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Literature / Have Space Suit – Will Travel

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A novel by Robert A. Heinlein, first published in 1958. Widely considered to be one of the best of his young adult novels.

Set 20 Minutes into the Future (of 1958, that is), the plot centers around Clifford "Kip" Russell, a young man who writes a whole bunch of advertising jingles for Skyway Soap, hoping to win a trip to the Moon. He doesn't come in first, but close enough to it to win a spacesuit. After spending a great deal of time and energy restoring it, Kip decides to sell the suit to help pay for college. He takes it for a final drive first — unfortunately, this results in him being kidnapped by a voracious 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 attempts 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 isn't bothered at all by being frozen solid, other than the not being able to move part.

Fortunately, they are rescued and Kip receives advanced medical treatment 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 alongside a dumb Neanderthal and a racist Roman legionnaire named Iunio, who were brought millennia into the future to account for all of human history.

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 gets a free ride to MIT.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Ascended Fanboy: Kip yearns to go to space. He gets more space than he ever expected.
  • Asimov's Three Kinds of Science Fiction: The book establishes semi-Casual Interplanetary Travel, and is a ripping good yarn, but has very loving descriptions of how the titular spacesuit works and why it works the way it does, combining Gadget (a technological marvel of a one-man spaceship) with Adventure (a Secret War between hostile and benevolent alien races).
  • 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 belatedly realizes that their captured Neanderthal is not an ancestor of modern humanity.
    • Science Marches On: ...while the modern genetic studies show that some Neanderthals are in our ancestry — we've simply assimilated them.
  • Badass Boast: Centurion Iunio, on trial for humanity loses his temper.
    Iunio: I'll make a funeral pyre of you! I'll temper my blade in your guts! I who am about to die, will show you a Roman's grave-piled high with Caesar's enemies!
    • Later in the trial, when things seem to be going badly, Kip angrily shouts that humans will make a new sun if the Earth is "rotated" note .
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: The hideous, cannibalistic, evil aliens are dubbed "Wormfaces" due to their facial tentacles, and are so abjectly malevolent that just making eye contact is a Brown Note. The Vegans are cute, cuddly, and (almost literally, due to their empathic projection ability) radiate benevolence, by stark contrast. Subverted during the trial, when Kip notices in the crowd an alien with a resemblance to Wormface, except it doesn't evoke the same sense of revulsion and fear.
  • 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.
    • Which brings up all kinds of Values Dissonance, as no sane pharmacist nowadays would even dream selling amphetamines to a high-school kid, spacesuit or not.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Peewee. Not as bad as some examples, but she's got all the hallmarks. She even invokes it.
    Peewee: Daddy said "No!" and Mama said "Good gracious, no!"...and so I went. I can be an awful nuisance when I put my mind on it. I have talent for it. Daddy says I'm an amoral little wretch.
    Kip: Uh, do you suppose he might be right?
    Peewee: Oh, I'm sure he is. He understands me, whereas Mama throws up her hands and says she can't cope. I was perfectly beastly and unbearable for two whole weeks and at last Daddy said "for Blank's sake let her go!—maybe we'll collect her insurance!" So I did.
  • Chekhov's Skill: The first chapter is mainly about Kip's father encouraging him to study higher levels of math and science than what is taught at his high school. Most of this comes in handy later, like when Kip manages to prove that the base he is in is in fact on Pluto. He also studies both Latin and Spanish, and Iunio the Centurion whom he meets later speaks a hybrid of the two.note 
  • Companion Cube: Kip names his suit Oscar and has (imagined) conversations with itnote . Peewee has her rag doll 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 "Barkeep": The Mother Thing. She just is.
  • Even the Loving Hero Has Hated Ones: An alien called the Mother Thing is consistently depicted as being loving and friendly. The aliens called Wormfaces are extremely evil by human standards, including kidnapping and eating human beings. When the Wormfaces face judgement before an intergalactic court of justice, the Mother Thing must recuse herself from speaking during their trial because she dislikes them so much.
  • 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. Kip thinks he may be lying, though, and Timothy appears to indicate that Jock is full of it.
  • Faceplanting into Food: At the end of the book, Peewee is so tired she falls asleep "with her face in her cereal". She still won't let anyone carry her up to her bedroom, though.
  • Fantastic Caste System: The Vegans are stratified into various types of "Things." It's mentioned to be an inborn psychological attitude. For example, Mother-Things are not literal mothers (in fact, the Mother-Thing Clifford and Peewee meet isn't even technically female), but they radiate motherhood-they have a deep, abiding love for smaller, weaker creatures and only want to nurture them and help them grow. By contrast, the Father-Thing Clifford meets in the hospital is like a wise, benevolent king straight out of a fantasy novel despite being neither a king nor a literal father (and presumably, not technically male, Vegans having somewhere around 12 sexes).
