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May 28

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A Tribute to Patricia Wynant “Peewee” Reisfeld

Yes, I’ve promised this tribute for a long time, including in a previous post  in this very blog. I should point out that this is a revised post. In the original, I apologized profusely for the quality of the images because, frankly, they sucked. That was a consequence of two factors: first, that I had made them as an exercise in learning DAZ Studio, and secondly, because I didn’t feel like putting in much time with 3ds Max, which I did know fairly well.  But because of a web snafu for which I am totally responsible, I had to

New Rendering of Peewee

My first rendering of the new Peewee, complete with blond hair.

remake the images, and decided that I should redeem myself and do them right. In the originals, I had trouble getting Peewee’s blond hair to render correctly. The book never says she’s blond, but I pictured her that way for some reason the very first time I read the book when I was about eight, and she’s stayed that way ever since. She just didn’t look right with black hair. Since I was committed to doing them over, and have learned DAZ a lot better, you get the privilege of seeing the new images.

With the apologies out of the way, let’s move on to Peewee.  But be warned!  Spoilers abound!

She is one of the main characters in Robert Heinlein’s Have Space Suit, Will Travel, by far my favorite of his novels, at least of those I’ve read.  Heinlein has been criticized for being sexist in much of his writing, and from a 21st century perspective there might be some substance that argument.  But considering that he was born in 1907 and did a lot of his writing in the 1950s, when women were still rarely seen in media without aprons, I think he was rather ahead of his time.  Many of his female characters kick some serious butt.  Peewee is one of those.

You have to understand that she is eleven.  But she’s a genius 11-year-old, who talks and thinks like any astrophysics major at a research university.  On the other hand, despite a propensity toward cockiness, she has an adorable touch of insecurity, clinging like a baby to her rag doll, Madame Pompadour.  That incongruity can’t help but be interesting.  As her father puts it,

“She’s twenty years old intellectually and six emotionally.”

When the protagonist, Clifford “Kip” Russel, meets her, she has just stolen a flying saucer from a hidden alien base on the moon and flown it back to Earth.

Of course, Kip is no slouch himself.  As of that time, he had completely rebuilt an old space suit, making it spaceworthy, and become quite accomplished at electronics.  They only had a television in the house because he had built one — from scratch.

Their relationship when they met in person as prisoners aboard the stolen wormface space ship didn’t start out perfectly.

Peewee Captured

Peewee in captivity by the wormface, when Kip first met her, complete with Madame Pompadour.

“And howdy to you, Peewee. Uh, are you a boy or a girl?”

Peewee looked disgusted. “I’ll make you regret that remark. I realize I am undersized for my age but I’m actually eleven, going on twelve. There’s no need to be rude. In another five years I expect to be quite a dish — you’ll probably beg me for every dance.”

And then as they try to make their escape:

“What? Then you thought you had bamboozled their lock hours and hours ago — and you didn’t tell me?”

“That is correct.”

“Why, I ought to spank you!”

“I don’t advise it,” she said frostily. “I bite.”

She probably does, at that.  And, he’ll probably beg her for every dance.

At first, Kip finds her quite a bit of an enigma, which makes sense because she is one.  He can’t help but notice that she is dazzlingly intelligent, estimating time to the minutes and calculating in her head the halfway point to the moon at constant acceleration. But then again, he can’t help but notice her streaks of immaturity.  Often, the two come hand in hand.

I eased out on elbows and knees, stood up and looked around. “Come on out,” I said quietly.

She started to, then backed up suddenly. She reappeared clutching that bedraggled dolly. “I almost forgot Madame Pompadour,” she said breathlessly.

I didn’t even smile.

“Well,” she said defensively, “I have to have her to get to sleep at night. It’s my one neurotic quirk — but Daddy says I’ll outgrow it.”

“Sure, sure.”

“Well, don’t look so smug! It’s not fetishism, not even primitive animism; it’s merely a conditioned reflex. I’m aware that it’s just a doll — I’ve understood the pathetic fallacy for … oh, years and years!”

Nothing brings two people close together faster than an attempt to escape wormface captivity by a desperate trek 40 miles across the surface of the moon, especially when the smaller of them is wearing a cheap tourist space suit without enough oxygen to last the trip.  Kip has to use a lot of ingenuity here to keep her alive, by what method I will keep secret so that you read the book.  By the time it runs out, they have become closely bonded, like best friends, or brother and sister.

“I’m dizzy . . . and I don’t think I … can walk.”

“You don’t have to, honey,” I said gently and picked her up in my arms.

“You don’t have to walk any farther.”

She didn’t weigh anything.

That  moment still brings tears to my eyes.  Now don’t make the mistake of assuming that it’s necessarily the boy who saves the girl.  Later on Pluto:

“Kip? Are you down this hole?”

