The Book: Robert A. Heinlein, HAVE SPACE SUIT -- WILL TRAVEL. Pocket Books trade paperback reprint, first printing thus, 2005; originally published 1958. Fine condition.
First read: 1975 (approximately)
Owned since: 2005 (this copy)
Dad gave me my first copy of this book when I was in fourth grade, and I read it to tatters. It was the first science fiction I'd ever read, and was probably the first book I ever read that was written for adults, rather than kids. (I've seen Heinlein's work in the "young adult" sections of bookstores, and that's where this book probably belongs, but he didn't write it that way.)
HAVE SPACE SUIT, WILL TRAVEL is the story of Kip Russell, a hard-working young man whose eccentric father can't (or won't) afford to send him to college. Kip's got big ambitions, though, and when Skyway Soap runs a contest to give someone a trip to the Moon, he puts all his effort into it. He enters 5,782 slogans into Skyway's contest, and his efforts pay off -- not with the grand prize, but with the 11th prize, a used space suit.
Kip could sell it for $500, but decides instead to put it into working order. He cleans it up, repairs it, gets it space-ready -- and then realizes that he needs the money, so gets ready to sell it. First, though, he takes it out for a walk in his family's back field.
While he's standing there in his space suit, a message comes in on his helmet radio: a desperate voice looking for landing instructions. Kip guides the pilot to his backyard, and is stunned to see a small spaceship land, and a bug-eyed monster walk out with a little girl. Within minutes, another, larger ship arrives to snatch up the bug-eyed monster, the little girl -- and Kip.
What follows is classic space adventure, as Kip discovers that the bug-eyed monster is actually an intergalactic political leader, whom the little girl, PeeWee, calls Mother Thing. PeeWee and Mother Thing are trying to escape from kidnappers, and the chase leads all the way to Pluto and back.
HAVE SPACE SUIT was written in 1958, and much of the science is silly -- a crucial scene finds Kip outside on Pluto, dragging himself and the Mother Thing back to a space station there.
At nine, though, I didn't care about that. What this book told me was that I could go as far as I wanted to; crazy luck would reward my hard work, even if that hard work seemed pointless to outsiders. It was a powerful message to give a nine-year-old girl. If I could, I'd make this book required reading in every fifth-grade class.
The universe is just as big as you want it to be, and all you need to explore it is some decent equipment and a couple of friends. That's what my dad taught me when he gave me this book, and he's always been Exhibit A.
Safe journeys, Dad, and thanks -- fair winds and following seas. Send us postcards once in a while. Happy Fathers' Day.
P.S. Dog lovers should check out my cousin Moira's short film about her father's magical performing dog, Minnie, here. Happy Fathers' Day, Uncle Mac!