TINKER, TAILOR, SPACEMAN, SPY
Commentary by Joseph T Major on Robert A. Heinlein's HAVE SPACE SUIT WILL TRAVEL
Opus #130; written August 10 - 30, 1957; c80,000 words
I. HAPPY SCHOOL DAYS
In 1958 all was well with the world, at least with the channels of communication between Santa Cruz County and Scribner's. As a result, that year Robert A. Heinlein was able to launch upon the world for that Christmas season one of his most highly regarded novels, a story like an odd matryoshka doll, where as each nesting doll is opened, the next one turns out to be bigger, until we reach the final one, which turns out to be the same size as the outmost one. Ayyyy!
"Ayyyy," said Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli back in 1958, according to Gary Marshall and the rest of the gnomes making Happy Days. When they started telling about the Cunninghams, that almost stereotypical Middle American family in an almost too-stereotypical Middle American town (Milwaukee. Well, "city") and that greasy biker from the wrong side of town, they were trying to revive the happy family sitcoms of the fifties, with for contrast a character of the Marlon Brando James Dean type that they all liked, even if they didn't admit it. (Then the character took over the story perhaps sweetness and light aren't all that salable. But when you realize what finally happened to Dean and to Brando . . . )
I would think that Richie Cunningham and his buddies Ralph and Potsie considered themselves a little too old for that Buck Rogers stuff, and of course Joanie Cunningham likely thought (or was made to think) that that was boys' stuff. Did Fonzie's nephew Chachi want a copy of Have Space Suit Will Travel for Christmas?
Having gone into far out and exotic venues with his Scribner juveniles of the past few years, Heinlein returned to a more prosaic setting for the 1958 one, beginning with an almost stereotypical Middle American family in an almost too-stereotypical Middle American town. Indeed, perhaps too prosaic and stereotypical at first but appearances are never quite what they may seem.
Or maybe not; at least when on the first page our narrator Clifford "Kip" Russell launches into a description of his father's unusual cash-only family finance system and how it gives the Infernal Revenue Service fits we can see it's not prosaic. One would think that anyone who sends cash through the mails would have fits with the IRS, not to mention the Post Office. This is the first hint that Mr. Russell is not quite in total harmony with his chosen background, a hint that will grow to astounding size.
That ordinary sleepy prosaic Middle American small town has to have a ordinary school system. In this era, a scant thirty-five years later, closer actually to the time when this novel is supposedly set, it seems like a legend of some ancient vanished arcadian utopia to read of a high school where "our square-dance team is state runner-up and we have a swell sock-hop every Wednesday." [p. 8] It makes you want to go back to the future that Heinlein made.
Or maybe not. One of Heinlein's hobbyhorses had always been education and in this case he gets to dissect the worm that consumed that apple. That is, when Mr. Russell questioned Kip's curriculum:
" and paying excellent salaries," he interrupted, "for a staff highly trained in modern pedagogy. Study projects emphasize practical human problems to orient the child to democratic social living, to fit him for the vital, meaningful tests of adult life in our complex modern culture. Excuse me, son; I've talked with Mr. Hanley. Mr. Hanley is sincere and to achieve these noble purposes we are spending more per student than is any other state save California and New York."
"Well . . . what's wrong with that?"
"What's a dangling participle?"
I didn't answer. He went on, "Why did Van Buren fail of re-election? How do you extract the cube root of eighty-seven?"
Van Buren had been a president, that was all I remembered. But I could answer the other one. "If you want a cube root, you look in a table in the back of the book."
Dad sighed. "Kip, do you think that table was brought down from on high by an archangel?" He shoot his head sadly. "It's my fault, not yours. I should have looked into this years ago but I had assumed, simply because you liked to read and were quick at figures and clever with your hands, that you were getting an education."
"You think I'm not?"
"I know that you are not. . . ."
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 19
Besides knowing that things are badly wrong, Mr. Russell has composed a solution to this problem; not only does Kip shape up with a stiffer curriculum, but he starts an intensive after-school study program: ". . . Dad threw a lot of books at me and said, "Clifford, you would be studying these if you were not in overgrown kindergarten. If you soak up what is in them, you should be able to pass College Entrance Board Examinations [the SAT]. Possibly." [p. 12] (I once saw a fan's idea of what those books were; as the collator was an anarcho-capitalist (and the list was published in the SF/anarcho-capitalist conjoint fanzine Renaissance/New Libertarian Notes) the list had a certain political agenda to it that perhaps might not have accorded overly well with the opinions of the man who once said that anyone who shot an anarchist ought only to be liable for having discharged a firearm within the city limits.)
Incidentally, here we have this book's example of the character who speaks in that brisk, bright, clear metaphor that Heinlein used to use sparingly. As is often the case, it's not the principal character in the book, as it was in the cases of Hank Jones in Farmer In the Sky (1950) and Sam in Starman Jones (1953), neither of them being the protagonist of the book. As it is with those two, there's more to Mr. Russell than first seems to be the case.
Much of this after-hours education was to have its uses, most of which had not even been imagined at the time by either one of them. Not surprisingly, Heinlein's universal test for sapience turns out to be a substantial part of Kip's study plan, for Kip finds that "math is worse than peanuts." [p. 12] (Even more oily and fattening? Never mind). By studying the roots of Spanish, Latin that is, Kip becomes more fluent in it ("I learned to speak Spanish like a Mexicano." [p. 12] ¡Pendejo! ¿Who cares if you speak Spanish like a Mexican? ¡You should be able to speak it like a Castilian!), or in both actually. Not to mention that dream of thirties fandom the home lab, which allows for another sample of dry humor: "Mother was perturbed when I blew out the windows and set fire to the barn a small fire but Dad was not. He simply suggested that I not manufacture explosives in a frame building." [p. 13] Perhaps not too surprisingly, then and therefore, as we noted previously Kip did well on his SATs.
