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.