  • 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: After Kip sets the beacon on Pluto and they're rescued by Mother Thing's people, he wakes up in a replica of his own bedroom constructed according to his memories.
  • Food Slap: Kip eventually chucks a milkshake in Ace's face.
  • Humans Are Special: Zig-zagged. Humans are just another slightly troublesome race. Fortunately, the Three Galaxies court decides to give them a chance rather than destroy them. On the other hand, it is noted that they are advancing unusually fast, and the court notices humans are almost identical to the "Old Race", and that a ship of that race was lost in the vicinity of Earth thousands of years ago.
  • Humanity on Trial: Quite possibly the Ur-Example.
  • I Call It "Vera": Kip names his spacesuit Oscar.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The Wormfaces think everyone else are just food animals.
  • Inconvenient Itch: While trekking across the lunar surface, Kip itches all over but can't scratch because of the spacesuit he's wearing.
  • Insignificant Little Blue Planet: The Three Galaxies certainly think Earth is one of these, though they're afraid we might become a threat later on.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Kip dreams of them and reflects on the trope more than once.
  • Latex Space Suit: When Peewee models it for Kip, he asks if she's planning to be a ballet dancer. Unsurprising, as it's Future Spandex with an invisible force field as a helmet.
  • Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard: The Mother Thing manages to persuade the Wormfaces to let her have access to the workshops on their base on Pluto. This does not end well for the Wormfaces, as even under close supervision she manages to sneak enough spare parts for herself to build an FTL communications transmitter to call for help from her own people...and a couple of bombs powerful enough to wreck the entire base.
    Kip: (narrating) She got the run of their shops by baiting their cupidity. Her people had many things that wormfaces had not—gadgets, inventions, contrivances. She began by inquiring why they did a thing this way rather than another way which was so much more efficient? A tradition? Or religious reasons?
    When asked what she meant she looked helpless and protested that she couldn't explain—which was a shame because it was so easy to build, too.
  • MacGyvering: Kip deals with trying to charge Peewee's empty suit bottles, which have incompatible joints with his own, by wrapping them together with surgical tape.
  • Microts: The Three Galaxies measures time in atomic half-lives.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Kip's spacesuit is a marvel of safety engineering, averting the trope. Peewee's cheap tourist model suit, on the other hand, plays the trope straight - any child that got lost on the Lunar surface would be doomed pretty quickly. No emergency radio? No water tank either, and the air tanks have bayonet-and-snap joints instead of the screwthread type that Kip has.
    • The tourist suits are meant to be as simple as possible to make them idiot-proof, the idea being that tourists are all on short chaperoned tours — if a tourist accidentally bit the nipple off his water tube, he might drown in his helmet. Kip's spacesuit, on the other hand, doesn't have a compass, because it's meant to be used for space station work.
  • Nuclear Torch Rocket: Discussed. The protagonist does some in-head calculations, and reaches the conclusion that at the constant thrust equaling eight gravities it's capable of, the alien ship could do Alpha Centauri and back within a quite reasonable timeframe.
  • Pleading the Human Case: Kip and Peewee must prove that humanity will not become a threat to the Three Galaxies confederation. Or our planet will be "rotated" out of space-time. Without bringing the sun along.
  • Plug 'n' Play Technology: Averted when Kip has to fill the bottles on Peewee's spacesuit because she's Almost Out of Oxygen, but his oxygen bottles are the screw-in type while Peewee's have bayonet sockets. He's able to jury rig a connection using hose and surgical tape.
  • Psychic Powers: The Mother Thing communicates partially by song, partially by some undefinable form of empathic projection. Kip never does pin down exactly how it works; he notes it's not true telepathy, because he has some trouble communicating with the Mother Thing's people when it came to certain concepts.
  • Retired Badass: Kip's father puts "Spy" on his tax forms as his occupation (when the IRS tries to get him to stop, he offers to mark it "Unemployed Spy"), mentions having done "cloak and dagger work" for the government, and he doesn't blink an eye at Kip's incredible story. It also turns out he knows the man who's like the president of Earth, and top scientists know him for his brilliant work as a "mathematical psychologist."
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Jock and Timothy, the Wormface's human minions who betrayed the entire human race, are eventually turned into "Jock and Timothy soup".
  • Save the Villain: Lampshaded during Wormface's trial. The judges ask if anyone will speak on behalf of the Wormface race. Kip wonders for a moment if he should give a Patrick Stewart Speech on their behalf.
