Have Spacesuit Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein
Ballantine PPBK: ISBN 034546107X PubDate: 08/01/03
Review by Ernest Lilley
240 pgs. List price $ 6.99
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Get this. Kip, a young man living in small town, wins a surplus spacesuit as second prize in a contest because he desperately wanted to go to space. Determinedly making lemonade when from this basket of lemons, he restores the suit just to see if it can be done, and just before he's abducted by aliens. He gets caught in a war between good aliens and bad aliens and eventually gets to represent humanity before the galactic UN. Oh, and he goes to a school that's more concerned with self esteem than studying. Sound familiar? Well, it ought to, either because you've read Heinlein's YA classic already or because you've lived through the decades of culture it imagined. First published in 1958, this is what people are talking about when they say, "I wish there was someone who could write YASF like Heinlein." Well, actually, there are lots of good folks doing just that, but like any original, the seminal work is hard to beat.
Not only is this the seminal YASF novel, let us not forget that this is a buddy novel…and the "bud" is none other than SF's prototype cool chick, "Pewee" who doesn't wear spandex, though who knows what she'll look like when she's a few years older, but she's smart, aggressive, and never gives up. Pewee isn't (nor is likely to ever be) under some guy's thumb. Kip, on the other hand, is the prototype for generations of Americans raised in comfort and coddled by a society that values "self esteem" over accomplishment, and the book is largely about watching him overcome what he's been taught about ought and watching him pick himself up (with Pewee's help) to do what needs doing. As he says at the end: "It's was a team...we couldn't have made it without Pewee. The kid's got guts." Kip...clueless to the end.
Even if only as a place to examine the retro-values of the 50s, I would pay hard tax money to put this book in every student's hands. Of course, it does start out with an indictment of the feel good curriculum, which was still with us the last time I checked with my six year old nephew, but after you get done with that, there is still a lot of lively discussion to be had about how it feels to be part of a "uncivilized" country under the scrutiny of the galactic federation. And then there's a great essay assignment comparing and contrasting the future show in the book to the one we live in. Topical, timely, classic, and beyond all that, this is still a terrific read. I'm giving my copy to my nephew, with any luck it will spacewarp his mind.