Have Space Suit—Will Travel
Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein

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Have Space Suit—Will Travel


science fiction

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I’m not sure when I last re-read this, but I first encountered it about 59 years ago. We moved to Poplar, Montana, and my new seventh-grade “home room” adjoined the junior high library, which had lots of Heinlein juvenile SF novels (and the story collection, The Green Hills of Earth).

Through extraterrestrial intervention, the plot expands from early human development of space travel to space-opera scale. But the most appealing aspect, well represented in the selections below, was the adult influences on, and resulting character of, the high-school-age narrator.

Have Space Suit—Will Travel

Copyright © 1958 by Robert A. Heinlein

Chapter 1

“Why, that’s your problem, Clifford.”

Dad was like that.The time I told him I wanted to buy a bicycle he said, “Go right ahead,” without even glancing up—so I had gone to the money basket in the dining room, intending to take enough for a bicycle. But there had been only eleven dollars and forty-three cents in it, so about a thousand miles of mowed lawns later I bought a bicycle. I hadn’t said any more to Dad because if money wasn’t in the basket, it wasn’t anywhere; Dad didn’t bother with banks—just the money basket and one next to it marked “UNCLE SAM,” the contents of which he bundled up and mailed to the government once a year. This cause the Internal Revenue Service considerable headache and once they sent a man to remonstrate with him.

First the man demanded, then he pleaded, “But, Dr. Russell, we know your background. You’ve no excuse for not keeping proper records.”

“But I do,” Dad told him. “Up here.” He tapped his forehead.

“The law requires written records.”

“Look again,” Dad advised him. “The law can’t even require a man to read and write. More coffee?”

The man tried to get Dad to pay by check or money order. Dad read him the fine print on a dollar bill, the part about “legal tender for all debts, public and private.”

In a despairing effort to get something out of the trip he asked Dad please not to fill in the space marked “occupation” with “Spy.”

“Why not?”

“What? Why, because you aren’t—and it upsets people.”

“Have you checked with the F.B.I.?”

“Eh? No.”

“They probably wouldn’t answer. But you’ve been very polite. I’ll mark it ‘Unemployed Spy.’ Okay?”



I am stating a fact; our high school isn’t very good. It’s great to go to—we’re league champions in basketball and our square-dance team is state runner-up and we have a swell sock hop every Wednesday. Lots of school spirit.

But not much studying.

The emphasis is on what our principal, Mr. Hanley, calls “preparation for life” rather than on trigonometry. Maybe it does prepare you for life; it certainly doesn’t prepare you for CalTech.



Algebra and plane geometry were all the math our school offered; I went ahead on my own with advanced algebra and solid geometry and trigonometry and might have stopped so far as College Boards were concerned—but math is worse than peanuts. Analytical geometry seems pure Greek until you see what they’re driving at—then, if you know algebra, it bursts on you and you race through the rest of the book. Glorious!

I had to sample calculus and when I got interested in electronics I needed vector analysis. General science was the only science course the school had and pretty general it was, too—about Sunday supplement level. But when you read about chemistry and physics you want to do it, too. The barn was mine and I had a chem lab and a darkroom and an electronics bench and, for a while, a ham station. Mother was perturbed when I blew out the windows and set fire to the barn—just a small fire—but Dad was not. He simply suggested that I not manufacture explosives in a frame building.

“Dr. Russell, I concede that Washington has an atrocious climate. But you will have air-conditioned offices.”

“With clocks, no doubt. And secretaries. And soundproofing.”

“Anything you want, Doctor.”

“The point is, Mr. Secretary, I don’t want them. This household has no clocks. Nor calendars. Once I had a large income and a larger ulcer; I now have a small income and no ulcer. I stay here.”

“But the job needs you.”

“The need is not mutual.”



Chapter 2

“There is no such thing as luck; there is only adequate or inadequate preparation to cope with a statistical universe.”

[...] I stacked a pyramid of Skyway Soap on each end of the fountain and every coke was accompanied by a spiel for good old Skyway, the soap that washes cleaner, is packed with vitamins, and improves your chances of Heaven, not to mention its rich creamy lather, finer ingredients, and refusal to take the Fifth Amendment. Oh, I was shameless! Anyone who got away without buying was deaf or fast on his feet.

The rules permitted a contestant to submit any number of entries as long as each was written on a Skyway Soap wrapper or reasonable facsimile.

I considered photographing one and turning out facsimiles by the gross, but Dad advised me not to. “It is within the rules, Kip, but I’ve never yet known a skunk to be welcome at a picnic.”

Mother said, “Now, dearest, he’s just a boy.”

Dad said, “He is not a boy; he is a man. Kip, how do you expect to face a firing squad calmly if this upsets you?”



Chapter 3

“Son, any statement that starts ‘I really ought to—’ is suspect. It means you haven’t analyzed your motives.”

“But five hundred dollars is tuition for a semester, almost.”

“Which has nothing to do with the case. Find out what you want to do, then do it. Never talk yourself into doing something you don’t want. Think it over.”

Even today people talk about “the bitter cold of outer space”—but space is vacuum and if vacuum were cold, how could a Thermos jug keep hot coffee hot? Vacuum is nothing—it has no temperature, it just insulates.

