Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein

Stranger in a Strange LandStranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was my first experience with Heinlein, and I didn’t really appreciate it. The story was decent, although I guess I was expecting more fantastical technology and space travel, and less telepathy. More interaction with multiple aliens and less changing the world through religion. (I’m seriously complaining my sci-fi wasn’t sci-fi-y enough. This feels silly.) But you know what really got my goat? The sexism and homophobia. With tidbits of rape apologism for added…zest? I know he was writing this in the sixties and these attitudes were prevalent for the time, but if you’re writing a book that completely overturns a few sets of societal mores how do you leave unquestioned so many of the others? Especially ones that I would argue are more damaging than the societal attitudes toward property and marriage? It’s great watching the characters mature in acceptance and openness, but the prejudices that I was hoping to see addressed were left unexamined. Although perhaps that’s the way we grow as a society: we start by questioning the prejudices that are easiest to see before we’re able to move on to the more insidious ones. Hurray for progress. I continue to complain about it because I can’t be unphased by these attitudes, nor do I think we should be unaffected by social diseases we need to eradicate.

I’ve seen this book billed as the first book to have polyamorous relationships in it, and it’s the first one I’ve read where they are included. It’s interesting, and Heinlein does a good job depicting the equality of all the participants, although the interactions are shown almost entirely from the male character’s perspectives. Lesbianism is acceptable, if rare. There is no mention whatsoever of male/male sexual interactions. General male closeness is present to a much higher degree than in our society, but it’s like the concept of a more intimate relationship hasn’t occurred to anyone. Which was a little disappointing, again. Maybe just be aware that if you are searching for literary validation of your orientation, while this book is ground breaking for its time, the ground was harder then than I think most of us non-sixties kids remember. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for more positive representations of diverse orientations in literature.

Read something you loved that had great depictions of other relationships? Share in the comments!

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