Let’s Read Stranger in a Strange Land, Chapter 4, Part 1

Greetings and salutations, my loyal mostly-imaginary audience (and any college admissions people who may be reading this), and welcome to the second entry in Cass Reads Stranger in a Strange Land! Man, the time between entries has been a bit longer than I thought it would be… trying to plan your blogging schedule around your depression can be like that sometimes, and I am truly sorry for making you wait this long. I will endeavor to do better in the future.

Caffeine tends to help with this issue, quite a bit. Sadly, I don’t have much of it at the moment.

Though, before I say or do anything else, I have big and slightly terrifying news! The news is that I may apparently qualify for a $30,000 scholarship to my roommates’ undergraduate alma mater, the College of Wooster. Basically, it’s a real world Miskatonic University crossed with Hogwarts, and in my more optimistic moments, I almost feel like I have a chance at getting in. So, if you’re reading this and want to reassure me that I have a shot, go right on ahead and do so in the comments, that would make me feel a lot better about going for it.

So, on to the real reason we’re all here! Chapter 4 begins with Gillian “Jill” Boardman, a nurse for whom I have a bit more respect than I do for most of the earthlings in this setting, paying a visit to Martian Softboy in the hospital because the poor thing has apparently never laid eyes on a female human before.

There was no harm in her and her hobby was men.

Yes, of course it was, Robert. Because this is the Future 1950s and that’s every girl’s hobby. Seriously, half of this is going to be me muttering “not a feminist critique, not a feminist critique, not a feminist critique” to myself over and over again.

Just saying, when I inevitably write my own sci-fi masterpiece with a similar concept to Stranger, I’m going to make Jill’s expy a lesbian.

So, on her way to visit the Softboy, she’s stopped by a doctor named Thaddeus.

He looked up. “Well, if it ain’t ‘Dimples!’ Hi, honey, what brings you here?”

She sat on the corner of his desk and reached for his cigarettes. “‘Miss Dimples,’ to you, chum; I’m on duty. This call is part of my rounds. What about your patient?”

“Don’t worry your fuzzy head about him, honey chile; he’s not your responsibility. See your order book.”

Gotta love the “Miss Dimples” comment.


But really, Tad? Sigh. As much of an amazing work of speculative fiction as Stranger in a Strange Land is, and as much as I am honestly enjoying it, there are just some moments when I realize exactly what I signed up for. This is one of those moments.


So, she manages to sneak into Smith’s hospital room, and is surprised by what she sees.

His lack of expression seemed to show the complete apathy of the desperately ill. Then she saw that his eyes were alive with interest; she wondered if his face were paralysed? No, she decided; the typical sags were lacking.

The word you’re looking for is “flat affect,” and it’s another sign that Smith is very clearly Autistic. It’s also fine. One thing I’ve learned is to never trust a face when you want to know what’s on someone’s soul.

Aside from his odd lack of expression she saw nothing strange about him – and if women were unknown to him, he was certainly managing to conceal it.

Headcanon: Martians are a dimorphic race, similar to humans, but have no concept of gender.

Is there anything I can do for you?” She glanced around, noted that there was no glass on the bedside shelf. “May I get you water?”


With great effort, scrambling for adequate meanings in his pitifully poor list of human words, he attempted to answer with due ceremoniousness. “I thank you for water. May you always drink deep.”

Nurse Boardman looked startled. “Why, how sweet!” She found a glass, filled it, and handed it to him.

He said, “You drink.”

Wonder if he thinks I’m trying to poison him? she asked herself – but there was a compelling quality to his request. She took a sip, whereupon he took the glass from her and took one also, after which he seemed content to sink back into the bed, as if he had accomplished something important.


So, a few days after I moved in, there was a series of events (I can barely remember it, honestly, but it’s not as important as the end result) that sort of… kinda led to my roommate and I sharing water? And to understand what the hell I had just done, it was suggested that I read this book (which I was doing, actually, before I was ordered to start over for the benefit of my partially imaginary audience.)