What is surprising is that he didn't then and therefore be deluged with college offers. Perhaps our feelings have been coarsened by the quest for "diversity", the growth engendered by federal matching grants (more cash per student means more students), and the feeding frenzy engendered by a declining college-age population. All this just goes to show that times have indeed changed, and should serve as a reminder to the reader. (You can calculate on seeing more examples of this difference of change.)
This lack of acceptance also leaves Kip in a bit of a bind for the future. Going to his state university has little really to offer him in his current state of heightened knowledge and enlightenment (This state of opinion is rather unlike the one Bill Lermer had in Farmer In the Sky where he figured he should study engineering on Ganymede but much like the one Oscar Gordon in Glory Road (1964) had about becoming Herr Doktor E. C. Gordon, Ph.D. (Heidelberg) [wouldn't that be Dr. Phil.?] mit duelling scars yet!) and not much of a future. There are also financial considerations; it seems surprising that Kip did not get scholarship offers commensurate with his scholarship at school. Someone needs to talk to the counselor at that swell school, run along the latest, most scientific lines, approved by psychologists, et cetera, about the quality of his, her, its, or their work. That excellently-paid staff highly trained in modern pedagogy seems to have fallen down on the job somewhere in the scholarship department.
But then what? Well, see how it all began:
"Certainly," he answered . . . . "I said it was all right. Go ahead."
"Yes . . . but how?"
"Eh?" He looked mildly surprised. "Why, that's your problem, Clifford."
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 5
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 5
The opening line of this book throws the reader into a quandary. Where would a high-school senior, even an extraordinary one, in the Middle West get a space suit? And how? And why?
The soap advertising contest of the next chapter of Have Space Suit Will Travel could have been in other hands a scathing examination of the ailments of advertising. (Imagine how Fowler Shocken of Pohl and Kornbluth's The Space Merchants would have handled such a idea come to think of it, they did in a way, since a similar contest was the cover the Consies used to get shipped off to Venus.) Instead, Heinlein uses it as a means by which to expound on the characteristics of his principal character and the world he inhabits.
The first prize in the Skyway Soap contest is an all-expense trip to the moon. Or as Kip's hyped imagination perceives it: "AN ALL-EXPENSE TRIP TO THE MOON!!!" [p. 15] (Not all-expense paid?) For a bright, eager young man wishing to burst the bonds of a constrained small-town environment, it's a gift from above literally and figuratively. After elation, though, comes depression:
"Stop it," said Dad.
I shut up.
"There is no such thing as luck; there is only adequate or inadequate preparation to cope with a statistical universe. Do you intend to enter this?"
"I assume that to be affirmative. Very well, make a systematic effort."
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 16
Another sign of the radical change that has overtaken society in the last more than one-third of a century is the disappearance of drugstore soda parlors. (The last one that I remember closed down early in the seventies.) But this gives Kip a chance to meet the public, in all its varied flavors, some of which are not all that flavorful. The main example is the village lout "Ace" Quiggle, whose constrained moronic vision serves as a contrast to Kip's ambitions and an all-too-familiar point of familiarity for too many of the readers.
Kip submitted the winning slogan, but he didn't win the first prize, or even one of the leading prizes. As he had submitted no fewer than 5,782 slogans, that isn't surprising. (Perhaps the contest administrators got tired of counting today's bundle from that sweet old boy (or just the initials) Russell and put them aside.) The winning slogan was submitted eleven times and not surprisingly Kip won one of the lesser prizes; the tenth to hundredth prizes were, are you really surprised, space suits. The contest also offers a $500 cash equivalent, which I suppose is what they really intended to give. (The game show "Let's Make a Deal" would offer cash equivalents for its comical booby prizes; the administrators were occasionally amazed when someone would try to get their goat over to the contestant's home.)
It's a curious consideration in our contemporary colorful times to comment that the Russell family watched the Skyway Soap contest prize announcement on a black and white TV. It's even more intriguing to note that Kip describes it as a "black and white flat-image job" which may lead the thoughtful reader to speculate about the potential of there being holographic television out there in Kip's world. Finally, it's a tribute to the quirks of predictivity that among the sponsors of the Skyway Soap Hour are non-carcinigenous cigarettes.
As was the case in so many of his other juveniles, Heinlein appeares in this one to be developing his background by extrapolating existing social trends and techonological developments into the future, instead of postulating new ones. The problem, of course, is that new and unanticipated technological developments in the reader's world can leave the reader feeling rather superior to the characters, preventing the development of that empathy. (You can calculate on seeing an important and frequently referenced one later.)
This was a feeling that was in part counteracted through Heinlein's notorious tendency to augment his texts with random thought-provoking ideas of the sort that other writers would build into full-blown novels. The imaginative sparks show a world that developed differently. This is as much a reflection on the needs of the contemporary reader as anything else; the reader has to be able to comprehend the characters, and the easiest way to do so is to make them identifiable with the reader "That's us there with them things." Much the same holds for the environment, the things the people use and the ways they go about life. If the characters have the same ambitions as the readers, they can be understood so much more readily.
Ambition can be fulfilled vicariously. If Kip can't himself get into space, he can try to use something from space. That is, get this surplus semi-cannibalized space suit into working order: "Heinlein tells you how he does it and in the process you learn what space suits are like the account makes the description of space suits in Rocket Ship Galileo or any other story you ever read seem elementary and it is all interesting, all pertinent." [Alexei Panshin, Heinlein In Dimension, p. 84] The key word at the time is "interesting"; later on in the book the key word is "pertinent". While reading this detailed account, the reader takes in a point-by-point description of the principal features of a space suit and how they enable a human being to function in a hostile environment. Later on, the reader sees in action how those features function in action, as parts of the plot. This careful engineering and connection of exposition and action is repeated in other ways in this book.
