Book Review: Stranger in a Strange Land by Heinlein (3 Stars)

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

2.5-3 out of 5 stars

Read in October 2008

Warning: Spoilers

I read this for the GoodReads SciFi and Fantasy book club hear at GoodReads. It’s also the first Heinlein I remember reading (circa October 2008).

I found the first part of this book, probably the first half or so, to be a great story and mostly a science fiction story that I could really enjoy. An expedition to Mars ceases communicating with Earth and a rescue mission is not launched for several years. The only survivor of the original expedition isn’t even one of the original crew members, but the offspring of one of the couples. He has been raised by Martians from birth (his mother died bearing him and his father died as well). So he has no common points of references with humans. He is transported to Earth and kept under heavy guard at a medical facility until his body can acclimate to Earth’s environment and gravity.

Access to “the Man from Mars” is strictly regulated and you can start to see the political plotting and machinations within the first chapter or so. However, once the Man from Mars makes his escape from his governmental custodians, and furthers his education of all things Earth-like or human-like, Heinlein attempts to preach his vision of society. Subtle it is not.

The culmination of Mike’s teachings leads to his martyrdom but it felt dissatisfying to me, perhaps even hollow. It’s easy to change the world around you when you have unlimited wealth and unlimited power (abilities he was taught by the Martians). It left me wondering, if he had been left on a street corner with no wealth, no friends, nothing at all, would he have made any impact on our society?

Back in the early 60s, all of these new ideas about sex and religion and gender roles was probably shocking. Some of it is still a bit shocking to me, and I grew up in the 60s.

Better than 2.5 stars, but not quite a 3 star for me.  I’m glad I read this Hugo winner from Heinlein.

Update April 2013:  Since October 2008, I’ve read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Starship Troopers, both of which I enjoyed and liked much better than this novel.

Movie Review: Destination Moon (1950)

Destination Moon (1950)

3 out of 5 stars

Hmmm … quite the blast from the past.  I watched Destination Moon via Netflix DVD while visiting my daughter last weekend.  I placed this movie in my queue based on a recent post (one of his last) by John Scalzi over at his blog, wherein he mentioned nine science fiction films often overlooked or underappreciated

Even with the help of legendary science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein (both on the script and as a technical adviser), Destination Moon just doesn’t hold up well when viewed through the lens of the space age.  Yes, they got some things right and tried to demonstrate weightlessness, pricinciples of inertia and some of the obstacles needed to overcome and survive space travel.  For a hard scifi flick from the mid-20th century, I give the film an A for effort. 

I did not care for the ending though.  If you’re going to go to all the trouble to get to the moon, and almost not make it back due to poor planning (i.e. too much weight to return with the fuel alotted, no slack planned for when they had trouble landing and used extra fuel).   The only real drama from the entire movie boiled down to who might have to stay behind and die on the moon.  The characters finally achieve their weight goal with just seconds to spare and successfully take off from the moon. 

And that’s it.  The movie ends there.  We have no idea if they made it back to Earth or if they splashed down safely in the ocean (another idea they got ‘right’ as proven later by NASA and the Gemini, Mercury and Apollo programs). 

I found it interesting to compare and contrast with science facts from 1950 and what I now know in 2012, I don’t know that I’d consider this a ‘must see’ science fiction film.  Maybe at the time (in the early 50s), but not now.