Not gonna lie. I was a little pissed, for a minute, that I had apparently entered into a lifelong pact without my knowledge or conscious agreement, but honestly… that passed a lot more quickly than it would have if anyone else had done the same thing. I already trusted her with my life and considered her my family on a level beyond any that can be described, so it wasn’t really anything but an affirmation of feelings and commitments that already existed.

The thing is that it wasn’t just my roommate. It was my roommate being temporarily occupied by my Patron.



So, did I bond with her, or with Him?

I have asked them both this question, and the answer seems to be “Yes.”

On with the story then. Let’s do this. Gender weirdness, here we come!

She stirred restively. “Well? I look like a woman, don’t I?”

“I do not know,” Smith answered slowly. “How does woman look? What makes you woman?”

“Well, for pity’s sake!” Jill realized confusedly that this conversation was further out of hand than any she had had with a male since about her twelfth birthday. “You don’t expect me to take off my clothes and show you!”

I’m not sure what to say here, because this entire scene is just miscommunication on all sides. Softboy asks Jill if she is a woman, and what the definition of that is. Jill has no idea how to respond to this, so she does what it makes perfect sense to do in the Future 1950s, and take it as a sexual solicitation. I can’t really fault her for this.

I do love the fact that from his angle, it’s viewed so innocently. (I wonder if anyone has reimagined Smith as a male version of the Born Sexy Yesterday trope, a la George of the Jungle. Personally, I don’t like that trope on anyone of any gender, but I am curious.) He is genuinely confused about this earth human gender thing.

(It’s worth noting also that I’m taking this as more proof of my “Martians are dimorphic but culturally monogender” theory. )

And… he is apparently an empath, and can sense her emotional disruption at his suggestion that she show him “what a woman looks like.” Apparently, Martian civilization cultivates such an atmosphere of peace and happiness that he takes her anger as a sign that she is about to die. Right there. In front of him. Cue about half a page of his internal monologue (which is the most interesting part of the book by far) of a distressed Martian softboy trying and mostly failing to grok exactly what he did wrong and why the person he literally just capital-B Bonded with is leaving him so soon.

He does, it is important to note, realize that she is not, in fact, about to leave her body.

Instead, she leaves the hospital, with a flirtatious comment that “you might ask me again, real prettily, under other circumstances.”

I mean, as “person raised by aliens asks me to take off my clothes” responses go, that’s… well, not the best, but it ranks slightly above being so offended that said person raised by aliens thinks you might keel over as a result.

If someone does something that is wrong, and they are not aware of why it is wrong, the correct response is to very explicitly tell them why. Why isn’t that a social rule?

Side note: This future has synthetic meat. Finally, I can go vegan.

Out he was happy that the emotional flavor of them had been suitable for communication between water brothers – although touched with something else both disturbing and terrifyingly pleasant. He thought about his new brother, the woman creature, and felt odd tingles run through him.

Oh please don’t let this be sexual attraction. I mean, I’m certain it will be, knowing Heinlein, but I’m just going to make a very calculated point of not doing this when I inevitably write my as-yet-unnamed story with the same basic concept as Stranger.

In the interests of Getting This Done Today, this is where I leave you. Thank you all, once again, for tagging along with me on this… let’s call it a journey, that we’re taking. I’ll have the rest of my Chapter 4 review up tomorrow.

His devoted Acolyte and Agent,

Cassandra of Oakdown


2 thoughts on “Let’s Read Stranger in a Strange Land, Chapter 4, Part 1

  1. When I was reading this I kept coming back to my dad (who got me to read the book because I really want to read “The Cat Who Walked Through Walls” but this book is the top of the list of what I need to read first to fully enjoy it.) and I complained to him about how sexist the characters were! He kept reminding me it’s a product of it’s time.
    But I am glad I did finish it.

    You totally have a shot to that scholarship!!!


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