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Monday, December 9, 2013

Reading List: Podkayne of Mars

Heinlein, Robert A. Podkayne of Mars. New York: Ace, [1963] 2010. ISBN 978-0-441-01834-5.
This novel had an interesting genesis. Robert Heinlein, who always considered writing a business—he had things to say, but it had to pay—paid attention when his editor at Scribner's pointed out to him that his work was selling well in the young male demographic and observed that if he could write for girls as well he could double the size of his market. Heinlein took this as both a challenge and opportunity, and created the character of “Puddin'” (Maureen), who appeared in three short stories in the magazine Calling All Girls, the most memorable of which is “Cliff and the Calories”.

Heinlein was so fond of Puddin' that he later decided to move her to Mars, change her name to Podkayne, after an ancient Martian saint, and launch her into interplanetary intrigue along with her insufferable and cataclysmically clever younger brother, Clark. This novel was written just as the original romantic conception of the solar system was confronted with the depressing reality from the first interplanetary probes. Mars was not the home of ancients, but an arid desert with a thin atmosphere where, at best, microbes might survive. Venus was not a swampy jungle world but a hellish furnace hot enough to melt lead. But when Heinlein was writing this book, we could still dream.

Podkayne was the prototype of the strong female characters which would populate Heinlein's subsequent work. She aspired to captain an exploration starship, and wasn't averse to using her emerging feminine wiles to achieving her goals. When, after a mix-up in Mars family planning grounded her parents, depriving her and deplorable brother Clark of the opportunity to take the triplanetary grand tour, her Uncle Tom, a Mars revolutionary, arranges to take them on a trip to Earth via Venus on the luxury liner Tricorn. On board and at Venus, Podkayne discovers the clash of cultures as planetary civilisations have begun to diverge, and the conflict between those who celebrate their uniqueness formed from their environments and those who would coerce them into uniformity.

When brother Clark vanishes, Podkayne discovers that Uncle Tom's trip is not a tourist jaunt but rather a high stakes mission, and that the independence of Mars may depend upon the her resourcefulness and that of her detestable brother.

There are two endings to this novel. Readers detested the original and, under protest, Heinlein wrote an alternative which appears in this edition. This is often classified as a Heinlein juvenile because the protagonist is a young adult, but Heinlein did not consider it among his juvenile works.

Is there anybody who does not admire Poddy and simultaneously detest and respect Clark? This is a great story, which may have made young women of my generation aspire to fly in space. Many did.

Posted at December 9, 2013 23:04