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.

 

Jumper by Steven Gould

3/5 stars.
Paperback, 344 pages.
Read from September 17 to 28, 2015.

This book was given to me by a good friend of mine and it was one of his favourite books growing up. The book was originally published in 1992 and was republished with the release of the movie in 2008. No, I have not seen the movie and I have no plans to. For one, I heard it was terrible, and two it’s apparently nothing at all like the book (all the more reason to avoid it).

Jumper follows the story of Davy, a teenager who learns that he has the ability to teleport. He discovers his abilities during an episode of abuse from his drunken father. Having practiced and worked out new found his ability he decides to leave his abusive home and set off on his own to see where it takes him. The first half of the novel is quite dark and graphic, but realistic. After further hardship, Davy realizes he isn’t going to get very far without money so he “jumps” into a bank in New York to make ends meet. Davy however, is a teenager and starts to make some big mistakes after Davy learns more about the mother who abandoned him. From there he delves into the worlds of espionage, politics and terrorism. He wants to use his abilities for good and to know if there are others out there that are like him, but he is also exposing himself to the authorities and they’ve discovered his weak point, his new girlfriend Millie.

What was refreshing about this book is how realistic Davy’s character is. He faces real-life struggles and even with his super-human abilities but it still didn’t change the fact his decisions are those of an impulsive teenage boy.  The dark and graphic side of the book is not something that is prevalent in YA books anymore, as I’m sure some parent or board would make a big stink about it, but the facts are that Davy’s situation, in terms of his abusive home life, are a reality for far too many kids. Books like this provide insights and outlets for readers. That’s the beauty of a book and why books shouldn’t ever be banned or altered. This book was one of the biggest banned children’s books in the 90s. I had heard, though I can’t confirm if this is true or not, that this book was at some point republished and that some of the graphic content was removed and that the original edition that I read, is hard to come by. If that’s the case, I’m thankful for this edition.

I also feel that the emotion that Davy expresses in this book isn’t commonly written about. Davy gets emotional over some of the very tragic incidents that he has to deal with and the author doesn’t hold back in showing the reader Davy’s sadness or tears. Lots of readers didn’t like this, but that’s probably because we’re all acclimatized to having our male characters be borderline macho. Realistically, most people who went through what Davy did would shed quite a few tears, so he shouldn’t be any exception.

It’s easy to see why this would be a favourite for YA reader’s. Davy is an approachable character with feasible struggles and some badass abilities that we all wish we had. Overall a decent read for YA’s or adults, even if you’re not all that into sci-fi.