Heinlein was aware of the contemporary technological development of high-altitude pressure suits. In his lecture, "Science Fiction: Its Nature, Faults, and Virtues" in Basil Davenport's University of Chicago symposium on "The Science Fiction Novel: Imagination and Social Criticism" (collected and published as The Science Fiction Novel: Imagination and Social Criticism (Advent:Publishers; 1959) edited by Basil Davenport) Heinlein discussed the mutually influential interrelationship between fiction and reality working on the development of high-altitude pressure suits space suits, that is. It began with Edward "World-Wrecker" Hamilton, who had described such in his 1931 story "The Sargasso of Space". Heinlein thought Hamilton had a good idea and touched it up for his 1939 story "Misfit".
This came to the attention of a one-time shipmate of Heinlein's, who read that skiffy stuff and was in real life engaged in aviation research. Thus when a full commitment of American intellectual resources was required to win the war, Heinlein and another writer of "that Buck Rogers stuff" who also had engineering training, L. Sprague de Camp, found themselves working on space suits. After the war, he went on, that development was echoed in SF movies, particularly Heinlein's Destination Moon. The lecturer concluded:
The Science Fiction Novel, p. 31
Kip's dominating problem, however, is financial:
But it wasn't enough.
I realized glumly that I was going to have to sell Oscar to get through the first semester. But how would I get through the rest of the year? Joe Valiant the all-American boy always shows up on the campus with fifty cents and a heart of gold, then in the last chapter is tapped for Skull-and-Bones and has money in the bank. But I wasn't Joe Valiant, not by eight decimal places.
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 37
On the other hand, why would Kip want to go to Yale and get pestered by CIA recruiters,
Poppy Bush, or
Blackford Oakes William F. Buckley? (Skull-and-Bones is a famous Yale
social club. We'll put down under the category of unanticipated social developments the gay
reputation that Yale has gained of late.)
So, Kip reconciles himself to doing the sensible thing to get money for college, by sending the suit off for salvage for the $500. (It later comes out that Certain People decided to keep their traps shut so they could watch Kip suffer and sweat when help was on tap.) But as a parting gesture Kip goes out for one last spacesuited excursion. (One time he went to dinner suited up, all unknowing, and his parents stifled themselves until he finally did something where it would become apparent [p. 33].) He has everything in this trip as realistic as possible, for example broadcasting on the genuine spacesuit radio band to his genuine spacesuit radio. Then the first doll opens up.
III. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE FIFTH KIND
The alien encounters that are a commonplace of today's tabloid newspapers and television seem dreadfully prosaic, being either lab work or means for the delivery of vaporish topical scoldings (during the fifties it was warnings against nuclear testing, now it's warnings about ozone). Kip's close encounter of the third (or, given current revisions and expansions of standards, "fifth") kind is a little more interesting:
You can tell the sound of pain. I ran to the spot at a lumbering dogtrot, leaned over and tried to see what was wrong, tilting my helmet to bring the beam of my headlight onto the ground.
A bug-eyed monster
That's not fair but it was my first thought. I couldn't believe it and would have pinched myself except that it isn't practical when suited up.
An unprejudiced mind (which mine wasn't) would have said that this monster was rather pretty. It was small, not more than half my size, and its curves were graceful, not as a girl is but more like a leopard, although it wasn't shaped like either one. I couldn't grasp its shape I didn't have any pattern to fit it to; it wouldn't add up.
Have Space Suit Will Travel, pp. 42-4
Only to awaken, shelled and limp, in a little room with Peewee. "I said to myself, Kip old pal, walk slowly to the nearest hospital and give yourself up. When a radio rig you wired yourself starts looking like a little girl with a rag doll, you've flipped." [p. 45] Peewee is not the ordinary little ten year old girl with a rag doll that she seems on first view to Kip to be, as we will see time and again. Indeed, she was with the exotic undescribed alien [talk about turning your weaknesses into strengths; since Heinlein was not all that good at visual description, he made a point of how alien things are not readily describable] and in fact the alien's hands, so to speak, having piloted that space ship that nearly turned Kip into canned ham (expensively canned, too), in just the first of many examples of resourcefulness rare in those twice her age. (She pickily says she's eleven, going on twelve; in light of such an apt bit of description of the ways someone that age would act, one wonders about Heinlein's other examples of less-than-observant characterization of the female of the species.)
Well, the other aliens who were after Peewee were really after her father, Professor Reisfield of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. (It was supposed to provide a place where the example of Einstein could be imitated by observation to generate more such genius. The one case of Bernard Lewis really doesn't validate the experiment.) Daddy had, on a lark, once filled out a reservation for a moon trip (just like that B-movie actor Ronald Reagan). When moon trips became reality, Daddy was too busy to go, synthesizing random events of curious nature even when he won an all-expense trip to the Moon!!! From someone other than Skyway Soap, I add. So Peewee pestered her parents into sending her instead. At which point she ran into the aliens and their lackeys, who had been after her father but thought an offspring might give them blackmail leverage.
Shortly after this first introduction we get to meet one of those aliens. This close encounter of the worst kind is no fun even to read about, much less to endure. You can guess, therefore, that it isn't with the mysterious injured (?) alien Kip saw in the field.
In spite of the usual Heinleinian comments about how you can't really describe anything you're seeing for the first time, Kip surely seems able to describe this being, from the disquieting appearance to the dominating will and in spite of all the horrors of appearance it's the latter that counts. That is, it isn't the active oral cilia that made Kip call the being "Wormface" that were the most horrific part of him, it was Wormface's ability to get every question answered, even if he didn't understand the answers. (He also refers to the race as a whole as wormfaces.) Small wonder that Peewee said from evil experience that "[Your] will just drains out. Like a rabbit in front of a snake." [p. 56] Parallels to The Puppet Masters (1951) exist, in other words, and how parallel they are will come out in even more depth later. (Think of the parts that got edited . . .)
