My rating: 5 of 5 stars
My wife has been trying to get me to read “Stranger in a Strange Land” for years. It was always her favourite book. When we met, she told me about this great book about an alien from Mars who comes down to earth and ends up becoming like Jesus. It sounded interesting. I asked her the book’s name; she didn’t know. But, after a bit of Googling I managed to track it down, bought two copies, one for me and one for her, and handed it to her as a surprise gift. Immediately, she opened the first page, and began reading, very excited that I’d been able to track it down.
Mine went on the bookshelf, and sat there for a number of years gathering dust until I picked it up a couple of months ago to read.
So, what’s it about? Well, it’s about an alien from Mars who comes down to earth and ends up becoming like Jesus. There.
No, it’s so much more than that. In fact, I’d go so far to say it’s less an allegory of Christianity than it is one of Buddism.
Our main character is Michael Valentine Smith, a human born on Mars to human parents who were on a research envoy to the red planet. At no point in time do we see Mars, or the martian’s, but they do exist and are explained as beings out of time who essentially live forever and can “discorporate” and become a spirit. These beings are considered the Elders of the Martians whilst those remaining in corporeal form are merely the fledglings or the infants. Throughout time, the Martians have also managed to gain certain abilities that have been taught to Michael Valentine Smith. Some of these are:
- The ability to move objects with his mind
- The ability to effectively shut down his body and mind and leave his physical body
- The ability to make objects/people disappear into a kind of fourth dimension
His perceptions on reality are very much buddhist in nature, particularly upon his arrival on Earth – a place he has never been before. Mindfulness is a key tenet throughout the book, called “groking”. Upon Michael’s arrival he struggles to “grok” things and spends a lot of the book coming to understand humans, our customs, and the world in a way that only mindfulness can do. Even sinking into a meditative state to leave his pysical body is very much like mindfulness meditation (with the exception of stopping the heart from beating and lungs pumping). There’s a great scene in the book where he dives into a pool to hide, curls up into a feotal position, shuts down his body and leaves it behind to save his friends.
The book is also political in nature as certain people want to use him for their own benefit.
Religion plays a big part of the book, as Michael becomes interested in the subject. He investigates a number of religions and discovers all are lacking or incorrect in certain ways. So, he decides to create his own religion and teach his followers what he has learned from the martians.
I won’t say what happens at the end of the book, but I strongly recommend reading a copy; don’t let it sit on your bookshelf.
Pick it up, read it, and grok it fully.