Stranger in a Strange Land | Study Guide

Robert A. Heinlein

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Stranger in a Strange Land | Part 1, Chapters 1–2 : His Maculate Origin | Summary



Part 1, Chapter 1

The first human mission to Mars was made up of eight people—four married couples. The mission was supposed to take just short of one thousand days, there and back. The ship—the Envoy—reached Mars. But then communication stopped.

Part 1, Chapter 2

Six years later, an unmanned space probe, the Zombie, took photos of Mars. These photos showed evidence of habitation by intelligent life. Due to World War III, a second manned expedition to Mars was not launched until about 25 years after the Envoy mission. When the Champion's crew members reached Mars, they found the planet inhabited. They also found one survivor of the Envoy's mission.


The novel begins with the fairytale start, "Once upon a time," an odd choice for a work of science fiction. Yet the novel is not written in a fairytale style, and it does not feature princesses or wicked stepmothers. Instead, it has the flavor of a myth or religious text, complete with angels and martyrs. Late in the book, Jubal Harshaw draws a parallel between Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid and the main character Valentine Michael Smith.

From another perspective, this opening phrase suggests a timelessness that is at odds with the story's concrete setting in a post-WWIII world in which the United States is part of a larger Federation and space colonization is a reality. The opening thus suggests the story related here is just one instance of a story that is told over and over through history. Valentine Michael Smith then becomes a stand-in for all those who, through history, sought to alleviate the suffering of humanity and make a way for greater freedom and unity and were persecuted for their attempts.

Maculate means spotted or stained. Smith was born of a human union, unlike Christ, whose Immaculate Conception was supposed to be of divine origin. Therefore, the novel implies, Smith's nature is more like our own and easier to emulate.

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