Monday, January 19, 2009

Robert A Heinlein's "Have Space Suit - Will Travel" (novel, space opera): Two teenagers defending earth in a multi-galaxy courtroom!

Cover image of the first edition of the novel titled Have Spacesuit - Will Travel by Robert A HeinleinThe most interesting parts of this novel are first 3 chapters before the space opera really begins - a critique of US school system that probably applies to schools everywhere, what constitutes ideal parenting, & some other similar issues.

There is another chapter near end - kids defending humans in a multi-racial alien court where the decision is going to be either to exterminate humanity or let is live. Conceptually, this part of the plot is similar to Fredric Brown's "Arena". Not exactly my favorite plot line & it's clear Heinlein is exploiting the reader emotionally; but I still ended up liking it.

Rest of the story is ok, but ... I mean - most space opera sounds the same, & this is no exception. But there are quite a few good quotes; I collect them in a separate post.

This is the second Heinlein story I've seen that spends considerable text describing the technicalities of a space suit - mostly spread through (I think) 3 chapters. Other story is "Misfit" (space suit parts not as detailed because it's short fiction). More space suit stories.

Story summary.

Two US teenagers - a boy & narrator named Clifford Russell ("Kip") & a girl Patricia Wynant Reisfeld ("Peewee"). Both super-competent. They get kidnapped by bad aliens ("wormfaces"). This leads to adventure on moon, Pluto, Vega Five, & a world called Lanador somewhere in Lesser Magellanic Cloud!

Wormfaces are from an earthlike world somewhere, & are now laying claims to earth since it's "unoccupied" (animals like humans don't count). They've a forward base at moon & a supply depot at Pluto.

Then there are good aliens - "Mother Thing" & her people from Vega 5. Mother Thing, a galactic cop, is also a prisoner of wormfaces because she's been trying to foil their plans. She will destroy the Pluto base of wormfaces. Resulting rescue by her people will lead to kids' adventures on Vega 5 (27(?) light years from Sol) & Lanador (167,000 light-years from Sol!).

Lanador is the headquarters of Three Galaxies, a UN-like organization of elder races from Lesser & Greater Magellanic Cloud & the Milky Way. Humanity is about to be judged there in a court room - whether it is likely to pose a threat to them in days ahead & hence should be terminated now, or there is some hope it can coexist. Kids are taken there as human "samples" from which the judging entity can form opinions of the whole of humanity - current & future!!! In the courtroom, we also get a conjecture that may be humanity is descended from "Old Race, allowing for mutation" - one of the oldest elder races, via crew of a ship that once was wrecked somewhere near earth!

There is some emotional drama, & earth will be put on watch rather than destroyed right away.


  1. Near end, the story has a brief reference to Edwin Abbott's novel "Flatland".

Fact sheet.

First published: As a 3-part serial in F&SF, August/September/October 1958.
Rating: A.
Nominated for Hugo Award in 1959 in novel category.
Related: Stories of Robert Heinlein (a few online).


Anonymous said...

One of the first Science Fiction Stories I'd ever read. Too bad it hasn't been made into a movie,...