Red Pill in Fiction, Reverse Edition: Heinlein’s Friday

We spend a lot of time here at Neurotoxin mocking women’s adorable but addle-pated fantasies about men, as revealed in female-authored fiction. That’s a major part of our Red Pill in Fiction series.

However, every now and then there are some silly male fantasies about women that are revealed in male-authored fiction. Even yer humble blog author, Neurotoxin* himself, is not entirely immune to certain fantasies. (* Actually Neurotoxin is the blog, not the proprietor, but I don’t know what else to call myself, so I’m going with that.)

Which takes us to Robert Heinlein’s Friday, a science fiction novel published in 1982.

This picture activates my salivary response.

Friday is a genetically-engineered superwoman, mentally and physically superior to everyone except other “artifical persons” like herself. At one point when the espionage organization she works for is destroyed and she is forced to go job hunting, she describes herself on her resume as a “combat courier.”

So before proceeding, let me just take a moment to say that James Cameron is kind of a wanker. In his movies and TV shows he lifts material profligately from SF written by other people. In the case of Friday, you might be thinking, “Hey! Maxine, the character in Cameron’s series Dark Angel, was described as a genetically engineered combat courier! That bastard Heinlein lifted his idea from that show!” There was lifting, alright, but it went the other way. Look at the publication date again. Friday was 1982. Dark Whassis didn’t air until 2000. The term “articifical person,” which Cameron slipped into the movie Aliens, also comes from Friday. And the phrase “mimetic polyalloy” in Terminator 2 was lifted from an earlier William Gibson work (Neuromancer, IIRC) that used the phrase “mimetic polycarbon.”

Anyway, Friday is an extremely popular character among male SF fans. She’s had kind of an underground run, but more and more, I see male SF readers of a certain age grooving on that novel and its protagonist. (Update: Case in point.)

Even Charles Stross, who is not exactly in political alignment with Heinlein, couldn’t resist doing an entire novel that overtly referenced the character. I mean, really overtly, e.g., at one point his character has a hotel reservation under the name F. Baldwin. Friday’s last name is Baldwin.

Why is this character so lusted after admired?

Well, here’s a lead-up to the answer: It’s the equal-and-opposite equivalent of women’s fantasy about a bad boy who really has a heart of gold and will fall for them in the end.

Men love Friday because she’s an attractive young woman with no trace of drama queen in her personality.

In fact, if anything she goes too far in the other direction; she’s too matter-of-fact about life. Now there’s something you don’t see often. As a courier for a secret agency, she is captured by bad guys in the first few chapters, and raped and tortured as part of their attempt to break her down for questioning. She shrugs all this off. In fact, when she’s narrating the account later, she makes disdainful remarks about her tormenters, for being amatuerish in their torture techniques.

There is a major difference between the male and female fantasies: The female fantasy about the jerkboy who secretly has a heart of gold is not what women really want – they just think they want it. If the jerkboy ever actually became loving and attentive and faithful and all that, they’d instantly lose interest. (That does, in fact, happen sometimes; see the posts and comments at your local Game blog.) Whereas, the male fantasy is what men really want. There’s nothing a man would like better, in actual reality, than a hot and horny young woman with no drama queen in her personality.

Of course, a young woman with zero drama queen is as unrealistic as the cheating jerkboy who secretly has a heart of gold.

But it’s fun to fantasize.

Oh yeah, some thoughts on the novel as a novel: As fiction, this is entertaining enough, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. The pacing is ka-pow! but when it’s over you realize not much has happened. Or rather, a lot has happened, but to little effect.

Example: In the opening paragraph Our Heroine kills a man who’s following her. She takes his ID and credit cards and proceeds to a hotel where she doesn’t check in, but uses their lobby computer to do some sleuthing about the dude. She doesn’t find out much, so – this must be an hour or two after she killed him – she leaves the hotel. Later she learns that the hotel had been blown up a few minutes after she left. She dismisses this as a coincidence and proceeds on her merry way. Eventually, of course, we learn that it was not a coincidence. Some very powerful group of people wanted her dead and had enough resources to follow her and arrange a bombing in that small window of time. The novel goes on like this.

There is an emotional journey Friday makes, having to do with her initial insecurity over the fact that she’s genetically engineered. (As if it’s a bad thing to have superior intelligence, speed, and strength, etc.) But a novel needs a coherent external conflict as well as a coherent internal one. All which is a way of saying: Your Mileage May Vary. There is a certain lightness to the novel, but sweet damn, that main character!

Index page for my Red Pill in Fiction posts:

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