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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Stranger in a Strange Book

I'm not a fan of sci-fi books.

Not true. I am not a fan of sci-fi books asterisk.


Asterisk: Most sci-fi books are terrible.


For my birthday a few months back, a friend gave me a copy of Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land.

Here's what the book has to say about itself, on the cover: Here is Heinlein's masterpiece--the brilliant spectacular and incredibly popular novel that grew from a cult favorite to a bestseller to a classic in a few short years. It is the story of Valentine Michael Smith, the man from Mars who taught humankind grokking and water-sharing. And love.

That's the quote on the cover. A blurb. A synopsis.

A quote from the book: "Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it's partly her fault."

The first thing I want to know, when picking up a sci-fi book, is why women deserve to be raped.

Good job.

Here's another quote from the cover of the book: The Most Famous Science Fiction Novel Ever Written. The designer of the cover showed restraint by eschewing exclamation points.

Another quote from the book: "She had explained homosexuality... and had given him rules for avoiding passes; she knew that Mike, pretty as he was, would attract such."

Seriously, that's a quote from this book, this Most Famous Science Fiction Novel Ever.

I'd offer a summary of the book, but it'd be a dull summary. The most complicated thing about the book is the initial set-up: Some years previous, humanity sent a carefully-selected crew to Mars, and that carefully-selected crew fucked around and produced a baby and then all of the crew died. The baby lived. Like Mowgli, the baby was raised by another species--Martians, who were already on Mars and doing quite well before the Earth-sent spaceship landed on their planet.

The Mowglian character of Stranger in a Strange Land, Martian-raised, is eventually brought to Earth. He does not grok the ways of Earth or Earthlings. Like Mowgli, Valentine Michael Smith spends most of his time in one place explaining how wonderful his time in another place was. Raised by Martians, Valentine Michael Smith on Earth says this: I do not grok you people here on Earth. Mars makes more sense to me.

Raised by the animals of the jungle, Mowgli says this: I do not understand you people here in the village. The jungle makes more sense to me.

And, again, Heinlein says this: Nine out of ten raped women had it coming, and it's always best to avoid homosexuals.

I do not like the book. I'm happy to have read it, but it is an awful book. I hate it so much that I wish it were a human being so I could do it harm.

The word 'grok' is a terrible word, and is used over and over again in Stranger in a Strange Land. Valentine Michael Smith "groks" everything. He groks water, he groks grass, he groks rape. He doesn't grok fucking dudes, though.
Grokking. It's like 'smurfing,' but with less nuance.

'Grok' means this:  to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthling assumptions) as color means to a blind man.



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