Stranger in a Strange (Sexist) Land: A Book Review by Christina Knowles

HeinleinI assumed I would like this book. I mean I’ve been told that it’s critical of religion and conservatism, that it was edgy and relevant. Bah! What a joke! This is literally the worst book I’ve ever read in my life.

Heinlein’s wordy novel is at least a hundred pages too long even if you like the content of his philosophical rant. I’m not going to bother to recount the plot, or more truthfully, the lack thereof, but I will summarize the main premise just so you can understand what I’m talking about. Heinlein’s main character, a human raised on Mars, returns to earth and starts a religious sex cult in which he is the savior. He doesn’t believe in religion, but he thinks it is the best way to get people to live their best lives—and the author actually promotes this view at the same time as denying the truth of religious belief. Sorry, Heinlein, but I’d rather have truth than happy fantasy.

A happy fantasy, that is, if you are a 15-year old boy. While the characters struggle to understand the meaning of grokking, the reader is subjected to countless tedious examples of young male fantasies that would explode the heads of any modern Me-Too-er. Women are constantly slapped on the butt and told they will be spanked in a jovial manner by people they work for or leaders of the cult. Even kindly old male friends love to threaten the corporal punishment for girls that sass or move too slowly. And before you say that he was just a product of the times he lived in, let me point out that Ray Bradbury managed to not be sexist in his 1953 novel, Fahrenheit 451. In Aldous Huxley’s 1931 novel, Brave New World, he managed to criticize the men in his dystopian world who treated the women “like so much meat” (67). Yet Heinlein’s most memorable treatment of women is a line spoken by a woman cult member saying, “Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it’s at least partly her own fault” (511). This was said in all seriousness. I’m not kidding. Even so, the members of the group prance around naked, have sex with each other, share their money, and are never ever jealous. Of course, it’s not all loving acceptance. Although we are exposed to plenty of free love among women, we are told in no uncertain terms that male on male action is just not cool. I guess we know what was going on in Heinlein’s mind in his middle age.

But beyond the repetitive sex scenes, we are forced to endure long-winded philosophical dissertations on living free without jealousy and eating your friends to honor them when they die, and the secrets to living in peace—basically not giving a shit about anyone including yourself. The characters are two-dimensional and predictable. It’s way too long (Really, fifty pages would be too long), it’s preachy, it’s incredibly sexist, and it’s boring. And to all the people out there giving this book four and five stars, I now look at you differently. You’re a little creepy.—Christina Knowles

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