s worst fault is that its leaders are likely to reflect the faults and virtues of their constituents – a depressingly low level, but what else can you expect?”
The story to me deals with the drive for power being greater than that of the sexual urge, but the sexual urge is needed to realize the ultimate power of others. The story also exemplifies the adaptability of the human being in the strangest of circumstances and the power that lie in us all. It also raises the debate of nature vs. nurture, and if you really can teach an old dog new tricks or are we all a lost cause after birth. The author deals firsthand with the problems of organized religion and the journey to self-actualization, suggesting that religion holds more answers to life’s vital questions than that of understanding others. A structured teaching method that subtly encourages an Us versus Them reality onto it’s followers with the dogged determination to protect a security that without this truth would ultimately leave a person wayward with nothing tethering them down. In the end people genuinely want happiness; with a history built on fear, it is encouraging to have someone give you hope and tell you that you have nothing to be afraid of now or after you’re death…Or is it?
Sex, religion, and politics seem to be at the heart of the story as many of the characters grow in an environment that encourages free sex with no strings attached and emotion that would be considered a negative barrier to full awakening. You’re only as strange as the company you keep and as the story develops you begin to wonder if past representations of what you perceived as wrong are in truth misconstrued, and if what is demonstrated as progressive is really only retarding spiritual progression. It really is up to the reader to determine an independent conclusion but one that will keep you pondering well after you read. For the few enjoyable elements of the book (Part One, Valentine, Jubal, satire, Ben) I was disappointed with the heavy handed tone of politics and religion and the continuous repetition of similar arguments on these subjects. I was also put off by the vast array of cosmic history that I believe was essential in providing background but gradually became tiresome for the non science fiction fan that I am. A classic must-read once in your life, but take it for what it’s worth.
“Of all the nonsense that twists the world, the concept of ‘altruism’ is the worst. People do what they want to do, every time. If it sometimes pains them to make a choice – if the choice turns out to look like a ‘noble sacrifice’ – you can be sure that it is in no wise nobler than the discomfort caused by greediness…the unpleasant necessity of having to decide between two things both of which you would like to do when you can’t do both. The ordinary bloke suffers that discomfort every day, every time he makes a choice between spending a buck on beer or tucking it away for his kids, between getting up when he’s tired or spending the day in his warm bed and losing his job. No matter which he does he always chooses what seems to hurt least or pleasures most. The average chump spends his life harried by these small decisions. ”