The Heinlein Prize Trust, which “represents a significant portion of the estate left by Robert and Virginia Heinlein including most of their literary properties,” has just announced that only “the second of Heinlein’s written works to be published as a graphic novel,” will appear in graphic form, following a successful Kickstarter campaign. Have Space Suit – Will Travel , “the story of a high school senior, Kip Russell, who wins a real space suit as a prize in a nationwide contest,” is the book so honored. But with the Sad Puppies controversy over the Hugo Awards still refusing to die down, you wonder if a new Heinlein work is what science fiction really needs.
Many science fiction fans – me included – probably have a small soft spot buried away somewhere in their adolescent memories for Have Space Suit – Will Travel. Give Heinlein credit: It’s not only a cracking read, it’s also a pluralist warning against the dangers of fanatical conservatism, and a terrific Young Adult title before the category even existed. Kickstarter backers clearly thought so: The campaign has breached its $9000 target as at the time of writing (albeit with just 266 backers), with 25 days still to go.
According to the Trust’s blurb, “Eric Gignac is the lead artist for the Have Space Suit graphic novel project. Gignac was an artist for the graphic novel Citizen of the Galaxy. He has worked in the aerospace industry as a concept illustrator for 30 years and is internationally recognized for his space mission/flight patch designs for NASA.”
Now, I’d hesitate to snark about such a fun thing, but … This is only the second of Heinlein’s novels to see graphic form? From a story first serialized in 1958? And you wonder how much latitude the adapters are going to have to tweak the result into something remotely relevant, as was done, for instance, with the film version of Starship Troopers. Yes, Heinlein was one of the science fiction Golden Age authors most ahead of the curve when it came to issues like multiculturalism and the impact of the Sixties, as in Stranger in a Strange Land. And Heinlein’s own political evolution, “from New Deal left-liberal to Goldwater conservative to anti-statist radical” is not necessarily in line with any Sad or Rabid Puppies script.
Lest anyone feel that the culture wars in science fiction are over, we now have a – swiftly airbrushed – post by Barry N. Malzberg (no stranger to controversy), which according to reliable and widely substantiated reports, originally claimed that Judith Merril campaigned to “destroy science fiction” in the late 1960s. I’m trying to run down an actual screenshot of the original post, but it presumably will resurface somewhere via the Wayback Machine. Malzberg reportedly instanced Merril’s feminism as one factor in her supposed mission to bring down sci-fi.
Heinlein is indubitably one of the “white boys’ club” that has dominated science fiction for so long. And perhaps the Trust should be pushing hard to get more and better instances of his work out in graphic form, in newer and more fascinating adaptations, lest that entire legacy be monopolized by the Sad and Rabid Puppies. Because there’s certainly far more interesting and radical graphic work out there right now to overshadow it.