Judging Book Covers: Have Spacesuit – Will Travel


Like I always say, you shouldn’t judge a book by its various covers, and certainly not a classic like Robert A. Heinlein’s Have Space Suit – Will Travel.

Have_Space_suitFirst published in 1958 in hardcover by Scribner’s, Have Space Suit – Will Travel was the last of Robert Heinlein’s “juvenile” science fiction stories, the last to feature a teen-age protagonist.

Clifford “Kip” Russel is a young man obsessed with getting to the moon. He enters a jingle writing contest for a soap company in hopes of winning the grand prize – a trip to the moon. He wins, instead, third prize, which is an out-of-service space suit.

Undeterred, Kip spends his spare time and money getting the suit back into a working condition and perfectly ready for space. He soon realizes that he will need to sell the suit in order to raise money for college, so he dons the suit one last time and walks out into a nearby field. The suit’s radio picks up a strange signal and Kip replies to it. He is shocked when a flying saucer, closely pursued by a second, lands practically on top of him. A young girl (Peewee) and an alien being (the “Mother Thing”) flee from the first, but all three are quickly captured and taken to the Moon. What follows is a classic space adventure for young readers but punctuated with enough science to satisfy the most die-hard of hard science fiction readers.

3827745_origThe hardback edition features artwork by Ed “Emsh” Emshwiller with a red and black duotone of the protagonist against a yellow background. Before the hardcover edition, however, excerpts from the novel were published in the August, September and October 1958 issues of The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. These excerpts featured cover art and illustrations also by Ed Emshwiller, although here they were in full color and were as dramatic as the covers of a 1950’s science fiction pulp magazine could get.

Since then the book has had more than a dozen editions and numerous covers with artwork that ranges from the fantastic to the perplexing.

The Ace paperback edition from 1970 features one of the last pieces of cover art by Steele Savage, an American illustrator famous for his illustrations of mythology and of several World War 2 recruiting posters. His illustration depicts a series of faces ringed around Kip in his space suit. That edition also features a black and white line drawing by Ed Emshwiller on the first page.

Have Spacesuit - Will Travel by Robert Heinlein. New English Library 1978. Cover artist Joe PetagnoA 1978 edition of the book from New English Library features a strange cover by artist Joe Petagno. Petagno’s cover depicts a male figure seeming to strike a model pose in a rust colored spacesuit against what looks like the Northern Lights. He is standing above the viewer, supposedly weightless, although the image looks more like he is standing on an invisible floor. A better edition comes from Del Rey, a paperback from the early 1980’s with cover art by Darrell K. Sweet.

Some of the stand-out editions in recent times include a hardcover edition from Atheneum Books in 1995 for the Science Fiction Book Club featuring cover art by Frank Kelly Freas. Another recent edition features art by Stephen Hickman.

There are more editions of Have Space Suit – Will Travel than I can list here. There is also some great cover art produced for audio editions as well as several illustrations done by artists solely for the pleasure of doing so including a striking black and white illustration done by British comic book artist Duncan Fegredo.


Emsh - Have Spacesuit, Will Travel F&SF Aug 58-500 QMan-FKF-AHSI-1618-Have-Space-Suit-Will-Travel Hickman Have Spacesuit

New editions of the book are popping up all the time and recently rumours of a film adaptation have begun to circulate which will undoubtedly produce even more artwork and prompt new editions to hit bookshelves.

And more –

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