Stranger in a Strange Land:
A Precedent for Faul?
by Lewis Carroll 8.22.2013
(the excerpt from the book is for educational purposes only)
One of today's widely recognized science fiction all-time classics is the 1961 novel by Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land. It's been sitting on a shelf in my rather large collection of classic fiction books for years, but recently I decided to add it to my current reading list. Imagine my surprise when Chapter 5 revealed a passage about a corrupt government using a double to fool the public.
Heinlein creates the following scenario in the beginning of the book: in the future, when the world is united into 'the Federation' (New World Order), a manned spacecraft travels to Mars for the first time. Two of the crew are taking their baby with them to Mars. The ship crashes and only the baby survives as the lone castaway. The baby is adopted by Martians and grows to be a man, knowing only the Martian culture.
Another Federation spacecraft is sent to Mars to rescue the young man named Valentine Michael Smith and to bring him back to Earth, which they do successfully. Smith, bewildered, confused and in no satisfactory mental state to be introduced to the public, languishes in a high security, heavily guarded hospital room. The press and the public are very eager to see and hear the now world famous Smith in order to be reassured that everything is alright, normal and that Smith is happy and healthy.
Joe Douglas, the Secretary General of the Federation, introduces Smith on live, worldwide 'stereo tank' (3-D holographic television). Watching the broadcast are Jill, one of Smith's nurses, and her boyfriend, an investigative reporter named Ben. They have been paranoid (for good reason) that secret agents have been watching their every move. Ben had outfitted Jill with a secret recording device to use when she was in the hospital room of Smith, the 'Man from Mars'. The corrupt Douglas, surrounded by his corrupt staff and secret police, stages the live propaganda event, introducing to the media and the public an impostor, a double for Smith...
"---and so, friends, I have the honor to bring you now our fellow citizen Valentine Michael Smith, the Man from Mars! Mike, we all know you are tired and have not been well --- but will you say a few words to your friends? They all want to see you."
The stereo scene in the tank dissolved to a semi-close-up of a man in a wheel chair. Hovering over him like a favorite uncle was Douglas and on the other side of the chair was a nurse, stiff, starched and photogenic.
Jill gasped. Ben whispered fiercely, "Keep quiet! I don't want to miss a word of this."
The interview was not long. The smooth babyface of the man in the chair broke into a shy smile; he looked at the cameras and said, "Hello, folks. Excuse me for sitting down. I'm still weak." He seemed to speak with difficulty and once the nurse interrupted to take his pulse.
In answer to Douglas, he paid compliments to Captain van Tromp and the crew of the Champion, thanked everyone for his rescue, and said that everyone on Mars was terribly excited over contact with Earth and that he hoped to help in welding strong and friendly relations between the two planets. The nurse interrupted again, but Douglas said gently, "Mike, do you feel strong enough for just one more question?"
"Sure, Mr. Douglas --- if I can answer it."
"Mike, what do you think of the girls here on Earth?"
The baby face looked awestruck and ecstatic and turned pink. The scene dissolved again to the head and shoulders of the Secretary General. "Mike asked me to tell you," he went on in fatherly tones, "that he will be back to see you as soon as he can. He has to build up his muscles, you know. The gravity of Earth is as rough on him as the gravity of Jupiter would be to us. Possibly next week, if the doctors say he is strong enough." The scene shifted back to the exponents of Wise Girl lozenges (commercial sponsor) and a quick one-act playlet made clear that a girl who did not use them was not only out of her mind but undoubtedly a syntho in the hay, as well; men would cross the street to avoid her. Ben switched to another channel, then turned to Jill and said, moodily, "Well, I can tear up tomorrow's column and look around for a new subject to plug. They not only made my today's squawk look silly but it appears that Douglas has him safely under his thumb."
"That's not the Man from Mars!"
"What? Baby, are you sure?"
"Sure I'm sure! Oh, it looked like him, it looked a great deal like him. Even the voice was similar. But it was not the patient I saw in that guarded room."
Ben tried to shake her conviction. He pointed out that several dozen other persons were known to have seen Smith --- guards, interns, male nurses, the captain and crew of the Champion, probably others. Quite a few of that list must have seen this newscast --- or at least the administration would have to assume that some of them would see it and spot the substitution... if there had been a substitution. It did not make sense --- too great a risk.
Jill did not offer logical rebuttal; she simply stuck out her lower lip and insisted that the person on stereo (TV) was not the patient she had met. Finally, she said angrily, "All right, all right, have it your own way! I can't prove I'm right --- so I must be wrong. Men!"
"Please take me home."
Ben silently went for a (flying) cab. He did not accept one from outside the restaurant even though he no longer thought that anyone would be taking interest in his movements; he selected one from the landing flat of a hotel across the way. Jill remained chilly on the flight back. Presently Ben got out the transcripts of the sounds picked up from Smith's hospital room and reread them. He read them still again, thought for a while, and said, "Jill?"
"Yes, Mr. Caxton?"
"I'll 'mister' you! Look, Jill, I'm sorry, I apologize. I was wrong."
"And what leads you to this momentous conclusion?"
He slapped the folded papers against his palm. "This Smith could not possibly have been showing this behavior yesterday and the day before and then have given that interview tonight. He would have flipped his controls... gone into one of those trance things."
"I am gratified that you have finally seen the obvious."
"Jill, will you kindly kick me in the face a couple of times, then let up? This is serious. Do you know what this means?"
"It means they used an actor to fake an interview. I told you that an hour ago."
"Sure. An actor and a good one, carefully typed and coached. But it implies much more than that. As I see it, there are two possibilities. The first is that Smith is dead and ---"
"Dead!" Jill suddenly was back in that curious water-drinking ceremony (Martian cultural rite she saw Smith perform in his hospital room) and felt the strange , warm, unworldly flavor of Smith's personality, felt it with unbearable sorrow.
"Maybe. In which case this ringer will be allowed to stay 'alive' for a week or ten days, until they have time to draw up whatever papers they want him to sign. Then, the ringer will 'die' and they will ship him out of town, probably with a hypnotic injunction not to talk so strong that he would choke up with asthma if he tried to spill it --- or maybe even a transorbital lobotomy if the boys are playing for keeps. But if Smith is dead, we can just forget it; we'll never be able to prove the truth. So let's assume that he is still alive."
"Oh, I do hope so."
"If he is still alive, it could be that there is nothing sinister about it. After all, a lot of public figures use doubles for some of their appearances; it does not even annoy the public because every time a yokel thinks that he has spotted a double it makes him feel smart and in the know. So it may be that the administration has just yielded to public demand and given them that look at the Man from Mars we have all been yapping for. It could be that in two or three weeks our friend Smith will be in shape to stand the strain of public appearances, at which time they will trot him out. But I doubt it like hell!"
"Use your pretty curly head. The Honorable Joe Douglas has already made one attempt to squeeze out of Smith what he wants... and failed miserably. But Douglas can't afford to fail. So I think he will bury Smith deeper than ever... and that is the last we will ever see of the true Man from Mars."
"Kill him?" Jill said slowly.So, there you have it. A word for word excerpt from the 1961 science fiction classic, Stranger in a Strange Land. The explanations in parentheses were my own.