ebook, 448 pages.
Read from April 17, 2018 to May 7, 2018.
I have to say the cover of this book is my all time favourite, the 1986 edition that is, and the one I have featured here. I have been drawn to this book long before I even know about this classic or the author or even science fiction as I remember seeing this cover when I was a kid and it left an impression.
Did you know? The artist that created the 1987 cover that I love so much was created by Andy Warhol’s brother, James Warhola
This novel was originally published in 1961 and made waves with its literary, yet firmly science fiction, plot. The eventual promiscuity of the characters I am sure also helped with the interest in this book as well as things did get pretty sexy at times but free love is just one of the delicate topics that are breached in this story.
Valentine Michael Smith is a Martian. Or rather, he was born on Mars but is actually a human. After an expedition from Earth to Mars, the Martians ordered Valentine, who was a bit of an outcast, to go back to Earth with the astronauts. After recovering in a hospital to adjust to the atmosphere of Earth, Valentine meets a nurse called Gillan who helps him escape the Earthly politics that he has yet to understand. Gillan enlists the help of Jubal, who is a wealthy man of many intellectual qualities that has a harem of women that he keeps around to serve him. Jubal ensures that the US government cannot claim anything on Valentine or on Mars while also taking the time to learn about Valentine and teach him what he can about Earth. Valentine, despite being with his own kind, knows nothing about the cultural ways of humans and through his journey to understand, or grok, he also teaches his friends or water brothers what it means to be Martian which, offers amazing internal insight, knowledge and powers that humans did not even know they were capable of. Valentine comes to understand humans so well that he even founds his own religion in order to teach those who are wanting to know his ways.
Throughout Valentine’s story, the author intensely reevaluates major institutions and taboos like religion, money, monogamy, the fear of death and even cannibalism. There are sections that are highly philosophical but they also occasionally derail the main intrigue of the plot making for some very dull moments. The philosophy itself is interesting, but as a reader, you feel as if you are no longer reading a science fiction novel but rather a piece of academia and it can be jarring. The political nuances were particularly boring and just about put me off the book. Some of the sections involving free love are quite sexy and liberating but in general, the author was still a man of his time as there are some highly misogynist sections. Here are two such examples,
“No, you’re really bright, for a female.”
“Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped it’s partly her fault.”
While the misogyny is forgivable due to the timeframe the book was written in, it doesn’t make it any less annoying when you are reading it as a modern woman.
Valentine’s character is superbly executed and watching him grok his new world is a unique experience that not many authors could not have pulled off. I enjoyed portions of this book and the ending but in general, I felt bogged down with sidetracked details and characters that added little to the main plot. Did I grok this book in fullness? As Valentine would say, perhaps not, but I have no regrets in finally picking up the novel whose cover art fascinated me so long ago.