Podkayne of Mars

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Podkayne of Mars is a science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein, originally serialised in Worlds of If (November 1962, January, March 1963), and published in hardcover in 1963. The novel is about a teenage girl named Podkayne "Poddy" Fries and her younger, asocial genius brother, Clark, who leave their home on Mars to take a trip on a spaceliner to visit Earth, accompanied by their uncle.

This book, along with Starship Troopers, shows Heinlein moving away from his old, comfortable territory of juvenile science fiction novels. Both books were written for a publisher expecting to market a juvenile science fiction novel, and both raised serious objections from the publisher.


Plot summary

The book is a first-person narrative in the form of Podkayne's diaries. It begins with Podkayne declaring herself to be "8 plus a few months"[1] and her brother, Clark, as being 6[2]. Due to the unscheduled "uncorking" birth) of their three test-tube babies, Podkayne's parents cancel a much-anticipated trip to Earth. Disappointed, Podkayne confesses her misery to her uncle, Senator Tom Fries, an elder statesman of the Mars government. The mistake proves to have a silver lining. Fries pressures creche officials into paying for an upgraded passage on a luxury liner for Podkayne and her asocial genius brother Clark, with Fries acting as chaperone.

During boarding, Clark is asked by a customs official "Anything to declare?" and facetiously answers "Two kilos of happy dust!" As he anticipated, his seemingly flippant remark gets him taken away and searched, just in time to divert attention away from Podkayne's luggage, where he has hidden a package he was paid to smuggle aboard. Podkayne suspects the reason behind her brother's behavior, but cannot prove it. Clark was told it was a present for the captain, but is far too cynical to be taken in. He later carefully opens the package and finds a nuclear bomb, which he, in typical Clark-fashion, disarms and keeps.

Much of the description of the voyage is based on Heinlein's own experiences as a naval officer and world traveler. Clark's ploy is taken from a real-life incident related in Heinlein's Tramp Royale in which his wife answers the same question with "heroin" substituted for the fictitious, but equally illegal happy dust.

Once aboard, they are befriended by "Girdie", an attractive, capable, experienced woman left impoverished by her late husband. Much to Podkayne's surprise, the normally very self-centered Clark contracts a severe case of puppy love.

The liner makes a stop at Venus, which is depicted as a latter-day Las Vegas gone ultra-capitalistic. The planet is controlled by a single corporation; the dream of most of the frantically enterprising residents is to earn enough to buy a single share in it, which guarantees lifelong financial security. Just about anything goes, as long as one can pay for it. The penalty for murder is a fine paid to the corporation for the victim's estimated value plus his projected future earnings. On a less serious level, Heinlein anticipated, by over forty years, television ads in taxicabs (in the book, holographic), which are now being implemented in New York City.

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