Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Review: Friday

Well, I've finally finished my re-read of Robert Heinlein's Friday. I don't know why I like Heinlein novels so much but I do. Out of all the giants of science-fiction, I'd rather sprawl out on the couch with a Heinlein novel than any other. And out of all the Heinlein novels I currently have, Friday is probably my favorite. In fact this novel is so good, that even my wife, who is not really into science fiction, has read and enjoyed this novel. Anyways, Friday was published back in 1982, receiving a nomination for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1982 and a Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1983. After much searching (okay, only about 5 minutes) I found the blurb which is on the dust jacket of the hardcover version of the novel (my copy is second-hand and when I bought it, it no longer had the dust jacket)

Friday is a secret courier. She is employed by a man known to her only as 'Boss'. Operating from and over a near-future Earth, in which North America has become Balkanized into dozens of independent states, where culture has become bizarrely vulgarized and chaos is the happy norm, she finds herself on shuttlecock assignment at Boss' seemingly whimsical behest. From New Zealand to Canada, from one to another of the new states of America's disunion, she keeps her balance nimbly with quick, expeditious solutions to one calamity and scrape after another.
And I have to say that that blurb disturbs me. This was the first time I've read it, as I bought the novel on the strength of the name attached to it. I wouldn't want to read this book based on that blurb, despite the fact that it is one of my favorite novels. And this just goes to show that even the professionals screw up blurbs sometimes.

The main (and POV) character is a young lady by the name of Friday. In this world, humans have learned the necessary technology to go about creating artificial beings. Genetically created supermen and even living artifacts such as a super-smart dog. Friday is one such being. She was engineered to be smarter, faster and stronger than normal humans. A fact which has left her with some serious self-image issues. Frankly, I like Friday. She's self-deprecating without being glum. Smart without being snotty about it. And pretty without being overbearing. She is a well-thought out character, complete with issues, quirks and good intentions.

Secondary characters are those that cross Friday's path. Her mysterious Boss. Her husbands and wives (she's a member of an S-group) in Christchurch, New Zealand. A shuttle pilot and his family (and by family I mean wife, second husband and sister and his sister's husband). And then a handful of others associated with the same secret organization that she is employed by. All of these characters are perfect balances between being interesting and dull. That golden realm where the reader can care about the characters, but not at the expense of the main character. This balance is created because the reader feels like Friday herself, cares about those characters.

The story is written as a memoir of sorts, as such there's not really an overarching plot, no single problem for the heroine to solve. Rather it is a grouping of smaller plot-lines, giving the heroine a number of small adventures to get through. This makes the novel read like an auto-biography rather than a novel. It is an interesting way to get the point of the character, and the story, across.

Settings are varied and all over the place as Friday moves about the globe quite a bit, with the final quarter of the book set on a starship in space. Regardless, most of the story is localized to the North American continent in what today is the US's heartland and Canada's British Columbia. As far as descriptions of those settings go, Heinlein uses the way that Friday tells her story to give the reader all the information that the reader needs to know. In fact, he tells a bit too much in this regard while detailing the route which the starship is taking. Even to the point of providing diagrams in the story. Yet, that is something that the reader would expect Friday to do while telling her story. It's a way that Heinlein used the character herself to do the infodump that if he was telling the story (i.e. if the story was in 3rd person) he would have to hide into the narrative.

Heinlein has a number of themes running through here. The tendency of large countries towards balkanization. The darker side of humanity and the human condition (war, crime, sickness). The idiocy of a true democracy. His personal beliefs towards socialism and society are quite evident throughout as well. And we can't forget that he makes a number of valid prophecies in this work. Things such as the wide-spread use of wireless communication devices and the availability of a full-text/image search capability using almost natural language. But probably the greatest theme is the simple fact that we must accept ourselves - as we our, regardless of our past, before we can ever be truly happy.

Above all other things that Friday learned in this story - that is the lesson that was trying to get across. And it's a good lesson, in fact, I know a couple of folks who need to learn it even today. And is the reason why I routinely re-read this particular novel. For me, that lesson is driven home every time I do so.

Style-wise this is a first-person story, with all the benefits and drawbacks to that format. Heinlein is wonderful at his craft, and it shows in this novel. Onto my personal pet peeve of typos, there was at least one that I can remember. A sign that despite how rose-tinted our glasses are towards the publishing of yesteryear, they screwed up as much as our publishers do today. Oh well, no one is perfect.

Overall, I love this story. It is my favorite of all the Heinlein stuff that I have read. Does it have some problems? Of course. First, that blurb sucks. I think I need to go to the bookstore and see if I can find a new copy of the book, just to make sure that that blurb is no longer being used. Second, despite the fact that it makes sense from the character's POV to have that infodump in the narrative - it is still an infodump.

In the end, it gets a 3 out of 4. Would be higher, but an infodump is an infodump.


RJ Peters said...

I've never read any Heinlein, but I simply must put him on my list. Thanks for the review!

Stephen Wrighton said...

There's a number of authors that everyone who loves Science Fiction should read - Asimov, Bradbury and Heinlein are at the top of that list IMO.

Currently Friday is out of print, but I was at Books-a-Million tonight and saw that Heinlein's novels are being re-published as softbacks.

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