Alexei Panshin is an admirer and critic of the work of Robert A. Heinlein. Rite of Passage was written as a deliberate foil to Heinlein’s novel Podkayne of Mars: Her Life and Times (1963), a juvenile science-fiction novel in journal form. Panshin praised Heinlein’s attempt to feature a young female as the protagonist in a science-fiction novel but found his narrative technique lacking. In Rite of Passage, Panshin succeeds better than Heinlein in reproducing the language and the thought processes of a teenage girl. He has created a female initiation novel in the mold of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). On the most literal level, Panshin deals sensitively with the problems of an adolescent woman: apprehensions about the changes in her body, the subconscious wish to remain a child, the strong attachment to her father and her resentment of the absent mother, the fear of meeting adult strangers, and the first, tentative awakenings of sexual urges.
The inevitability of the changes that define Mia’s rite of passage into adulthood are paralleled by changes the ship’s population will have to undergo. Only 160 years old, the ship society is itself adolescent and childish in its unwillingness to change and to rethink its relationship to the colony planets. Panshin here draws a clear analogy to the attitudes and behavior of Western colonial powers toward the Third World. Contemptuous of the...
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