Podkayne of Mars

Robert A. Heinlein
Podkayne of Mars Cover

Podkayne of Mars

Sable Aradia

I enjoyed this book very much. Podkayne is a brave, clever, and compassionate heroine whose compassion is ultimately her downfall and possibly her brother's salvation. I don't want to talk too much about the plot because it would give it away. But this gives me an opportunity to address something that, as a classic sci-fi fan, I find difficult, and that is that I think Heinlein is often deeply misunderstood by modern readers.

The most recent film adaptation of Starship Troopers interpreted Heinlein's classic critique of democracy as a pro-fascism novel. And Heinlein is often interpreted as a rampant sexist. This novel is one of the novels so interpreted.

A review by Ungelic_is_us on Goodreads addresses some of these criticisms in regards to specific events in the novel that are often interpreted that way. Later on in the comments section, in which Heinlein fans lambaste the criticism, this reviewer seems truly mystified as to why it's received such attention and such negativity, pointing out that some people like the book, some don't, and what's the big deal? Ungelic's review is not a critique of a book; it is an assault on the author's character. That is why the reaction is so negative. If you'd like to see my breakdown of this, I have posted my own review on Goodreads. I tried to post it here but I guess it's too long.

Some say that Podkayne demonstrates a marvelous understanding of the teenage mindset. I agree. Heinlein nicely captured the total self-absorption of the teenage mindset while still building a lovely, just plain nice heroine that I loved and wanted to protect and mother. Even if all of this other reviewer's views were spot on, Podkayne is still twice the heroine, and twice the role-model, of Bella of Twilight! And she was considered to be a good teenage girl character. That's something that makes me rage.

Heinlein was critiquing a generation that had become selfishly focused on their own careers as opposed to the future of their children. He had a point, and still does. The child traipsing off to go on adventures has become a literary trope, but in the real world, that would be the sign of either hard luck or bad parenting.

I don't think it's fair to judge a man's character by the course of events in a story he wrote in 1963 when comparing it to modern sensibilities. Heinlein wrote charater-driven science fiction about men and women, boys and girls with their own unique flaws and merits. And I think that with the understanding that Heinlein was exploring the maternal instinct, and the understanding that the Unreliable Narrator technique certainly applies to the heroine as well as most of the other characters, Podkayne is a memorable novel that, even though it was written more than fifty years ago, and even though it was intended as teen fiction, stands the test of time.