A friend made his television debut last week on a comedy thing set to air sometime next month. We wild partied with tacos then mooncakes and snowcakes in Chinatown. The snow skin ones are made with rice flour and taste like mochi while mooncakes have a thin pastry crust. Both are filled with a rich, dense filling like lotus, red bean, green tea or pineapple. They’re made during the Mid-Autumn festival and bring good luck if you rub them all over yourself. I made that last part up but maybe it’s true. Go for it. I prefer to eat mine.
When a friend takes a big step towards a dream it’s only natural to trip him. And then reflect. What have I accomplished lately? My French fluency is down by 2%, accordingly to Duolingo, so there’s that. I tweaked my sugar scrub ratio to make it a little less sandpapery – I’m way too excited about something that took 30 seconds to do.
Also, I finished Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, all 20 pounds of it. It’s big. I deserve more cake.
This was my second Robert Heinlein book, after Have Space Suit – Will Travel. So far I like his work despite its sexism. The characters and dialogue in this one are very dated and the constant banter between subservient females and arrogant men made it easy to put down. I kept picking it back up though. It’s like a thought experiment set in a future with self-driving flying cars and apartments with grass floors. Some of the visuals reminded me of The Jetsons and made me miss Saturday morning cartoons. Then things got sexy and I had to put away my pancakes.
The story is about a human, Valentine Michael Smith, raised by Martians who arrives on Earth a grown man deeply confused by our alien ways. He brings with him Martian philosophies and attitudes as well as some special abilities. Michael’s existence is a nightmare for political and business powers intent on protecting their financial interests in Mars. That the Martian species already inhabits the planet doesn’t factor into their concerns.
Michael’s time on Earth begins with hospital confinement. There’s gravity and light to adjust to. Oh, and the first woman Michael meets is busty nurse Jill, who breaks him out. There’s much for Michael to “grok” as he attempts to comprehend our strange ways. The plot finds traction once Michael and Jill arrive at the elaborate home of Doctor Jubal Harshaw, a lawyer, doctor, bestselling author and intellectual powerhouse who surrounds himself with beautiful secretaries.
The three come together – Michael and his pure soul, Jill and her pure heart and Harshaw’s dynamic mind – and for a while external threats remain on the periphery. Jubal recognizes that Michael is highly civilized with potentially dangerous abilities while Michael discovers how much he enjoys smooching and other activities in this house full of women. Michael evolves, adapts and, after visiting a megachurch/casino, forms The Church of All Worlds otherwise known as Here Be Orgies. The religion is based on Michael’s Martian knowledge and follows the creed “Though art God”. Open sexuality is only one aspect but Heinlein doesn’t want you to miss it. Superior minds have no time for clothing. Rather than forbidding followers from coveting other’s wives, he teaches them to all love freely. There’s nothing lost in shedding jealousy and restrictive morality.
There’s a lot to appreciate, but the book is also maddening. I hated the melodramatic, cynical ending and wanted more prose. At times 90% of the page is dialogue and these were big pages crammed with tiny text. I was prepared for the controversial parts, but still WTFed one of Jill’s statements. At this point she’s Mike’s friend and sort of guide to human ways while working as a Vegas show girl when she says, “Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it’s at least partly her fault.” I’d like to think Heinlein gave a female character this insane statement to elicit a strong contrarian response, to stir readers up emotionally and intellectually. But I doubt it. I think she’s meant to be an everyman character. Until this point, I found all the datedness charming. Back down the book went for a few weeks.
I can see why this flawed novel is considered a SF classic and I can see why some hate it. I needed a lot of breathing room with other books during the months I worked through this one. Overall, I liked it. It’s packed with ideas that aggressively challenge convention and do so in a thoughtful, sometimes persuasive and often provocative way. You don’t have to agree with all of the ideas. Heinlein’s not trying to convert you, though The Church of All Worlds is a real church now.