Yes! Can’t you see me?” I saw her head against the light above.

“Uh, I can now. Oh, Kip, I’m so glad!”

“Then why are you crying? So am I!”

“I’m not crying,” she blubbered. “Oh Kip … Kip.”

“Can you get me out?”

And then:

Peewee Piloting

Peewee piloting the wormface saucer she has stolen from their base on the moon. Wormfaces aren’t built to use chairs, so in this vision, she dragged in a storage crate to sit on. She’s a very smart girl. Her shirt says, “56% protein, 28% lipids, 11% minerals, 5% carbohydrates”.

I heard a squeal and whirled around to see a wormface with one of those camera-like things aimed at me. Even though Tim had used one on me I didn’t realize what it was; for a moment. I froze.

But not Peewee. She launched herself through the air, attacking with both hands and both feet in the gallant audacity and utter recklessness of a kitten.

I need to impress upon you just what a wormface is.  Naturally, they are physically horrifying and repulsive to us humans; I visualize them as being evolved from a polychaete worm. Naturally, they plan to take over the Earth. Naturally, they intend to breed humans as food stock.  But it’s the eyes. Three dark brown eyes that sap every last vestige of bravado and willpower like some demonic hypnotist.  You can’t refuse to obey one.  It is impossible for me, in one to twenty short paragraphs, to express the degree of courage it took for Peewee to actually attack one.

Of course, Kip is man enough to realize and accept that this scrawny little girl has more practical experience in a space suit than he does.

Aye aye, Cap’n!”

“Don’t make fun of me, Kip. This is serious.”

“I wasn’t making fun, Peewee. You’re boss.”

By Pluto, though, the two are something of a couple, but without any explicit romantic component.  Either would willingly die to save the other.  Their closeness reaches a new level of propinquity shortly later.

 “Sure. Sure both. You’re going to be all right.” Suddenly her face screwed up. “Oh, you were a mess! I saw.”

“Pretty bad?”

“Awful. I have nightmares.”

“They shouldn’t have let you look.”

“They couldn’t stop me. I was next of kin.”

“Huh? You told them you were my sister or something?”

“What? I am your next of kin.”

I was about to say she was cockeyed when I tripped over my tongue. We were the only humans for a hundred and sixty trillion miles. As usual, Peewee was right.

 “So I had to grant permission,” she went on.

Peewee's New Space Suit

Peewee’s tourist suit being a piece of crap, the Vegans make her a new one. That’s not really a helmet around her head; it’s a force field. A minute in Vegan sunlight, unprotected, will kill a human.

Despite her intelligence, her cleverness, her knowledge, and her wisdom…. No, let me start that over. Her intelligence, her cleverness, her knowledge, and her wisdom are all the more impressive because of what they sometimes allow us to forget: that she is still a child. And when the time is right, when she is alone, she lets that side of herself out.

My rubber soles made no noise and I didn’t call out because Peewee might be asleep. Her door was open and I peeped in. She was sitting tailor-fashion on that incredible Oriental divan, rocking Madame Pompadour and crying.

I backed away, then returned whistling, making a racket, and calling to her. She popped out of her door, with smiling face and no trace of tears. “Hi, Kip! It took you long enough.”

You noticed, of course, that Kip was respectful of her pride and helped keep her façade in place.

Together, amidst their ever tightening relationship, they demonstrate the courage, loyalty, dedication, honesty, compassion, determination, helpfulness and sheer love that we come expect from our grandest heroes.  They are the very attributes that it turns out make the human race worth saving.  We might expect such characteristics from Kip because he is, practically, an adult, though I’ve known real-life recent high school graduates who demonstrated none of these.  But Peewee impresses me so much more because she is still a pre-adolescent, very much a child, and one who clings to a doll for security at that.  This is an age at which many young girls crash and burn under social pressure[1], but not Peewee.  Her embodiment of the noblest character that humanity can offer in the face of horrifying circumstances that would drive most people mad — at such an age — is what makes her my favorite young girl in all of science fiction and fantasy.

I have it in my mind that in a few more years she and Kip get married.   I can’t see it any other way.

[1] For an excellent discussion of some of the social psychology involved, see Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://www.duanevore.com/a-tribute-to-patricia-wynant-peewee-reisfeld/

12 comments

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  1. Michael Wolff

    Quite a thoughtful dissertation on Peewee. And yes, I very much suspect that she’s destined to become the future Mrs. Russell. Professor Reisfeld certainly seemed to have arrived at that conclusion, or I doubt he would’ve asked Kip to spend part of his vacations with the Reisfelds.

    1. Duane

      Hey! I’m delighted to know there is someone else who even knows who Peewee is these days. A couple of more lines keep sticking in my head.

