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Have Space Suit - Will Travel
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The writing is simple, straightforward and easy to follow. Characterisation is good. The good guys are just as obvious as the bad guys and the ultimate bad guy may or may not be what he / she / it seems to be. The science in this science fiction classic is also not too hard to follow, which makes the book excellent for kids as well as those new to the genre. Mr Heinlein's background in aeronautics and space exploration comes in useful as well when he explains some of the basics of exploring outer space.
Obviously the book is aimed at younger readers but not too young, as our hero meets and befriends a suitably aged young lady who shares his experiences and life threatening adventures. All in all this is a wonderful book for readers of all ages. I look forward to reading more works of Robert A Heinlein.
Please read this book carefully. At roughly the half way mark of the story you will come across a single sentence which may well change the way the reader views the entire concept of science fiction, even the potential for the existence of alien life forms. That may well sound too heavy or too deep for a YA science fiction novel but it is there. I won't quote it now because I dont want to ruin the effect it may have on a young reader's mind. But you won't see it with your eyes closed. :-)
Clifford Russell (known as Kip) is a teenager who is finishing high-school and though he has passed the College Boards, his big dream is to go to the moon. His father has also made it clear that he needs to make his own way in the world, and so whether he goes to college or to the moon, he will have to find the means. The first part of the story covers his desperate attempt to win the Skyway Soap contest with its prize of a trip to the moon. Through hard work, the help of family and friends, and the whole town where he lives, Kip manages to put together nearly 5,800 entries to the contest.
Unfortunately Kip doesn't win the grand prize, but he is one of the people who is awarded the runner-up prize of a space suit. While it was a real space suit, it has been stripped down, so Kip decides to work hard at fixing the suit up, and this becomes the focus of the energies. As fall approaches and he has finished the suit, he realizes that he will need to sell the suit in order to attend college, so he decides to take one last walk in his fully functional space suit.
The story in this initial section is pretty straight forward. Heinlein develops Kip's character well, and there is a reasonable scientific basis for his repair of the space suit. At this point though, the story moves into more of a space adventure story. A rather implausible scenario results in Kip being kidnapped and aboard a space ship heading for the moon with a genius child, Patricia Reisfeld (known as Peewee) as a fellow prisoner as well as the Mother Thing (an alien), all of which are prisoners of Wormface (another alien) who is part of a race which seems intent on taking over the Earth.
While the jump into the space adventure part of the story is rather drastic, and completely changes the setting from one which was fairly plausible to one with two previously unknown aliens species and space ships using previously unknown drives, far beyond the technology of Earth, the transition does take place early enough in the story that the reader is willing to forgive the abrupt change. This part of the story ends up taking our characters to Pluto and puts them in a dire situation from which it appears impossible for them to escape.
At this point, Heinlein is forced to help the characters out of their dilemma, and then once again changes the reality of the story he was telling, to something else entirely. Now we find ourselves in a universe with space ships and drives which are capable of near instantaneous travel anywhere, and we move from an alien invasion story to one of morality. First we have the Wormface race put on trial, and then humanity itself. It is not clear why Heinlein decided to add these things in such a weak way so late in the story. One can only guess that it would not have been long enough without this section, but that doesn't change the fact that it weakens the overall story to a great extent.
If you know Heinlein, then you know that his characters are interesting and that his writing is very engaging for the reader. Both of those things are certainly true for this novel as they are for most of his work. However, this really is one of his weaker efforts, and I would strongly suggest that you do not select this novel as an introduction to Heinlein.
Thirty-five years later, Kip, Peewee and the Mother Thing have lost none of their charm. What I found most interesting about this book, however, was how very much things have changed since this it was first published: the story begins with Kip's attempting to win first prize in a soap slogan contest (he sends in 5,000+ entries) the grand prize for which is a trip to the moon. He doesn't win the trip but he does win Oscar-the-Traveling-Spacesuit, which turns out to be the best prize after all. Back to the contest: Kip can send in the actual contest form included with each bar of soap or he can send in a "reasonable facsimile." He entertains the idea of photographing the form 5,000 times before deciding that's impractical, so he settles instead for collecting the forms from the people who have bought the soap. I kept thinking, so why doesn't he just use the photocopier when it occured to me there weren't any photocopiers when this book was written. There weren't any intergrated circuits either, never mind microprocessors, which would have been necessary to achieve colonization of the moon in the first place. I also found it interesting that although when Kip graduates from high school he is reasonably well-educated in sciences and math (thanks to self-teaching -- and a diatribe from Heinlein on what he considers to be the sorry state of 1950's high school education) because he doesn't get a scholarship, he is faced with having to work while attending the local (read mediocre) state college. This book predates the arrival of college loans and grants as well.
I did like the fact that the other main character in this book is a girl -- it was good of Heinlein to provide his readers such an intelligent and resourceful role model.
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