Best Adventures of 1961 (3)
September 7, 2016
One in a series of 10 posts identifying Josh Glenn’s favorite 1961 adventure novels. Happy 55th anniversary!
Robert Heinlein’s sci-fi adventure Stranger in a Strange Land.
One of the most famous, and most infuriating science fiction books ever. Its premise is a promising one: Valentine Michael Smith, a human raised by cosmically wise Martians and endowed with psychic and telekinetic powers, is brought back to Earth — whose social, cultural, economic, sexual, and psychological customs he finds bewildering and strange. With the aid of Jubal Harshaw, a Socrates-like philosopher, physician, lawyer, and sybarite, Smith becomes a controversial champion of free love, open-mindedness, and pacifism. He’s a Martian Jesus, and the father of a new race of homo superior types; Jubal — a transparent stand-in for Heinlein himself — is his John the Baptist. The book became a cult hit later in the Sixties, for obvious reasons; however, it is firmly anchored in Fifties culture too. Despite its charms, Stranger in a Strange Land is often tedious (Jubal, taking his Socrates/JtB-like role seriously, pontificates endlessly); and — worse — it is shockingly, pointlessly, outrageously misogynistic and homophobic. That said, even critics tend to like the book’s ending.
Fun fact: Stranger in a Strange Land, which in 1962 won science fiction’s Hugo Award for Best Novel, and which was the first sci-fi novel to enter The New York Times Book Review‘s best-seller list, gave us the word grok — meaning, like, “comprehend thoroughly and have empathy with.”
Let me know if I’ve missed any 1961 adventures that you particularly admire.