A novel by Robert A. Heinlein
, first published in 1958. Widely considered to be one of the best of his young adult novels.
Set Twenty Minutes into the Future
(of 1958, that is), the plot centers around Kip Russell, a young man who wins a used space suit by writing a whole bunch of advertising jingles for Skyway Soap. (He was hoping to win a trip to the moon. The spacesuit was the consolation prize.) After spending a great deal of time and energy restoring it, Kip decides to sell the spacesuit to help pay for college. He takes it for a final drive first — unfortunately, this results in him being kidnapped by a reptilian alien he ends up calling Wormface. The alien is also holding captive a little genius girl named Peewee and a strange, mink-like creature Kip calls the "Mother Thing"
Kip, Peewee, and the Mother Thing find themselves in Wormface and his fellow aliens' secret base on the moon and manage to escape, albeit briefly. After the failed attempt, the wormfaces decide to move the prisoners to an even more remote base on Pluto. There, the Mother Thing atempts an escape by setting up a beacon to contact her people, but seems to be fatally injured before she can activate the beacon. Kip completes the task and ends up almost dead himself. It turns out she was fine — her species can just shut itself down in a way that simulates death.
Fortunately, they are rescued and treated by the Mother Thing's people. Unfortunately, the Mother Thing's people like to judge new races
to see if it's safe to let them join galactic society. Kip finds himself called upon to defend humanity's right to exist
... despite having just graduated from high school.
In what may be the quintessential Heinlein ending, mankind wins the right to live, everyone gets home safe with scientific proof of their adventure, and Kip turns out to be a mathematical genius.
This novel provides examples of:
- Ascended Fanboy
- Asimov's Three Kinds of Science Fiction: A glowing example of "Adventure" science fiction — boy gets space suit, goes on adventure fighting aliens — but the detailed descriptions of Oscar in the first act verge on "Gadget" sci-fi.
- And You Were There: Weird variation in the Full Cast Audio recorded book edition. When Kip holds imagined conversations with Oscar, the suit's replies are done by the same actor playing Kip's father.
- Artistic License - History: Invoked in-universe. The alien court only very slowly realizes that their captured Neanderthal is not related to modern humanity.
- Beware the Nice Ones: The Mother Thing is gentle, soft spoken and eternally pleasant, with a small, frail looking body and enormous lemur like eyes. She also is fully capable of building a pair of bombs to destroy an alien base under her captors' noses and kill all of its personnel to guarantee her, Kip and Peewee's escape.
- Bottled Heroic Resolve: Dexedrine is your friend when you're trying to jog forty miles across the Lunar surface.
- Bratty Half-Pint: Peewee. Not as bad as some examples, but she's got all the hallmarks.
- Companion Cube: Oscar, Madame Pompadour
- Competition Coupon Madness: Kip wins his spacesuit in this kind of competition.
- The Determinator: Kip, walking out into an impossibly cold Plutonian night to set the rescue beacon, slowly freezing to near-death in the process. Not to mention the Mother Thing, who didn't even bother wearing a spacesuit when she tried it.
- Everyone Calls Him : The Mother Thing. She just is.
- Explosive Leash: Jock tells Kip that the Wormfaces implanted remote control bombs in the heads of him and his partner so they couldn't escape.
- Farmboy: Before his adventure starts, Kip is your average kid getting ready to start college. He even works as a soda jerk at the local pharmacy (see Zeerust below). In fact, he's such an archetypal 1950s All-American boy that after he's done saving the Earth, he goes right back to work behind the soda fountain.
- Fauxtastic Voyage
- Humans Are Special
- Humanity on Trial: Quite possibly the Ur Example.
- I Call It Vera: Oscar
- I'm a Humanitarian: The Wormfaces
- Inconvenient Itch: While trekking across the lunar surface, Kip itches all over but can't scratch because of the space suit he's wearing.
- Insignificant Little Blue Planet
- Little Stowaway: Peewee
- MacGyvering: Kip deals with trying to charge Peewee's empty suit bottles, which have incompatible joints with his own by wrapping them together with duct tape.
- No OSHA Compliance: Averted with Kip's spacesuit, which is a marvel of safety engineering. Peewee's cheap tourist model suit on the other hand...
- Pleading The Human Case
- Psychic Powers: The Mother Thing communicates via telepathy.
- Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Jock and Timothy, the Wormface's human minions, who betrayed the entire human race.
- Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Averted. It's Heinlein, people. What did you expect?
- Second Prize: The Spacesuit
- Small Universe After All
- Sorry To Interrupt
- Space Is Cold: Averted.
- Spacesuits Are SCUBA Gear: The cover of the 1958 edition.
- Not unreasonable, as Kip's sporadic descriptions of the suit make it sound like a diving suit built to withstand vacuum. Though his planned improvements on the technology definitely avert this.
- Species Loyalty: Kip and Peewee wish to return to Earth regardless of the ruling.
- Starfish Aliens
- Starfish Language
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Jock and Timothy, the Wormface's human minions.
- Zeerust: Navigating the stars... with a slide rule. As in many of Heinlein's juveniles, the setting is a strange (to modern readers) ultramodern version of the 1950s — live prime time TV and soda fountains in drugstores coexist with orbital space stations and interplanetary flight. *