Notes on “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert A. Heinlein

I loved this book! I’m not a big fan of the science fiction genre. I’ve said this before and I’m starting to wonder if that is really true because I haven’t failed to love one yet. The ones I don’t really enjoy are the ones that get technical. I like the books that focus on the people, the lives and relationships of the characters instead of the scientific aspects of the travel. This one was full of all the stuff I love most. What makes us human? What would be different about a person raised on another planet by another species without contact with his own? I started to describe the story and my sons instantly blurted out, “It’s some kind of space Tarzan!” I didn’t even see that until they said it. Sometimes I wonder if I’m really thinking when I’m reading.

I don’t think I’ll write out all my notes on this book. Instead, I’ll do my best to wrap the story up in my mind and talk about the individual characters and how they touched me. Let’s see. There was Mike, the “Martian”. The men who brought him back from Mars. Ben, the newspaper reporter that wants the story but is changed by it. Jill, at first she is Ben’s girl but she really falls for Mike and well, the relationship gets complicated at the end, or is it less complicated in reality, only complicated by our human social contructs? Jubal, he’s my favorite character. He’s older than the rest. At first you feel like he’s just this cynical, rich guy that really just wants to be left alone by the world. He brings only people he can trust and put up with into his circle and I feel like Jill and Mike are a huge burden to him at first. But really they, and what Mike is trying to bring to the world but doesn’t know it, are really what Jubal wants.

There are things that Mike says that I just loved and now use in my life. The idea of “waiting for fullness” is an ancient one that we all try to achieve. In all our meditations and prayers we are asking for patience to wait on what will come in the future. If something bothers us or weighs heavily on our minds, aren’t we told to wait and see what happens? Mike puts this idea into perfect words. Every time he doesn’t understand something, he says he must “wait for fullness”. Only time will tell if something is wrong. When you’ve waited long enough, you can act on something once you know that it is a “wrongness” that needs to be eliminated. The Martians themselves live a very long time, forever really, and they are strong. They don’t need to act prematurely to protect themselves from a potential threat. They wait and react when they know. We could be waiting out whole lives to understand something and die not knowing, but then, did we need to know? It probably wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things and we should let it go.

The whole story feels like one of those old “His Girl Friday” movies but you can feel a deeper story moving underneath. When I finished the book I thought, “I don’t get it?” What just happened? Who are the Martians? Why do they keep going back to this Digby and Foster characters that I thought were dead? Is Mike just a front man coming to scope out Earth for conquest by the Martians? I put the book down and wondered as I went to pick up my son at the gym. It swirled around in my head for a couple days and then it hit me. I think I get it!

Spoiler alert, in case you haven’t read it, don’t read this last part!

The Martians put their eggs out in the cold and only 1 in 10 survives. Then they bring them in and raise them up until they “discorporate” and become “the old ones” which are still around, not in just spirit. They are actually there guiding and teaching the younger corporate ones. I was lost until it hit me. They are angels! Someone (God?) creates the eggs. They are not born. The eggs are humans on earth. One in ten survives that ordeal and becomes an angel (Martian). They live their lives on Mars learning about the universe. Much like “A Miracle on 34th Street”, the angels must earn their wings and when they do they discorporate and become “old ones”. That’s some pretty cool stuff. Mike was one that survived and so were other religious leaders before him. His origin was different but his path was the same. He spent his time on earth trying to understand humanity and show them a better way of living that would bring them closer to the spiritual world he had already begun to learn about on Mars. Other religious leaders do the same, although they only glimpsed that spiritual world. Did God send the angels to talk to them? Did the angels come to Earth? It didn’t seem like it in the book. It seemed like they never got involved with the “eggs in the cold”. They just waited to see if any of them survived.

Are we born on this earth cold and alone? Do we all have that spark within us that makes us want to search out who ultimately created us? And do most of us set it aside for earthly things and never make it to the spiritual world? Is that what Heinlein was trying to tell us?