enhanced] DD-B

Book Note: Robert A. Heinlein, Have Spacesuit, Will Travel

I read this book about 16-Jul-2006. I've read this book before. The book is copyright 1958. This note was last modified Sunday, 03-Jan-2010 13:44:44 PST.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


Perhaps the best of the juveniles. A mediocre student is inspired to go to space, refurbishes a spacesuit (one of the booby prizes in a contest that would have taken him into space), and gets picked up by a human girl running from the wormfaces (bad guys, alien). Eventually the Mother Thing (good-guy alien) manages to build a beacon, and Kip manages to set it (out on a raised walkway on Pluto—kinda cold, and windy), and they're rescued. And the Wormfaces and the humans are "tried", to see if they're safe to let continue to exist. The Wormfaces aren't, so their planet is rotated out of this dimension. The humans manage, just barely maybe, to pass muster.

There's a lot of nice stuff, not quite covered in detail, about his work in refurbishing the suit (thus providing an excuse to talk about how the suit works, mostly).

Heinlein complains about the same things in education that people complain about today -- peer-group promotion, dumbed-down classes, preparation for life rather than academic content. Oscar Gordon seems to have gone to a very similar school. Those weren't what the Northfield schools showed at a date intermediate between Heinlein's writing and the present; but they may have been exceptional at the time, and they show signs of having decayed fairly quickly afterwards.

Kip is an interesting Heinlein character -- he's very smart, at least according to Peewee's father (who places, perhaps, somewhat too much faith in genetics for predicting this), and he doesn't know it. He's perhaps the closest Heinlein comes to the mechanic type; a good mechanic, but a guy who isn't very intellectual and likes making things go. The Stone twins are the other example, and they don't have any clear signs of unusual intelligence (above-average, sure). (And Professor Reisfeld seems pretty confident Kip will do okay at MIT, with hardly any contact with him, even though he wouldn't get in normally.)

Kip exhibits quite a bit of wisdom; certainly more of that than intellectual brilliance. I'm particularly struck with how he deals with Professor Reisfeld's interest in taking apart the beacon. "Do we dare take it apart?" "Well, it's got a lot of power tucked in it. It might explode." "Yes, it might." He handed it back, looking wistful.

There's a cigarette ad quoted which emphasizes that they aren't carcinogenic (p.21). As with the critique of education, it seems a bit early.

Brand name Coke. P.133, but not capitalized. I don't recall noting any other brand names.

The Three Galaxies police service nearly makes sense, which is quite an achievement for an organization that big. The specific rejection of "justice" as the goal is important; and can perhaps be tempered by a firm policy against creating severe injustice. Dumping whole planets out of space seems a bit drastic, but that's nothing to what Doc Smith characters do to persistent bad guys.

There does seem to be a hint of the idea that humanity has progressed remarkably fast. This is a recurrent theme in SF, and one of the more offensively self-congratulatory ones. It's the basis of Turtledove's World War series, too, but at least there it's partly played for laughs (and here's it's just hinted at). Are there stories where humanity is retarded for its age, but still recognized as sapient?

At the end, they come home to Peewee's father, who turns out to be a major academic with government connections, still working at the highest levels. Who knows who Kip's father is. Apparently Kip's father dropped out of the high levels to save his sanity, or his family, or some such. There's some nice scenes with the top scientists that Peewee's father calls in reading the collection of mathematics sent back to help us improve our technology. That's a glitch, by the way; the issue in the trial seemed to be that our technology was outspeeding our moral and social development, sending stuff to accelerate our technological development isn't a rational action by the people who made that judgement.

Don't know why it strikes me, but I want to make note that Kip names his spacesuit "Oscar", and that that's the nickname of the hero in Glory Road.

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David Dyer-Bennet