Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

“Thou art god, I am god. All that groks is god.”

3/5 stars.
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

stranger
Such striking artwork.

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.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Don’t panic.

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 193 pages.
Read from June 29, 2017 to June 30, 2017.

October 12, 1979 – that is when this book was first published. Meaning it is almost 40 years old. I had no idea. I can see now why this book is such a timeless classic regardless of its genre.

Author Dent is your normal, everyday bloke. One day his friend, Ford Prefect, demands that he leave his home (at the most inopportune time) to have a pint with him. Ford’s urgency is created by the fact that he is actually an alien that has been trapped on Earth for the last 15 years and has been waiting for a coming UFO to hitchhike on. That, and Earth is about to be destroyed. As Ford considers Author a friend he saves him by bringing him along. Arthur soon finds himself from the pub to travelling in space, learning that his friend is an alien and that Earth has been destroyed in a matter of minutes.

Ford has been travelling to different planets trying to work on and update the popular compendium, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy before he became trapped on Earth for 15 years. His return back into space was nearly statistically impossible and on a ship that is not welcoming to hitchhikers. Good thing Ford knows a thing or two about getting around from all the work he has been doing. However, he ends up putting both him and Arthur in a sticky situation.

Even those that don’t like science-fiction would enjoy this book. It is so insanely imaginative, especially when you think about when it was published. It was long before the smartphones or before computers were a household item and even before the creation of the internet. It is easy to see how this book inspired so many other stories and movies after it.  It made the science-fiction genre accessible and readable to everyone. It’s hilarious too! Think Guardians of the Galaxy meets Shaun of the Dead type of humour.

“You know,” said Arthur, “it’s at times like this, when I’m trapped in a Vogon airlock with a man from Betelgeuse, and about to die of asphyxiation in deep space that I really wish I’d listened to what my mother told me when I was young.”

“Why, what did she tell you?”

“I don’t know, I didn’t listen.”

The writing style is light and easy and the story is a nice humorous take on the speculations of our universe. While I do not feel inclined to read the rest of the books in the series (admittedly I am not usually one for series) the book was an enjoyable escape and I appreciated the witty antics of the characters.

This book is classic that is definitely worth adding to your bucket list if you have not already read and loved it. Even if you don’t enjoy science-fiction, this book is still a worthwhile read.

 

Company Town by Madeline Ashby

Science fiction often gets a bad rap so it is nice to see great stories, regardless of genre, getting the attention they deserve.

A company town is a place where practically all stores and housing are owned by the one company that is also the main employer. – Wikipedia

3/5 stars.
ebook,  241 pages.
Read from March 1, 2017 to March 7, 2017.

Book number three out of the Canada Reads 2017 five shortlist nominees. This science fiction novel was a nice change of pace from the general fiction genre that normally dominates Canada Reads. Science fiction often gets a bad rap so it is nice to see great stories, regardless of genre, getting the attention they deserve.

Hwa lives in a company town. Almost everyone does these days. Hwa is different than the rest of the people living in the rig as she is nearly completely organic. In the future people use bionics and engineering to enhance their bodies, looks and health. Hwa is a bodyguard for the sex workers on the rig and she is very good at what she does. Having a spiteful mother and upbringing, in combination with the loss of her brother as well as her skills in taekwondo, has given Hwa rough persona, making her an ideal bodyguard. Her skills do not go unnoticed and she is soon asked to be the bodyguard to the heir of the Lynch family who own the large company that owns the town. The Lynch’s are strange and all of their hopes are on this one boy that Hwa must take care of. Soon after she starts this new job watching the Lynch boy,  people she knows start to be murdered in a horrific fashion. Faced with questions about the involvement of the Lynch family and the murders of her friends, Hwa risks her life to find the truth about what is really going on her in her company town.

Hwa is a fantastic character. I only wish that there were more like her: strong, smart, brave (all in the masculine sense too) and she can kick some serious ass. Her Korean heritage was a great addition too. Even the romance that evolves in the story suited me. I actually enjoyed it. It was subtle and didn’t detract from the main story. There is nothing I hate more when an intriguing story is taken over by a lame romance so this novel made me very happy in that aspect.

However I felt that this novel was not as well executed as it could have been. It took me a while to figure out what was going on with all the bionics and tech in the beginning. Additionally, the killer in the story, while not who I expected, did not feel like an important enough character through the book to have such a pinnacle role. I felt confused and disappointed at the end in that sense. I actually had to go back and reread a few parts because I wasn’t even sure how he came into play through the story.

While I feel there are important themes in this books, especially in relation to how massive the oil companies and rigs are in Canada, I don’t feel it has the same potency as the other two books that I have read so far and does not meet the Canada Reads 2017 question (What book do Canadians need now?) as well as the others.

Overall this is a great book for those interested in strong female protagonists and the science-fiction genre.