Stranger in a Strange Land

by: Robert A. Heinlein

Chapters IX–XI

Chapter XI

The narrator briefly describes the Martian race. The young "Nymphs" are "fat, furry spheres" who mostly die young, and the adults resemble "ice boats under sail" and spend much of their time supervising life, telling plants when and where to grow, among other duties. The Martians do not have sex—the narrator argues that this makes them entirely different from human beings, whose creative drive is rooted entirely in sexuality. Martians have a different perception of time and they take centuries to contemplate issues and make decisions. When Martians die (or "discorporate"), their spirits go on as "Old Ones," and these Old Ones control the planet. In the past, the Old Ones have made the decision to destroy another planet after the meeting the life forms that had inhabited it.

Jubal and Jill teach "Mike," as his new friends now call Smith, to read and he begins to absorb information from Jubal's library. Mike spends much time in the swimming pool, allowing himself to sink to the bottom and go into trances. This initially frightens his friends, and Mike realizes that he can do certain things that other human beings cannot.

Jubal worries that the government will come looking for Mike soon. Jill decides that she needs to go search for Ben, but Jubal tells her that he has already hired the best private detectives. He tells her that from what he has learned he believes that Gilbert Berquist is involved with Ben's disappearance. Recognizing the name, Jill tells Jubal about how Mike had made Berquist and the police officer disappear. Jubal is intrigued, and tells Jill to fetch Mike so that he can demonstrate this power.

Analysis

Chapters IX and XI both begin with narration from the same omniscient, cosmic viewpoint with which Heinlein opened the novel. Whereas the opening compressed a great deal of time into a few pages, the paragraphs that begin these two chapters blithely cover a tremendous amount of space and science. For example, the narrator tells of various, apparently unrelated happenings all over Earth in Chapter IX and he gives brief, thumbnail descriptions of the Martian race in Chapter XI. Again, these descriptions seem comically brief—the narration implies that the Martian race is almost incomprehensibly different from our own, but we are only given the vaguest of details with which to form our own mental picture. The implication is that, from a God's perspective, the structure that holds these disparate facts together seems unimportant.

In the interactions between Douglas, Agnes, and Vesant in Chapter IX, Heinlein begins to take shots at three of the broad targets of his cultural satire: politics, religion, and capitalism. Heinlein creates comic dissonance between these characters' positions of authority and their actual, petty motivations. Douglas is the most politically powerful man on Earth, but we are shown that his wife is making most of the important decisions in his administration. He defers to her opinion not because he has ultimate faith in her political wisdom, but because he is afraid to argue with her. Agnes, meanwhile, is basing the political decisions that she and Douglas makes on astrology, a "science" that contains elements of religion and superstition. Vesant, the astrologer who is indirectly affecting the lives of billions, does not have the pure, unfettered dedication to her studies that one would hope. We see that her true passion is investing the money she makes from wealthy clients like Agnes in the stock market. Although society is founded on confidence in our institutions, this chapter illustrates that these institutions are chaotically and baselessly dependent on each other. The political leader of the world is driven by fear of his wife, who is driven by devotion to a religious science, as interpreted for her by a woman driven by obsession with her finances.

These chapters begin the part of the novel called "His Preposterous Heritage," an interesting appellation considering that Valentine Michael Smith's heredity is not particularly addressed herein. "Heritage" instead metaphorically refers to the adoptive family he will find among Jubal Harshaw and his coterie. Almost instantly, the larger than life Jubal, who as a successful doctor, lawyer, and writer seems to have no limitations to his talents, treats Smith with fatherly fondness. It only takes the space of one evening for Jubal to decide to risk everything to defend Smith, and for everyone in the household to begin fondly referring to him as "Mike." Anne, Miriam, Dorcas, and Larry—all members of the ersatz family of Harshaw's estate—are equally accepting and warm toward Mike and their other guest, Jill.