Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Have Space Suit - Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein

Have Spacesuit, Will TravelOnce again, Heinlein is writing for young adults. The story starts in small-town Centerville, where young Clifford Russell is attending high school. A lunar base has been established recently, and Cliff is just dying to get to the moon. His primary hope is to go to college and get the right kind of degree to allow him to get hired to work on the Moon, but that might be difficult, as the school he attends has adopted "modern' methods of teaching that really don't prepare a young man for hard science classes at a top notch university.

"Center is a swell school...It's run along the latest, most scientific lines, approved by psychologists...and paying excellent salaries for a staff highly trained in modern pedagogy. Study projects emphasize practical human problems to orient the child in democratic social living, to fit him for the vital meaningful tests of adult life in our complex modern culture...and to achieve these noble purposes we are spending more per student than is any other state save California and New York."

I wonder if Heinlein was onto something fishy in educational theory as early as 1958?

So, Cliff's father gets him started on a home study college prep of his own design, and he begins to work hard at more practical things than they're teaching him in school. Cliff soon discovers another way he might get to the Moon when a national soap company holds a slogan contest, with the grand prize being an all-expense paid trip to the Moon. Cliff turns into a soap selling madman at his after school job down at the drug store, and cadges the soap labels upon which each entry must be submitted from his customers. After sending in hundreds of entries, the contest day arrives and Cliff finds out that he has won...a space suit.

The space suit is a used one, at that. Cliff doesn't remain discouraged for very long, and he begins to use some of his new technical skills to refurbish it, making it fully functional again, on a pretty low budget. He takes a lot of ribbing from the kids around school and the town clown, but finds his project fascinating, and the soap company has offerred to buy the suit back at the end of the summer for $500, which will go a long way towards college tuition.

One night, while Cliff is out taking one last simulated space walk in the fields near his house, he hears a distress call on his suit radio, and when he replies, it kicks off the crazy adventure that takes this story to the Moon and beyond. He is shanghaied by some space aliens, who are being pursued by the equivalent of space police, who have also kidnapped a girl who was visiting the Moon, nicknamed PeeWee. Things just get wilder and wilder as the story rolls along. The story was originally serialized in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, so I imagine Heinlein just had to keep coming up with bigger and better cliff hangers each issue. Peppered throughout with handy science factoids (somewhat dated), it aimed to educate as well as entertain.

Not really his best work, in my opinion, but an amusing tale of early RAH.

1 comment:

Ron said...

One of my favorite Heinlein books!