Robert Heinlein’s Friday is a mixed bag of sci-fi tropes, missed opportunities, and casual vulgarity all sprinkled into a neat dystopian landscape filled with backstabbing, wars, and secrets. It’s a book that’s deeply conflicting: on the one hand, Heinlein has constructed a great, immersive world and asked some great questions of well-developed characters. On the other hand, there’s a lot that’s not worth reading and Heinlein often doesn’t answer his own questions. Friday is a circuitous book that winds around before finally resolving, and at the end of it all, I still can’t say if it was worth my time. Read on for more:
So, the good of the book is pretty apparent. This dystopian, space-travel world is quite frankly engrossing. Friday is a genetically engineered Artificial Person who is a courier — the best courier in the world, actually. Though she doesn’t know anything about what she carries, she brings it safely to her boss’ clients, scattered all throughout the planet, moon, and colonies. After the balkanization of the North American union, that continent is full of bickering nation states: the Lone Star state, the Chicago Imperium, Vegas Free State, the California Confederacy, and more. As war brews on the horizon, Friday finds herself caught up in it all, culminating in her eventual freedom and the question, “What do I do with my life?”
Heinlein asks some pretty interesting questions. As Friday is an Artificial Person, or AP, she isn’t exactly human, per se, and she deals often with the discrimination and fear that tag along with this fact. There is room here for a lot of study of humanity, questions about personhood, and all of the big humanistic scifi questions that make the genre so interesting. Unfortunately, Heinlein settles for “Artificial People have better reflexes, like sex (a lot), and aren’t bound by any morals.” It’s a huge missed opportunity in the book and very disappointing.
The sex is prominent throughout Friday (this is by no means a children’s book). The book opens with a casual rape as masked men demand that Friday tell them what she is carrying. She refuses, and they torture and rape her — including one man who she will later end up marrying. This says a lot about Heinlein’s world: sex is always cheap, low-impact, and on demand. Rather than give an Artificial Person a genuinely conflicting view on this human need that AP’s don’t actually need themselves, Heinlein opts instead for a futuristic version of the Great Gatsby: everyone is having a whole lot of sex, all with one another and sometimes all together. Gross, but more importantly, a total cop-out.
Similarly, the plot can be summed up as “we follow Friday around as she does stuff.” This is a loose novel, and not loose in the sense that a Russian novel ultimately pulls together a million tiny story threads. In a nutshell, Heinlein wrote about Friday doing various things and having sex with different people until she finally gets tired of it and settles down, becomes the leader of a Colony PTA (yes, really!) and lives a long, happy life with three husbands and two other wives. Everything is disjointed, and while she meets up with old friends again, there’s a whole lot that just happens for no apparent reason.
So what is there to recommend about this book? Good question, because there’s not much. I did enjoy the world-building that Heinlein has done (I would be curious to read other books set in the same world to see if they may be better versions of what is seen here), and it’s pretty immersive. Heinlein writes in an easy-going style that’s at least easy to keep up with: Friday is a likeable enough protagonist, and you don’t get sick of spending time with her, even if some of the things she does get pretty repetitive.
There’s very little that’s exceptional in this book: save your time for sci-fi like Dune or The Space Trilogy. Sci-fi, at its best, is asking the question of our human trajectory: where are we heading? What does it mean to be human? What will the future look like for us? Friday by Robert Heinlein had huge chances to answer some of these questions, but instead it fell flat on its own face.
Published on 10 September, 2016. Last updated on