This book is part of my effort to read a few books in the science fiction genre, and while I loved Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Side of Darkness, Stranger in a Strange Land left me bored and disappointed. Yes, this book is over fifty years old and the imagined future is not the present, yet it seems so incredibly dated. It felt very black and white, bouffant hair-dos, white lab coats intermingled with flying taxis and space travel.
The story begins with a human mission to Mars that failed over some period of time. At least twenty years later humans return to Mars and bring back a young man, Michael Smith, who was raised by Martians. He is kept in a hospital and guarded by the government. Powerful interests are concerned because under some interpretations of Earthly law, Smith could “own” Mars. There’s a beat reporter, an attractive nurse, a wacky professor and his harem of smart women, who inexplicably also do the housework and cooking. It all seems so cliché.
I had a hard time getting past the female characters who are all very sexy, smart, and yet they’re all very good assistants to the male protagonists. Humans are portrayed as flawed, narrow-minded, greedy and self-interested. Yes, but there’s nothing in this book makes these facts particularly interesting.
This book is also the source of the word “grok” which I didn’t know when I first heard it at a business strategy meeting and thought WTF does that mean? Grokking is at the heart of this book, it’s a description of how Martians understand the meaning of a thing or act intuitively. Not sure why, but it just made me laugh, it sounded so “counter-culture” hippyish. I’m not surprised the word worked its way into corporate lingo, where it seemed particularly fatuous.
Overall this is a book that hasn’t aged well.