Heinlein’s Juveniles still relevant?

Elsewhere the suggestion was made that Heinlein’s Juveniles were not, in some way, valid, or maybe relevant is a better word, any more because, “children aren’t like that any more.”

I don’t know about that.  My daughter, age 9, loves them.  It started when I read them to her in installments a year or so ago as “bedtime stories”.  She kept saying “More!” and I kept having to insist “No, it’s time for you to go to sleep, sweetie.” This year, she has a school reading assignment where she gets to pick a book, read it (10 pages at a time for the assignment), and write something about what she read.  She picked Have Space Suit Will Travel. (Finished that and went to Piper’s “Little Fuzzy” but that’s another story.  She wants the other Heinlein juveniles but I only have the one in dead tree at the moment.  The rest are in e-format only.)

I don’t think it’s so much “Kids are different today” as it was more OK then to write about exceptional kids, ideals to aspire to rather than the mush of “everyday life.”

And, as it happens, “Have Space Suit, Will Travel” remains my all-time favorite book–not just science fiction, not just juvenile, not even just Heinlein, but book.

To emphasize, even when I was growing up, the kids in Heinlein’s Juveniles (or in the Tom Swift Junior books which were among my first introduction to science fiction) weren’t what I was.  They were what I wanted to be.  And I wanted to be that because they showed me something better, something worthy of being.

Maybe I’d never acquire a space suit of my own, but man if I did, I certainly hoped that I’d be as hot as Kip at getting it working and maybe, just maybe, that would get me into space.

There were no “junior” let alone “senior” prizes for rocketry back then* but even so I tried to be like the kids in Rocket Ship Galileo because, well, they were kids doing things worth doing.

And there was no “Space Patrol” to join, and chances were I’d never be able to make the cut if there were, but oh, how I wished there was so I could at least try.

And so on.  These people did things, made things happen, and sometimes . . . saved the world.

*As it happened, years later there was a prize, something that probably would have been one of the “senior prizes” in the world of Rocket Ship Galileo, the Ansari X Prize.  And, as fate would have it, it would appear that I actually helped make that happen.

And so let us end once again with a musical interlude:


10 thoughts on “Heinlein’s Juveniles still relevant?”

  1. Clarke managed one Heinleinesque juvenile, Islands In The Sky. While the protagonist (Roy) isn't quite the go-getter an average RAH teen would be, he does all right.

    I don't think I could pick out a single favorite RAH juvenile; each has its merits. Mine are paperbacks, second and third copies after wearing out the originals, reading


  2. James Snover, you made a good choice at age 7. _Have Space Suit Will Travel_ is a favorite of mine, too. Unfortunately, I am pretty sure that somehow the Heinlein book that I stumbled across around age 7 happened to be _Citizen of the Galaxy_. I read _CotG_ later in full and enjoyed it — maybe at age 11 or 12. But it was funny around age 11 reading the first few pages of a book by an author I knew I liked, and realizing that much-younger me had apparently read a little bit of it, had done his best to express “what kind of masochist would write or read this nastiness porn?” in his limited 7-year-old way, and had gone looking for something completely different to read. 7-year-old me would probably have liked _Spacesuit_ but didn't have your luck in finding it.

    7-year-old me might even have liked _Citizen_ — it doesn't seem impossibly more complicated than _Trumpet of the Swan_, and one of my earliest memories is losing _Trumpet_ when I was still young enough to be very interested in building nests of pillows under the bed (and to fit easily). But 7-year-old me picked up no clue that _Citizen_ might have a structure more complicated than “things are bad for reasons beyond the viewpoint character's understanding or control, and beyond the reader's understanding based on what's revealed so far, and… now let's wallow in that some more” and thus didn't persevere in looking for it.


  3. I agree. The Heinlein juveniles are still relevant. The first one I read was Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. I was hooked.

    I missed a few, and one of my projects for this year is to read them all in order.


  4. Citizen of the Galaxy is one of the few Heinlein books that doesn't set me afire. I didn't encounter it until I was into adulthood (sometime when I was in the Air Force, if I remember correctly). It just never really “spoke” to me. That, and Podkayne of Mars are the only of Heinlein's “Juveniles” (quotes because I don't believe Podkayne really fits in with the Juvies) that I haven't read to my daughter as bedtime reading. When I encountered it I found the ending too dark for my taste (might be different now) and that was the “originally published” version, not the “more recently published but as originally written” ending.


  5. Not actually the 'best', IMHO, but certainly up there. Personally I prefer 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress', as it appeals on every level. It's a historical allegory (of those nasty colonial plotters who pissed off George III) as well as a clever sideswipe at American marital standards and racial segregation. It's also a pean to social justice and (not least) a very valuable guide to future Lunar 'freedom fighters'. Of course I'm completely off topic, as it was never regarded as one of his 'juvenile' works.

    Or not, since this is, after all, a blog, where a failure to comment on a worthwhile post is positively rude…


  6. Thank you.

    One of the reasons I loved HSSWT was that it came to me at an age where I could see myself as Kip, in an “almost but not quite” way. While I never taught myself Latin nor was I able to manufacture explosives in a frame building, I did manage calculus on my own (but I had Clifford Russel to show me the way 😉 ).

    And as an adult so much more from that story comes into focus. It really remains my favorite book of all time.

    And there isn't even any sex in it. 😉


  7. I first read HSSWT while learning Latin…

    At this distance in time I can't remember if I read HSSWT before or after MIAHM, but I felt the latter spoke to me more, from a revolutionary perspective, or possibly as a counterpoint to 'The Prince', which has a particularly cynical view of politics and human nature. I should add that the school I attended regarded anyone who failed to digest a considerable number of the classical texts, prior to their fifteenth birthday, as a cretin.

    OK, a bit harsh, but I had to read Plato and Aristotle before I was allowed tackle Joyce. The latter was a contemporary of my great grandfather, who preceded me in the same Jesuit institution here in Ireland, where the library was renamed a few years ago to honour James Joyce.

    Happily my own sons continued the family tradition at CWC, but sadly failed to appreciate RAH. This is most likely down to the attractions of alternative media, which is, however, an entirely different debate.

    Just like the benefits of learning Latin…


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