The cover touts this as “The Most Famous Science Fiction Novel Ever Written.” All of my friends seem to like it, all of the world seems to consider it a masterpiece, but I thought this was one of the most disappointing, over-hyped books I have ever read. I could barely make it through this novel.
The Good: Heinlein provides an interesting look, at least at first, at how an alien creature might behave upon meeting Earthlings. We follow the story of Valentine Michael “Mike” Smith, the first human born on Mars, who was raised by Martians. The look at alien thought processes was intriguing. I particularly liked the water-brother ritual and the relationships that grew from there.
The Bad: Despite my nonstop litany of “It's a product of its time”, I just could not get over the astounding amount of sexism in this book. It's filled with my personal peeve of constantly referring to grown women as “girls” (even though a character speaks up and points out that Mike is a man when someone refers to him as “boy”), but it also constantly refers to them as dear, honey, broads, pretty foot (my personal favorite), etc. Women are constantly treated dismissively and condescendingly, with all of them just peachy keen with the whole situation. Lest I think maybe I'm making a big deal out of nothing and letting my delicate sensibilities get the best of me, he actually says – has a female character say! – “Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it's partly her fault.” I'm surprised that I managed to read past that line and finish the book out.
Our other main character, Jubal, is simply a mouthpiece for Heinlein to philosophize and wax “poetic” on any old thought that comes to mind. He's supposed to be a wise father figure, but he's more like that drunk uncle who insists on leading all conversations because he's the only one worth listening to. A lot of his musings seem to be about Mike's eventual free love (but definitely, unequivocally, 100% no homo) ideology and religion in general. Maybe in the 60s this was some astonishing insight into morality and breaking free of the bonds of man/humanity, but I found it dull and self-masturbatory.
The scenes in “heaven” were as ridiculous as the churches he created.
I don't see the appeal.