Podkayne of Mars

by Robert A. Heinlein
Reviewed date: 2011 Oct 18
Rating: 2
288 pages
cover art

Heinlein wrote some great juvenile novels, but Podkayne of Mars is not one of them. It's not quite a juvenile, and it's not a good book. It's plodding, confusing, and generally seems poorly-developed. It ends abruptly with Podkayne's senseless death--or with her senseless near-death in the alternate ending.

Plot synopsis: Mom and Dad are too busy, so Uncle Tom takes Poddy and Clark on a trip to Earth. The starship stops at Venus along the way, where they all get caught up in a deadly game of politics. It seems that Uncle Tom is not just a rich pinochle-playing gentleman taking his niece and nephew on a grand tour; he is a special ambassador of Mars on a secret mission to Earth. Some people want him dead, others want to influence him to change his views--and they figure that kidnapping and torturing Poddy and Clark might be just the lever they need. Clark, genius kid that he is, engineers an escape for himself and Poddy--but Poddy goes back to save a cute Venerian fairy, and pays with her life (or with her near-death in the alternate ending.)

Personally, I think the alternate ending is better. The only reason for killing off Podkayne is for shock value. It's not emotional or moving or deep, it's just a cheap attempt to distract attention from the fact that the story isn't very good.

On top of all that, the story really should have been about Poddy's younger brother Clark. He's the smart one who sees everything that poor Poddy--smart as she thinks she is--misses. Poddy gets herself in trouble and Clark bails them out--except stupid sentimental Poddy goes back and gets herself killed.

And then there's the anti-woman slant. At the beginning Poddy is a strong young woman who wants to be a starship pilot--and then later inexplicably decides she'd rather not have to compete with all the dashing young men who are also dreaming of being starship pilots. Because who would hire a woman over a man? Silly girl. Woman can't be pilots. No, it would be easier and more ladylike to study creche engineering and be a department head on a starship--she can explore the galaxy while raising babies. Isn't that grand, and so very role-appropriate for her? I mean being a woman and all, her place is definitely with the babies, not in a position of authority where she might have to have to make hard decisions and stuff. Egads, no!

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