As the end of the semester comes closer, I decided to recommend a great book for you to read over the summer break. A book that presses to answer many deep philosophical questions, like “Is there life on other planets?”, “If so, what is the culture of these life forms?”, and “What would their customs be like?” If you’re anything like me, these questions seem pertinent to everyday life, and after reading this book, you might be convinced that you’re the one from another planet.
The book I’m recommending is the classic novel, “Stranger in a Strange Land”, by Robert A. Heinlein. This fantastic sci-fi masterpiece is the story of a man by the name of Valentine Michael Smith. Michael was born of human parents, but not just any parents; his parents were astronauts who were on a voyage to Mars. It was on Mars where Michael was raised, in a Martian fashion. He grew up learning all the Martian ways of life, from language to customs, and even Martian mind powers.
The book is split into five distinct sections. The first part, “His Maculate Origin,” tells of how Michael came to Earth. Upon arrival, Michael is held within a hospital and kept under strict surveillance. He is not considered to be dangerous, but he is so fragile at this point that his body feels crushed by the Earth’s gravity. He knows nothing of the world of his parents. He is only visited by a few doctors, who perform regular check-ups and a nurse who brings him food and, most importantly, water. To Martians, the sharing of water is one of the most sacred acts for two people to take part in, and the nurse Jill, who shares water with Michael, immediately becomes his first Earthly “water brother”, a term which refers to the most intimate relationship to uphold, based upon absolute trust and honesty. From that point on, Michael rarely ever leaves Jill’s side. Eventually, Jill helps Michael escape the hospital and the fate of being experimented on.
The two flee to the mansion of famous lawyer Jubal Harshaw. Jill pleads with Jubal to help them, and he eventually decides to assist them after witnessing Michael’s phenomenal mind powers and realizing he was sovereign to an entire planet. Jubal takes this case to a conference of the world governments and wins in favor of Michael. They return to Jubal’s fortified home in order to begin what is called “His Eccentric Education.”
Michael learns all about the Earth and its human inhabitants through the study of literature, art, science, and religion. He briefly studies about a modern religion based on the celebration of intoxication, lust, and greed, but is quickly turned off by its lack of explanation.
After learning all he can from books, Michael and Jill decide to leave Jubal’s home to travel and learn about human life hands on. Michael soon joins a traveling circus with a magic act, and while performing meets many fascinating characters. During this time in his life, Michael begins developing his own philosophies on life, and decides to start a religion of his own.
He builds himself a temple and commune for his followers to live. He basis his religion off the idea that everyone can “grok” (drink deeply) god through the simple acts of sharing water or physical intimacy. Michael’s church grows in members, holding Jubal as a father figure, but is met by severe persecution. Eventually, while attempting to bring an angry mob to bay, Michael is stoned to death. In an act to “grok” Michael completely, his followers dine on a stew of his remains, another Martian tradition.
This is a beautiful story about love and devotion. It holds many metaphorical references to the Christian faith, including Michael’s martyrdom, and is considered by myself to be my personal “bible.”