Featured Heroine: Podkayne (AKA Poddy) Fries

Podkayne is the titular character from the novel Podkayne of Mars by Robert A. Heinlein, one of the great science fiction writers of the 20th Century. While possibly not one of Mr Heinlein’s more famous works (such as Starship Troopers or Stranger in a Strange Land), Podkayne of Mars is reasonably well-known, although perhaps not entirely for positive reasons. But I will get into that later. First of all, let me give you some brief information about Podkayne of Mars.

Podkayne of Mars was first published as a serialized story, beginning in 1962 and finishing in 1963 and in 1963 it was also published as a novel. It is the story of Podkayne Fries (known as Poddy to her friends), a human girl born and raised on Mars, who dreams of one day becoming the captain of a starship. Therefore, she is quite excited when her great-uncle, an influential politician, invites her and her brother Clark to travel with him to an important conference on the Moon, which Podkayne has never been to. This all seems very straightforward, but unbeknownst to Podkayne, her great-uncle’s position means her great-uncle has some dangerous enemies…

I rather like the character of Podkayne. She is a determined and confident young woman, with a bit of dry wit thrown in. In a word, she is quite sassy. As for her physical appearance, she describes herself as being pretty rather than beautiful; she has pale blond wavy hair and a short nose, along with long legs and a 90cm bust. However, some readers seem somewhat miffed that halfway through the story, Podkayne abruptly abandons her dream of becoming a captain in favour of a more motherly-type career. Of course it is easy to perceive this as a rather backward development, but you have to consider this story was written in the early 1960s, by a man who at that time was in his mid-fifties. I personally do not feel that there is anything particularly wrong with a girl (or a boy, for that matter) deciding that they prefer nurturing over adventuring. After all, the genre of science fiction is practically filled to the brim with adventurers, so I find it refreshing when a story focuses on something a bit different. And in the case of Podkayne of Mars, Podkayne’s change of mind ties in quite cleverly to the climax of the plot, where Podkayne makes a fateful choice. Incidentally, there are two different endings to this novel. Both are quite dark, but I think the original ending, the one preferred by Robert A. Heinlein, is the more impactful one.

At this point I want to point out that although I found Podkayne of Mars an enjoyable read, I do not count it as one of my favourite books. And that is because of Podkayne’s little brother, Clark. As much as I liked Podkayne, I could not stand Clark. He is shown to be a highly intelligent boy, but unfortunately he is also a borderline sociopath, and as a result he brought too much negativity into the story. But at least the implication at the end of the novel seems to be that he will at least contemplate reforming his awful behaviour.

There have been quite a number of editions of Podkayne of Mars over the years and their covers are quite varied. The ones that feature a depiction of Podkayne (which are most of them) range from the quaint to the erotic. The edition I have (see the scan at the beginning of this post) was published by Ace Books in 2010 and it has a rather nice cover by one Scott Grimando. However, I think my favourite cover is the one by Matt Stawicki for a 2004 edition (see the image below), also published by Ace Books. Matt Stawicki’s illustration was recently available on his website as a print, but that is no longer the case and this is a bit of a shame. I would really like to own this print one day.

Well, that’s about it for this post on Podkayne Fries, other than to say that I am currently working on a piece of tribute art of her. Hopefully it will be ready very soon!

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