By Steve Davidson
I had to skip last week’s entry due to time pressures and promised that I’d be taking a look at Norstrilia this week after having just re-read it.
I’m still pressed for time but I dared not skip another post here; I’ve been stealing bits and pieces of time here and there trying to come up with a way to look at Norstrilia that was anything but a review. Doing a review would have been fairly easy, but fairly boring too.
As these thing happen, it suddenly occurred to me that there is a great deal of concision between Norstrilia and another novel that I’ve probably read twice as much over the years (though not as recently) – Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land.
The Planet Buyer (the first half of Norstrilia) first appeared in Galaxy a few years after SIASL was published – so there is a possibility that it is an ‘answer’ to that work.
It’s probably more likely that both stories share ur-tale (or perhaps xtian allegory) roots and that is about their only commanality. But the similarities – across the divide of vastly different styles – remain intriguing.
Valentine Michael Smith is raised by Martians – and comes to Earth. Rod McBan the 151st is raised by humans – on a world that has remained outside the Instrumentality, and comes to Earth.
Both characters endure a resurrection of sorts – Rod in the Garden of Death (after having been forced into childhood numerous times); Smith IS a child and spends the first half of SIASL maturing (after being ‘resurrected’ back to Earth).
Both are beset by strange powers – Rod by a lack of hiering and spieking, Smith by his posession of arcane Martian abilities: both characters are set outside the mainstream by this conflict of normal with abnormal.
Both spend a period of time at the circus – Smith literally as a carny and Rod in his trip through the market to the shop of Heart’s Desire. Interestingly, a specific detail joins these two – both feature money in barrels, free for the taking.
Rod ‘buys’ thousands of wives – Smith sleeps with just about everyone.
Each is strongly influenced by a single woman – Smith by Jillian Boardman, Rod by C’Mell and each acquires an aged mentor – Smith in Jubal Harshaw, Rod through several stand-ins – Jestocost and the E’telikeli primary among them.
The women share many traits, even down to being in similar professions.
Both are seeking to be ‘truly human’, and both find that their plan for accomplishing this task falls short of the mark; Smith is sacrificed while Rod goes home to Norstrilia to await the coming of the Queen: each of them reaches their goal following a period if intense self-examination – Smith through grokking what it means to be a person, and Rod figuring out that he really didn’t need a Penny Black after all.
Perhaps it’s just a shared homage to Campbellian themes – but I still think there remains a chance that Norstrilia was commentary on Stranger and that it found Stranger wanting: you don’t need to die in order to change the world – all you have to do is buy it…
There’s an article in the blog from last summer about this same general topic that may interest some of you:
In it, CS scholar Alan Elms comments that he doesn’t think either work is a response to the other, and says why.
OOPS! I was thinking Dune, not Stranger in a Strange Land!
Please Google “norstrilia and dune” or go to eFanzines.com and look up Bruce Gillespie’s STEAM ENGINE TIME #5.
My article “Of Haggis & Hagiography: The Uncanny provenance of Norstrilia and Dune” lays out a point-by-point concurrence of the plot structure, setting, and poetics including nearly identical dialogue of the two novels.
I don’t believe that Rod McBan and Valentine Michael Smith are interchangeable entities. Valentine Michael Smith is set up to be an exemplary person as he matures into Earthly adulthood; Rod McBan is simply an entertaining protagonist who is a fish out of water on Earth. You can look in vain for more than glancing parallels between the two characters or their adventures in Norstrilia versus Stranger in a Strange Land.
No, the only thing the books have in common is that they are both fables in an science-fictional setting. And, of course, that they are both superlative works of fiction.
I’d hardly call VMS’s road the path to exemplary humanness – after all, he was stoned to death by the very society that defined that term.
I don’t think I made a case for them being interchangeable either in my piece; in fact, if (as the contention goes) The Planet Buyer WAS an “answer” to SIASL, Rod would more likely be the opposite of VMS or a foil to VMS.
Neither is Rod just an “entertaining protagonist”; he grows to a man throughout the entire novel and the Heart’s Desire shop scene is nothing if not metaphor for that entire journey.