Three-fourths of your food turns into heat—a lot of heat, enough each day to melt fifty pounds of ice and more. Sounds preposterous, doesn’t it? But when you have a roaring fire in the furnace, you are cooling your body; even in the winter you keep a room about thirty degrees cooler than your body. When you turn up a furnace’s thermostat, you are picking a more comfortable rate for cooling. Your body makes so much heat you have to get rid of it, exactly as you have to cool a car’s engine.

Of course, if you do it too fast, say in a sub-zero wind, you can freeze—but the usual problem in a space suit is to keep from being boiled like a lobster. You’ve got vacuum all around you and it’s hard to get rid of heat.

He said quietly, “Kip, a reverence for life does not require a man to respect Nature’s obvious mistakes.”


“You need not serve Quiggle again. I don’t want his trade.”

“Oh, I don’t mind. He’s harmless.”

“I wonder how harless such people are? To what extent civilization is retarded by the laughing jackasses, the empty-minded belittlers?”

Chapter 4

I said “space ship,” not “rocket ship.” It made no noise but a whoosh and there weren’t any flaming jets—it seemed to move by clean living and righteous thoughts.

Chapter 5

I was startled but not unbelieving. When you see a rainbow you don’t stop to argue the laws of optics. There it is, in the sky.

Chapter 7

I woke up from a terrible nightmare, remembered where I was, and wished I were back in the nightmare.

[...] contrary to some opinions, it is better to be a dead hero than a live louse. Dying is messy and inconvenient but even a louse dies someday no matter what he will do to stay alive and he is forever having to explain his choice. The gummed-up spell that I had had at the hero business had shown that it was undesirable work but the alternative was still less attractive.



There is a story about two frogs trapped in a crock of cream. One sees how hopeless it is, gives up and drowns. The other is too stupid to know he’s licked; he keeps on paddling. In a few hours he has churned so much butter that it forms an island, on which he floats, cool and comfortable, until the milkmaid comes and chucks him out.



Acceleration problems are simple s=½ at2; distance equals half the acceleration times the square of elapsed time. If astrogation were that simple any sophomore could pilot a rocket ship—the complications come from gravitational fields and the fact that everything moves fourteen directions at once.

I missed my slipstick. Dad says that anyone who can’t use a slide rule is a cultural illiterate and should not be allowed to vote.

On a slide rule such a problem takes forty seconds, most of it to get your decimal point correct. It’s as easy as computing sales tax.

It took me at least an hour and almost as long to prove it, using a different sequence—and a third time, because the answers didn’t match (I had forgotten to multiply by 5280, and had “miles” on one side and “feet” on the other—a no-good way to do arithmetic)—then a fourth time because my confidence was shaken. I tell you, the slide rule is the greatest invention since girls.

Dad reads everything from The Anatomy of Melancholy to Acta Mathematica and Paris-Match and will sit on a curbstone separating damp newspapers wrapped around garbage in order to see continued-on-page-eight. Dad would haul down a book and we’d look it up. Then he would try four or five more with other opinions. Dad doesn’t hold with the idea that it-must-be-true-or-they-wouldn’t-have-printed-it; he doesn’t consider any opinion sacred—it shocked me the first time he took out a pen and changed something in one of my math books.



Getting a problem analyzed is two-thirds of solving it.

We lived like that “Happy Family” you sometimes see in traveling zoos: a lion caged with a lamb. It is a startling exhibit but the lamb has to be replaced frequently.

Chapter 9 I should have stuck to advanced finger-painting and never let Dad lure me into trying for an education. There isn’t any end—the more you learn, the more you need to learn.



They were encouraging my body to repair itself—not scar tissue but the way it had been. Any lobster can do this and starfish do it so well that you can chop them to bits and wind up with a thousand brand-new starfish.

This is a trick any animal should do, since its gene pattern is in every cell. But a few million years ago we lost it. Everybody knows that science is trying to recapture it; you see articles—optimistic ones in Reader’s Digest, discouraged ones in The Scientific Monthly, wildly wrong ones in magazines whose “science editors” seem to have received their training writing horror movies.

Dad claims that library science is the foundation of all sciences just as math is the key—and that we will survive or founder, depending on how well the librarians do their jobs.



I never did understand their government. Oh, they had government, but it wasn’t any system I’ve heard of. Joe knew about democracies and representatives and voting and courts of law; he could fish up examples from many planets. He felt that democracy was “a very good system, for beginners.”



Chapter 10 Iunio was pleasant—as long as you agreed with him, ignored insults, and deferred to him. Many older people demand this, even in buying a thirty-nine-cent can of talcum; you learn to give it without thinking—otherwise you get a reputation as a fresh kid and potential juvenile delinquent. The less respect an older person deserves the more certain he is to demand it from anyone younger.



“Will any witness speak favorably?”

There was silence.

That was my chance to be noble. We humans were their victims; we were in a position to speak up, point out that from their standpoint they hadn’t done anything wrong, and ask mercy—if they would promise to behave in the future.

Well, I didn’t. I’ve heard all the usual Sweetness and Light that kids get pushed at them—how they should always forgive, how there’s some good in the worst of us, etc. But when I see a black widow, I step on it; I don’t plead with it to be a good little spider and please stop poisoning people. A black widow spider can’t help it—but that’s the point.



text checked (see note) Oct 2022

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