Book Review: Have Spacesuit, Will Travel

Vintage cover of "Have Spacesuit Will Travel"Well geez, who doesn’t like this book?  It funny, it’s exciting, it’s smart.  It’s solid Heinlein without all the sexual fantasizing of Heinlein’s later books.  It’s impossible not to like a book in which slide rules are a space man’s best friends and oxygen tanks are repaired with duct tape.  This is a book about solving problems, and whether the problem is how to get to the moon, how to escape from a pit, or how to convince a group of aliens not to destroy the Earth, our hero, Kip, never stops thinking and never gives up.

Kip, a teenage boy, starts the book with a dream – he wants to go to the moon.  His father, who is possibly the best father in all fiction, ever, supports him in his efforts without helping out too much.  The major themes of this book are of the importance of independence, self-reliance when necessary, teamwork when possible, and above all the importance of hard work and personal responsibility.  Kip tries to win a trip to the moon and fails – but he does wear a spacesuit as a consolation prize.  This turns out to be handy when he is kidnapped by aliens.  I suppose you could argue that another theme of the book is:  Always Be Prepared.

This book is hard sci fi – it’s light, and it’s fun, but it’s packed with math, science, and technology.  Kip names his suit “Oscar” and by the time he’s done giving Oscar an overhaul we, the readers, could probably assemble our own suit from scratch if we wanted to, just by following Kip.  The book is very much about solving problems as opposed to character development.  Kip ends the story pretty much the same person he was at the beginning, only with his horizons dramatically expanded.  The relationship between Kip and his fellow spacefarer, Peewee, an eleven year old girl genius, is fun to watch although the dialogue sounds more like Heinlein talking to himself than like two different people talking to each other.

I had a blast reading this book, and I have a new motto, thanks to an early line, “Any statement that begins with the words ‘I really ought to’ is suspect”.  I recommend this for anyone looking for a light, quick, sci-fi classic with an emphasis on facing and solving problems.

Introducing Friday Book Club!

SWT-Book-ClubsWelcome to a new feature of Geek Girl In Love – Book Club!  I lead a monthly book club at the Arden-Dimick Branch of the Sacramento Public Library.  Every Friday on this blog, I’ll be posting something relevant to the book we are reading that month, and hoping for some online discussion.  You should be able to enjoy and participate online even if you haven’t read the book.  If you are in the Sacramento area, join us in person at Arden Dimick Library, on the third Sunday of each month, at 2PM.  Otherwise, hang out here for bookish chit-chat.

Our first series is on Gothic Literature.  September is all about Edgar Allan Poe – expect the first post on Friday, September 6th.  In October we are reading Dracula, and in November we are reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Unusual Children.  We will take a break in December but be back in January with a three-month series on humor – we’ll need it, after all that goth!

Incidentally, some of you had a confusing sneak preview of the Poe entries earlier this month due to technical difficulties.  Once again, this blogger learns a valuable lesson about not performing tasks that require attention to detail after 11PM.  Hopefully now I have my dates sorted out, and in the meantime, a few of you had a head start – yay?

So dust off your Poe, if you are so inclined, and get out that black lipstick you had back in the 1990’s (who, me?) and get ready for a creepy Autumn, to be followed by a funny Spring.  I’m excited!  Life of Poe, coming your way next Friday!

Wednesday Videos: Candy From A Baby

WednesdayVideoI love you, Mythbusters!  Never change, you magnificent bastards!

For full results (not in video form, sadly, click here).

Sadly, even Mythbusters can be deterred.  Explosives and sharks hold no terrors for them, but lawyers…that’s a different story:

If that story makes you feel sad, you cheer yourself up by seeing  what happens when the Mythbusters play with matches:

Go do something loud and funny today – you know, for SCIENCE!

Hooray for Triple Digits!

the number 100 made from legos

As of this writing, we officially have a hundred followers – Mad Scientist Husband refused to subscribe until I got ninety-nine followers so that he could be the one hundredth one.  That’s pure romance, people.  Flowers are boring, but a man who follows your blog is a man to keep.

So as I type madly away in the dead of night, I have to wonder – who is reading my stuff?  To the best of my knowledge, here’s who’s reading:

1.  My friends and relatives on Facebook who are being sucked in against their will because I have used the powers of WordPress for evil.

2.  My mom.

3.  My mom’s knitting group, possibly because they fear that if they don’t read my blog, my mother will attack them with knitting needles.  Such is a Mother’s Love.

4.  The mad scientist, henceforth known as No. 100.

5.  And this is the amazing part:  Some people I don’t know.

It’s true!  I know it’s true, because I don’t think I actually know 100 people!  As they say in Bloom County, “I say to myself, ‘Why, that is DARNED exciting!'”

So thanks to the one hundred (and possibly, by the time this is posted, more) people who are subscribing to Leave a comment and tell us what draws you to the blog – the book reviews?  The science stuff?  Videos?  My scintillating wit?  Today, 100.  Tomorrow, the world!

Book Review: Grimbold’s Other World

Cover of Grimbold's Other WorldMy animal loving cousin said, “Why don’t you review a book about dog training?”  Cousin is well aware that we have had mixed success with our dog, who will jump through a hoop on command but still eats all my clothes.

“Well”, said I, “Most of what I write about is science fiction and fantasy and romance…”

“Oh”, said Cousin, “Would you review this book I liked when I was a child?  It’s not about a dog, it’s about a cat”.

