1962, the Hoffman Electronics
Corporation ran a series of six science fiction stories as advertisements
and other magazines: two by Isaac Asimov
and one each by A.E. van Vogt, Fritz Leiber, Frank Riley, and Robert
Heinlein's story, "Searchlight" (August, 1962), is about a blind girl lost
on the Moon. The story is very brief. The idea is interesting,
but the story is overly condensed for the emotional impact it is meant
Rocket Ship Galileo,
the least of Heinlein's juveniles.
In some ways, it is a return to Heinlein's first novels for Scribner's.
Like them, and unlike his more recent books, his lead is only fifteen years
old, a dependent child. This immediately limits the scope of the
The first 1963 Heinlein, and one of his best in many years, was Podkayne of Mars, a shrewd and successful effort to widen the s-f audience by a teen-age heroine. Poddy's first-person narrative reveals her as a genuinely charming girl (perhaps the most delightful young female in s-f since Isaac Asimov's Arkady Darell), and her creator as the master absolute of detailed indirect exposition of a future civilization.I couldn't agree less.
I do agree that there is a place for young girls in science fiction (as well as old men, middle-aged women and any other advance over young men aged 20-30), but I don't think Heinlein has filled it. I find Poddy no more charming than I found Arkady Darell, the central character in Second Foundation, Asimov's novel. In fact I can think of only two truly delightful young female characters in modern science fiction and those are Pauline Ashwell's Lizzy Lee from a very good story, "Unwillingly to School,"* and Heinlein's own Peewee Reisfeld from Have Space Suit--Will Travel.
Moreover, Podkayne is not really a first-person narrative. It is a journal kept by Poddy with occasional marginal notes by her younger brother Clark. I can think of two faults in this. One is that journals kept by fifteen-year-old girls are likely to be filled with gush and irrelevance. This means that any resulting book is likely to be a poor story, or an unconvincing journal. Heinlein has chosen to write a convincing journal. The other fault is that the journal is kept while the action is going on, not written afterward in one piece, and the result is that we are jerked from one actionless moment that provides the peace needed for writing to another, fed corrections of things we have been told before, and in general exposed to a helter-skelter narrative. Fine again as a journal.
Poddy's lack of charm for me is the product of a kind of handling that no previous Heinlein juvenile protagonist has ever had. I suspect simply that Heinlein does not feel comfortable writing in the person of a female character. Poddy is given to setting down sentences like:
At first I thought that my brother Clark had managed one of his more charlatanous machinations of malevolent legerdemain.and
I got kissed by boys who had never even tried to, in the past -- and I assure you that it is not utterly impossible to kiss me, if the project is approached with confidence and finesse, as I believe that one's instincts should be allowed to develop as well as one's overt cortical behavior.Her expressions of vituperation are "dandruff," "dirty ears," "spit," and "snel-frockey." Above all, she is incredibly coy. She refers to one character throughout as "Miss Girdle FitzSnugglie," generally shortened to "Girdie."
Even less appealing, and less likely, is Poddy's eleven-year-old brother, Clark, who, like an earlier Heinlein-described child -- little Ricky in The Door Into Summer who at six could not bear to be touched -- is thoroughly sick. Clark is totally asocial and has an insatiable desire for masses of money, an obvious love substitute. In the earlier case, Heinlein apparently didn't realize the sickness of his character, but here he makes mention of it at the end of the story. It is, in fact, the only claim to a point that the story has.
The unlikelihood of Clark, who is the novel's true central character, is not in his sickness but in his catalog of abilities. His IQ is given by Heinlein as 160, which is fairly high, but not all that rare. However, at the age of eleven he can: (1) tumble, (2) operate a slide rule, (3) read lips expertly, (4) win piles of cash from "unbeatable" gambling houses any time he cares to, (5) do expert photography, (6) unhoax a time bomb, (7) be a successful smuggler, (8) read English (a foreign language) that is written in Martian Oldscript (a script known only to experts), (9) break into secret diaries and leave messages written first in ink visible only under ultraviolet light, and then in ink that becomes visible only after two days, (10) break into a sealed delivery robot, rewire it to do what he wants it to, leave no traces, and completely baffle the manufacturer of the robot in the bargain, (11) separate dyes from film, given as a thing ordinarily possible only to a master chemist working in a special laboratory, and (12) kill a large adult woman with his bare hands.
There is no real story for two-thirds of the book. Poddy and Clark set out from Mars to Earth, stopping on Venus on the way, in company with their Uncle Tom, who is to represent Mars at an important triplanetary conference. Shortly after they all arrive on Venus, Poddy and Clark are kidnapped by some people who wish Uncle Tom to follow their particular line at the conference. Knowing their Uncle Tom will not change his vote under pressure and that they will be killed by their captors, the kids escape. Period.
is a sword-and-sorcery fantasy, a second cousin of Jack Vance's excellent
The Dying Earth,
of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories, and of Edgar Rice Burroughs' stories
of Mars. In fact, it is dedicated to the readers of
an amateur magazine that is devoted to a celebration of sword-and-sorcery
unfortunately, doesn't share the color,
atmosphere, action and good fun of its models. Instead it spends
the bulk of its energy on conversation about the relativity of customs,
the second-rate nature of sex as practiced on this planet (Earthmen are
Lousy Lovers), Earth as the
place in Twenty Universes where
prostitution is practiced, the primitive nature of democracy and its
as a system of government, and similar topics. The sword-and-sorcery
fantasy merely comes as an interlude in the conversation, as though clowns
were to pummel each other with bladders as an entr'acte on
Meet the Press.
is Hugh Farnham, a well-to-do, self-educated contractor and
all-around-competent-man. The other central characters are his wife
Grace, their son Duke and daughter Karen, Karen's sorority sister Barbara
(a divorcee), and their houseboy Joe, a Negro accounting student.
*Astounding Science Fiction,
Border courtesy of The Humble Bee