Wow, have I fallen behind. Not since I started this weblog has the backlog of pending posts grown this large. I guess I just needed a bit of time to get my mind in order again, and maybe time away is healthy. I’ll go with that. Anyway, I’m excited to get back into it again.
This is my second Heinlein, after Starship Troopers. I did enjoy this a lot but I still think Troopers is my favourite of the two. I’ve really gotten into classic science fiction and adventure stories this year, and this is a good mix of the two. I read afterwards that this was actually one of his young adult novels. It didn’t immediately leap out at me as such while reading it, but looking back I can certainly see it now.
Kip Russell is a young man obsessed with space. In his final year of high school, before heading off to college, he enters a raffle in the hopes of winning the grand prize – a trip to the moon. In this universe, humans have achieved space travel and have already set up lunar bases. He doesn’t win the prize, but he does receive an old spacesuit as a runner-up. It’s a suit not really built for travel, but as an avid space enthusiast and apparent genius, he spends the summer fixing it up into working order. He knows how to do this because he ignored his schooling and self-taught himself physics, mechanics, and mathematics. This was a part of a dig against the state of the public school system, one of Heinlein’s classic ‘rants lightly disguised with fiction’ scenes. Anyway, while in his backyard testing the suit one night, Kip picks up a frantic signal from a nearby space ship. The ship contains Peewee, his soon-to-be genius girl sidekick, and this begins his space odyssey.
Having been written in the late 50’s, the novel has a fun retro futuristic feel to it – a mix of soda jerks and rocket ships. It helps to put oneself in the mindset of the time, as a lot of science fiction has been written since this was published and it could easily be seen as a bit trite today, but I think it still holds up fine if you take it for what it is. Kip can be a bit wooden and 50’s, but Peewee was a fun, though not entirely believable, character that could easily be written today. Heinlein seemed to have quite progressive views when it came to gender equality, which admittedly isn’t something I come to expect from classic fiction. Peewee, while only a child, is in many ways emotionally stronger and braver than Kip. The story also features an alien referred to as the Mother Thing, because of the feeling of love and caring it imparts on the two main characters. The alien species does not have the same genders that humans do, however, and it opens up an interesting discussion of outdated gender roles in parenthood.
Being a mother is an attitude, not a biological relation.
The book finishes in an unexpected and interesting way, with a trial, an ancient Roman soldier, and flippant genocide. It did come across a little as a hilariously overhanded attempt to scare morality into the young adult demographic the book is aimed at, but it is an exciting way to end the story.
Have Space Suit—Will Travel is just a good ol’ fashioned space adventure.