Monday, December 10, 2007

Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land

Thanks to a tip from Locus Online, we enjoyed reading “Robert Heinlein’s Future May Be Past,” an article by Scott Timberg, which appeared in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times.

We were humored by the references to Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), a classic work of Martian science fiction which, according to Timberg, Charles Manson had in his backpack when captured by California authorities in 1969 and “now reads like a long-winded relic of the ‘60s, philosophy for junior high kids.”

Timberg’s article mentions that Kurt Vonnegut reviewed the 1990 expanded edition of Heinlein's book for The New York Times. This was news to us, so we took the time to read Vonnegut’s review of December 9, 1990, which refers to Stranger in a Strange Land as “a wonderfully humanizing artifact for those who can enjoy thinking about the place of human beings not at a dinner table but in the universe.”

Tracing the thread back a bit further in The New York Times, we found book critic Orville Prescott’s damning review of August 4, 1961. Prescott’s opening paragraph is hilarious and worth sharing:
Last week with the thermometer outside my window registering 93 and the humidity in my library coating my books with mildew it seemed a good idea to read something light, clever and not too taxing on the brain cells. Like what? Well, not like Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein. My selection of this disastrous mishmash of science fiction, laborious humor, dreary social satire and cheap eroticism was a frightful mistake.
We’re looking into the Charles Manson angle, as we’ve read various urban myths about the influence of Stranger in a Strange Land upon Manson.

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