Moar SciFi!! -Friday, by Robert Heinlein

I recently posted on TRB a short blurb about the sexuality in the novels of Robert A. Heinlein. I’ve read several of his books of late and I find a great deal of sexual permissiveness in his fictional societies. I’ve said before that science fiction is less about one or two people and more about humanity. However, this particular novel is very much a story about just one person.

The novel ‘Friday’ is written as an autobiography of an artificial person living on a planet earth far in the future. An artificial person is one who has been designed from the ground up, then grown in a lab and raised in a group home. She is genetically human and has no (well, not many) post-production add-ons. However, due to the careful selection of her genetic material she is the strongest, fastest, most clever a human can possibly be. She was selected at a young age by ‘Boss’ a paternal figure who runs an organization of spies, assasins, couriers, doctors, information analysts, and more. He is a great player in the world and he has her trained to be a combat courier, someone who can get whatever, wherever, with a minimum damage to herself and none to her cargo. Her highly specialized training and temperment are evident in the calm way she deals with any number of events. Someone is following her? She kills him, hides the body thoroughly and quickly, and gets out of there. She talks about how she makes crazy round trips to shake anyone who might be following her. She outlines the lines of thought she goes through during torture and interrogation. It’s very matter-of-fact in almost every way.

The memoir follows Friday as she searches for a sense of belonging. Artificial persons are officially segregated and considered soulless and unnatural. It’s a fairly heavy handed analogy for racism, the difference lying in that artificial persons are indistinguishable from anyone else except by their super human abilities. As long as they keep those abilities under wraps they remain incognito. It’s difficult to give a synopsis of the book because there are several sequential story arcs that kind of jump around. Halfway through the book her organization is disbanded so even the intrigues she’s been tasked to discover fizzle out in the immediate story. It kind of feels like how I would write the story of my life: my personal story with world like 9-11 and the Ukranina protests as a backdrop. There isn’t some grand overarcing theme, every few years there is a new theme and in the case of this book about every three or four days there’s a new adventure. As simply an adventure story it is delightful but I will probably wait until my children are in their late teens before recommending it. I’ll get to why a little later.

Several obvious themes jump from the pages in a similar way to the last two Heinlein novels I read. He seems to be lacking a little finesse as far as morality lessons are concerned. Racism and rejection are constant and glaring themes. Friday lives with the constant knowledge that people who initially treat her well would refuse to consider her a real person if they knew that “[her] father was a knife, [her] mother was a test tube.” At one point she tries to buy her way into love and belonging by joining an S group, a group marriage that is also a corporation in which each family member buys shares. When she finally reveals her origins she is greeted with disbelief, then loathing, then rejection. We, the readers, know Friday is a great person and we wouldn’t consider her anything other than the protagonist, the character we identify with, one who has a beautiful soul and deserves respect if not regardless of then despite her origins. The short chapter in her life is a not very clever way to push the unsavory nature of racism.

Of course the racism leads us to our other theme of rejection. Friday, as an unacceptable member of society, must now drown her sorrows in sex and booze, using it as a way to seek love and acceptance. She winds up in bed with a few delightful people who turn out to be supportive and helpful, loving, accepting, and recurring characters in her search for a home. It’s so patently unrealistic that the lesson doesn’t really work. Friday’s emotions are written so casually that they come across as inhumanly shallow. We can identify with rejection, lust, hatred, fear, anger, and passion but Friday expresses these emotions almost robotically. It would be unnerving if I didn’t know exactly how that is. More on that later. Of course in the last two pages she is rescued, loved, and accepted. She bravely (except not really bravely because she wasn’t ever afraid of anything) overcomes the prejudices of a planet by leaving the planet behind and starting over mostly new. Forgive me if I sound a little jaded, but it did feel like he was feeding his audience a little too obviously, and perhaps could have had a little more character development in his main character.

That being said I loved the book. I could barely bring myself to put it down. I loved the humorous way Friday describes the cultures she finds herself in, enjoyed the easy cameraderie of the supporting characters, and found the world overall creative, fun, interesting, and a bit satirical when the political climate was relevant. Heinlein broke the world into smaller nations (the US is now California, Texas, the Midwest, the Southeast, and part of Washington is now part of the part of Canada that became British Canada) and gave each nation a political identity that takes their current ideologies to their illogical extremes. California is described as painfully democratic and their high cheif is a Native American in full tribal gear. The midwest is ruled in part if not completely by corporations. New Zealand is exactly as far from everything socially and geographically as it is now. We don’t even really hear about Europe, now that I think of it. We have colonized the habitable planets several billion light years out and even they have social aspects that seem like they may be poking fun at certain populations.

The social aspect I like the most and the personal attribute of our protagonist I identify with are the two reasons I would be careful about sharing or recommending to young adults. I love the sexual attitudes of almost the entire world and definitely of the characters portrayed as kind, accepting, loyal, and just generally good. Their emotionally welcoming personalities lend themselves well to open sexual relationships, not bound by guilt or fear or poor health. The only character portrayed as cold or unsexual is the mother-wife who ultimately rejects Friday from her ransomed sense of home. Lack of sexual openness is found in characters with low morals, little intelligence, and poor attitudes. At every turn Heinlein secures a place for open sexuality along side the satisfaction of the primary conflict: belonging. I think this is inapropriate for young people with a developing sense of self because, while I agree that sex and being sexually open can help form and strengthen bonds, I think it is not a good thing to base relationships, much less a sense of self-worth on. In today’s slut-shaming culture, it is too easy to see a strong woman, kicking ass and making love, and emulate her as a reaction without realizing the dangers of building self-worth around sexuality and sexual desirability. I did this for a while. It took several years and a few solid mistakes for me to realize that we and our sexuality exists in a much larger context than we think. I’m getting more ideas for posts all the time! Anyway, I think that sex and relationships are far more nuanced than Heinlein presents in any of the three novels I’ve read and this book should either wait or be dealt with carefully. I do, however, think it’s a very good way to introduce the ideas of a plural sexuality to friends and partners who might otherwise be averse. It presents happy, healthy, low-stress sexual encounters as healing and wholesome, almost heavy-handedly, and could open up lines of communication.

Friday was raised without a very thorough emotional atmosphere and it shows. This is the other reson I feel this book is inappropriate for young people. We are social creatures and base far too many of our decisions on how we feel. There’s nothing wrong with following your heart, as long as your head is prepared. I feel as though I am capable of that: making impulsive decisions while realizing and accepting the consequences. I went through a time in high school where I felt apathetic. Not agressively anti-family/school/whatever but actually inemotional (I don’t even know if that was a word but it is now). It wasn’t the typical teenage “ugh, I’m so apathetic, look at me being cool and not caring” it was simply a contentedness without satisfaction or disstisfaction. I wasn’t happily content, nor was I unhappily content, I was simply…. content. My emotions were shallow and breif and because of that I identify with Friday. However, I feel my experience is atypical and I think teaching young people that a consistently low emotional state is ‘cool’ isn’t probably the best lesson.

Overall Friday is recommended as are the other Heinlein novels I’ve read. I found it engaging, fast paced, sweet at times and at others brutal, imaginative, a pure delight to read. While less nuanced than it could have been there are strong themes which I feel my audience in particular will identify with. It’s also quick and easy. Enjoy!