Aardy R. DeVarque (aardy) wrote,
Aardy R. DeVarque
aardy

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Books that I read in May

22. Heinlein, Robert. Stranger in a Strange Land (414 p.)

23. Weiner, Robert G. Marvel Graphic Novels and Related Publications (385 p.)

May total: 799 pages
YTD total: 7406 pages

Hoo boy, I have to remember to not write as much per book if I want to get these out reasonably close to the beginning of the month.



Stranger in a Strange Land took up most of my reading time this month.

The cover of this edition trumpets it as "The most famous science fiction novel ever written" and "Here is Heinlein's masterpiece--the brilliant, spectacular and incredibly popular novel that has grown from a cult favorite to a bestseller to a classic in a few short years." That's a lot of hyperbole to live up to, especially since, as far as I can tell, it has since basically gone back to being a cult favorite. Even its immediate impacts on culture and language (e.g. "I grok Spock" showing up in the same places as "Frodo lives!") have largely faded into obscurity.

It's the story of a man raised from infancy by Martians, and taught by them to have incredible psychic powers--telekineses, telepathy, teleportation, the works. He is then "rescued" to Earth, where he tries to learn all he can about humanity. Along the way, he runs afoul of the government and after getting that straightened out, starts his own "religion" as a way to teach the rest of humanity how to think in Martian and thereby gain similar psychic powers.

In reality, Valentine Michael Smith, the "Man from Mars", isn't precisely the primary protagonist; in fact, he's one of the few characters from whose vantage point the story is *not* told. Rather, he is an impetus for change in all of the other characters, and the book is an examination of what it means to be human, of the inner workings of religion, and of the benefits to society of nudism and free sex. Given that last point, it's no wonder this book was such a hit in the mid to late 1960s.

As with most Heinlein, I liked the first half to two-thirds of the book, and enjoyed the exploration of both psychic powers and the intrigue surrounding the "fish out of water" of a person raised not just in a foreign culture, but a completely alien culture. It is after that point when the "free love" section starts, followed quickly by and entwined with Mike's founding of his own "religion" (which even he admits isn't really a religion, but rather a language/psychic powers school). And then, once again, after spending 400 pages in a slow build of plot, suddenly everything gets wrapped up and the novel ends. The ending is obviously telegraphed, though, so you can see it coming a mile away, so the denoument is not quite as much of a veer off into left field as I find is typical for Heinlein. Rather, the veer off into left field comes earlier, really starting up with the section about religion.

If I didn't know better (and looked it up just now to be certain), I'd've thought that this book inspired L. Ron Hubbard to found Scientology; there are some interesting parallels between Scientology and both the "Fosterite" pseudo-Christian church that gets the most screen time and Mike's own Church of All Worlds. (It's very possible that Hubbard inspired Heinlein, but since Heinlein had apparently been tinkering with Stranger in a Strange Land for more than a decade before it was finally published, that's hard for me to say for certain. It's more likely there are some relatively universal observations about the psychology of religion, especially that surrounding founding a new religion.)

Overall, I enjoyed it, though not as much as I did Starship Troopers. I didn't particularly enjoy the "free love" and "build a fake religion" elements that helped make it so popular in the first place, but I could appreciate how the former, at least, was a logical outgrowth of the character's origins and in-story experiences. The latter felt more bolted on and closer to the category of "was this trip really necessary?" I also thought that it was a bit more dense and meandering than it really needed to be. I don't know that it lives up to the hype (though little ever does), but I can see why it was popular and still gets read and namechecked.



Marvel Graphic Novels attempts to list and annotate every single "graphic novel" published by Marvel or featuring Marvel-owned characters published before 2005--including comics, prose novels, children's books, scholarly articles, literary criticism, role-playing game books, and reference books.

I wish this reference work had been available 10 year ago when I was working on compiling various Marvel-related comics lists, such as the list of all X-Men appearances in non-X-Men comics and the list of all X-Men graphic novels and compilation books.

Overall, it's pretty good (I was hard-pressed to come up with any notable omissions), but it's blindingly obvious that either the editor didn't know a thing about famous Marvel characters and storylines and made no effort to gain the knowledge required to copy-edit a work like this or the editor wasn't editing but rather simply ran a spellchecker over it and told it to ignore all capitalized words, as there are typos (especially in character names), grammatical errors, or (the rarest of the bunch, thankfully) factual errors on almost every page.

The author also appears to be a modern Marvel Zombie of sorts, as some of the worst excesses of Marvel's output of the 1990s and early 2000s are referred to as modern classics and must-read stories, using the sort of hyperbolic purple prose usually reserved for editorials written by Marvel's editor-in-chief.

Despite the error rate in the annotations (and the occasional entry accidentally repeated under the second author or a variant of the title), this is impressive just as a bibliography. Taken as a whole though, it's a flawed, though otherwise decent, reference work, and now I wish there were a similar book for DC graphic novels.




Feudalism: Serf & Turf
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