“Have Space Suit – Will Travel” is probably the most whimsical of all Heinlein’s juvenile novels and also one of the most entertaining. The protagonist is Kip Russell, a high school senior who more than anything wants to go into space. But his high school doesn’t have the rigorous curriculum necessary to qualify him for a top engineering college. But exhorted by his father to show initiative he enters the “Spaceway Soap” tag line contest that has a first prize of a free trip to the Moon. He enters hundreds of phrases and one of his wins but it turns out another contestant sent it first so he gets a consolation prize of a real (but used) space suit. Kip spends his summer repairing and installing the equipment needed to make the suit a functional piece of equipment. As the summer is ending, he decides he will send the suit back and get the cash refund that will help him try to enter the local state college that is Kip’s only option.
But before returning it he takes it out into his rural neighborhood and using the functional radio transmitter that he’s installed in the suit he sends some fake messages. He broadcasts, “Junebug to Peewee, come in.” And when, surprisingly, Peewee answers him he tells her to home in on his position. And then a flying saucer lands in front of him. And then another one lands. And then an alien comes running out of the first one and gets shot. And then Kip gets shot with a ray gun.
When Kip wakes up, he is aboard one of the flying saucers and he meets Peewee. She is a ten-year-old girl and a genius. He finds out that she is being held prisoner by bug-eyed monsters that have also captured the alien that he saw earlier. Peewee calls this alien the Mother Thing because of her empathetic abilities. When Kip met them, Peewee and the Mother Thing had stolen a ship from the bug-eyed monsters (that Peewee calls the Wormfaces for obvious reasons) and been chased to his location. Peewee had thought that because Kip had called for Peewee by name that it was her father trying to save her. Her father is a very important scientific expert working with the government and academia. She was kidnapped by some human agents of the Wormfaces while she was a tourist on the Moon. And the Moon is where the flying saucer is taking them.
The story is extremely compelling with plenty of exciting exploits with planetary, interstellar and even intergalactic travel that expands the plot into higher and higher levels of extraterrestrial civilization. By the end of the story Kip is representing Earth in a trial for the very future of the human race.
The story is a tour de force to showcase Heinlein’s ability to combine all of the tropes of the Golden Age Science Fiction space opera stories into an engaging adventure featuring a young adult protagonist that fits the Heinlein juvenile specification of an up by his bootstraps achiever who wants to go into last frontier of outer space by hard work and clean living.
I won’t give away all the details but I will say that this story is immensely entertaining and the protagonist is a wonderfully Heinleinesque narrator for this romp through the outer reaches of our solar system and beyond. Very, very highly recommended for young and old alike.