the Little Red Reviewer

Catching up with Classics: Podkayne of Mars

Posted on: January 17, 2011

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.

8 Responses to "Catching up with Classics: Podkayne of Mars"

I’m glad you enjoyed it, and your review is right on the money. I found this to be a gem of a book, sweet but not overly so, and I couldn’t help but fall madly for Poddy’s charms. One thing I think Heinlein does well is write teenage girls. They may be ones stuck in the social norms of the time, but whenever I read one of his books with a teenage girl in it I don’t feel like I’m reading a man’s version of one, if that makes sense. I found this especially true with the novella, The Menace From Earth, which I strongly suggest you read and read soon if you haven’t already.

I just listened to The Rolling Stones recently (and will soon review) and I think it is the perfect example of Heinlein’s fence-riding when it comes to women. The three women in this story, grandmother, mother and daughter, all fill very traditional roles at times: they are the only ones who cook, or who look after the youngest child. And yet mom is an accomplished doctor who stands up to her husband when it comes to having to practice medicine in dangerous conditions. And grandma is a brilliant engineer, a really sassy dame, and is bull-headed and gets right in the adventure.

I don’t feel qualified to speak on Heinlein being a sexist or not. He is definitely a product of his times in one sense, but I also think he pushed some of his female characters out there a bit farther than society was doing at the time. His short story, Delilah and the Space Rangers is another good story all on its own but is also interesting to read because it examines the entrance of women into the male workforce in a way that foresaw some of the attitudes males would exhibit many many years later when women started inhabiting roles that were long held to be male-only roles.

I echo your recommendations of Podkayne of Mars.


I feel like a jerk calling him a sexist (and just wait till I start talking about how Asimov writes women!), because I think Heinlein is exactly as you described: a product of his times. It’s not like Abraham Lincoln had a ton of female cabinet members, and no one calls him a sexist. And yes, nearly all of Heinlein’s female characters are crazy smart, crazy ambitious, and usually grow up to be doctors, engineers, skilled spies and the like. . . but the submission SO gets on my nerves!!

I think I came across Menace to Earth years ago, you don’t happen to know if it’s in a specific short story collection, do you?


I wouldn’t feel bad about that, as I doubt you are entirely wrong. Heinlein certainly had some “interesting” ideas about women and sexuality, etc., as can be seen in his later, more decidedly “adult” novels. My own personal opinion (which is again just mine) is that there is at least some evidence that he tried to portray the women in some of his books with a little more than just their typical roles. But he did not succeed in being truly forward thinking by pulling them completely out of their assigned (at the time) gender roles.

I can completely agree with and see why the submission gets on your nerves. I think you’d find the doctor in The Rolling Stones interesting, because she often says “Yes, dear” in the book but you can tell that she is mostly just using the words to assert her own way, and she does stand up to her husband. I’ll talk more about that in my review that I’ll do later in the week.

As for Menace, you can read it free online here:

or it is available in a Baen books edition with that title but I believe it also has other stories in it as this is a novelette. It has also been reprinted in the excellent short story collection, The World Turned Upside Down, which has stories from a number of classic authors.


Loved it when I was a kid — nice review! I have a shelf full of Heinlein as well — I stay away from the Asimov 😉


I’ve been meaning to pick up more classic sci fi, so this sounds like a great feature to make semi-regular! Podkayne sounds like a fun one, and I’ve only read a couple Heinlein so I’d like to explore more. I agree that part of the appeal of classic sci fi is how much simpler it was, when people thought maybe you could just jaunt about among the planets.

This reminds me a bit of some of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books, unfortunately including the beautiful but submissive heroine. He has fascinating worlds and great writing, though, which I always thought made it worthwhile anyway. And, as you note with Heinlein too, in a way it’s a study of the social mores of the time (well-said, by the way!)


Carl, thanks for the link to that short story!!

When I was in my mid 20’s, I read a ton of Heinlein’s “adult” stuff, couldn’t get enough of it. Only in the last 5 years or so have I discovered his young adult titles, and I’ve only read a few of them.

Can’t wait to see your review!


You are very welcome, I hope you enjoy it. I grew up reading science fiction yet found myself staying away from some of the giants in the field, for some reason, so I didn’t read my first Heinlein, Friday, until I was in my 30’s. Only in the last couple of years have I read his earlier stuff and boy is a lot of it really good.

I liked Menace so much that I read it aloud to my wife and she found it entertaining as well.


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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