Stranger in a Strange Land

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I read a lot of books from about 7th grade through High School.  Many of these were “classics” given to me by my best friend’s mom, who was an English teacher.  I didn’t necessarily want to read a specific title, but I read them anyway because they were around. 

My favorites, though, were science fiction and fantasy books, a category distinctly different from the literary classics within reach.  The method of selection of these were from two sources, recommendations from friends and spiffy paperback covers – usually the latter.

At some point in the last year, I came across NPR’s Top 100 science fiction books, as voted upon by their audience.  Sadly, I must have chosen the losers in the contest.  Considering that watching a movie is not the same as reading the book, I read only 5 of the top 10, 7 of the top 20, and 22 of the entire list.  To be fair, many if not most of the books have been written since those early years, and about half of the ones I’ve read have been within the last 5 years. (The Name of the Wind and Old Man’s War being recent, excellent examples).   It’s also obvious, as with “greatest baseball players” and similar, there’s a bias towards newer and more familiar authors to the current generation, and that is apparent on the list, ie, Neil Gaiman.

But a list is a list, and it’s a place to start.

For whatever reasons, I never actually read any of Robert Heinlein’s books.  Sure, I’ve known he’s a giant in the Sci-fi genre.  I have no excuses.  Fortunately, the used book store came through, namely, Stranger in a Strange Land.

The era of its writing has to be appreciated.  It was released in 1961, but written over the 10 years prior, waiting, by the author’s admission, for societal mores to change enough for it to be acceptable.  He might have waited another 10 years for that.  Though built within a science fiction precept (a human born on Mars without other human influences, raised by Martians, and sent to Earth) is just a vehicle for Heinlein to take some hard (and separate) philosophical shots at world religions and sexual morality... and government, for easy picking.  And it’s all done with great humor, critical for such endeavors.

On rare occasions, I will read and pay attention to the content that causes me to pause and think – that’s Step 1.  Step 2 is a consideration of any blog-worthiness that might come from the content.  And Step 3, usually the failure point, is inserting bookmarks so that I can return to it later.  Otherwise, I’m just too lazy to go find it.  After finishing this book, I had scraps of tissues (formally known as bookmarks) sticking out of the book to a degree that it might be considered a cat toy.  So, for the sake of blog post count and keeping said posts to a reasonable reading length, I’ll tackle those bookmarks separately.

In sum, I highly recommend the book.  It belongs on the list.  (But so does Battlefield Earth, and it isn’t there).  And for what it’s worth, of the 25 that I have read, each has lingered with me in some way, which I can’t say of most of the general fiction I read elsewhere.

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