Have Space Suit – Will Travel by Robert A Heinlein – A Science Fiction Book Review

“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.


6 thoughts on “Have Space Suit – Will Travel by Robert A Heinlein – A Science Fiction Book Review

  • August 27, 2019 at 1:48 pm

    One of my all time favorite novels. Well reviewed, sir.
    I have friends with young children who (I think) would benefit from the Heinlein Juveniles as I did.
    I would buy them a set, but all I can find are 1960’s and 70’s era paperbacks in poor condition for ridiculous sums.
    I don’t think a child would be interested in reading these.
    Is anyone reprinting these?

    • August 27, 2019 at 2:37 pm

      Chemist, the fact that these books aren’t available as new editions is a crime. Maybe the best way to get a usable copy is to buy an old used hardback copy. They go for $35 – $50 but the old paperbacks are too fragile.
      The leather bound edition of all of Heinlein’s work (fiction and non-fiction) goes for about $1,200!!! I’m tempted but then sanity returns.

  • August 27, 2019 at 5:14 pm

    When I first read this as a youngster I had bone to pick with it. Supposedly turning a planet 90 degrees on its axis put it in another dimension and it did not take it’s sun with it. I called shenanigans on that one as Uranus is on its side and still with us. Other than that, I loved the book as I did all of Heinlein’s juvies. I think my fave of the juvies was “Between Planets”.

    • August 27, 2019 at 6:24 pm

      I think that was Heinlein’s short hand for rotating 90 degrees from all three axes (x, y and z) so therefore into a fourth spatial dimension and therefore right out of three dimensional space. He talked about something similar in his short story “And he Built a Crooked House.” Of course he doesn’t mention exactly how that’s possible but I guess he figured that was the fiction part of science fiction and we’d give him a pass.

  • August 28, 2019 at 7:42 am

    Probably, but before the Earth was smacked by Theia in the Hadean epoch, we had no large, stabilizing moon, a lot less heavy iron in our core and hence our poles may have swung wildly. Some scientists estimate that if we were to suddenly lose Luna our axis could vary by as much as near 90 degrees, over millions of years, of course.

    Didn’t Heinlein use the x/y/x axis compression trick in “Number of the Beast” to allow Gay Deceiver to go from dimension/universe to dimension/universe (including to Oz), and to travel instantaneously without moving while staying in one space/time?

    • August 28, 2019 at 10:08 am

      I’m not exactly sure how Heinlein justified ignoring the inertia of a spinning, moving planet-sized mass when he “rotated it 90 degrees.” Maybe he was following E. E. Doc Smith’s idea of an inertialess drive. I think Heinlein depended on the general principle that technology sufficiently advanced will appear as magic to the lesser technological society. By the time he got to Number of the Beast I lost track of how many plates he had spinning in the air. Basically his characters could do or be anything. That starts to sound like fantasy. But it is fun.

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