By Robert Heinlein
I’m guessing that there may have been a lot of hubbub around Heinlein’s Friday when it was released — the little blurbs on the back speak to me of how this is Heinlein’s first “strong” woman protagonist, etc., etc., etc….
Yeah, I don’t see it. Not that the character of Friday in the book Friday isn’t a strong female character — she is — I just don’t see the need for it. The character of Star in Glory Road was a pretty damn strong female character, wasn’t she? I mean Jesus, she was [spoiler here] — isn’t that strong enough? Can you get any “stronger” of a lead than that? And he wrote that book 20 years prior.
Either way — Friday‘s a good book. The lead character is a genetically created artificial person — an “artifact,” as they’re referred to in the book. No different than a regular human being, of course, besides the super-strength and intelligence and imperviousness to illnesses and so on. She works as a “combat courier,” shuttling top secret intelligence and small items back and forth across the lines of security present in this world — a world in which the entire Earth has seemingly Balkanized, that is, where all nations have further split into other small nations, and no real power is held by anyone except for large, multi-national corporations. Friday really doesn’t know who she works for, and doesn’t care, as long as she’s given the respect she feels she deserves, which she gets working for her shadowy employer.
Now, the book is not “hard” SF, but there’s two instances in which Heinlein’s description of a particular part of technology sounded real neat to me.
First was his description of a world without money — one totally reliant upon electronic credit and debit. It was really neat and really relevant to the way we perform business today, but I can’t for the life of me remember what page it was on, so blegh.
The other was this passage, where our protagonist was describing her trip to a library for a bit of research:
There was no reason for any of us to be bored as we had full individual terminal service. People are so used to the computer net today that it is easy to forget what a window to the world it can be — and I include myself. One can grow so canalized in using a terminal only in certain ways — paying bills, making telephonic calls, listening to news bulletins — that one can neglect its richer uses. If a subscriber is willing to pay for the service, almost anything can be done at a terminal that can be done out of bed.
Like music? I could punch in a concert going on live in Berkeley this evening, but a concert given ten years ago in London, its conductor long dead, is just as “live,” just as immediate, as any listed on today’s program. Electrons don’t care. Once data of any sort go into the net, time is frozen. All that is necessary is to remember that all the endless riches of the past are available any time you punch for them.
Do you see what he’s describing there? It’s the bloody Internet. Now, granted, computers were around in 1982, and there was some idea that they could be hooked together to form networks, but the idea of a world-spanning network with all knowledge that humanity has available at your fingertips wasn’t a realization until the modern day world wide web, circa 1996-1997 or so.
Oh, but that’s not all. Listen to this:
That morning I was speed-searching the index of the Tulane University library (one of the best in the Lone Star Republic), looking for history of Old Vicksburg, when I stumbled onto a cross-reference to spectral types of stars and found myself hooked. I don’t recall why there was such a cross-referral but these do occur for the most unlikely reasons.
I was still reading about the evolution of stars when Professor Perry suggested that we go to lunch.
That afternoon I got back to Old Vicksburg and was footnoted to Show Boat, a musical play concerning the era — and then spent the rest of the day looking at and listening to Broadway musical plays from the happy days before the North American Federation fell to pieces. Why can’t they write music like that today?
If that’s not an eerily-exact description of what it’s like to get lost in Wikipedia today, I don’t know what is. And Heinlein was writing about this kinda of thing back in 1982.
Anyway, it’s a damn good book, and one of the last Heinlein wrote before he sadly passed away in the later 80’s.
The Jewels of Aptor
By Samuel R. Delany
I picked up this book not realizing that it was actually Samuel R. Delany’s very first work he ever published. And let me tell you, it’s different. I mean, if you’re like me and very first stuff you ever read by Delany was Triton and “Aye, and Gomorrah.”
I’ll just break it down for you — no orgies, no gender-bending hypersexual roles, no sarcastic social commentary — just a pretty straightforward fantasy story taking place in a civilization long after a “Great Fire,” which I take to mean nuclear war. That’s right — it’s actually fantasy, not really SF. I mean, it’s not bad, just not what I was expecting.
You can see some of Delany’s later themes taking their first roots here, though. It’s a short work, though, so definitely give it a read if you’re a fan.
The Fall of the Towers
By Samuel R. Delany
The Fall of the Towers is actually a saga of three books that Delany wrote early in his career, too — right after The Jewels of Aptor, early 60’s. It’s kinda like Jewels in that it’s kinda of a “serious” work — however, I really, really liked this one.
Taking place far in the future, somewhere (could be Earth, though it might not be), after another apocalyptic event has razed the planet and most of humanity has returned back to primitive roots. There exists three distinct species of human in these days. One is a squat, primitive, short form of human, a little over 1.5 m high, with very low intelligence; these are called “neandrathals” by the characters of the book. Next is regular humans — I don’t need to describe these, hopefully. Finally, the final form of human present in this world is a quiet, extremely tall (2.5 m or more) form of human whom the “regular” humans call “forest guards,” due to their likeness for living in the vast forests present on this world.
The Fall of the Towers is an extremely long tale (not so much in words, but in depth), full of multiple themes and plots — far, far too many to go into here. Just know that the main theme is that of the city (and empire) of Toromon — an extremely advanced city that has somehow escaped the apocalypse to reign supreme over whatever parts of the planet not rendered unlivable by vast amounts of radiation — and its eventual fall from grace due to corruption and “societal decay,” I guess you’d call it.
The book largely follows the lives of three characters — an escaped prisoner, a Duchess of one of the royal families of Toromon, and a forest guard with telepathic abilities. They are being used as agents by an unknown entity in its fight against a being called the “Lord of the Flames.”
Somewhat present thoughout the series, but especially in the third book, is a very, very strong anti-war message. And not just any “war is bad message,” but a Orwell-esque message about how war is sometimes used by very successful civilizations in order to “use up” surpluses of goods and money that could otherwise be used to improve upon its peoples’ lives.
Trust me — I’m barely scratching the surface of this book. It’s actually really, really good, even if it’s an “earlier” Delany work and somewhat surprised me.