One wonders how with the human renegades they have on hand, who likely aren't the only such ones overall, why Wormface felt the need to question Kip about the annual protein production of Earth. Granted that the ability to feed the population was always a prime consideration for Heinlein (cf. the comment in "Where To?" (1950, 1965, 1980) that the price of hamburger was less important than the availability of it or his standard economic measuring gauge of "How many minutes must a journeyman carpenter work to buy a kilogram loaf of bread?") there must have been other ways to find out. It would have been more relevant for Wormface to ask the question of why Kip was broadcasting on a space band at that time; so he did.
As spaceships will, this spaceship arrived at the Moon. Then a curious thing happened; the aliens and their associates packed up and left, leaving the entire ship to their hostages. This sounds like a peculiar error for them to make, but it does facilitate the plot. During the initial stages of their escape, Kip gets to demonstrate his gentlemanliness by choice of language trying to push a jammed sliding door open he "was hampered in language by the presence of a girl." [p. 66] (Ah, for the days of eld!)
But a rescue of the hostages must rescue all the hostages, even if it's the hostages rescuing themselves. Again, fortunately for the plot, the antagonists have left their prisoners free reign in the ship. Kip would just suit up and go, but Peewee has something else in mind, which Kip just might have more easily remembered if he had been able to describe what he had recently seen.
Enter the third major character. Panshin said that "[by] and large the most truly individual of Heinlein's characters have been the various aliens that have populated a number of his juvenile novels" [Heinlein in Dimension, p. 128] and his first example is from this book. The wormfaces were it seems collecting alien races, not only from this system but others that wandered by. Somehow they got together and escaped, were recaptured in that field near Centerville, and now Kip gets a better look:
She didn't wear clothes but she wasn't naked; she had soft, creamy fur, sleek and fine as chinchilla. I thought at first she didn't wear anything but presently I noticed a piece of jewelry, a shiny triangle with a double spiral in each corner. I didn't know what made it stick on.
I didn't take all this in at once.
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 78
Life now requires a little more urgent attention to other matters, like getting out of the wormface ship. Here's where that vast overconcentration on technical details back in Chapter 3 becomes vitally relevant. Heinlein took the advice that if you show a gun on stage, have someone shoot it by the end of the play and the result is a superb blending of ideas and action.
Kip, Peewee, and the Mother Thing have to march forty miles across the lunar surface to escape from the wormface base and get to Tombaugh Station. This makes the means by which this escape can even be practicable become immensely relevant. The disucssion of air supplies and cooling which was only technical back in Centerville is on the moon a matter of life and death.
The technical matters blend with the social relationship. Kip is now depending for sheer survival on a child he barely knows and an alien he had never imagined. That they are in their own ways now dependent on him, as they had previously been on each other, is another factor of this relationship. That it is forged under the pressure of a forced march in a harsh and unforgiving environment makes it even more interesting among other considerations.
The technical details become key plot elements as the desperate escape progresses. Kip learns and improvises under pressure, as for example the transfer of oxygen between different models of gas bottles becomes a crucial survival factor.
But in the end virtue, will, mind, and effort are rewarded as the strange trio approach the station at the limit of their effort. Or are they? No, history repeats itself as Kip is again knocked out.
IV. BECALMED IN HELL
The second doll opens up under extreme pressure. Dazed and bewildered, Kip finds himself in the presence of his captors (the human associates of the wormfaces, fortunately for his composure), and then becomes even more dazed and bewildered under high acceleration. In spite of his rather out-of-it state, he seems remarkably able to gather facts, to remember that they are going to travel at an acceleration of eight gravities for five days to arrive at Pluto. After this and the treatment he had just gone through, most of us would be hard put to remember that Pluto was something other than a Disney character.
Arrival at Pluto is an even greater barrage of new events and situations, as Kip is rushed through by the captors to a holding pit. This rapid fire plot action is then counterbalanced by intellectual reaction, as Kip assimilates recent events in a reassuringly cerebral style. Well, maybe not totally cerebral:
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 118
Taking stock does, however, show Kip in a situation worthy more of Edmond Hamilton or Jack Williamson. One escape, on the Moon, has been foiled at the last moment; now under even more difficult circumstances, on Pluto, he has to try again. There's nothing to do but wait for events. And to pass the time, he has to keep mentally active.
What made Heinlein the cutting edge of science fiction in his productive years was his ability to integrate plot and scientific exposition. Gernsbackian ideals of teaching scientific knowledge in scientifiction led to lifeless lectures pitchforked into mindless plot. In this section, Heinlein accomplishes that task, teaching the Newtonian theory of motion while making the calculations relevant to the plot and including information on the Solar System. It's remarkable and the best part is that you don't notice you've been educated until afterwards.
The progress of events in the real world has produced disparities, though. Kip's crucial calculation of acceleration and distance is:
½ X 30 X 93,000,000 X 5280 = ½ X 8 X 32.2 X t²
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 124
½ X 30 X 150,000,000,000 = ½ X 8 X 9.81 X t²
To contemporary observers, units are a triviality, though, compared to what Kip was wishing for: "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." [p. 124] It's as much a sign of ourselves as of Heinlein. You can calculate on different cultural development stressing different technologies; something that science fiction is supposed to remind us of in the first place. This also shows Heinlein's favorite benchmark of mathematical ability for the purpose of determining the status of being human. In Expanded Universe [p. 400] he included an essay on the theory of electoral systems with the proposal that voters gain eligibility to vote by solving a quadratic equation.
For what it's worth, the trip is 2 x t = 5 days 12 hours 51 minutes 13.29 seconds the "Five and a half days" that Kip arrives at is close enough. In another later forum, a Heinlein essay in Expanded Universe [pp. 334-8 and 369-71] discusses the benefits of constant-boost drives in exploring the solar system. (Now all we have to do is build them: "Oh, the Dean Machine, the Dean Machine, you put it right in a submarine, and it flies so high that it can't be seen the wonderful, wonderful Dean Machine!" Damon Knight.)
