When Robert A. Heinlein completed his young adult novel Red Planet (1949), he felt he had enough unused background material for another book, which eventually became Stranger in a Strange Land. Heinlein’s Mars novels, like the works of Ray Bradbury and many other science-fiction writers, followed the speculations of astronomer Percival Lowell (1855-1916), who incorrectly postulated that Mars is or was populated by an intelligent species and that canals on the planet carry scarce water from the poles to the equatorial regions. Stranger in a Strange Land was one of the last major science-fiction stories published before the National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched exploratory probes that invalidated Lowell’s premises. Heinlein postulated Martians with mental powers so great that they previously destroyed a planet that formerly orbited the Sun between Mars and Jupiter.
In both of Heinlein’s Mars novels, the sharing of water is an important bonding ritual with deep emotional significance and meaning. In Red Planet, Heinlein describes an instance of the water-sharing ritual among native Martians. When Jill casually gives Mike a glass of water in Stranger in a Strange Land, they become “water brothers” and Mike trusts her absolutely although they have just met. Jubal Harshaw’s home has a swimming pool, which Mike considers the site of the ultimate religious experience. When Mike visits the Archangel Foster Tabernacle, he intentionally does not drink water.
Although Heinlein is usually associated with the political...
(The entire section is 655 words.)