    That was my chance to be noble. We humans were their victims; we were in a position to speak up, point out that from their standpoint they hadn't done anything wrong, and ask mercy - if they would promise to behave in the future. Well, I didn't. I've heard all the usual Sweetness and Light that kids get pushed at them - how they should always forgive, how there's some good in the worst of us, etc. But when I see a black widow, I step on it; I don't plead with it to be good little spider and please stop poisoning people. A black widow spider can't help it - but that's the point.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Averted. It's Heinlein, people. What did you expect?
    • The book's "stages" actually help convey the colossal scale of events. Kip is transported to the Moon, and he marvels. Then he's imprisoned in an underground base on Pluto, and he goggles. Then he's rescued and taken to a planet orbiting Vega for emergency surgery, and he's dumbfounded. And finally he's transported to a different galaxy to be a witness at the Wormfaces' trial, and he muses that, "there comes a time when the circuit breakers in your skull trip out from overload."
  • Second Prize: Kip sends in the winning jingle in the advertising contest...but it turns out a whole bunch of people also came up with it, and their place in the hierarchy of prizes is determined by postmark dates. Kip gets the titular spacesuit.
  • Separated by a Common Language: Kip knows enough Latin to attempt to talk to Iunio when they first meet. Unfortunately, the Latin he knows is a world away from the Latin Iunio knows, which means Kip's barely comprehensible and accidentally insults him in the bargain—calling him "friend" is heavily implied to be an accidental proposition or at least extremely over-familiar. Luckily, they work it out later.
  • Shipper on Deck: Peewee's dad says she's "fond" of Kip. And suggests he visit semi-regularly. And mentions how Kip's dad ended up marrying his most brilliant student. It's pretty clear he expects some sparks to fly when Peewee is old enough.
  • Shout-Out: The title refers to Have Gun – Will Travel. There's also a few minor shoutouts throughout.
  • Small Universe After All: The Three Galaxies government covers three galaxies: the Lesser and Greater Magellanic Clouds and the Milky Way. They have ships that can travel instantaneously between galaxies.
  • Sorry to Interrupt: While being held prisoner (comfortably) on an alien planet, Kip enters Peewee's room and finds her crying. She doesn't notice him, so he sneaks out and then starts to head back while making a lot of noise so she can hear him coming and hide the fact that she was crying.
  • Space Is Cold: Averted. Kip points out that the main temperature problem in a spacesuit is getting rid of the wearer's body's heat, not freezing to death. The surface of Pluto, on the other hand, is really cold.
  • Space Police: Mother-Thing is referred to as a "cop" by Peewee. She's something of a Juvenile Welfare officer rather than the equivalent of a constable, however.
  • 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 (He tests it at one point by taking a stroll through a creek). Though his planned improvements on the technology definitely avert this.
    • It's mentioned that the Latex Space Suit that Peewee is wearing averts the hose problem.
  • Species Loyalty: The Mother Thing arranges to let Kip and Peewee live out their lives in comfort if humanity is judged dangerous by the Three Galaxies and Earth is "rotated" to another dimension. Both decide that they wish to return to Earth regardless of the ruling.
  • Starfish Aliens: Pretty much all of the aliens Kip meets, though some appear humanlike (although the one that looks like a Green-Skinned Space Babe looks at him like he's a chimpanzee).
  • Starfish Language:
    • The Mother Thing sings when she speaks, and only the person she is speaking to can understand what she's saying. Otherwise, it sounds like birdsong.
    • One alien at the trial communicates in interpretive dance, which the computer translates for everyone else.
  • Tall Poppy Syndrome: Near the end of the book, after the kids have been rescued from Pluto and Kip is in recovery on the Mother Thing's homeworld. He almost takes a jab at Peewee, about her being smarter than other kids her age. He stops himself when he notices that she'd actually rather insecure about it. Remembering that his father talked down about people "Who insist that cause that 'mediocre' is better than 'best.' They delight in clipping wings because they themselves can't fly."
  • Technology Porn: Kip's detailed description of his spacesuit and the steps he makes to get it working again. Justified as Heinlein wanted his readers to grow up and become engineers who would be inspired to build spacesuits for real.
  • Would Be Rude to Say "Genocide": Races that have troubled the Three Galaxies have their worlds "rotated" to another dimension.
    Kip: (narrating) It struck me that the wormfaces were getting off easy.
    Mother Thing: "You do not understand, dear gentle Kip-they do not take their star with them."
    Kip: "Oh—"
  • 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 primetime TV and soda fountains in drugstores coexist with orbital space stations and interplanetary flight. note