I came across Robert Heinlein on Facebook recently, reminding the younger generation that not only was he the author of the book that inspired Starship Troopers, but that the book was significantly different. It seemed odd that he should want to do this, but then leafing through the comment thread, it seemed that most people were amazed by this revelation, previously believing that the whole thing had been dreamed up by Paul Verhoeven and his sadistic team of script genies.

Heinlein was versatile though, and he knew his genre well, and although Starship Troopers is as much a political essaya s it is war story, Have Space Suit-Will Travel (1958) was much easier, and is in fact pretty much a kids’ book. Certainly, the 1981 reprint by Del Rey was for me an essential teenage read. It’s curious, but the books that I would hereby class as ‘essential’ such as this one, and Capella’s Golden Eyes by Christopher Evans, usually had teenagers or kids as their protagonists, and as such were coming of age tales as much as anything else. It’s good that a writer should know their audience, and although you don’t realise it at the time, reading about another teenage kid can be very helpful – especially if that teenage kid has a spacesuit. As well as a spacesuit, Clifford "Kip" Russell the hero of Have Space Suit-Will Travel also has another teenage essential, a young girl friends and an alien being — in this case it’s "Mother Thing". In 2010 I heard that Star Trek writer Harry Kloor had written a script for a film adaptation of Have Space Suit-Will Travel, and this is expected to come out in 2013. Weirdly enough, I can virtually see it, chocka with CGI of course, but this style of adventure fantasy is ideally suited to Hollywood and its filmmaker legions.

I’ve always found Have Space Suit-Will Travel to be above everything else, a friendly read. It’s philosophical in the way that young people and older alike enjoy, with its ‘what is man’ themes and questions of race and social position. Kip starts the book as kind of young and weak, bullied and on the threshold of social maturity, and by the end he’s very much at the centre of the human condition, a fully-fledged advocate of all things human, and able to stand up for himself. It happens to all of us I guess, but this is the super thing about coming of age stories: what is dramatic and overwhelming for the individual often occurs within, and so to have an external adventure story acting as catalyst for personal growth, well, that is what fantasy writing is all about.