There are a few of Heinlein’s later, post Starship Troopers works that I still sortof like. To a lesser extent these include Friday for the Whelan cover (and an OK story), and Number of the Beast convincing me to give John Carter and the Lensmen a try. Outside of that, the only two post-Troopers works worthy of shelf space are Orphans of the Sky – technically written earlier and “fixed up” – and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
The last is one of my favorite Heinlein books, but it is the rare post-juvenile book that is so lofty. In general, his juveniles, and other earlier work like Double Star are much better written. They also include my two favorite works of his, Have Space Suit Will Travel, and Citizen of the Galaxy.
So it was a pleasure to see todays Castalia House post on Have Space Suit Will Travel.
A few quick thoughts on the book as a whole: This is hard science fiction at its best. Not just the scenes of Kip working on the space suit. That comes in handy in two killer action scenes, in both of which his survival depends on the integrity of his suit. They work because Heinlein has established that he is deadly serious about the suit. The science works on behalf of the fiction. There is a shift in tone later on that is jarring, but in service of Heinlein trying to do something else entirely (I really wasn’t expecting him to go all Dark Forest there). The more political views of Heinlein’s mid-stage career are mostly absent, although one alien does describe democracy as “a very good system, for beginners.” The views that tend to shine through are less concerned with macro-systems than the social orders of little platoons.
Having lost track of the number of times I’ve read the book, I completely concur with the full writeup. I’ll add something else. The aliens are… alien. And unsettling, though not quite so much as the “are they intelligent or not” parasites of the *Puppet Masters*. Not only is the far away alien base on Pluto is laid out in a way consistent with engineering and the psychology of the aliens as revealed to us, it is used to tell us more about the character of the “wormfaces.”
Also – Kip is *determined*, in a way that we rarely see any more. His “I did it because I wanted to” attitude evokes more of the pulp origins of Conan than the painful setup required these days to get a character to finally act – how far into *Rogue One* did we get before Jyn Erso finally decides she’s going to protag? Also, the time taken to show him repairing the space suit doesn’t just make the critical scenes where he relies on them on Pluto and on the moon believable, as a project he did seriously and competently, but the persistence shown that early in the story makes the lengths he drove himself to in those endeavors, as well as at the end, utterly believable of his character as well.
That determination is shared in Thorby, the slave boy who we meet at the beginning of the *Kim*-like *Citizen of the Galaxy*. This time though, his determination is focused on only one thing – survival – and he gets by on animal cunning.
But not for long. It wouldn’t be a Heinlein novel if our heroes didn’t learn what civilization was for. Baslim, a crippled beggar, buys him, and takes him in, and it is soon apparent that Baslim is far more than he appears – and while teaching Thorby history and math, also teaches him to observe, and act.
Upon Baslim’s death, Thorby follows plans put in place by his master-turned-father-figure, and escapes. On his travels, he discovers the good and bad of the trader culture, learns to run fire control solutions and kills a pirate, joins the Navy, and eventually is repatriated to his ancestral home, on earth, as it was discovered he is the heir to a massive interstellar business. But life here is hardly idyllic, despite the machinations to make it seem that way, and Thorby discovers exactly how vicious and deadly even those who only wield a pen can be.
At each step, his ability to learn, to observe and absorb, and act on that knowledge, are absolutely critical in gaining the skills and allies needed to succeed. His determination, needed to do the hard work to not only fit in, but master his new environments. And each is different: a corrupt slave culture, business and family-minded traders, a military heirarchy, and finally the business world.
A final theme throughout the story is responsibility. Thorby stays true to his promises, as do others about him, to their promises and oaths.
In the end, the aliens here, are us. The evil people, are us – and so are the good people. Between the settings, the travels, and the lessons on life and people, this remains one of my favorite Heinlein books.