Forgotten? Heinlein: Have Space Suit–Will Travel

Have Space Suit–Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein. Scribner’s & Sons, 1958. Juvenile novel # 12 in the series. Published in both hardcover and paperback that year by Scribner’s as part of the Heinlein juvenile series.

Continuing my survey of Robert Heinlein’s set of twelve juvenile science fiction novels, we now reach the last one*, number twelve.
* see note in “My Take”.

The Plot
Clifford “Kip” Russell, enters an advertising jingle writing contest, hoping to win an all-expenses-paid trip to the Moon. He instead gets a used, decommissioned space suit. Kip puts the suit (which he dubs “Oscar”) back into working condition.

Kip reluctantly decides to return his space suit for a cash prize to help pay for college, but puts it on for one last walk. As he idly broadcasts on his shortwave radio, someone identifying herself as “Peewee” answers and requests a homing signal. He is shocked when a flying saucer lands practically on top of him. A young girl (Peewee) and an alien being (the “Mother Thing”) flee from it, but all three are quickly captured and taken to the Moon.

Wormface, their kidnapper, is a creature who contemptuously refers to all others as “animals”. He has two human flunkies who assisted him in initially capturing the Mother Thing and Peewee, a preteen genius and the daughter of an eminent scientist. The Mother Thing speaks like birdsong, yet Kip and Peewee have no trouble understanding her.

Kip, Peewee, and the Mother Thing try to escape to the nearest human base by hiking across the lunar surface, but they are recaptured and taken to a base on Pluto. Kip is thrown into a cell, later to be joined by the two human traitors, who have apparently outlived their usefulness. Before they later disappear, one mentions to Kip that his former employers eat humans.

The Mother Thing, meanwhile, makes herself useful to their captors by constructing advanced devices for them. She manages to steal enough parts to assemble a bomb and a transmitter. The bomb takes care of most of the Wormfaces, but the Mother Thing freezes when she tries to set up the transmitter outside without a spacesuit. Kip is barely able to set up and activate the distress beacon, but help arrives almost instantly. It turns out that the Mother Thing has survived and though Kip suffers severe frostbite and is kept in a state of cryopreservation while the Mother Thing’s people figure out how to heal him.

Kip and Peewee are transported to Vega 5, the Mother Thing’s home planet. While Kip recuperates, “Prof Joe” learns about Earth from Peewee and Kip. Once Kip is well, he, Peewee, and the Mother Thing travel to a planet in the Lesser Magellanic Cloud, to face an intergalactic tribunal, composed of many advanced species which have banded together for self-protection.

The Wormfaces are put on trial first. They promise to annihilate all other species, and are judged to be dangerous. Their planet is “rotated” out of three-dimensional space without their star – effectively an act of genocide dooming them to freeze to death.

Then it is humanity’s turn. Peewee’s and Kip’s recorded remarks are then admitted into evidence. In humanity’s defense, Kip makes a stirring speech. The Mother Thing and a representative of another race argue that the short-lived species are essentially children who should be granted more time to learn and grow. It is decided to re-evaluate humanity after “a dozen half-deaths of radium” (19200 years).

Kip and Peewee are returned to Earth with devices and equations provided by the Vegans. Kip passes the information along to Professor Reisfeld, Peewee’s father. Reisfeld arranges a full scholarship for Kip at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Kip wants to study engineering and spacesuit design.

My Take
This may have been the first of Heinlein’s juvenile novels I read as a kid, and I still remembered parts of it clearly, especially the trek across the moon in an attempt to reach Moonbase and help. Other parts I’d completely forgotten. This reading I soaked it all up and enjoyed it very much.

Note: In the opening paragraph I said this is the twelfth and last of the juvenile novels Heinlein wrote. Well, yes and no. The author intended Starship Troopers to be another one, but that was rejected by his publisher. Also, Podkane of Mars is sometimes considered one of the juvenile novels, though not intended to be one by the author. It does have an early teen protagonist, and adventures on Mars and Venus, as well as a controversial ending. More on that another time.

So that concludes my rereading of the Heinlein juvenile novels. Next week I’ll have a summing up with my favorites and least favorites, and a last few thoughts. See you then.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
This entry was posted in Books & Reading, Friday Forgotten Books, Science Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Forgotten? Heinlein: Have Space Suit–Will Travel

  1. JohnnyMac says:

    This is my favorite of Heinlein’s juveniles. There are several reasons for this but the key one is that great scene with Kip and Peewee facing the alien tribunal. When Kip’s arguments for the worth of the human race are brushed aside he unleashes his anger in a speech of splendid defiance:

    ” “Have you anything more to say?” old no-face went on relentlessly.
    I looked around at the hall. ” —the cloud-capped towers…..the great globe itself—” “Just this!”
    I said savagely. “It’s not a defense, you don’t want a defense. All right, take away our star—You will if you can and I guess you can. Go ahead! We’ll MAKE a star! Then, someday, we’ll come back and hunt you down—ALL OF YOU!”

    And then Kip and Peewee turn to the Mother Thing and demand that, if the Earth is to be destroyed, they should be returned home to share its fate rather than live on the charity of the murderers of their world.

    Personally I think that is one of greatest scenes Heinlein ever wrote.

  2. Jeff Meyerson says:

    This one I remember clearly. Good survey.

  3. When I was a kid, HAVE SPACE SUIT–WILL TRAVEL was my favorite Heinlein juvenile. A couple decades later I reread it and found it didn’t hold up to my initial opinion. Now I’d rank CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY and TUNNEL IN THE SKY above it. Nice survey of Heinlein’s juvenile SF novels.

  4. tracybham says:

    I love the title, and — based on your comments — I would probably enjoy the book. I am eager to see how you rank the novels. The notes about Starship Troopers and Podkane of Mars were interesting.

  5. Mark McSherry says:

    For me, reading Heinlein when he’s in first-person mode is almost irresistible. He perfected that breezy style with his two 1956 ‘adult’ novels DOUBLE STAR and THE DOOR INTO SUMMER and carries that forward with HAVE SPACE SUIT. -WILL TRAVEL was the first juvenile of his I read and still my favorite. I look forward to your rankings while they are all still fresh in your mind!

  6. James Reasoner says:

    This was the first Heinlein I ever read and probably the second SF novel (after SPACE HAWK by “Anthony Gilmore”). I loved it and went on to read all the other juveniles. I own a copy but have never reread it. One of these days, though.

  7. JohnnyMac says:

    One of the other reasons I love this book is that it introduced me to the works of Jerome K. Jerome. Kip’s father is described as reading “Three Men in a Boat” over and over again. That made me curious enough to find a copy and read it myself. It is a classic piece of humor and I do recommend it to anyone who has not read it already.

    “Three Men in a Boat” is full of passages that will produce reactions ranging from a grin to a belly laugh. One of my favorites is the one where one of the narrator’s companions laments that they have missed their chance to stop and see the famous graveyard a wealthy widow built for her pets. He tells them how the animals graves are set with inscribed marble tombstones amid beautifully landscaped grounds. The narrator remarks, with impeccably deadpan humor: “Ah well, I expect they deserve it quite as much as the average Christian does.”

  8. Pingback: The Heinlein Juveniles | Tip the Wink

  9. Todd Mason says:

    Did it matter much to you, the reference to HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL?

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  12. John Hocking says:

    This was always my favorite Heinlein juvenile.
    I recall many aspects of the book with fondness but the one that always stands out, the part that made me crow like a rooster when I read it in elementary school, was the conclusion– the very last sentence.
    As a gray old guy who’s spent much of his life reading, I can’t say as I’ve ever read another last line that made me quite so happy.

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