Friday by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I spent longer than usual reading “Friday” by R.A. Heinlein, pausing occasionally to run a self-diagnostic on how I feel about the issues presented in this controversial novel. So many people hate it with a vengeance that I wanted to be objective.
I had started reading it 15 years ago, and just don’t recall anything after the halfway point, so for whatever reason I didn’t finish it last time. Back then I was pretty heavily into Greg Bear, Asimov, Clarke, Baxter, and hadn’t gotten into Heinlein yet–he is so different from his contemporaries. So, apparently, I got distracted. I do remember enough to say I wasn’t upset with the book, did not stop because I hated it, just didn’t finish. There is a point half-way when the book slows down a bit.
(NO SPOILERS HERE)
The story takes place on Earth about 200 years in the future (as of 1980 when it was published), possibly later. We know the Boss’s birthday is 9/9/99, though the century is not given. So it’s at least 2099, perhaps 2199, given that FTL has been invented and nearby stars have been colonized.
Many critics judge Heinlein for the character Marjorie Baldwin aka Friday, for her promiscuity and attitude about being raped, saying that’s a man’s idea of a female character. Don’t jump to such conclusions!
First of all, Heinlein writes repeatedly–as if to remind the reader–that Friday is NOT HUMAN. She knows it deep down, can feel inside herself, that she doesn’t share human tendencies, emotions, attitudes.
Secondly, she was created in a lab and knows it. She has no delusion about being born to deceased parents. She’s not even an orphan, she’s a creation like a robot with the best genes of every race. Imagine how that might affect one’s sense of self worth, self confidence.
Imagine how she might work very hard to be accepted, to feel validated as a human being–knowing she is super-human, i.e. not human. She tries very hard! Sex is a tool sans ethics sans morals. I can accept that in a society 150 years hence without the psychology of a genetically engineered human.
Friday is an artificial person (AP), born in a creche, a lab, but she’s enough of a human to want to belong, and spends most of the story trying to belong, to feel like a member of a family.
She is so eager, desperate, to feel connected that she cries bitterly when Boss posthumously calls her his daughter, says he is proud to have been her adopted father. She also latches on to the artificial “home” she shares with Goldie, pretending to be a housewife to the working woman, makes a big deal out of buying a frying pan.
This is a good, well-developed character, not just a misogynistic whore the way she’s portrayed by ignorant reviewers who allow their own flawed morals get in the way of actually seeing this character for what she is–that’s called transference, I think.
That being said, I don’t find Friday a very likable character, though. I accept that she’s real in the story, not cardboard, not a sexpot written by a dirty old man (as Heinlein is sadly and wrongly portrayed by some critics). No, this is a complex character with complex psychology and sexuality is more a cultural thing than a personal one (some reviewers would call it a flaw). It doesn’t matter that everyone else around Friday acts the same way. Let’s just paint Heinlein as a corrupt old man. How disappointing that someone would be turned away from this novel because of another reviewer wearing their flawed morals on their sleeve. She is interesting, but not particularly likable. That also isn’t a mandate for a protagonist–she’s not a heroine, she’s pretty selfish at times, and conceited, and a bit entitled due to her rough past.
There is one thing I like a lot about this story. In an age where every sci-fi novel is written to be grandiose, and operatic, Friday is more like a memoir of a day in the life of a genetically engineered person in the 22nd century. There’s no galactic war, but sadly, humans don’t seem to have evolved collectively either, still fighting, still killing each other without remorse. But Friday never leaves Earth during the main plot so it’s not space opera.
There are a lot of future ideas Heinlein gets right and a few he gets wrong, but you can see his gears working on the harder ones. Banks merged with credit card companies. Corporations becoming larger and more important than governments, even waging war against each other, and paying for damage done to citizens. Gold as hard currency will never happen, but back then, “Gold” and “Platinum” cards actually meant they were backed by those metals; today they’re just marketing words and anyone can get a Platinum Visa in the name of their dog today.
He didn’t foresee government getting in bed with banking like it is today, with the legal extortion and credit blackmail and exclusions for bankruptcy. He was mostly on track with computer networks being global but failed to predict e-mail and cell phones. Which is strange because he did predict pocket phones in his 1951 novel “The Puppet Masters”.
I recommend this book but not as a Heinlein first-read. For a first-read I recommend “Starship Troopers” (which has nothing in common with the movie by that name).