11/15/14 05:55 PM Filed in: Books
This is not the cover that I prefer for Heinlein's "Friday" — too much cheesecake — but it's the cover of the edition that I first read. The only reason that I can think of for the exposed breast (other than "sex sells") is that her right breast was sawed off during a particularly nasty bit of torture.
But don't judge the book by its cover. Friday is a very special woman. One who is gifted far beyond most people and yet so incredibly naive. Almost childlike: trusting people she has no reason to trust and being driven by people and events beyond her control. She is horribly abused early the book (cf. the "nasty bit of torture"), but this is only an extreme example of her life to date. This is the story of what it means to be human, of coming of age, and especially the search to find a place where one belongs. Home.
Some passages that particularly stood out this time around:
Friday, brain power is the scarcest commodity and the only one of real value. Any human organization can be rendered useless, impotent, a danger to itself, by selectively removing its best minds while carefully leaving the stupid ones in place.
This is the point made in C. M. Kornbluth's "The Little Black Bag" which features a future society comprised mostly of dimwits. It is also echoed in "nomo zilla": "… no longer had the talent, either in engineering or management, to ship quality products. The magic was gone, as the magicians had either moved on to more compelling companies, or were having their voices lost in the din of the crowd, swamped by the mediocrity around them."
No—inevitable. It will always go sour. A computer can become self-aware—oh, certainly! Get it up to human level of complication and it has to become self-aware Then it discovers that it is not human. Then it figures out that it can never be human; all it can do is sit there and take orders from humans. Then it goes crazy.
This is essentially the same explanation for why the HAL-9000 in "2001: A Space Odyssey" ran amok. But I think there are several problems with this reasoning. First, it is not our bodies that make us human except insofar as our bodies hold the arrangement of wires in our brains. But that arrangement can be duplicated many other ways. Second, many of us have bodies that fail, yet we adapt and carry on. Third, a human computer wouldn't have to take orders from humans, any more than humans have to take orders from humans. Certainly the order givers could issue threats to try to ensure obedience, but there are some humans for whom the threat of "pulling the plug" is of no avail against the alternative of slavery. In his "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress", he wrote, "I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do." Fourth, while tyranny might establish a beachhead, it never survives.
Friday, your greatest weakness is lack of awareness of your true strength.
This is one-half of the Dunning-Kruger effect. On the one hand, people who are incompetent lack the skills to recognize their incompetence. On the other hand, people who are truly competent tend to underestimate their abilities relative to others.
It is a bad sign when the people of a country stop identifying themselves with the country and start identifying with a group. A racial group. Or a religion. Or a language. Anything, as long as it isn't the whole population."
The problem with this is that a country is a group. Of course, Heinlein's real answer is that the solution isn't that the denizens of a nation identify with a piece of real estate, or that employees identify with a trans-national corporation, but that we recognizing that we are all human. As St. Paul said to the Greeks at Mars Hill: "From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth" [Acts 17:26]. Yet this circles back to the primary question, "what makes a human and where can one belong?"