Ahoy there mateys! Get ready for a bit of a rant with spoilers. Read at yer own peril . . . This was me first reading of this classic sci-fi work. I did read some Heinlein back in me youth. But I seemed to have read only “juveniles” like “the rolling stones” and “have spacesuit – will travel.” And details of those reads remain extraordinarily fuzzy even if thinking of them brings back feelings of happiness in general.
Sci-Fi aficionados would always express surprise that I had not read this masterwork by this Grandmaster of the genre. And it has been on the list to read forever. But I have always been hesitant to read it. Some common problems with it seem to be its portrayal of women, religion, and smugness. But then the library had an audiobook version of it, and I decided to give it a go.
I absolutely ADORED the setup and first bits of this book. I loved our introduction to the Martian. I loved his simple ways and foreign viewpoints. I loved his earnestness and vulnerability and own type of innocence. I found his friend, Jill the nurse, to be a tremendously strong-willed woman. I loved the escape to Jubal’s house. I loved hearing “grok” in context. I was absolutely engrossed and fascinated. I loved watched Mike listen, absorb, and grow. So what happened? Mike the Martian has learned what he needs to at Jubal’s house and decides to leave the Nest and go out into the world.
And my enjoyment of the book began to die. First, all the interesting political posturing over Mike’s fortune is just swept to the side in a tidy bit of lawyering. Then the first place Mike decides to visit in his newer grown-up phase is the carnival? Because sure that makes sense.
So Mike learns the art of the con and Jill becomes a boring archetype whose happiness about her body involves its use to seduce the viewer and to have sex with Mike and others. I have nothing against the enjoyment of sex and I don’t even have a problem with sex as used in stripping or other things. My problem is that Jill goes from an intelligent woman who loves her body to a seemingly bubble-headed woman whose only ambition is to follow Mike around in order to be surrounded by his good grace . . . and his perfect manly sex.
So in addition to touring with the carnival, Mike also decides to start a church based on the Fosterite Church portrayed in the book. Now the Fosterite “church” in the book is actually delightful in its hypocrisy. Gambling, drinking, sinning . . . it’s all okay as long as ye be gambling on the machines in the Fosterite Church while drinking the church-sponsored brand of beer and donating some of yer ill-gotten wins back to the church, etc. So Mike wants to change the world with his ideas and philosophies and decides to use a horrible selfish corporation church as basis of the mechanism to do so? WTF? What a lame cop-out. The Martian creates a cult.
And the strong women of the story continue to degrade. So the woman discover the joys of sex with a willing and thoughtful partner. Okay that’s fine. But then there is a rape and the response from I-used-to-be-intelligent-but-became-a-moron-the-first-time-I-had-good-sex Jill is “Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it’s partly her fault.” I almost stopped the book right there. Perhaps I should have. Because the Jill from the beginning of the book would not have said such a stupid thing. But it IS a masterpiece so I continued listening.
And apparently when woman become sexually free they want three things 1) to sleep with ALL the men, 2) to have babies, lots of babies, and 3) all want hetero-sexual non-monogamous relationships. Gag. I happen to think there is more to being a woman then being forced to having babies, having no standards when it comes to picking a sexual partner (any man will do?), and I don’t believe that every woman on the planet is straight. Also the woman in Jubal’s household actually sulk and are passive-aggressive about who gets to have sex with Mike until they figure out a schedule they like. Alpha male with beta jealousy-ridden females fighting over his time. Of course that is the dream of any and all American woman. And of course Mike doesn’t notice the in-fighting because he is above that. Ugh. Mike impregnates most of them. Bleh.
And then of course there is the smugness. Mike’s way is the ONLY way to be and he will be a martyr to the world that will eventually all see the way. All the people will realize that they want to live in these large sexually-free societies where there are mass orgies, cannibalism, and baby making. All will learn the true Martian language. All will believe in Mike’s church. Any who doesn’t is a prude and a waste that will be weeded out. All the men are smug and know what’s best. The women hold “positions of power” but do nothing that Mike hasn’t approved of. In fact some of the women, like Jill, actually like to have so little individuality that they begin to look like each other and switch places with each other because it doesn’t matter who has the experience. They can be filled in on the details later. Oh and they can magic themselves younger and more aesthetically pleasing. And that is supposed to be freedom for women?
The only idea I could kinda get behind is the lack of emphasis of consumerism culture. But that’s easy when Mike is so rich that money doesn’t matter and he can perform magic and get what ye want.
I would never ever want to live in the society espoused by Mike the Martian. I almost wish I had never read this mess of a book. Sure it might be a forward thinking book for a certain-type of heterosexual male-dominated society. But it’s a surprisingly backward book for me despite the hippy-free love orgies. I would say that the criticism of this book is well-founded. I was going to listen to the moon is a harsh mistress next. But I am not sure I can stomach it. And I cannot recommend this book to others.
While researching for this post, I came across this article on the Tor website by Jo Walton who sums up some of the problems that I have with this book in a much more well-written and concise fashion.
I also enjoyed this review by a member of Goodreads named Christy.
Goodreads has this to say about the novel:
NAME: Valentine Michael Smith
Valentine Michael Smith is a human being raised on Mars, newly returned to Earth. Among his people for the first time, he struggles to understand the social mores and prejudices of human nature that are so alien to him, while teaching them his own fundamental beliefs in grokking, watersharing, and love.
To visit the author’s society website go to:
Robert A. Heinlein – Author
To buy the novel please visit:
stranger in a strange land – Book
To add to Goodreads go to:
Yer Ports for Plunder List