Friday, the eponymous herione, works for an intelligence organisation as a courier who can deliver anywhere, in any conditions. The book opens with her arriving back on earth from a mission on the moon, and dealing with the bad guys who spot her coming back in a quick, efficient and lethal manner. She is inhumanly fast, and inhumanly strong, and the book slowly expands on why - she is an Artificial Person, an AP. APs are the slaves of the future, with very few human rights, which leaves Friday very emotionally vulnerable despite her physical and mental capabilities.
The book is action-packed most of the way through, and funny in places, with regular breaks for sex in a typically straightforward Heinlein style (this is not erotica). I wouldn't like to count up the dead bodies, but as this is a good-humoured action romp, they almost all deserved it!
I find this a very absorbing book but it is fun rather than deep and meaningful.
If you've read other Heinlein books, this is in the same vein as "I will fear no evil" and "The cat who walks through walls" rather than his earlier fiction with teenage characters. Oh, and Lazarus Long does not appear in this book.
Friday is one of Robert Heinlein's stand alone books, and in this way for any adult who is looking to try one of his books and isn't sure where to begin, I'd say this is probably a very good place to start.
Friday is the title character of the book, and she is an AP (Artificial Person). Instead of being grown in vivo and born to a woman, she was grown in vitro and brought up in a crèche designed specifically for the purpose. Friday has been genetically engineered to be stronger, faster, smarter, less susceptible to illness and disease than normal humans are, and because of this genetic engineering that she and other AP's receive, they are resented by most people and are effectively second class citizens forced to wear marks to show that they were created and not born. Friday however has 'passed' and has no marks to distinguish her, and has learnt to slow her reactions so that she can pass as a normal human in every day society.
This is a book set in the future, but it's a future where a general social collapse has begun to take place, people don't just lock doors, they have two tier systems of protection, the first layer designed to keep people out, and the second layer designed to kill them if they get past the first layer. Friday is a courier for an organisation that is never fully explained, but which takes on jobs depending on which side they believe is right as well as for the money. As the collapse takes place through out the book, and her boss dies leaving Friday to fend for herself for the first time ever, she has to learn to deal with the prejudice around her, and to try and find her own place within society, she has to learn that love is possible even for her, and that she can cope even when she thinks she can't.
What I love about this book is that even though Friday has all these enhanced abilities, she's totally emotionally insecure and desperate to be loved and accepted. There are various moments when she aligns herself with other characters only to find out that she needs them more than they need her. Something else I very much like with this and other Heinlein writings is how he challenges us to see things in a different way. Like many of his other novels, this one is a book where the mores and morals of society are not the same as we are used to, he looks at sex particularly from a very different perspective, there are various different sorts of marriage described with multiple adults involved, and Friday herself has had Doxy training (A doxy effectively being a company prostitute), while in the crèche and wonders how regular humans learn about sex - do their parents teach them, and if they do, do they do so in the same way she was taught? She is desperate to become a part of a society which she doesn't fully understand, and you sort of get a vaguely similar sense of an orphan child looking into a family home at Christmas feel to bits of the book.
On the sci-fi side of things, the book is full of excellent and novel ideas from a sky hook, to ballistic transport that gets you from A to B in virtually no time flat. There is travel to the stars, artificial people, living artefacts - which are not human in shape but have been genetically engineered in a way to make them more useful - from talking dogs to act as sheepdog and shepherd in one, to kobolds who have replaced miners. Cars can fly, but people often use horse and carriage too. Shipstones power everything so the worry of how to produce safe affordable electricity has been vanquished. The mix of old and new is quite strange which again gives a slightly odd but plausible feel to the book as well.
One thing I will say here and now, is if you are easily offended in terms of people's sexuality then don't read this. Despite this being one of his milder books in this sense, Heinlein does like to challenge popular conceptions and although personally I don't find any of his concepts offensive because of the way he writes about them, he doesn't think twice about mentioning girl on girl, or orgy's although you'll find they're never referred to in this way, and within the concepts of the books they seem totally reasonable and no one bats an eyelid. There are also references in here quite early on to torture and rape as well, which I know some people will find offensive too. We're not talking highly descriptive or anything, so don't expect it to get hot and sweaty or to feel really invaded by it, but don't expect characters to remain sexless or chaste here either, because they certainly don't.
This is probably my favourite Heinlein book, and to be honest I'm finding it really hard to give a good reason why because some of what I've described doesn't sound very nice. I think it's partly because as a book it does stand all on it's own and isn't tied into any of his other stories, and partly because Friday is such an endearing character. I think I do also like that he challenges concepts, it's not that I feel necessarily that what he's suggesting is better or worse, it's more that it's nice to be challenged and made to think about things from a slightly different perspective, and although this book didn't get the volatile reception that Stranger in a Strange Land got, it does still tackle concepts in a way that may make you slightly uncomfortable at times, and make you think about stuff you wouldn't otherwise necessarily consider.