      “I need not have worried about my daughter, not with the Mother Thing — and you.”

      and,

      “Im glad you like Peewee. She as about 20 years old intellectually and six emotionally; she usually antagonizes people.” But Kip is different, of course.

      Sometimes I think I know that book too well. I wrote an “extended ending,” in the few minutes after Ace got the malt in his face, that suggests another adventure, this one on Ganymede and “out around Arcturus.” I’m often tempted to go ahead and write it. :)

  2. Michael Wolff

    Coincidences abound. I’ve been tempted to pen at least a short story which would take place eight years later, and involves Kip proposing to Peewee.

    But “Have Spacesuit Will Travel” has always been one of my favorite Heinlein novels, and the characters of Kip and Peewee are two of the main reasons.

    1. Duane

      By all means, write it. I’d be interested in your thoughts. I published my extended ending in my anthology, but I’d forgotten that I’d previously posted it on my site. No conflict with what you have in mind, because it picks up the exact microsecond that Heinlein left off, and even if I write it the whole thing, it wouldn’t cover more than a few weeks. http://www.duanevore.com/have-space-suit-will-travel-my-extended-ending/

  3. Michael Wolff

    I’ll consider it (and apologies for the delay, I’ve had some eggs up in the air).

    And thanks for the link.

  4. Michael Wolff

    Took a while for me, but here’s the (mercifully small) story I promised. Hopefully it’ll fit here.

    A Joint Project Proposed

    by Michael Wolff

    Professor Curt Reisfeld had attended many of the Graduate Dances at Princeton throughout the years he’d been on the faculty (and, before that, as a student). He was the sort of person who never grew tired of the event.
    And this occasion was particularly special as he held hands with his wife, both he and Janice watching their daughter floating across the floor with her partner. Miss Patricia Wynant Reisfeld (honors graduate summa cum laude in Physics and Applied Mathematics) was managing to present a rather appreciable sight in a blue strapless lace beaded gown as she effortlessly glided in the company of her partner.
    “Oh, she shines up very nicely,” Emma Russell remarked. She and her husband, Dr. Samuel Russell, were standing next to the Reisfelds; not too surprisingly as not only were the two couples close friends, but it was their son Clifford who was currently waltzing Patricia across the floor (and had been effectively monopolizing Patricia’s attention ever since the Dance had started). “Patricia is stunning.”
    Emma smiled at the comment. Not that anyone really doubted Patricia’s looks. But it wasn’t often that the girl was seen in anything other than very casual clothing, or in labwear at the Physics Lab, her hair tousled and unkempt and her face usually unscrubbed. Of course, there was the still-recent memory of Patricia in her cap and gown as she accepted her degree . . .
    And then the moments when she had been formally dressed when her and Clifford (accompanied by their parents) had addressed numerous sessions of the United Nations (some of them of an emergency nature). But now there was nothing to prevent the newly minted Dr. Patricia Reisfeld from looking her best in the arms of Dr. Clifford Russell (Ph.D and Oppenheimer Fellow in both Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, and currently heading a project in advanced space environment and exploration design work, regularly traveling between MIT and Crisium Base on the Moon).
    Professor Reisfeld gave a nod in Clifford’s direction. “Of course Kip is looking rather nice as well,” he said.
    Sam Russell nodded. “Good to see him enjoying himself, too. Of course,” he added, “Patty’s always managed to get him out of himself.”
    The two men glanced at each other.
    “Well, Sam?” Curt asked. “What do you think?”
    Russell looked speculative. “Well . . . Kip’s been seeming a bit distracted recently. His mind has been on something, and I don’t think it involves the new gas recycling design for the life support system project. I think a positive prognosis can be extended.”
    Between the two men the wives were quietly smiling to themselves.

