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Monday, June 9th, 2014

Time Event
6:29p
30 Day Book Meme - Day 29
Day 29 – A book everyone hated but you liked

"Everyone hated" is a high bar for a book to cross. I think the best I can do for this meme is pick a book that lots of people hated (and I haven't already blogged about, so Starship Troopers is out).

So, behold an object of much hate: Friday by Robert Heinlein. Why I like it is no surprise--it's a fun adventure story with fascinating world-building and some of the best examples of smoothly integrating exposition into the story. Add in predictions of websurfing on the internet and California politics and we have a great contender for a classic SF story.

Why the book is hated is also no surprise. Many refer to it as Heinlein's most sexist novel (to which I can only reply "There goes someone who hasn't read Beyond This Horizon"). Our heroine is an "artificial person," created in a lab, and raised as a "domestic animal" rather than as a person. This is a vehicle for an extended discussion of race and identity as Friday "passes" as a real person but still has the psychological scars from being treated as a social inferior from birth. Part of how Heinlein showed that is Friday's complete lack of personal boundaries, to the point where she'll oblige any casual friend's request for sex, scheduling permitting, and a vicious rape is considered only a challenge in maintaining her cover identity as a secret agent. She treats the rape lightly enough that at the end of the story she marries one of the perpetrators, their common identity as APs outweighing her minor grudge. Good characterization? Or dirty old man's wish fulfillment of his fantasies? Assuming my analysis of what Heinlein was trying to do was correct he still came far too close to turning Friday into a Gorean courtesan for readers to not get derailed. Anyone scarred by rape, or by encounters with men who want to turn women into Gorean playthings, is not going to care what the author's intent was.

The other reason I've seen people hate Friday is the ending's portrayal of unwed teen motherhood as a happy outcome. I'd certainly oppose it here and now, but the frontier they'd settled on was much closer to Heinlein's rural Missouri childhood than a 21st Century American suburb. I think Friday and her daughter Wendy were making the best of where they were, even if they weren't making the best possible decisions.

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