Indeed – significantly – once he has matured, he no longer needs Earth – just as VMS no longer needs corporate existence there. Both will be going on to manipulate and influence events on the homeworld, using arcane and mystical abilities, from a great distance…
Is it possible that Dune has taken ideas from C. Smith? Norstilia is like Dune, with ‘stroon’ which is like ‘spice’. Of course Dune is also a planet with a monoploly on a necessary resource like the Arabian desert with oil as it’s critical resource.
I guess many have noticed that manshonyagger is similar to meshuggener (crazy fool). Anyway thank you for reading this and give us readers hints as to other leads to follow if you have time.
Search dune in the search box for a lot more about this, granule.
I think what is really going on with Norstrillia is that Smith tapped into the ‘UR’ tale (in a unique and refreshing way), which makes us able to find close comparisons between his novel and many others.
I was struck the other day by the closeness of many aspects of the Instrumentality (as a concept realized both through the novel and other stories) to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis…
Steve. I apologize for insulting you by asking if you’d read Norstrilia and/or SIASL.
I was simply surprised by your statement that Michael Valentine Smith wasn’t an exemplary character in SIASL. That much becomes obvious from the first chapter of the book, in the narrative where his ability to go into deep trances and his amazing capacity to take up new information from his surroundings are revealed. That Mike is something far beyond human ken becomes even more obvious the night when Jubal has him make things “go away” – the very same night of the S.S. raid on Jubal’s home, when he makes a armored vehicle full of troopers and the troopers who’ve already dismounted from another such gunship “go away” while in deep trance in the bottom of Jubal’s pool.
I wasn’t being rude intentionally – simply wondering if the entire build-up during SIASL towards Michael’s martyrdom and reappearance in heaven as an Archangel had gotten past you.
Before his death, Michael’s last conversation with Jubal while he’s still corporate is as much a testament to his own (and everyone else’s) claim to Godhood as the story of the Incarnation and the Resurrection are to Jesus of Nazareth.
By contrast, Rod McBan submits to what must be. He has no special powers arising from his own knowledge early on in Norstrilia. His family computer save him from death, by making him the wealthiest man in the Universe, and someone it is expedient for the Instrumentality of Man to bring to Manhome (Earth).
But he didn’t cause that to happen except to sign financial documents his computer drafted for him in a long night of that world’s equivalent of leveraged buyouts, at the end of which he comes out with incredible wealth. It’s only after that that he comes to the notice of the Instrumentality of Man and is sent to Earth.
Rod’s several adventures on Earth are mediated by Lord Jestocost and the Underpeople in the Holy Insurrection – one of whom, C’mell, is his escort. His seizure like shrieking as he spieks serve him as a weapon, but they’re clumsy and not the same thing as Mike’s finely tuned ability to selectively make things “go away.”
We seem to agree that Rod is more catalyst than Christ, but you seem to miss that Mike actually comes to learn – not through spiritual growth, but simple self-awareness – why he was sent to Earth by the Martians (as the wetware equivalent of a spy drone), and resolves to share his abilities with those people on Earth who can learn how and when to use them.
Michael Valentine Smith becomes the prophet and martyr of the “church” he founds to save humanity by giving it the same powers the Martians have (but with the much more rapid pace of life of the human race, so that they will be ready when the Martians finally decide to destroy Earth). But SIASL satirizes Christianity and all other Earthly religions; Michael himself disclaims any supernatural nature for his “church”, it’s just the easiest way to share what he knows with others on Earth quickly.
By contrast, while Rod McBan’s adventures are powerful (including the dream he is given of a marriage on Norstrilia to C’Mell), he’s programmed into them.
Rod McBan’s redemptive acts are to give his money to the Holy Insurgency, then to return to Norstrilia with the prosthesis in his ear that allows him to spiek and hier normally – knowing that some of his children will inherit his defect and die in the Giggle Room.
That is an awesome act of Christian resignation, one which only those of us who have had children die before them can fully understand. Rod could have avoided this by becoming a Renunciant; he chose to remain a loyal Norstrilian and accept the harrowing cost.
Yes, I read SIASL and Norstrilia. Again, I regret you took my question “Have you read SIASL?” badly, it was not (as you say) an INTENDED insult. I really wondered how you missed Michael Valentine Smith’s exemplary nature – until he shared his knowledge with other humans of how to grok as a Martian, he was truly exemplary – a “one-off”, if you will.
That’s all I have to say in defense of my contentions. I wish you and everyone else here good fortune and health, and hope I’ve explained what I was saying better than I did before.