October 2003

Jessa Crispin

hundred books

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

The description on the back of Stranger in a Strange Land should really be changed. Right now it says:

"Here in Heinlein's masterpiece -- the brilliant spectacular and incredibly popular novel that grew from a cult favorite to a bestseller to a classic in a few short years. It is the story of Valentine Michael Smith, the man from Mars who taught humankind grokking and water-sharing. And love."

I guess what he teaches about love is that you should fall in love with anyone who saves your whiny ass from government agents with guns, but I think a more honest word would be "sex." Perhaps "group sex." Because what I got from the book is that you should have sex with those you love. You should also start your own naked commune where you sleep with everyone. It's the moral thing to do. There's a two-page long explanation of why group sex is moral.

There may be deeper issues in the book that I missed. Those orgies can really get in the way. You know, America is bad. Our government does bad things. We try to rip people off. But when a character starts talking about how sexual jealousy is harmful and everyone should be open to fucking everyone else, I forgot about the rest of the book.

The other thing I learned from this book is that no one bothers to edit science fiction. Over a three page spread, no one could figure out how to spell tattoo. It showed up as tatoo. Then tattoo again. Then tatto. Then back to tatoo. There were quotation marks in the middle of words. There were spaces between the end of a sentence and the period. There was an absence of capitalization at the beginning of sentences. Even simple spell check would have solved most of this book's problem. I guess they figured only geeks read science fiction, so they shouldn't waste their time.

I have to wonder, though, if this is why science fiction is so marginalized. If this is what SF fans hold up as a classic, no wonder the outside world thinks the geeks are all a bunch of loonies. Can't we have a classic that doesn't have orgies? Can we agree that Heinlein writes about free love and fascistic governments and pick another representative for the genre? Because this is obviously not working out for us.