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This would be an excellent book for a book club, since there are so many controversial angles to discuss.

Stranger In A Strange Land is vintage SciFi. Some technology described in the book has now become reality 47 years later (e.g. telephones displaying video). But some appears like magic (though it’s been said that technology, when sufficiently advanced, may appear as magic).

Mike the human boy who was raised by martians has telepathic powers. Ability to make things and people vanish (think of it as “nullspace”).

Reading the novel by today’s standards, my impressions as follows:
The dialogue is somehow very 1960s-style “gee golly Mr. Rogers”. Reminded me of the dialogue in another of Heinlein’s works “For Us, The Living“.

It’s a story about human fallacies, told through the interactions with a boy raised on Mars.

Quite unbelievable that Mars has the lifeforms and society being described. It’s 1960s projection of what technology will bring. There’s very little hardcore SciFi. The technology isn’t important here but the ideas. For instance, in describing the successful expedition to Mars and Martian life, I think Heinlein aims to contrast the Martian society with humans.

The novel is certainly about controversial ideas. It’s like a thesis on sexual freedom, morality and the influence of the church, presented as a SciFi novel.

It pokes fun at religion, especially southern Bible Belt preachers. And Heinlein throws in a Muslin doctor character, perhaps to stir and shift perceptions.

Professionals called Fair Witnesses (i.e. human recording devices, like human Dictaphones).

A new social order – world federation of free nations.

A henpecked secretary general of the world federation of free nations. Colourful characters (like Jubal) full of bluster.

Last few chapters seems obsessed almost, with the issue of nakedness and morality. A big deal in North American society in the 60s. It seems the novel reflect some of Heinlein’s personal views.

I thought Heinlein may have been decades ahead of his time about erotica, though by today’s standards they really don’t seem that out of this world.

One recurrent theme was whether it was OK for healthy males to take pleasure in viewing the photos of naked women, and implied good taste.

But on the issue of homosexuality, Heinlein seems to remain conservative, or so the book is portrayed.

P463 “… And if a healthy woman liked to be looked at — and not as a side of beef — then it follows as the night from day that healthy men should like to look at them, else there was no darn sense to it! At which point she finally understood, intellectually, Duke and his pictures…”

Then in the following paragraph (emphasis mine):

“but fortunately Mike’s male water brothers were all decidedly masculinemen, just as his others were very female women. Jill hoped that it would stay that way; she suspected Mike would grok a “wrongness” in the poor in-betweeners anyhow–they would never be offered water.”

Mike, at one point, sleeps with a woman he and Jill have accepted as a “Water Brother”. And the part where exhibitionism was deemed as OK.

Then Heinlein throws in a bit of mystery in having Mike lose his virginity but you’re not sure who. The woman could be one of the four in Jubal’s home – Miriam, Dorcas, Anne, and Jill. All revealed only later (p407).

p426. An innocuous scene about Mike and Jill sharing a bath. Much of it implied that mike and Jill are undressed and having a soak while having a conversation. Nothing out of the ordinary by today’s standards but probably caused a stir when this novel was first published.

p557. Jubal to Ben: “…the ethics of sex is a thorny problem–because each of us has to find a solution pragmatically compatible with a preposterous, utterly unworkable, and evil public code of so-called ‘morals’. Most of us know, or suspect, that the public code is wrong, and we break it. “

p608. Sam to Jubal: “we all wind up in twosome partnerships inside the larger group–usually, but not necessarily, with our own spouses-on-record.”

By the end of the novel, I wondered if the Mike/ Jubal household had evolved themselves into a cult. It seemed to be implied that it’s acceptable practice for everyone to be having sexual intercourse with each other.

No wonder the blurb says the book “caused an uproar when it first appeared as it savaged conventional religious, sexual and social ideas“.

I don’t think this book would be controversial today, partly because you’d expect it from Heinlein.

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