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…