FridayFor a year or two in High School, I was on a Heinlein kick. He was the “big deal” author in one of the genres I enjoy reading, so it seemed important to know what he had to say. I remember reading the inside cover blurb on Friday and being intrigued:

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.

The writing is formal and literary, while bringing in unconventional relationships of almost every romantic stripe possible and a distinct perspective on discrimination:

Of course, as anyone could guess from this account, I had passed years earlier. I no longer carried an ID with a big “LA” (or even “AP”) printed across it. I could walk into a washroom and not be told to use the end stall. But a phone ID and a fake family tree do not keep you warm; they just keep you from being hassled and discriminated against. You are still aware that there isn’t any nation anywhere that considers your sort fit for citizenship and there are lots of places that would deport you or even kill you–or sell you–if your cover-up ever slipped.

An artificial person misses not having a family tree much more than you might think. Where were you born? Well, I wasn’t born, exactly; I was designed in Tri-University Life Engineering Laboratory, Detroit.

The thing I liked most about the story was that it gave such a distinct, philosophical perspective to a terrible human tendency. And there were quite a few conversations tracing historical antecedents to the problems stemming from the dissolution of the United States that forms the core reality of that story that still stick with me.

For instance, I cited this book this week for my class on management, as we were talking about whether rights have expanded or contracted over time: One of the key passages I remember has a character musing on the inception of the Balkanization of the US in that world. In effect, the man says part of the reason the country fell apart was because there were so many laws, including senseless laws and contradictory laws, that most laws then became unenforceable. He underlines his reasoning by pointing to the same thing happening to the ancient Romans. The argument has stuck with me in the decades since I first read the book, and I’ve often wondered what the tipping point is to having too many laws, that the citizens don’t even know the rules and regulations they’re supposed to be following. It could easily be argued that the majority of American citizens have no idea about the majority of the legislation that pertains to them, given the numbers of laws passed at the federal, state, and local levels on any given year, adding to the previous weight of laws about which they were equally unaware.

So I count the philosophizing as the major up-side to this story. On the down-side: The characterization of Friday. Even as a Freshman in High School she struck me as an amalgam of some weird, idealized female: killer/assassin with amazing reflexes, intense intelligence that at one point calculates the correlation between hemlines and the price of gold (?!), and nympho tendencies that allow for all kinds of different sex. I suppose you could argue that she wasn’t designed to be human, though she tried very hard to pass as such, but there was something just a touch too removed from my female experience to allow me to bond with her as a character.

It’s definitely worth reading, as an example of fast-paced scifi with a unique voice and an interesting perspective on the possible future our country faces–and a cautionary tale on how to write a main character who is just … not quite right.

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