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Stranger in a Strange Land coverStranger in a Strange Land

Published by Ace Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

Stranger in a Strange Land is the science fiction classic that introduced the word "grok" to the English language. It won the 1962 Hugo for best novel of the year and quickly became one of the most widly read and talked-about books of its time.

Michael Valentine Smith was born on Mars, the only survivor of the disastrous first mission to the Red Planet. The helpless infant was discovered and raised as one of their own by the mysterious natives of that world. Years later, a second expedition found him and repatrated him to the world of his ancestry. However, this is more than just a science fiction retelling of Tarzan of the Apes.

Mike's strange Martian upbringing has given him not just a strange outlook on life, but strange powers as well. Furthermore, there are interesting legal ramifications which may well make him one of the wealthiest men in the world. However, without knowledge of Earth and its ways, he is as a lamb ready for its shearing.

That doesn't last for long, for he is quickly removed from his "benign" keepers and delivered to the estate of Jubal Harshaw, one of the most fascinating and crusty characters in Heinlein's many books. Wise in the ways of the world, a philosopher and a lover and an all-around capable man in the Heinlein tradition, Jubal teaches Mike how to give as well as he's likely to get. Jubal also discovers some of Mike's more disconcerting abilities, including the talent of discorporating anything or anyone who's a clear and immediate danger to himself or any of his "water brothers." (Water being scarce on Mars, its sharing creats a sacred bond.)

From this, Mike goes out into the wider world and discovers the curious Earthling custom of religion. After some initial puzzing, he decides that he must share his own knowledge and founds the Church of All Worlds, at least partially based upon the Martian social structure of "nests." However, Terran society isn't ready for him yet, and there are those who are ready to make their rejection a very violent one...

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This review posted June 2, 1999

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