|Part of the iconic cover art of the paperback version of Stranger in a Strange Land...millions of copies sold!|
Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
by Robert Heinlein
There is an urban legend that Scientology was the result of a bar bet between Heinlein and fellow sci-fi writer L.Ron Hubbard. It makes a certain amount of sense, particularly right after you finish reading Stranger in a Strange Land, which is about a "Man from Mars" who returns to Earth and- wait for it- starts his own religion based on principles of free love and communism. Stranger in a Strange Land wasn't any kind of a critical hit, rather it was the first science fiction title to ever reach the top of the Best Seller chart. It sold millions of copies, and was the recipient of a longer "directors cut" version of the novel, which is now the standard, that runs over 500 pages long.
Fifty years on, there isn't much shocking about Stranger in a Strange Land. Early 1960s science fiction of this sort, and the sort written by Vonnegut, wasn't progressive in terms of gender politics, and much of the feminist criticisms of the free love movement lay lurking in the weeds of Stranger in a Strange Land's grok-heavy Martian inspired religion. Heinlein's few of the near future has a distinctly 50's vibe: flying cars have arrived, but computers are absent. Like most science fiction, Stranger in a Strange Land, whether it makes anyone think in 2016 depends entirely on whether that person is utterly unfamiliar with all the ideas that the book itself helped inspire in the 1960s: free love, communes, alternative religion.