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William's Book Blog

Mostly book reviews.  Very rarely I'll allow William Campbell Powell (author) to write a blog entry on publishing activity, but he's under orders to keep that stuff over on his Facebook page and on http://williamcampbellpowell.com

Currently reading

Fonda Lee
Fonda Lee
Anansi Boys
Neil Gaiman
Zombie Elementary: The Real Story
Howard Whitehouse
Progress: 99 %
The Angel's Game (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #2)
Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Progress: 6/504 pages
The Longest Week: What Really Happened During Jesus' Final Days
Nick Page
Progress: 43/310 pages

Podkayne of Mars

Podkayne of Mars - Robert A. Heinlein Poddy and Me

It's possibly half a lifetime since I last read this book, an old edition with the upbeat ending forced on Heinlein by his publisher.

I didn't realise quite how deeply this book had sunk into my hindbrain. Re-reading it after at least two decades, I can see its footprints all over my writing, and particularly upon the style I adopted for Expiration Day. It's quite spooky.

So I'm not sure how this review will work out. On the one hand, the book is a favourite, one of the key building blocks of who I am as a writer. So there's an intensely personal aspect to the review - how could I not love it and give it five stars? On the other hand, it is a "period piece", dating from the early sixties, predating the whole women's emancipation movement of that decade. Anticipating it too, perhaps, but incompletely.

Podakayne is a teen who wants to be a space pilot in a future where this is still seen as a male-dominated profession. Humanity is still locked within the solar system, but a solar system with colonies on Mars and Venus, the major moons and asteroids. The Venus is that favourite - hot, teeming with life, life bristling with sharp teeth - and owned by a single corporation (think the Venus of The Space Merchants meets the Mars of the film Total Recall).

It's quite short, as a book, and rather too much of it is Poddy's Adventures in Space, where Podkayne Meets Interesting People and Has Adventures. There are Lots of Capitals for emphasis of Important Points, because the book is written as Poddy's Journal and that's what Poddy Does. It gets a bit wearing, as does the story - the danger is fairly nominal.

Even once arrived on Venus, it's a rich girl's tour - money is no object, she's escorted by the handsome and well-connected Dexter, the son of the corporation's senior executive. She doesn't even have to fight him off very hard - chivalry is Dexter's middle name, though he makes it very clear what he's interested in. There's a lot of the mindset of pre-liberation, pre-contraception times, where a woman had to "protect her virtue". Such a notion would baffle modern readers - it's as atavistic as finding the Bronte sisters writing YA/SF.

Only in the last few chapters does the dream come crashing down in a hasty ending, with a dark villain, only prevented from twirling the moustache in an evil manner by dint of being an elderly female. Then, in short order, the villainess is defeated to either an upbeat or a tragic outcome, depending on which version of the book you pick up.

I still love this book for many reasons, most of which have no validity outside my skull. Judging against what else was available for the proto-YA reader at the time, it's probably at least a head, possibly shoulders too, above the rest. Judging by today's standards, however, it would be lucky to get two stars.

On the grounds that books should be judged at least partly in the context of its own time, not solely on how it works today, I'll be more generous.