Chappy talks thinly veiled allegory, and the parable of Grok in his reread of Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land
Friends, readers, Martians, I come not to praise Stranger in a Strange Land, but to wish it were a better book.
Because the notion of Grok deserves a better book.
Briefly, in a plot Robert Heinlein borrowed from the Jungle Book, a boy is raised in a completely alien culture—in this case actual aliens from Mars are involved—and later returned to humanity. His life becomes a kind of mirror for Heinlein to hold up to our culture so that we readers can see our foibles. Later it becomes a thinly veiled Christ story that isn’t even thinly veiled.
And what a wonderful beginning. Sure he’s kind of sexist. Okay, so he’s really sexist. But his women are better-than-average for the male-author of the 1960s. Or perhaps his woman is. Because it’s increasingly difficult to tell his women characters apart in this book. Later they even transmogrify into similar female archetypes.
But, it’s got a feel of adventure and the main character, Valentine Michael Smith, is endearing in the way that any fish out of water is. And then the book bogs down in a didactic screed where Heinlein’s voice is projected through one of the main characters (a grumpy old white-dude with all the right answers—go figure) and Heinlein’s philosophy of life is preached at the reader over and over.
Any real semblance of a plot is basically on hold for the second half of the book (or last two thirds if you read the unabridged version), while the author breaks the fourth wall to preach about religion and science and physics and humanity. As the book weakens as a story it grows as a philosophical argument.
In amongst this mess of a book, though, is this brilliant notion of Grok.