Have Space Suit—Will Travel

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Have Space Suit—Will Travel
Written by: Robert A. Heinlein
Central Theme:
First published: 1958
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A novel by Robert 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 test drive first -- unfortunately, responding to a radio distress call while doing so 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 she 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 intergalactic 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 genius unware.

Tropes used in Have Space Suit—Will Travel include:
  • 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.
  • Answering Echo: As part of refurbishing the space suit, Kip rigs a "repeater circuit" for its radio that echoes back anything he transmits after a couple-second delay, so he can pretend he's talking to someone while wearing it.
  • Artistic License History: Invoked in-universe. The alien court only very slowly realizes that their captured Neanderthal is not related to modern humanity.
  • Ascended Fanboy: Kip, regarding space travel.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Farm Boy: 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: Invoked and played with: after his capture, Kip notices that the gravity in a room he is in is much less than normal. He notes that if it continues for a long time, that he must be off Earth (it is possible to have low gravity for a short time on Earth, just be in an elevator going down) and therefore it is not a Fauxtastic Voyage.
  • Humans Are Special
  • Humanity on Trial: Quite possibly the Ur Example.
  • I Call It "Vera": Oscar
  • 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...
  • Patrick Stewart Speech: Kip gives one to the aliens who were deciding whether to destroy Earth.
    • Note that the most effective part of his speech is a threat. "Go ahead, take away our sun. We'll make one. And then we'll come for the ones that did it!"
      • Nope, the aliens weren't idiots, they knew if they acted we were helpless. Even the hero who made the speech realized it was rather childish but he just wanted to do the Churchill, "We shall never surrender" thing.
    • Note that the hero also briefly considered using a speech or two from some of earth's more famous orators... Then realised that it would be hollow if his last words on behalf of mankind just stole someone else's clever speech. His own last words (not death last, but last words admissible to the 'court' as it were) inspired one alien to do the whole 'were we not so different once' thing. It works.
  • Precocious Crush: At the very end, Peewee's father informs Kip that this is the case with Peewee, although Kip isn't sure he sees it. (One of Heinlein's last works strongly hints that the crush was in fact there, and grew into something mutual when she got older.)
  • Psychic Powers: The Mother Thing communicates via telepathy... sort of -- she speaks in her own musical language, but Kip understands her without effort.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Averted. It's Heinlein, people. What did you expect? The entire structure of the book is based around repeatedly expanding the scope of Kip's universe, from small town to three galaxies, in several multi-order-of-magnitude steps.
  • Second Prize: The Spacesuit
  • Small Universe After All
  • Sorry to Interrupt
  • Space Is Cold: Averted.
  • Space Suits 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.
  • Starfish Aliens
  • Starfish Language
  • Unsatisfiable Customer: "Ace" Quiggle, who repeatedly harasses Kip while he works as a soda jerk at a pharmacy.
  • 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.[1]
  1. Slide rules are practically Heinlein's calling card. It'd probably be faster to list the books of his that don't have "slide rule" or "slip stick" mentioned somewhere. He used the term "slipstick" so regularly, whole generations of his fans are growing up with the erroneous notion that people who used slide rules on a daily basis actually called them that.