Catching up with Classics: Podkayne of Mars
Posted January 17, 2011on:
As I’ve got a shelf of Heinlein and Asimov, and some other golden oldies, I hope to make Catching Up With Classics a semi-regular feature. The old skool stuff might not be as high tech, but it’s got it’s value. Depending on when you were born you either grew up with this stuff, or if you were born a little later I’ll bet most of your favorite SF authors grew up on this stuff. Let’s kick it off with Robert Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars.
Podkayne of Mars, by Robert Heinlein
written in: 1963 (but reprinted last year!)
where I got it: purchased for pennies at an estate sale
why I read it: Because one can never read too much Heinlein.
She might be only eight and a half in Mars years, and over twenty in Venus years, but in Earth years Podkayne Fries is in her late teens, and a total babe. Bright but sheltered, beautiful but bi-racial, she’s about to learn that Mars really is the backwater.
Through a “happy” accident followed by a lucrative out of court settlement, Poddy finds herself travelling first class through the solar system with her bratty but brilliant brother and her politician uncle. The book is written as entries into her digital diary, and occasionally her brother hacks in and leaves funny messages.
The blurb on the back of the book is especially hilarious:
Tomorrow’s answer to the anti-missile-missile, Podkayne of Mars. An interplanetary bombshell who rocked the constellations when she invaded the Venus Hilton and attached the mighty mechanical men with a strange, overpowering blast of highly explosive Sex Appeal.
Makes you think the whole thing is a raunchy romance, doesn’t it? Believe me when I say Podkayne of Mars is completely rated PG. Poddy might be a beautiful bombshell of a babe, but she was raised on Mars, one of the most conservative areas of the solar system! Truly a fun romp of a young adult scifi novel, I think there might be one chaste kiss in the whole book. Podkayne likes boys a whole lot, but she likes playing with cosmetics, fun clothes, and spying on her brother more.
For her Uncle Tom, the interstellar first-class trip is all about political manuvering and networking, but for Podkayne and her brother Clark, this is their opportunity to escape Mars for the first time, to see the natives of Venus and see how 8 billion people live on Earth. It doesn’t take long for Poddy to realize her brother has smuggled something dangerous in her luggage, and that the rest of bourgoisie of the solar system see Mars as a filthy backwater teeming with criminals. It’s true that earlier generations used Mars as a penal colony (think the Lunar colony in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but a few generations down the line), but these days any healthy person can immigrate to Mars, and to Poddy, it’s home and heaven. This isn’t the only Heinlein novel where he doesn’t shy away from being blunt about racism.
Podkayne of Mars certainly isn’t the deepest book you’ll ever read, but that’s okay. Most of the plot revolves around Podkayne making some friends here and there, meeting an eligible bachelor on Venus, and trying to figure exactly what her sneaky brother is up to! Along the way she gets some hard lessons in what the world is really like, and how mean people can really be. Podkayne has a few rough times, but in general this is a super cute book. If it was a manga, it would be a best selling shojo.
Something I really love about this old skool classic scifi is that it was written before mankind realized all the things we couldn’t do. We hadn’t yet realized what a pain it is to get to the Moon, let alone Mars. We weren’t quite sure what was under the Venusian cloud cover. We just didn’t know yet, which meant anything was possible. These books are full of hope and possibility, something that’s really been on the downslide lately with the much darker fantasy and dystopian SF making headlines.
On the down side, Podkayne is most certainly a Heinein girl. Beautiful and brilliant, but naive and submissive to the point of silliness. If her Uncle or father told her to jump off a bridge, I think she’d do it. Friday is one of my favorite Heinlein novels, but after I while it had the same problem. It was great to have a female protagonist who was beautiful and smart and brave, but in the end both Podkayne and Friday always submit to what a man says. I’m not sure if these characters aren’t confident in their own decision making skills, or if Heinlein was just the biggest sexist pig ever, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post. Don’t let this be a turn off if you’re a Heinlein virgin or wondering if Podkayne of Mars is apporpriate for your 12 year old (it’s perfectly appropriate), it’s just something you should be aware of.
Reading Heinlein is sometimes more a study of social mores of the first half of the 20th century that just run of the mill off the shelf science fiction. I think science fiction of that time was written of the mindset that humans would one day be able to do anything and travel anywhere, but traditional gender roles weren’t going anywhere.