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Author Info

Robert A. Heinlein was born on July 7th, 1907, and spent most of his childhood in Kansas City, Missouri. His upbringing occurred in a predominately Christian area, and this religious ideology greatly influenced his works. After high school, Heinlein attended the Naval Academy and served as a an officer on an aircraft carrier. His time in the Navy exposed Heinlein to much of the technology he would use later in his Science Fiction writing.
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After being honorably discharged from the service because of an illness, Heinlein turned his attention towards politics. He served in Upton Sinclair’s campaign for Governor of California in 1934, but was unsuccessful. Later, Heinlein had a unsuccessful run for the California State Assembly in 1938. The financial deficit created by campaigning turned Heinlein towards his true talent: writing. Heinlein began writing as an effort to pay his bills, and his career quickly blossomed into a success. His socialist background would reappear frequently in his writing, especially in Stranger in a Strange Land. (Patterson, 1999)


Plot Summary

Stranger in a Strange Land is the story of Michael Valentine Smith, the orphan son of two Human parents. Smith has spent his entire life living amongst Martians until he is discovered by an expeditionary group sent by the Federation of Free States. This Federation controls the majority if not all of Earth.

Upon his arrival on Earth, Michael is immediately taken to a hospital where he can adjust to the Earth’s atmosphere and gravity. While this may seem innocent, some snooping by a Nurse named Jill BoardTman reveals that he is being held there in a interplanetary real estate struggle. Since Michael is the only human to live on Mars, he therefore by a fictional ruling owns and is king of Mars. During Jill’s trips to see Michael, she becomes one of his water brothers. A water brother is a friend who is trusted without question. Jill decides to break Michael out of his prison, and takes him to the esteemed Jubal Harshaw’s House

At Jubal’s house, Michael is educated in the ways of Earth. Besides reading the encyclopedia, Michael engages Jubal in discussion on topics of morality, sexuality and politics. These discussions will provide the base for Michael’s future religious ideas. Here Michael’s powers are truly shown as well. The Martians have show Michael how to manipulate the world and his body: he can stay underwater for hours at a time, meditate in a semi-comatose state, and most impressively cause items to disappear from existence. This talent of disappearing comes to Michael and his entourage’s advantage when Federation troops come to arrest Jubal and Michael for trumped up charges.

Michael is then taken on a trip to the Fosterite Church. The church is a monstrosity, where all sorts of a vices are allowed, such as drinking in gambling. They are allowed because the primary message of the church is happiness, and anything that brings you towards happiness is allowed. Michael would adopt and modify this message as a the primary tenant of his religion.

Michael and Jill then leave Jubal's house and travel the world by themselves. During these travels Michael experiences all spectrums of life, and uses what he learns to eventually create his religion. He creates his religion, the Church of All Worlds, based on the Fosterite ideal of happiness, Martian Grokking, and Jubal's approval of promiscuity. As time goes on, everyone from Jubal's house moves to the "Nest" of the Church of All Worlds.

The book culminates with the Fosterites bearing down on the Nest, and demanding Michael so they can kill him as a heretic. Michael gladly offers himself to them in order to spread his message of peace and happiness. In a final christ-like act, Michael continues to preach with his dying breath.




Summary of Important Thematic Ideas / Issues Addressed / Symbolism Employed.


Groking: To Grok is an idea introduced by Michael. It is a concept taught to Michael on Mars. Groking is an entire understand of any thing, including humans, animals, and inanimate objects. Groking allows him and his followers to sense if something is bad or good, and therefore how it should be treated. Michael's groking is a central tenant to his religion, and this understanding allows him to "grow closer" with its followers.

The Church of All Worlds: The Church of All Worlds is the faith Michael created. Michael adopts the Fosterite message of happiness and tells his congregation to rise above "pain and suffering" and revel in pleasure. The church adopts the martian-socialist ideals of shared wealth, free love, and cooperation. The members of the church are taught how to grok and the Martian language. As a member gains affluence, they get to live in the Nest. The Nest is where, the members of the church live and practice their faith. They are frequently naked and involved in free love orgies. These habits draw criticism and violence from Fosterites, and the Nest is eventually destroyed by them.

The Nest: The Nest is Heinelein's Utopian vision. In the nest, all members live and share together in one family regardless of marriage or family distinctions. This sharing includes sex, where open sexuality is encouraged among Michael’s followers in an effort to grok the essence of all members The Church of All Worlds. Other Utopian characteristics of the Nest include sharing meals, wealth, and individual issues.

Church of the New Revelation: The Church of the New Revelation is the primary religious rival to the Church of All Worlds. The Church of the New Revelation is Heinlein's prediction the path of modern religion in the United States. He accurately describes the Mega-Churches that would dominate our nations religious scene. The Church of the New Revelation is a non-denominational church featuring has a stadium-size congregation, slot machines, and bars. The Church preaches a message of happiness, one which Michael adopts and approves on for the Church of All Worlds.

