I Grok – A Mini-post

“What’s all this ‘we’ stuff?”

“It was a full Sharing-Water of all the Nest, as you grok—you were there. Mike woke up for it . . . and grokked with you and kept us all together.”

Computer geeks have grokked that grok is the best word to describe their self-styled mastery of coding, and not just mastery, but as Michael Valentine Smith might have said, “I grok you, Jubal.” The implication being that to grok means to fully take in and become one with Linix.

In the Heinlein novel, from whence came “grok” and Michael Valentine Smith, the word is understood instantly by the Terran humans who befriend Mike. Jill, Jubal and the others insert it into the English lexicon with ease. It’s quite understandable that the word has floated into wide usage in the Land of Tech.

I am amused to see this word embedded into blogs, forums, and You-tube training videos. As one of the Baby-boom (I wish we had a cooler name for our generation. Millennials are so lucky!) readers of Stranger in a Strange Land a few years after its release in 1961 I was quite familiar with the word; it came into our rebellious, weed-fogged vocabulary of the era. I too, as were others, was “blown away” by the philosophically spiritual freshness of grok, discorporation, water-brother and even the Martian definition of “food”. I’d never heard of Robert A. Heinlein before this. My introduction to science fiction was via Ray Bradbury and Ron Serling and the Space Cat books.

Interpretation of the book varied widely, from critics who described it as a “disastrous mish mash” to critics celebrating the comic aspects. To us it was a bible, a personal guide to the spiritual journey, along with Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha and mescaline.

Heinlein was pleased.

“I was not giving answers. I was trying to shake the reader loose from some preconceptions and induce him to think for himself, along new and fresh lines. In consequence, each reader gets something different out of that book because he himself supplies the answers … It is an invitation to think – not to believe.”



About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


I Grok – A Mini-post — 5 Comments

  1. “A Stranger in a Strange Land” was my first real introduction to SF. My father considered the bad Godzilla movies out of the ’50s to be the only SF, therefore is was banned from the house. But my husband gave me a copy of Heinlein when we were first married in the early 70s. I loved it. I went looking for more. More than just trash fiction, this book opened me to a whole new way of looking at fiction and at myself.

  2. Stranger was the first book I ever bought with my own money. It was a hardcover, too. I think I was twelve or thirteen when I read it–the ideal age, except I didn’t get the sex part. Which was fine, because neither did Valentine Michael Smith, not really. I dropped it in the bathtub while reading it (probably not for the first time) and was heavily mocked by my parents over this tragedy, but I still treasure my water-wrinkled copy.

    Heinlein had a bazillion faults that were not evident to me at that age. My father was a retired Satanist and still an armchair Nazi, and my mother believed firmly in homemaking as a career whenever she saw fit to touchdown on the planet.

    Still, this was heady stuff in the late sixties. My brain esploded. It was good.

  3. Yes, I grokked that novel while a wannabe hippie teenager, and my older sister lived on a commune where some of those ideas were put into practice.Later I realized that Heinlein novels contained a lot of creepy ideas, especially about women….

    • It was the creepy ideas about women that make me avoid Heinlein. I read two of his books, Stranger in a Strange Land and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. His female characters were so alien it kept throwing me out of the book. I’m glad his work is and was meaningful to some, but it’s not for me.

      • Same here. That is, I read them all as a young teen because in those days it was easy to read everything published in sf and f. But with age came awareness of his attitudes toward women, and I got rid of all those old paperbacks. Also, grok connoted cannibalism to me, and just . . . no. I still shudder when I see the word. It even sounds like someone with the dry heaves.