Have Space Suit – Will Travel divides neatly into two parts. In the first, a space-mad teenager wins a surplus space suit and decides to get it into working order. It’s no easy task. But step by step, he repairs, replaces, and restores. Heinlein designed pressure suits during World War Two – he knew what he was writing about, and it shows. Nobody has ever written better about the glamor of engineering and the sheer fun of hard work. This half is riveting.
The second half of the book is merely exciting. Having finished his self-imposed chore, the protagonist dons his suit for one last time, overhears a distress call on its radio, and the adventure is on. I’m convinced that for this section Heinlein made a list of science fiction tropes that were so trite and outdated that nobody could possibly write a good book using any one of them – and then proceeded to write a good book using them all. So the boy is kidnapped by the inhabitants of a flying saucer, held prisoner by outer-space gangsters, rescues a princess, and defends Earth before a court of starfaring civilizations. Probably only Heinlein could have made this work. But it works magnificently.
I discovered Heinlein’s juveniles as an adult. So it was possible that my preferring the first half of the book was an adult response. But I read Have Space Suit – Will Travel to my son Sean when he was ten years old and he felt exactly the same. The second half was excellent but the first rocked!
New writers are often told to write what they love. Robert Heinlein wrote about the joys of work and engineering. It’s a good message, and it was the making of this book.
Michael Swanwick can be found online at http://www.michaelswanwick.com
Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1 (1907-1948): Learning Curve (978-0-7653-1960-9 / $29.99) will be available from Tor Books on August 17th 2010.
- Space Cadets and Starship Troopers
- David Brin: Beyond This Horizon
- David Drake: Starship Soldier
- David Hartwell: Double Star
- L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: Starship Troopers
- Rudy Rucker: Starman Jones, Citizen of the Galaxy, and Tunnel in the Sky
- Joan Slonczewski: Have Space Suit—Will Travel
- Charles Stross: Glory Road
- Vernor Vinge: The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
- Robert A. Heinlein: The Tor.com Blog Symposium