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Have Space Suit - Will Travel
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One interesting aspect of this novel is the degree to which it is planted squarely in the late 1950s, when it was written. Here Heinlein makes no attempt at social speculation; the book deploys all the tropes of the 50s with only the added features that humans have rockets and have gone to the moon. So our hero Kip wins his spacesuit by submitting thousands of entries of slogans to a soap company that sponsors a TV show. He's a soda jerk plagued by a real-life jerk who constantly calls him a space cadet, in scenes reminiscent of "Back to the Future". (It's not first prize, which is a trip to the moon.) Here, before Heinlein decided in Starship Troopers to make his uncompromising statement in favor of military commitment and vitality, with a society organized to support that before anything else, we see a much more balanced universe, with brutal villains and gentle heroes, embodied by the "Mother thing", a female specimen of a versatile, empathetic cat-like species that saves Kip and PeeWee, the younger tomboy female protagonist, from a brutal race of aliens. Here we see sweet young adult/pubescent proto-courtship, as PeeWee matches or surpasses Kip for intelligence and bravery, with lots of competitive banter and (very) occasional flirtation. Ultimately Kip and PeeWee must present the case before a super-galactic court that the human species should not (at least yet) be wiped out as a potential threat to the civilized inhabitants of the known universe. Challenging work if you can get it.
The book is one more instance of how Heinlein can be as square as square can be (including a reference to Kip's high school winning a square dance championship), but also inspiringly all-American and ultimately transcendent as a statement that promotes improvisational bravery, independence, and decency. Pretty damn wonderful book.
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.