This being an equal opportunity blog, both cat and dog books are welcome, especially if they fit into one of the genres listed above, so I gave her recommendation a try.  It was delightful although I suspect it’s one of those books that’s better when you are a kid – I say this because I thought the book was not strong as an overall piece of literature, but had great kid-bait moments.  I can hardly wait to read the chapter to my daughter in which a baby dragon is lost and found.  She’ll eat it up.

Grimbold’s Other World, by Nicholas Stuart Gray, is a children’s fantasy book about a boy who befriends (sort of) a cat that is able to guide the boy between worlds.  The boy is able to communicate with animals and often finds himself in other worlds by accident, although he is usually guided there by Grimbold.  Grimbold keeps needing a human to help him save the son of an evil sorcerer.  This son is something of a jerk and always in trouble, but Grimbold just can’t stand to see him come to harm.    The story is episodic, as the boy, named Muffler, goes about his life but is constantly interrupted by inter-world crises.  Along the way we encounter an anxiety-ridden dog, a loyal horse, a baby dragon, a unicorn, and, in my opinion, some truly dreadful poetry.

This book does not have especially well-developed characters, or amazing powers of description, or brilliant use of language, or a plot that makes much sense, or much thematic depth to it.  So, were I grading it, I would not give it an A.  BUT – this book has a cat that pulls the boy into an alternate universe by taking him through the chimney, a unicorn, and a baby dragon.  Frankly, that’s some good literature, right there.  Well-developed characters and such things would be icing on the cake, but let’s face it, once you’ve got talking animals and a baby dragon, you can’t go too far wrong.  I haven’t tried this book out on my own daughter yet, but I predict that she will look upon it the way I look at a package of Oreos.  She will read this thing before you can say “baby dragon”.  This is nine-year-old kid crack, especially if the kid in question loves animals.  No wonder Cousin liked it – I did too!  I’m not sure if many adults will find it to be deeply satisfying – it doesn’t have the substance of something like the Narnia books or Neverending Story.  But you’ll enjoy sharing it with your kids.  Just don’t be surprised if you find your kids climbing up the chimney.

Gateway Drugs: The Science Fiction Edition

door opening onto poppiesIt’s time for Gateway Drugs – and this month we’re looking at science fiction.  The joy of science fiction is that it encompasses so many styles of writing.  In popular imagination, science fiction means Star Wars and Star Trek – stories with lasers, spaceships, and aliens, and a lot of action.  God knows, I cherish those things.  But there are all kinds of writing within the science fiction genres – mystery, romance, comedy, tragedy.  There’s space opera and there’s small-scale, character-driven, philosophical stories.  you name it, science fiction has it.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy

Let’s start with an anthology that has a little bit of everything.

The Latest Edition of The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy

The Latest Edition of The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy

Here’s what the author Connie Willis has to say about The Year’s Best:

My second big influence was The Year’s Best SF&F.  This was the 1950’s, when Judith Merrill, and Robert P. Mills, and Anthony Boucher were editors of this collection, which came out every year.  I’d read a Philip K. Dick story, and then a Theodore Sturgeon story, and then a Frederick Brown story, and then a Shirley Jackson story.  It was an amazing experience, not just because the stories were amazing, but because I saw this vast variety of things you could do.  You could have a highly experimental story, and then a rip-roaring adventure, and then a horror story, and then you’d have a sweet little romance – all in one book.  Had I just read novels, I don’t think I would have stuck with it.

One of the first stories I ever sold was a romantic comedy.  It was called “Capra Corn” – a terrible title.  I knew that within science fiction, I would write anything I wanted to.  I thought, I can write a sad story and then a really fun story, and nobody said a word.  I thought, I can do anything I want!  That’s why I had so much fun, and why I’ve stuck with the genre all this time.

R Is For Rocket, Ray Bradbury


I discovered science fiction when I asked my dad for something to read.  He showed me his collection of Ray Bradbury and Issac Asimov short stories.  Not only did those books get me to read science fiction, but according to a lot of rooms full of current sci-fi authors, those two guys got ALL of us to read science fiction, long before we knew what science fiction was.  In R is for Rocket,  you can read about spaceflight, and sea monsters, and time travel.  You can read about the emotional problems that come with leaving everything you know on Earth behind to colonize Mars.  You can read “The Sound of Summer Running”, which is about a boy who wants new tennis shoes, and isn’t science fiction at all.  I also recommend Bradbury’s S is for Space.

I, Robot, by Issac Asimov

I, Robot

This collection of stories includes a mystery, and a psychological mind game, and a cave-in on another planet.  So again – if you like action, it’s here, but the core of the stories is about how people work, and how robots might work someday, and how robots and people would interact.  The stories are funny, and touching, and scary, and sad, and heart-warming.  I don’t care how much you say you don’t like science fiction – if you don’t find at least some of these stories to be a least a little bit interesting, your soul is dead.  I’m not judging you – simply stating a fact.

But let’s say you want to read a novel.  OK, here’s a list:

If you enjoy love stories, try these:

A Civil Campaign, by Lois McMaster Bujold

To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis

Rivited, by Meljean Brook

The Best of All Possible Worlds, by Karen Lord

If you like spaceships and lasers, and politics on far-flung planets, try:

A Deepness in the Sky, by Vernor Vinge

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

Dune, by Frank Herbert

If you like to laugh:

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

If you like to think deep thoughts and be intellectually and emotionally challenged, try these:

The Sparrow, by Maria Doria Russell

The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

Kindred, by Octavia Butler

OK, that should keep us all busy until next month!  What are your favorite science fiction books?