However, Kip's subsequent calculations regarding interstellar travel come a cropper, all unbeknownst to Heinlein. To continue relieving the boredom of imprisonment, Kip starts calculating similar travel for interstellar distances and is heartened (or something) to learn that the wormfaces had star travel a conclusion that could have been reached by other means, but it's worth confirming independently. However, Kip notices that the trip from Alpha Centauri he calculated for requires a maximum velocity of 1,110,000 miles per second. There's something wrong with that, he thinks. ("186,282 miles per second It's not just a good idea, it's the law.") Allowing for relativistic considerations the Alpha Centauri trip would be more like six years from the frame of reference of a Earth-based observer, but less time in the spaceship-based frame of reference. Heinlein made a similar sort of error in Methuselath's Children (1958) concerning the kinetic energy of a spaceship traveling at near-light speed.
About the time that mathematical games pall, Kip's imprisonment is livened by company. In the history classes that Heinlein took, people such as Simon Girty were condemned as renegades who had gone over to the Indians and who treacherously helped the Indians fight against their own kind; today they are more likely to be praised as progressive concerned types with an understanding of indigenous persons, willing to help those indigenous persons save their lands and customs from cultural imperialism. Unfortunately for them, the two renegades who had kidnapped first Peewee and then Kip and then Peewee and Kip can't profit from today's "heightened understanding".
While Kip has to worry about sharing space with these unsavory types, a concern deepened by the graphic description by one of his criminal past, that concern does not last for long. As his exculpatory associate explains that their new standing is as food reserves, Kip wonders: "I don't know whether the wormfaces ate people, or not. (You can't say 'cannibal.' We may be mutton to them.)" [p. 136] Then the two kidnappers disappear, one after the other, presumably into a wormface eating bowl. This conclusion leads Kip to think:
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 137
This session of consideration gets explosively interrupted. Somehow, the Mother Thing built a bomb, and managed to put it where it will do the most good, next to the wormface feeding frenzy. This leaves only sending a message home. Of course, if you have to go out in Plutonian spring breezes to do this, it's a chilling thought. Which the Mother Thing did all the same, with the expected consequences of freezing solid. (Whatever could she have been thinking?)
This leaves it up to Peewee to carry on. Which in turn entails her rescuing Kip from that cell, as he has the only functioning space suit around and can take the Mother Thing's beacon out to broadcast to wherever. Unfortunately there are one or two little side-effects of the environment to be considered in the planting.
Kip doesn't find out about all of them until he gets blinded by the flash of the beacon. Then in an odyssey hampered by shattering nylon rope, shattering tool steel, and marked physical disability (displaying the effects of supercold for the reader's edification), he staggers back to the "safety" of the base, gravely injured, where he can contemplate the frozen-solid Mother Thing and his final rescuer Peewee.
V. TIME FOR THE STARS
Heinlein is being deliberately ambiguous as to both time and place in Have Space Suit Will Travel, for valid reasons of obsolescence. Cyril Kornbluth's mordant satire "The Rocket of 1955" had already encountered this change and it looks as if Clarke's 2001, 2010, and 2061 trilogy is likely to also do so. But there are a few clues to be found here and there, by a careful reading of the text and some thought about what was going on when the book was being written.
We know that as a boy Mr. Russell was aware of Orson Welles's Mercury Theater in October of 1938: "Dad had told me about an invasion-from-Mars radio broadcast when he was a kid pure fiction but it had scared people silly." [p. 58] Another reference point requires making some assumptions about an astronomer's working career: "Professor Tombaugh (the one the station was named for) was working on a giant electronic telescope to photograph it, under a Guggenheim grant, but he had a special interest; he discovered Pluto years before I was born." [p. 113] Clyde W. Tombaugh was born in 1906 [and died in 1996]; it's your guess as to how old he could have been and still be working.
The most conclusive, and it's not very conclusive, clue follows from that. Kip's astronomical awareness is high and he has noted that Pluto is approaching summer. At thirty to fifty astronomical units, that's a relative term, but Plutonian summer has little to do with axial tilt and much to do with orbital distance. Pluto, with an orbital period of 247 years, is not only in a 3:2 resonance with the next nearest planet Neptune, but occasionally crosses within Neptune's orbit: like between 1979 and 1999. Since the references are to summer approaching, not being there, the story can be placed early in that period or just before it, like say in 1978, twenty years after the book came out. In 1978 in the real world, astronomers at the Naval Observatory near Flagstaff (and near the still-working Clyde Tombaugh) discovered Charon, the satellite of Pluto. Not that twenty years after publication is such a definitive date, but the coincidence makes it piquant.
As to where, we have couple of clues that help some. One is a guess as to which time zone Kip lives in. While traveling to the moon with Peewee Kip had a talk with her about time zones:
"Is it that late?" I looked at my watch. "Why, I've got a quarter of two."
"You're on your zone time. I'm on Moon time Greenwich time, that is."
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 49
The other clue is equally vague. There are several references to the nearest city being "Springfield". This isn't all that much help as there are several Springfields in the U.S., mostly named after the arsenal town in Massachusetts. To take the most prominent example, Springfield, Illinois is the state capital and curiously enough there is a Centreville, Illinois but it's a suburb of East Saint Louis. (Such a pity it would have been nice to have Kip in Tucker country.)
Also in the relevant area are Springfield, Ohio, Springfield, South Dakota, and Springfield, Tennessee, but given that Heinlein's birthplace of Butler, Missouri is about a hundred and thirty miles from Springfield, Missouri, that Springfield seems to have a slight edge. (Kansas City, where the Heinleins moved while Robert was young, is somewhat closer to Butler. It might be noted that "Kansas City" is locale-specific while "Springfield", as we've had reason to notice, is somewhat more indeterminate.)