Fair Witness: Another Utopian idea Heinlein has developed is the Fair Witness. Fair Witnesses are used in the Federations judicial system as impartial observers at crime scenes, trials, or any situation where an exact account of events is necessary. When a Fair Witness gives information at a trial, it is treated as the absolute truth.




Reception and Importance of Stranger in A Strange Land


Stranger in a Strange Land has been roundly hailed as the pinnacle of science fiction writing. Heinlein is praised for his ability to not only come up with an effective science fiction plot, but also expertly add social criticism and have excellent literary style. His ability to speak of cultural abnormalities is astounding; he rationalizes taboos such as cannibalism and nudism to skeptics without a hitch.

Heinlein’s Church of All Worlds was so greatly received that a real life version of the church has been made. Primarily based off of the ideas shown in Stranger in a Strange Land, the church has a website at http://www.caw.org/.

However Heinlein has received a fair amount of negative criticism for some potentially homophobic writing. Michael does not allow homosexuals into the innermost circle of his faith and he wrote, “Jill suspected that Mike would grok a 'wrongness' in the poor in-betweeners anyhow — they would never be offered water.” This passage meant that Michael would never trust homosexuals to be his closest friends. (Sarti, 2003)





Personal Opinion


In my opinion Stranger in A Strange Land was one of the most enthralling novels I've ever read. Heinlein was able to create a compelling cast of characters, and feature excellent social criticism. The where practically no flaws in the novel, and the plot moved quickly throughout the book. Stranger in a Strange Land is still an excellent read for people who are not generally Science Fiction Fans. The novel is frequently called the top Science-Fiction book of all time, and has been influential in modern culture. While devout fools follow the Church of All Worlds to a "t," many concepts introduced throughout the book are embraced by society.

Heinlein's outstanding social criticisms are the main appeal of the novel. Michael's rise and fall in a world not unlike our current one gives the reader insight into the problems of our time. Heinlein's profound statements on free-love, peace and happiness should be read and considered by all. Critics agree that Heinlein's critiques are the greatest part of his works. While their has been argument over the topics presented in Stranger in a Strange Land, critics agree that the novel is excellent. The most common complaint of critics is the homophobia shown in Michael's education of homosexual life. (Samuelson, 2005)

However, it has also been contended that Heinlein supported equality for homosexuals as well. Not only did the Church of All Worlds support free love, they supported homosexual relations as well. Kissing and sex among the same gender was embraced by Michael, and this gained him support from critics. Heinlein's open views towards all sexuality was exceptional, and critics agreed with him that this sexuality was a necessary part of happiness. Another point that is exalted are the socialist ideals introduced by Heinlein. His utopian "Nest" was regarded as the ideal commune.(Horsely, 2003)



Bibliography


(1) Blackmore, Tim. "Talking with 'Strangers': interrogating the many texts that became Heinlein's 'Stranger in a Strange Land.'" Extrapolation 36.2 (1995): 136. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. U of Illinois. 6 Mar. 2009 <http://search.ebscohost.com/>.

(2) Cansler, Ronald Lee. "Stranger in a Strange Land: Science Fiction as Literature of Creative Imagination, Social Criticism, and Entertainment." Journal ofPopular Culture 5.4 (1972): 944-954. Literature Resource Center. Gale. 1 Mar. 2009 <http://infotrac.galegroup.com/itweb/?db=LitRC>.

(3) Horsely, Jake `. "Stranger than Fiction." SciFi Dimensions. 2003. 20 Mar. 2009 <http://www.scifidimensions.com/Sep03/strangerthanfiction.htm>. Robinson, Tasha. "Stranger in a Strange Land: Humanity, through a glass brightly ." Rev. of A Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A Heinlein. Classic
Science Fiction Reviews. 5 Mar. 2009 <http://www.scifi.com/sfw/issue164/ classic.html>.

(4) Patterson, William H, Jr. Heinlein Society. July 1999. 4 May 2009
<http://www.heinleinsociety.org/rah/biographies.html>.

(5) Samuelson, David. "The Martian Named Smith: Critical Perspectives on Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land." Rev. of A Stranger in a StrangeLand, by Robert A Heinlein. Utopian Studies 13.2 (2002): 190. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. U of Illinois. 5 Mar. 2009 <http://search.ebscohost.com/>.

(6) Sarti, Ronald. "Variations on a Theme: Human Sexuality in the Work of Robert A. Heinlein." Short Story Criticism 55 (2003): 107-136. Literature ResourceCenter. Gale. U of Illinois. 20 Mar. 2009 <http://infotrac.galegroup.com/itweb/?db=LitRC>.