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Literature / Podkayne of Mars

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Podkayne of Mars is a science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein.

Teenager Podkayne Fries and her asocial genius kid brother, Clark, go on a family trip on a space liner from their home planet of Mars to Earth by way of Venus. Along the way, they get involved in machinations surrounding an upcoming diplomatic conference.

The story was first serialized in Worlds of If magazine in 1962-1963, before appearing in book form in 1963.

Heinlein's publisher classed the work with his "juveniles" (works for younger readers), and forced him to change an aspect of the ending which was considered inappropriate for that market, over his objections that in doing so they were missing the point of the story. The 1993 edition published by Baen Books included both versions of the ending and invited readers to write in and say which they preferred and why; a subsequent Baen edition included several of the resulting essays as bonus material and reported a clear preference for the original ending.

This novel contains examples of:

  • Advert-Overloaded Future: While on Venus people are constantly barraged by ads. Podkayne and Gertie even have a hologram of a devil appear inside their taxi and try to get them to buy an addictive drink called Hi-Ho. The company that makes it pays the taxi company to force the ads on their captive customers, though the passengers can bribe the cabbie to at least lower the volume.
  • Aerith and Bob: The two siblings are named Podkayne and Clark.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Clark.
  • Colonized Solar System: Earth has colonies on Luna, Venus and Mars.
  • Cool Uncle: Tom to Podkayne. Revolutionary war hero, always has time for her when her parents don't, and a secret ambassador for Mars.
  • Cosmetic Catastrophe: Podkayne tries to imitate garish makeup from a magazine cover. Fortunately an older woman shows her how it should be done.
  • Did Not Think This Through:
    • Clark leaves an If I Do Not Return message for his sister. She tries to contact the local authority but his secretary claims she doesn't know where he is. Knowing she's lying, Pod loses her temper instead of saying why she wants to contact her boss, then proceeds to Ditch the Bodyguards and follow up the clue herself, falling right into the kidnapper's hands.
    • For all his genius, Clark forgets to disarm the bomb in the excitement of the escape, then gets lost in the Venusian smog. Earlier in the novel he brags that he can always anticipate his sister's actions, but fails to anticipate that she would go back to rescue the baby of the Venusian he killed.
  • Enfant Terrible: Clark Fries is asocial and entirely self-centred. The ending suggests that, having been shaken by the experience he's gone through, he may be improving.
  • Epistolary Novel: The text is presented as entries from Podkayne's diary, with occasional snarky entries from Clark written in invisible ink. The final entry is written not by Podkayne but by Clark, after Podkayne is caught in the bomb blast.
  • Fantastic Fighting Style: Mentions a martial art called "Kill-Quick", which Podkayne's mother is skilled in.
  • Fantastic Racism: Podkayne finds herself on the receiving end from a couple of old ladies from Earth, because she's a mixed race Marswoman (Nordic-Māori). Clark gets revenge on her behalf by putting photograph dye in their face towels.
  • Future Imperfect: Podkayne isn't sure if humans evolved on Earth, and apparently some archaeologists aren't sure either.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Clark can reprogram a household robot to bring him midnight snacks and charge it to his sister's account, and disarm a nuclear bomb.
  • Hands-Off Parenting: Podkayne's parents, Professor and Dr. Fries.
  • Infraction Distraction: Clark makes a crack about smuggling drugs onto the space ship, thereby preventing the guards from discovering the bomb he hid in Podkayne's luggage.
  • Incest Subtext: There's some snide comments that Tom Fries is more attracted to his niece than he should be. It doesn't help that Podkayne asks her uncle to spank her on one occasion, which was Author Appeal to Heinlein.
  • I Have Your Wife: Podkayne and Clark are kidnapped to pressure Tom Fries into changing his vote at an upcoming political conference.
  • Insistent Terminology: Humans from Mars are Marsmen, not Martians. Martians are an entirely different race.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: In the original version, Podkayne says "Do listen please, because this is important. I love—" before she is killed by a bomb blast.
  • Lost Aesop: Heinlein was trying for an Aesop about the dangers of Hands-Off Parenting. However, until the Character Filibuster at the end, there's really nothing in the novel that suggests that the characters' parents' lack of involvement was to blame for their problems — or even that, by today's standards, the parents were uninvolved to begin with.
  • Metaphorical Marriage: The local Mega-Corp on Venus doesn't bother with registering marriages by its workers, only caring about having new employees being birthed. People view themselves as married though.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity:
    • Senator Tom Fries pretends to be a doddering old man only interested in playing cards and taking his nephew and niece on an interplanetary tour, but he's actually a secret ambassador of the Martian government.
    • The kidnapper pretends to be a kindly old lady. Clark in turns pretends to be Just a Kid who reads too many comic books (he even has some in his bag to give just this impression) who's too dumb to set his Tracking Device when rushing off to save a Damsel in Distress. Turns out Clark has a second tracker hidden in a false compartment, along with a small atomic bomb.
  • One Nation Under Copyright: Venus Corporation controls the entire planet Venus, and runs it like Las Vegas IN SPACE.
  • Penal Colony: The inhabitants of Mars are descended from prison colonists.
  • Population Control: Marsmen apply to the 'Population, Ecology and Genetics' Board to be 'pegged' at a preset number of children, probably because of the necessity of not exceeding the support potential of the semi-terraformed colony. However none of the mentioned families seem to have any trouble getting the number they want; Podkayne's parents are in fact offered seven children but her mother prefers five as 'all she has time for'.
  • Precocious Crush: Clark develops a crush on a lady traveling with them on the space voyage to Venus.
  • Revised Ending: Podkayne of Mars had an original ending where Podkayne is killed in the bomb blast, intending it to be An Aesop about a working mother not properly taking care of her children. The publisher made him use a revised ending where she is injured but survives. It was eventually published with both endings, which differ only on the last page. He blames the father, too, though perhaps not to the same degree.
  • Rip Tailoring: Podkayne, free from the eye of her parents and determined to seem more cosmopolitan than her Martian upbringing, mentions altering her only party dress in the privacy of her cruise liner cabin to look a bit more grown-up.
  • Sociopathic Hero: It's Clark who works out a way to escape, thanks to him being Crazy-Prepared for the possibility that his own rescue plan would fail and he'd get caught.
  • Taking You with Me: This backfires badly. Clark sets a small atomic bomb to go off so if their escape fails, their kidnappers won't survive either. The escape is a success but the bomb goes off and kills Podkayne, who went back to save a Venusian baby.
  • Two of Your Earth Minutes: Averted; Podkayne keeps referring to herself and her brother by their Mars ages (and later their Venusian age because it makes her sound older), not their age in Earth years.
  • Venus Is Wet: Venus is depicted as a swampy and smog-covered planet.
  • Why Am I Ticking?: Clark is bribed to smuggle a 'gift to the captain' on board. However Clark isn't an idiot (why not just give the gift to the purser?) and breaks into the package from underneath and disarms what turns out to be a small nuclear weapon. That he decides to keep.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Being just as sociopathic as their kidnapper, Clark realises they're going to be killed to Leave No Witnesses regardless of what decision Tom Fries makes.