But Centerville, Missouri(?), in 1958, 1978, or 1993, is way off from where Kip and Peewee sit now, becalmed in hell. Waiting in a shattered, slowly decompressing Plutonian base of definitely ill-intentioned aliens, contmplating the ice-solid frozen body of the well-intentioned alien who had been involved, their future looks to be a short one. Moreover, Kip is feeling the results of his tumble into supercold Plutonian spring "snow" he might envy Admiral Robert E. Peary who had lost a mere eight toes to frostbite. Contemplating the frozen body of the Mother Thing leads to contemplation of her mission, particularly the endpoint of it, which was to plant and trigger this beacon, presumably to signal others of her people to carry out a rescue.
But in these circumstances the life expectancies of Kip and Peewee are only hours, not the years that Kip had just recently calculated it would take for a spaceship to arrive from even the nearest star. So when the airlock door opens and aliens enter, the helpless Kip feels an adrenaline rush but fortunately it's not more wormfaces, but some of the Mother Thing's people. They load everyone into their ship, and Kip asks the inquisitive and enthusiastic Peewee some questions:
"We've already started."
"They're taking us home?" . . .
"Huh? Oh, my, no! We're headed for Vega!"
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 169
VI. THE MUSIC OF ALPHA LYRAE
One of those vistas, at first, seems remarkably familiar. Kip awakens and thinks that in spite of Peewee's last comment the "Mother Thing people" did take him home. But then he notices enough little discrepancies to make it clear that this "familiar bedroom" is a fake well, let's call it a "reassurance surrogate". Then too, he couldn't feel anything below the neck, much less move that portion of his body. Not to mention that if the Mother Thing, who as it happens is next to his bed, were in Centerville, she just might get noticed.
Soon enough the Mother Thing and Peewee clue him in; he's in the Mother Thing's home on Vega Five, recuperating from freezing damage. Though the correct term might be more "regenerating" Heinlein took up the well-known principles of genetic patterns and regeneration, as demonstrated by (for example) starfish, and expressed the desirable but even now no closer science-fictional hope that similar regrowth could be done with humans.
Intermixed with this is a short digression on communications. One would think that an investigator would have learned a local language. The chief wormface, after all, had done so, and with a far less positive end in mind, as we shall learn. However, instead of talking English to the humans, the Mother Thing sings polyphonic motets and yet they understand her. What's involved? Rather than speculate, Kip repeats his observations (he had to have some concepts in common with the Vegans when communicating, or their "talk" became entrancing but uncommunicative harmony) and sums up:
But they have it in various degrees, just as all us drive cars but only a few are fit to be racing drivers. . . I once read about an actress who could use Italian so effectively to a person who did not understand Italian that she always made herself understood. Her name was "Duce." No, a "duce" is a dictator. Something like that. She must have had what the Mother Thing had.
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 183
Kip gets to dispense from this vasty deep reservoir of knowledge to the Vegans. The soda jerk serves up for the Vegan historians all that he can remember about the history of Earth, the ways and means of the Terrans. This will have interesting consequences later on. In return, he gets to see something of the Vegan education system. This shows him mainly that he still has a lot to learn, and to realize that earlier point about communication. This and other glimpses of the Vegans' life primarily makes one long for more material about them.
As an example of what we are shown along this line, the exchange of information engenders a discussion of yet another philosophical point, one worth considering for its own sake. When Kip wonders how the Vegans store knowledge, his Vegan interlocutor, a logician called Joe [by Kip], is glad to show him how:
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. Librarians didn't look glamorous to me but maybe Dad had hit on a not very obvious truth.
This "library" had hundreds, maybe thousands, of Vegans viewing pictures and listening to sound tracks, each with a silvery sphere in front of him. Joe said they were "telling the memory." This was equivalent to typing a card for a library's catalog, except that the result was more like a memory path in brain cells - nine-tenths of that building was an electronic brain.
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 186
But recovery comes to all regenerators, and when Kip sees how well they have rebuilt both himself and Oscar the spacesuit, nothing will do but to show off his handiwork in a stroll across the face of sunny, invigorating Vega Five. Besides the ultraviolet radiation from Vega, the air has substantial concentrations of NOx and ozone these chemicals are of substantial concern to air quality controllers nowadays, and Heinlein's comments about their unsuitablity for human consumption are right on the mark while upper-atmosphere ozone screens out certain UV frequencies, surface-level ozone is an active oxidant. Come to think of it, how do the Vegans survive?
Another theme that Heinlein touches on here and would later discuss in even more detail in other works is alternative family structures (as will be mentioned later, some composition of Stranger In a Strange Land, Heinlein's first such discussion of human alternative family structures as practiced by humans, was not too far distant in time). Of course, being aliens, the Vegans can have different biologies: they can and do divide the functions of parenting and other such matters among different entities.
If Noah launched his ark on Vega Five, the animals would come in by twelves. This makes things complicated. But a "mother thing" is one who takes care of others. I am not sure that all mother things were the same gender; it may have been a matter of temperament.
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 189
But before Kip can see any more of this world, he is, again, snatched away from it. Beings and matters of galactic importance have been waiting on him; now that he has fully regenerated, the Mother Thing is off to take Peewee and Kip to her outfit's general headquarters for a legal hearing. Not only as a witness for the prosecution in the case against the wormfaces, but also as a defendant.
"Didn't I tell you? No, I guess I didn't. It's not on this planet."
"I thought this was the only inhabited "
"It's not a planet around Vega. Another star. Not even in the Galaxy."
"Say that again?"
"It's somewhere in the Lesser Magellanic Cloud."
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 201
VII. ORBES VOLANTES ADVENERUNT!
[The flying saucers have landed!]
