Podkayne Fries, age 8 1/2 (about 17 Terran years), grew up on Mars and loves every inch of it. It’s the only civilized place to live. In fact, she’s not even sure that old story about humanity being from Earth isn’t more than a fairy tale– that ancient planet is SO inhospitable to humans with its full 1G of gravity. Still, she really wants to see Earth– one would have to if one were going to be a daring and famous captain of a starship, wouldn’t one? When the opportunity arises for her and her favorite uncle… and her least favorite brother… to take a luxury cruise to Earth, she grabs it, and has the adventure of her lifetime… not realizing just how short her lifetime might be.
What has always impressed me with Heinlein’s writing is that he rarely dated his technology. He never described how a doohickey worked, only that it rendered the proper effect: “The door dilated.” In his time, they had not yet conceived of handheld computers, let alone mobile telephones, so some things that we take for granted he had to work around, but for the most part the “science” of his science fiction holds up, making it a pleasure to read 50 years after it was written. (I did have to look up what a “slide rule” was the first time I read one of his books, though.)
As with many of Heinlein’s other books, familiar archetypes abound in Podkayne of Mars, just with new names. Important characters are brilliant and beautiful. Women know how to use their beauty and smarts to their best advantage (Heinlein had a brand of feminism I kinda dig), and the men like to make things, ogle women, and shoot things…in that order. Although our heroine is extremely intelligent, she mostly gets what she wants by flirting shamelessly with the “more powerful” men around her. And she does get just about everything she wants, until she finds out that her pleasure trip actually has a much more serious, even sinister, undertone.
Oddly enough, if the original publisher had left well enough alone, that’s all I would have thought of this book– a nice, little adventure story. However, times being what they were, the original publisher, Putnam (1963), insisted that Heinlein change the ending (I won’t say how; read it yourself), and it opened up an insight into Heinlein’s message behind the story. He softened the bit they were most concerned about, and in the process left a scathing commentary on absentee parenting. As I read the two endings that Baen (1983) provided, I was struck by how different they were, not because of who lived and who died, but because in the one accepted and published, he was so much more vocal and angry than in the ending that had been rejected, which left one to draw his own conclusions about why things happened as they did. Sometimes censorship can bite you in the bum, I guess.
So. If you are ready to blast off into a future time where the men are men and the women are shameless, strap on your zero-G harness to see where future-captain Podkayne of Mars and her magnificent imagination can go.
5/5 Whatzits for girls who are sassy AND classy, and beautiful science fiction that mostly holds up.