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16 July 2011

Book Review Have Spacesuit Will Travel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Read it in a day;  wondered aloud how the world has changed that a book like this could have been published in a magazine for boys.  I mean, there was math, for cripes sake!  And physics!  And mechanical engineering!  And no gratuitous violence!

There was violence, yes, but Heinlein seems to think math is more exciting than gore;  indeed, his palpable excitement concerning all things mathematical was almost contagious.  Almost.  His in-depth descriptions of mechanical properties were engaging, if only to make me wish I understood crap like that.  I also wished I had built a radio at some point in my development.  And then I wondered why I hadn't built a radio.  And then I wondered if my kid would ever build a radio.

Very 1950s but maybe that's what made it engaging.  Words like "swell" cuddled up with formulas and mechanical concepts of spacesuit design.   A very antiquated concept of gender roles in one instance (there is an alien "Mother-Thing" who has that reassuring presence of a good mother, as well as "father- things" who don't spend much time with you and don't say much but leave you feeling like you need to prove something to them and succeed so that he will proud) cuddled up with a brilliant female heroine and the idea that the "Mother-Thing" wasn't necessarily female.

A book that put you firmly in a place, late 1950s America, and then took you firmly to a place that was "other" but still viewed through the lens of 1950s America.  I kept finding myself thinking of that scene in Back to the Future where Marty visits George dressed in a haz-mat suit and scares the bejeesus out of him using a Walkman and Van Halen.

The most lasting impression of the book is to marvel at the great intelligence of those human beings who have created space flight and who wrestle with formulas with Xs and zeds and lots of zeros. For fun.  And then to imagine that they know nothing in the grand scheme of things.  And if they know nothing, what the hell do I know?  Whoa.