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Book Review: 'Friday' by Robert Heinlein

Updated on December 21, 2018
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Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.


“Friday” is one of Heinlein’s last science fiction novels. It isn’t as well known as “Starship Troopers” or “Stranger in a Strange Land” though it shares more with the latter than the former. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this Robert Heinlein novel? And where did Heinlein hit the bulls-eye predicting the future in this novel?

Cover of the Robert Heinlein Book "Friday"
Cover of the Robert Heinlein Book "Friday" | Source

The Strengths of “Friday”

The character Friday has been described as lacking a plot, but in reality, it is a very basic story. The main character is seeking to define herself and find a home.

The world-building is rich, addressing the social nuances and political structures of several regional “states” in the former United States and Canada. I just wish there was a printed map to make it easier to navigate this fictional world. That is aside from the war between corporations and smaller regional/national states.

This classic science fiction novel is notable for a strong, central female character. Friday is able to fight and kill those who threaten her and her loved ones. That’s why she’s so good at her job as a courier and spy.

The Weaknesses of “Friday”

There are so many Deus ex Machina that the book harkens back to old pulp fiction in that regard.

If it happened once, I’d say it was Deus ex Machina for keeping a PG-13 rating, but it happened multiple times in the book – the lesbian kiss of death. One character dies the same day, while other incidents involve the love interest being threatened with death. Consistently, though, a near lesbian sexual encounter is always interrupted. That makes Friday’s “I love you, oh no, we can’t” a repeated trope in this book, subverted only at the very end.

The Boss of the book is clearly a stand-in for Heinlein in his later years, especially the rambling cultural commentary. This book isn’t as bad as “Time Enough for Love” and “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long”.

Observations about “Friday”

A periodic criticism of this book is that it lacks a plot. I see the plot as the search for a family, a home, and belonging. It is a simple objective relative to “girl saves universe”, and I think this is why many denigrate the work despite having a strong female character, complex relationships and interwoven sub-plots.

Many of the emotional and psychological issues the artificial persons suffer from are not because of how they are made but due to how they are made. Friday and other “AP” are not crippled socially because they are genetically engineered. Instead, it is because of how they are raised in corporate crèches, though deliberate psychological conditioning of the artificial people and social conditioning of general society is probably a factor as well.

Heinlein’s Prescience in the Book “Friday”

This book is one of the first of the early 1980s to portray the wired world, paying bills online, streaming live concerts, listening to news bulletins through the computer, searching for information via combinations of keywords. I wonder if it will later be proven prescient with regard to credit card burners, built-in systems in consoles that literally burn a credit card reported stolen so that it cannot be used again.

Heinlein noted something in this book that is indeed prescient. Nations decline when people stop identifying themselves as nations of the nation and with small identity groups instead, be it religious, linguistic or ethnic. Hello, identity politics a la social justice.

This book is also notable for featuring a transgender character and readily available sex changes, whether for personal desires or on a whim - in California. Gender neutral bathrooms vigorously enforced are also featured in one chapter of this book. That was considered insane in the early 1980s but is currently an issue in 2010s America.

© 2018 Tamara Wilhite


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