Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

November 16, 2016

‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ TV series being developed at Syfy

The first edition, hardcover
The polyamory movement wouldn't be what it is today had it not been for Robert Heinlein's science-fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land, published in 1961. It laid out a vision of polyamorous group relationship with a purity like nothing readers of the time had ever seen. It has been called one of the books that made the 1960's happen. It changed countless lives, including mine. As late as the 2000's, when you asked any group of poly activists what got them started, some always cited Stranger. In fact, Stranger's most important early apostle and his life partner created the word polyamory itself (during a kitchen-table brainstorming in about 1988; see the 2015 updates to that link).

You can read more in my 2010 piece, Polyamory, Robert Heinlein, and his definitive new biography.

Few who come into the poly movement today have heard of Stranger, and the book itself has not aged well. It's casually sexist and homophobic, its science-fiction projections of the future (the story is set around 2000) were ridiculously naive, it has structural problems (its first two thirds and crucial last third were written a few years apart, with somewhat different thrusts) — and as a guide for real life it's useless: everything rests on magic psychic superpowers learned from Martians, via Heinlein's infatuation with the long-forgotten metaphysics of General Semantics.

But it's still a heck of a thought-provoker, not to mention adventure story, and those who love it always will, dearly.

Various projects to make a movie of Stranger have foundered during the last 55 years. Now, at long last, it looks like it will come to the screen, as a TV series.

Don't you dare screw this up, Syfy, or I will COME AND GET YOU!

From Variety:

‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ Being Developed at Syfy

By Daniel Holloway

Universal Cable Productions and Paramount Television are teaming to develop a series adaptation of Robert Heinlein’s 1961 science-fiction novel “Stranger in a Strange Land” for Syfy.

A piece of the American science fiction canon, “Stranger in a Strange Land” tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human born on Mars who comes to earth in early adulthood and eventually transforms its culture. The television adaptation will be executive produced by Brad Fischer, James Vanderbilt and William Sherak of Mythology Entertainment; Scott Rudin, Garrett Basch and Eli Bush of Scott Rudin Productions; and Joe Vecchio of Vecchio Entertainment. Mythology’s Julia Gunn will be co-executive producer.

“Paramount TV is excited to have the opportunity to adapt Robert Heinlein’s seminal work of science fiction,” said Paramount TV president Amy Powell. “This novel has resonated with me since college and there’s a reason it has continued to find new fans for over forty years. Syfy’s understanding of imaginative and futuristic programming is unmatched, making them an ideal partner for this series.”...

The whole item, written from a press release (November 15, 2016).

Forbes article:

...Although Stranger in a Strange Land began as a cult favorite when it was published in 1961, its cult status didn’t last long. It won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1962, one of four of Heinlein’ s books to win the coveted prize. (The others were Double Star, Starship Troopers, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.) Stranger was the first science fiction novel to make the New York Times bestseller list, and the US Library of Congress included it in an exhibition called The Books That Shaped America.

Writing in the New York Times, Michael Dirda characterized The Books That Shaped America as an exhibition that

puts on display what one might call the classics of upset and troublemaking. When first published, these books shocked people, made them angry, shook up their deepest beliefs. They shamed readers with accounts of racism, greed, corruption, Puritanism and provincial narrow-mindedness.

Stranger did all of that. It’s about a human raised by Martians named Valentine Michael Smith who is discovered on Mars and returned to Earth. Smith is baffled by human culture and society, and he proceeds to found the Church of All Worlds that promotes communal living and uninhibited sexuality. Some have seen Stranger as foreseeing aspects of the mid-to-late ’60s counterculture that the media labeled as “free love” and “hippies” (we didn’t called ourselves that).

Heinlein was not happy with the version of Stranger that became famous.1 His original manuscript ran to something like 220,000 words but his publisher, Putnam, insisted it be cut to approximately 160,000. In 1991 Heinlein’s widow, Virginia Heinlein, renewed the book’s copyright and had the original manuscript published in its entirety.

Whether or not SyFy’s version will please the book’s many fans remains to be seen. SyFy did a good job adapting the first book in James A. Corey’s Expanse series, but the prominent role played by sexuality in Stranger in a Strange Land may be too much for the network to handle. Given what’s on display (so to speak) in Westworld, HBO might have been a better option.

...Cast, directors, scriptwriters and broadcast dates have not yet been announced.

The whole article (November 16, 2016).


1. Actually, he was happy with it. In a letter to Oberon Zell (appended to this article as comment number 11), Heinlein said he thought the slimmed, speeded-up version of Stranger was the better one.


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