For once Kip doesn't faint when another doll opens up. Of course, at first he doesn't credit it. Perhaps the so exceedingly brief time the trip took was responsible. But looking around outside the spaceship parked on the "nightside of Vega Five" (and, with regard to the breathable atmosphere the landing site has, ignoring things) he sees rather a different vista:
I didn't have strength to gasp.
Dominating that whole side of the sky was a great whirlpool of millions, maybe billions of stars.
You've seen pictures of the Great Nebula in Andromeda? a giant spiral of two curving arms, seen at an angle. Of all the lovely things in the sky it is the most beautiful. This was like that.
Only we weren't seeing a photograph nor even by telescope; we were so close (if "close" is the word) that it stretched across the sky twice as long as the Big Dipper as seen from home so close that I saw the thickening at the center, two great branches coiling around and overtaking each other. We saw it from an angle so that it appeared elliptical, just as M31 in Andromeda does; you could feel its depth, you could see its shape.
Then I knew I was a long way from home. That was home, up there, lost in billions of crowded stars.
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 203
As for that organization . . . the first time he ever saw the Mother Thing [p. 78], Kip had noticed she was wearing an ornament, a triangle with a spiral in each corner. Later on, on Vega Five, he saw it again ("Joe" the Vegan researcher wore one, as did others) [p. 186] but never got to pursue the matter further. It turns out that this is the symbol of their organization, "Three Galaxies, One Law". Lanador is the headquarters of the organization because it was where the first intelligent race in the "Three Galaxies" (the Milky Way and the Greater and Lesser Magellanic Clouds) rose to sapience. Vega Five is a member; thus far Sol Three has escaped their attentions.
Here we have Heinlein organizing on the widest scale ever; outdoing even Asimov's Galactic Empire in domain and range. Intergalactic federations have remained a rarity in science fiction since then; perhaps the realization of how much organization would be needed to run such an outfit has daunted writers; or perhaps they just no longer dream big dreams.
To the reader who encounters this book after having read Stranger In a Strange Land (1961) there is a blood-chilling comparison: "The Three Galaxies are like our Federated Free Nations . . ." [p. 205] Kip comments and contrasts. Is the grim secretive authoritarian Federated Free Nations of Stranger In a Strange Land the overlord of quiet peaceful Centerville? Could these two books be in the same universe? In his discussion of that book in Heinlein In Dimension, Alexei Panshin put the initial expedition of Stranger In a Strange Land in about 1980, with the principal action taking place twenty-five years after that. That is to say, Mike Smith's parents went off to Mars just after the date for this book that has been earlier deduced. However, there is evidence to believe that this is not the case; this evidence will turn up later on in the story, near the end. We can assume a close proximity for the two books, since Heinlein was writing again on Stranger In a Strange Land in April of 1958. (See Expanded Universe, p. 396, for the proof of this and a description of the conditions under which he paused in the composition.)
One can wonder if this was another case of cross-fertilization. The original concept for Stranger In a Strange Land, then titled The Man from Mars, dates back to 1948. In 1949, Heinlein wrote his third juvenile for Scribners, Red Planet, set on Mars. A Mars with intelligent Martians, ones upon analysis very much like the Martians of Stranger In a Strange Land. There are no other overt connections between the two books, but the similarity of their respective Martians does make one wonder if they are set in the same universe.
The governmental habits displayed in those two books are much of a piece. For example, the casual decision by the Earthly authority to terminate the seasonal migration of the Martian settlers (in order to increase available space) that provoked the colonial revolt. It is also possible to speculate if Heinlein borrowed from one book to put something in the other, and in which order and for what reason(s).
Anyhow, concerned by implicit assumptions in the copy on Lanador of their residences on Vega Five, Kip becomes restless, and as the Mother Thing mentioned that there were other Terrans around, decided to go and look. (Peewee didn't need an invitation to go along.) The first other Terran there doesn't seem to be able or willing to communicate. Recently there have been speculations on the ability of Neandertal ["Neanderthal" is pronounced "Neandertal" in German, where the valley in question is; orthographic reform has discarded the superfluous "h". Curiously enough, the Neander Valley was named after a local who had Hellenized his name of "Neumann". "Neumanntal Man"?] Man to be able to speak; Heinlein's most likely information on the source would have been on the order of L. Sprague de Camp's "The Gnarly Man", in which story it is assumed that Neandertalers can speak (otherwise the title character would have had the very devil of a time surviving to the time of the story).
So Kip and Peewee observe their gnarly species cousin, while noting some of the more interesting local technologies to be found on Lanador, such as the invisible force fields which make them at least safe from inter-sub-species warfare. This investigation presents an opportunity for some splendid Heinleinian verbal byplay:
"What were you doing talking," she answered reasonably, "when I wasn't listening?"
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 209
The other Terran the Mother Thing mentioned is, it seems, one Iunio, milites Romanorum of Legio VI Victrix. Kip was extremely glad he had studied Latin as well as Spanish, as he needed both to communicate with this fellow prisoner. In Lest Darkness Fall (1941) de Camp's protagonist Martin Padway had had to blend Latin and Italian to make himself understood in the Late Vulgar Latin becoming Italian that was spoken in sixth-century Rome. So a Roman legionary from Hispania like Iunio would be speaking something like the Vulgar Latin that became Spanish. But from when exactly? I once discussed this matter with Grant McCormick, who'd figured it out more easily from a different clue. To quote what Heinlein says that places Iunio:
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 213
Which raises a question; how long did the Three Galaxies folk keep Iunio? There's a long gap there between 145 and about 1978. (There's also the little matter of how and so on.) Not that there's much time to answer that question, for the subpoena has been served.
VIII. KIP R. CAME TO LANADOR
Kip and Peewee find themselves present at the investigation of the wormfaces for their actions in our Solar System. Distraining an official of Three Galaxies (the Mother Thing), that is. Actions against the indigenes don't count for either side. Being dragged off by robots was already disconcerting, but facing wormfaces again, though they were presumably guarded by a more efficient court security system than exists today, was worse yet.
