I know that Space Cadet is a good book on an intellectual level. But it doesn’t evoke the same kind of visceral gut reaction that Have Space Suit—Will Travel did. There certainly isn’t anything remotely as gripping as the two space suit walks in HSS-WT. It is a more detached book. But, much like HSS-WT, it is richly interwoven with the sort of firm moral instruction that I appreciate as a man, and like to think that I would have benefited from as a boy. Space Cadet both has and hasn’t both aged remarkably well. Heinlein is prescient scientifically, and morally centered on Truth—so much so that it is easy to take for granted until you remember Space Cadet was published in 1948.
Matt Dodson is a kid from Iowa. But Space Cadet opens with Matt getting the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to join the elite Interplanetary Patrol.
It’s the Naval Academy IN SPAAAACE. But it’s hard for space academy to beat kid refurbishes his own space suit and is kidnapped by aliens as a premise. It’s also hard to standout in the well-trodden academy sub-genre.
Heinlein is exceptional, though, at showing the military as a honorable institution. And Heinlein’s depiction of Matt’s disassociation from his family when he comes home on leave is great. Matt already thinks about the world in a fundamentally different way and has adopted a very different culture. (Miles Cameron does a great job at showing the stress this can put on a young person in his book Cold Iron as well.)
Space Cadet was published 9 years before Sputnik and 21 years before the first manned Moon landing. It is remarkable, then, how prescient it is for its view of what human space travel within the Solar System could look like and especially for astronaut training. Heinlein also foresees a kinder, gentler military and the integration of psychology into military evaluation and training.
Perhaps even more impressively, Heinlein envisions a cosmopolitan Patrol. He did so in a much less diverse America pre-civil rights movement.
I want to dance around any spoilers, but it is ultimately diplomacy and tolerance that win the day. I appreciate it on an intellectual level, although it does lack the primal allure of a good fistfight (or spacewalk).
All in all, it is a fine story by a talented storyteller. But I still prefer HSS-WT.
4 of 5 Stars.
Jo Walton on Space Cadet at Tor.com.
Mark on Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars at Kaedrin weblog.
Check out more Vintage Science Fiction Month posts at the Little Red Reviewer.