The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

From its fairy tale, “Once upon a time” opening to its equally imaginative ending in a conventionally depicted heaven, Stranger in a Strange Land uses an unspecified future time frame to critique contemporary social mores and belief systems. Valentine Michael Smith, the protagonist, is conceived on the first flight to Mars as the son of Dr. Mary Jane Lyle Smith and Captain Michael Brant, who is not her husband. Valentine Michael Smith is discovered twenty-five years later to be the only survivor, the heir of all aboard the craft and, by the Larkin decision, the owner of Mars.

Returned from Mars, where he had been reared by Martians, he is held by the World Federation in a securely guarded hospital room. Suspicious of the federation’s intentions toward Smith because of his rights and vast wealth, journalist Ben Caxton induces nurse Gillian Boardman to rescue him. Unknown to Gillian (Jill), Ben is picked up by federation troops. She manages to elude federation police and eventually deposits Smith at the home of Jubal Harshaw, a doctor, lawyer, and all-around cynic of all aspects of contemporary American life. Smith becomes known as Mike within the casual household.

Jubal and his unusual domestic staff are fascinated by Mike’s innocence; his supranormal powers of suspended animation, telepathy, and teleportation; and his ability to discorporate when they threaten a “wrongness.” Mike attempts to share his Martian concept of...

(The entire section is 598 words.)