The presentation raises questions in fields of which the closest that even exists today is international law (such as it is). How does a cooperative legal entity adjudicate conflicts with non-members? (The concept that anarchocapitalism considers by ignoring.) The wormface defense discusses, then rejects, various expansions on this theme, stating that in the first place the Three Galaxies had no authority over them and in the second place they had not violated any Three Galaxies' rules. ("Your pot was perfectly sound when I returned it, the pot was cracked when I borrowed it from you, and I never borrowed your pot.") Having rejected what Kip believes to be perfectly sound defenses the wormface spokesbeing proceeds to set out his actual defense, based on the grounds that the best defense is a good offense.
Offending the court is not a good idea, as the defendant who had tried unsuccessfully to get a change of venue on the grounds that the judge and public defender might be prejudiced against him because he had assaulted them both in court found out. While this decision is not grounded in as direct a interaction, similar actions on the part of the wormfaces produce similar results. This court guarantees a defendant's right to a speedy trial and sentence:
Almost immediately the voice answered itself: "Yes."
"What is the decision."
Again it answered itself: "Their planet shall be rotated."
It didn't sound like much shucks, all planets rotate and the flat voice held no expression. But the verdict scared me. The whole room seemed to shudder.
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 221
This insight through simultaneous translation of a deliberative entity in deliberation (thus the "Yankee voice" seeming to be conversing with itself when what is actually going in is the same translator translating different debaters) is cold comfort, and moreover there's no time to warm it up as the Question of Earth is on the docket. Kip and Peewee are the contemporary sample of this repulsive primitive species being examined by the Three Galaxies investigators; for confirmation they have taken a sample from the near past and the distant past. These additional samples not having been involved in the case of Three Galaxies v. Wormface et al., they are now brought in.
Iunio and the Neandertaler have their own responses to the situation. The latter cringes and growls in incomprehension. Iunio, however, does the old legion proud, calling upon the gods to defend him as he will make a funeral pyre piled high with Caesar's enemies, after which he is suppressed (as per Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, though the Three Galaxies' sack is invisible).
Then it's the turn of the "contemporary sample". To his dismay, Kip discovers that this court does not have a Fifth Amendment back on Lanador, he had told all that he could remember of Earth's history to good old Prof "Joe", only to find out that this debriefing had been sent on to headquarters, where it would be used as proof that this race was dangerous and should be killed before it multiplied:
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 234-5
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 235-6
As Panshin further points out, the quote appears in three other Heinlein books: Between Planets (1951), Double Star (1956), and Farnham's Freehold (1964). He could have gone even deeper into the implications Heinlein employed; in Between Planets Dr. Jefferson the protagonist's mentor uses that favorite quote as an illustration of the transience of their society, in Double Star Lorenzo the star uses it to avoid an emotional display over the disabling and inconvenient stroke Supreme Minister John Joseph Bonforte, the man he is doubling for, has suffered, and in Farnham's Freehold Farnham uses it as a lament for American civilization's destruction by Soviet nuclear weapons. The Heinlein Individual has flashes of solipsism at times of great social crises. Panshin's last comment there also applies to this situation at a different level: People are not so easily disposed of.
Cornered by the threat (and consider the source; the Three Galaxies, who have just now exterminated an entire species, are deploring the acts and nature of "a savage and brutal people") Kip responds with a counterthreat:
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 237
There follows some other interpleading from another charitable race, and then the infallible judge, perhaps badly shaken because its unanimity has been shown up, hands down its judgment, which is to put things off for a few years "a dozen half-deaths of radium", which after one gets past the morbid choice of words sums up to about twenty thousand years and send the witnesses home.
Heinlein's philosophy was one of struggle and competitiveness against all odds. In other works he presented humanity in competition against alien races, with differing results but a common theme. In The Puppet Masters (1951, 1991) there was a confrontation on the direct physical level, and more subtly, on the emotional and metaphysical level. In Methuselath's Children (1941, 1958) there were confrontations on more emotional levels the heroes, particularly Heinlein's seeming literary alter ego Lazarus Long, have to confront issues of life and existence and make crucial decisions of personal and social importance. It works out to a never-ending process of judgement; just as in mundane life, but more easily seen as and in fiction.
IX. "LET THEM NOW BE RETURNED FORTHWITH."
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 240
In the complete version of that command of the court, having now been returned forthwith to the space-time whence they came (pay attention, boy, this here is important!), Kip and Peewee find themselves in trouble with the Princeton cops, as reported with sardonic humor:
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 241
"Professor Reisfeld believed us. The way the Mother Thing had 'understanding' he had 'acceptance.' When a fact came along, he junked theories that failed to match," is Kip's description of Peewee's father [p. 241] and he has more than just "acceptance". Or so Kip finds out when the Secretary-General of the Federated Free Nations, no less, shows up at Professor Reisfeld's invitation. Kip is already beginning to realize that people consider him of some worth, and then he begins to learn even more about his own father.
It seems that Mr. Russell was not only a secret agent of some sort (he had after all infuriated the IRS by putting down his occupation as "Spy") but a scientist of some brilliance, as Professor Reisfeld says:
I had to untangle this to realize that he meant me. Then I didn't know what to say. How many kids really know their parents? Apparently I didn't.
Have Space Suit Will Travel, p. 251
Or has he? When the Three Galaxies say "returned to the space-time whence they came" they mean space-time. It's [still] Labor Day. (By a side-effect of relativity, faster-than-light travel also implies time travel; a point Heinlein would also use in The Number of the Beast and sequels.) So Kip ends up circling back to Centerville:
Heinlein In Dimension, p. 135
And when (all unwittingly) Centerville lout Ace Quiggle mocks Kip about going off to save the universe, Kip is now capable of responding in his face with a soda. I hope he didn't blow it all.