Category Archives: books

Stranger in a Strange Land

I recently read Heinlein. A lot of people I know read Heinlein in their teens; I never did. And you can’t have an opinion on something until you’ve read it, right? (same reason I can’t bear the Daily Mail Offended Brigade, who are keen to complain about how offensive something was that they haven’t actually watched).

So I read Stranger in a Strange Land, and now I have Opinions on Heinlein. I won’t post spoilers, but here’s roughly how my thought process went – first half of the book, this is great! Interesting exploration of a contradictory culture, a bit ‘of its time’ but I can forgive that (Wyndham is one of my favourite writers, ‘of its time’ is perfectly reasonable, and all the scifi I find interesting tells you as much about the fears and concerns of the society in which it was written as it does about anything else), some characters seem more fleshed out than others, but we’ve a long way to go…

Then half way through the book it’s as if he decided ‘fuck that, I’m writing a different book now’. Sympathetic-but-flawed characters turn out to be utter twits, the women really are that two-dimensional and without volition or personality (and in fact are shown to be genuinely interchangeable). Anything of any interest in the first half of the book is ditched in favour of bizarre semi-magical semi-religious woowoo rubbish – I want to say deus ex machina, but it’s not quite that; it’s not that it resolves the plot at the end, it’s a change halfway through that swings everything in a completely different direction, without explanation or justification. Yes, there’s a lot in there that is a version of poly, but it made me deeply uncomfortable. It was all a bit ‘stop being on my side, you’re making my side look bad’ – I just wanted to throw it against a wall.

The Rake and Poppy both asked me why I was persisting with it (it’s not a particularly short book); I never leave books unfinished*. I want to know how they resolve! Same with this. It’s not impossible – unlikely, but not impossible – that it could have completely turned around in the final pages. It didn’t. I wonder if this is one of those authors that you have to read as a teenager? Gentle readers, thoughts on Heinlein? Am I wrong?

* except for Proust. After attacking that three or four times, a few years apart, I never managed to get further than about half way through the second book. I accepted this year that it wasn’t going to happen.