So I’ve just finished re-reading Stranger in a Strange Land, a novel I have read many times over the course of my life. Stranger is by no means my favorite Heinlein, but I come back to it from time to time.
The novel has a curious history. According to notes published after Heinlein’s death, the concept of a “Martian Named Smith” was suggested by Heinlein’s wife Ginny in a brainstorming session to come up with a story to submit for the famous 1948 gag issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Heinlein liked the idea, but thought it would be too long a story for the magazine, and would take too long to complete. He was right on both counts.
Heinlein worked on Stranger, then known as The Heretic, for much of the 1950’s. Apparently he abandoned at least one version, starting the whole project over from page 1. It was clear to him that the final version could not be published under the moral constraints of the period. When it was finally published in 1962, it enjoyed only modest success among science fiction fans.
By the late '60s, however, the changing mores of society made the book much more acceptable, and it found a wide audience, achieving a cult status that has lasted unto the present day.
The book contains a small core of standard science fiction adventure, but is otherwise composed of equal parts moral philosophy, free-wheeling Heinleinian sex, and an odd parody of televangelist-style religions.
It’s the last part that caused me to bring this up to the Dope. What exactly was Heinlein up to in creating the oddball Fosterite church? Today, it reads like a diabolical sendup of Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral, Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson, and the rest of the fundamentalist TV preachers, with an in-your-face style and amassing political influence if not power.
But none of this existed in the 1950s when the novel was being composed, nor in 1962 when it was published. Where did he get it from?
Some of it undoubtedly was from the Mormons, then seen as a weird bunch with charismatic prophets, odd personal lives, and imposing architecture. Some of it was probably from the revival meetings common in his native Midwestern United States.
However, the Fosterites, with their party-hearty services, gambling, loose sexual strictures, etc., are so over-the-top that I wonder where it all came from. Was it just extrapolating how the more flamboyant churches of the day might interact with mass communications? Or did he have something more in mind?
I grew up in a not particularly religious family in the late '60s and early '70s. Perhaps I have difficulty understanding the inspiration for the Fosterites because I really knew little of American churches in the period.
Does anyone have more insight into this question?