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The original Stranger--accept no others!
on August 21, 2015
I read Stranger in a Strange Land when it first came out in 1961. It was the most important and influential book I ever read. It changed my life, and the lives of millions of others. Inspired by SISL, I went on to create the real-life Church of All Worlds, which is still going strong over half a century later. The 1961 edition is the essential version, edited by Heinlein himself. The later unedited version issued by his widow is a travesty, as it is sloppy, and omits the single most important line in the entire original edition--Heinlein's definition of "Love" as "That condition in which another person's happiness is essential to your own." I corresponded with Mr. Heinlein extensively in the 1970s, and here are his own words regarding these two versions of SISL:
"SISL was never censored by anyone in any fashion. The first draft was nearly twice as long as the published version. I cut it myself to bring it down to a commercial length. But I did not leave out anything of any importance; I simply trimmed all possible excess verbiage. Perhaps you have noticed that it reads “fast” despite its length; that is why. I WILL FEAR NO EVIL does not read as “fast” because it never received its final trimming; I became extremely ill and could not do it, and would not allow an editor to do it because my stories are fitted together like jigsaw puzzles and it is awfully easy, in trimming, to leave out an essential piece. So I WILL FEAR NO EVIL is not as good a story as SISL, in my opinion--too slow--even though, again in my opinion, what I have said in it is just as important. But I’m pleased enough that I was able to finish it at all; it just missed being posthumous. (Mrs. Heinlein signed the contract; I was too far gone even to write my signature.)
"The original, longest version of SISL is in a fireproof vault of the library of UCSC and can be seen there by any scholar who convinces the special collection librarian that he has a legitimate interest. But it is really not worth your trouble, as it is the same story throughout--simply not as well told. With it is the brushpenned version which shows exactly what was cut out--nothing worth reading, that is. I learned to write for pulp magazines, in which one was paid by the yard rather than by the package; it was not until I started writing for the Saturday Evening Post that I learned the virtue of brevity. (And I am still too wordy in a private communication such as this, or in conversation.)"
(--Robert A. Heinlein to Oberon (Tim) Zell, 2/28/1972, personal correspondence)