Thursday, May 29, 2014

Books We've Missed: Amanda Goes to Mars

In an attempt to shake things up in the department’s reading selections, we have decided to select titles for each other that we have never read. They could be classics that we never got around to, books that made an impression that we want to pass on, or just titles that should be read. I will now blog about my experience going slightly beyond my comfort zone into the land of 1960s Science-Fiction.

"Books We've Missed" is an original meme on Mentor's Reader, posted monthly. 

Mary P. assigned Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlen to me. These were her reasons:
Classic Sci-Fi
One of her favorite books
Mind-bending social commentary

She gave me the briefest of descriptions, mentioning its Sci-Fi status, and that it’s about a human raised on Mars. Picturing slight “Jungle Book” allusions I dove right in.

Stranger in a Strange Land takes place in the near future, as imagined by a man writing from the 1960s. Technology has advanced to the point where space travel to different planets is possible. Several couples were chosen to make the first voyage to Mars. The initial group was not heard from after they landed. Twenty-five years later (the long gap due to WWIII) a new crew was sent to Mars to investigate what happened. There they found every one of the original crew dead except a child of two of the original crew members. The child had been raised by the Martians but was now being brought back to Earth.

Valentine Michael Smith, initially weak from Earth’s gravity, and totally unaware of Earth’s customs, soon adapts both physically and mentally. He then goes on to convert some Earthlings in his ways, or more specifically, teaching people that love should be free and that the human mind is capable of more than the limitations our society usually allows. I felt, not knowing a thing about this book, that the last part took a rather strange turn and was not prepared for it. His followers took on a cult-like obsession with these new ideas, and what started as a relatable "duck out of water" story turned into a commentary about religion and society.

My overall impression was, “meeh?” It was a very different book than I’ve read in a while, and to jump into something without knowing too much about it offered a change of pace, but Heinlen’s writing is dated. Sure, he’s imagining the future, so I understand that we have a much better perspective on what that means, so I give him a pass on the technology part. But what bothered me was the blatant sexism. The women acted a certain way, and the men treated them a certain way, and it was all just a little jarring. Overall, I would recommend this only to those devoted to the sci-fi genre.

What books have you missed?

~Amanda D.

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