    * * * * * * *

    “I told you,” Patricia said, smiling up at Clifford.
    Clifford was returning the smile. “Told me what?”
    “Years ago . . . that you’d beg me for every dance.”
    Clifford’s smile grew. “Was I begging?”
    Patricia considered it. “Well, you weren’t exactly drooling. Nor were you on your knees. But I took the liberty of recognizing the look in your eyes as genuine pleading and, of course, didn’t want to feel sorry for you.”
    “My thanks, Dr. Reisfeld.”
    Patricia let out a sigh. “Finally.” She admitted to herself that it had been a difficult but absorbing time: entering Princeton at the tender age of fifteen . . . managing to maintain a high grade point average both at the undergraduate and graduate level, and receiving her doctorate at twenty. Of course her experiences with Kip out in space had certainly helped her academic standing (as well as attracting a great deal of occasionally bothersome notoriety).
    But now the doctorate was firmly in place, and she was beginning to feel as if she could breathe easier for the first time in years.
    And being led about the floor by Kip was definitely the cherry on top. They had kept very much in touch . . . exchanging holidays at each others homes . . . and had taken every opportunity to meet (Princeton not being too far from Cambridge). But Kip’s own graduation had been the signal for him to assume larger duties, and Patricia easily recognized how lonely she felt at times. Especially when looking up at the Moon and knowing he was there.
    “So what now, Patricia?” he asked.
    She snapped back to the here and now. “Um?”
    “Still deciding on where to go?”
    “Well,” she slowly said. “Secretary Shirai has broadly hinted that I’d be welcome at the UN office dedicated to studying the scientific ramifications of increased relationships with the Three Galaxies government. And Bloemstein has talked about setting up a research effort to try and develop a version of the Three Galaxies space-warp drive.”
    “That’d make . . . what? The fourth such effort?”
    The girl’s shoulders bobbed in a shrug. “Bloemstein feels I’d be able to make a definite contribution. I’d already submitted several papers.” Including, she mentally added, my graduate thesis.
    “I think you’d have a clear shot at it, Patricia,” Kip said.
    “Thanks.” And then a thought bubbled up into her consciousness. “Odd.”
    “What?”
    “That’s two times you’ve called me ‘Patricia’ in less than five minutes,” she said to him.
    Kip now shrugged. “That’s your name.”
    “Yeah but, up to now, it’s always been ‘Peewee’. Or at least ‘Patty’.”
    Kip nodded. “True. But I’ve got a couple of reasons for calling you ‘Patricia’.”
    “Oh?”
    She was surprised at how serious Kip’s face was now becoming. And their steps were growing less waltzlike.
    “First off,” Kip said, “you really don’t look like a ‘Peewee’ tonight.”
    Patricia smiled. “And second?”
    For a moment it seemed as if Kip had trouble swallowing. “Well . . . the way I see it . . . if I’m going to ask a girl to marry me, then I think I ought to use her true name.”
    Patricia felt as if an alien space-warp drive had suddenly switched on inside her. Everything was moving rapidly away in all directions, and the music was fading to nothingness in her ears. Only Kip remained constant and steady in her vision. Standing so close to her.
    Oh . . .
    She had known. For years she had felt . . .
    But . . . but . . .
    “Clifford.”
    They had both stopped dancing entirely and were standing in the middle of the dance floor, focused on each other.
    His face was serious. “It’s always been ‘Kip’ before.”
    And now she was having trouble swallowing. “Yeah, but.” She managed to get whatever was in her throat down. “If I’m going to accept a proposal of marriage, then I’d better use your true name.”
    No response from Clifford. No vocal response anyway. Only the reaching into a pocket and producing a small velvet box, opening it to reveal the diamond solitaire glittering within.
    Patricia’s eyes widened. “Oh, Clifford . . .”
    “I travel a lot these days,” he murmured.
    “I love traveling,” she quickly replied, looking up from the ring into his hopeful eyes.
    A smile now broke out on his face. “I definitely know that.”
    And the mutual communication continued without words (but with increased closeness) before the young couple joined hands and left the dance floor to deliver the expected news to their not-too-surprised parents.

  5. Duane

    Oh, wow! You did it. I had to read it in the notification e-mail because it would take a few seconds longer to get to the site. Not a bad job of story-telling at all. “A Joint Project Proposed”, “”Years ago . . . that you’d beg me for every dance'”, “‘I love traveling’.” Clever how you wrapped all that in there; insider information that only a true HSWT fan can properly appreciate. “No vocal response anyway.” Not the first time it sounded rather Heinleinesque. Had me going for a second, though. Doctorate? What? That’d make her 25, 26? They wouldn’t wait that long! Then… DUH! She’s a freaking genius. 20 sounds about right. I’ll admit, “Patricia” and “Clifford” sounded weird to me, too.

    Now that you got my mind back on their future, I probably won’t be able to get it off my Ganymede/Arcturus idea. If I ever write that, we’ll have to get together again to fill in the years between my short-term vision and your longer-term one. Thanks for sharing this!

  6. Duane

    P.S. I wonder if she ever made him regret that “Are you a boy or a girl?” remark.

    We might be able to start a trend of “Kip and Peewee” fan fiction.

  7. Michael Wolff

    Thanks. And your extended conclusion was extremely readable (the “Parcheesi Question” was so Peewee!).

  8. Michael Wolff

    I had to go back and change “United Nations” to “Federated Free Nations”. Upset with myself for not catching that earlier.

    And yeah, I originally had Peewee getting her doctorate at 19. But I thought it over and, keeping in mind Professor Reisfeld’s comment on how Peewee was six years old emotionally, felt that the Reisfeld’s would’ve kept her in grade school a few more years before allowing her to run loose at Princeton.

    (Personal experience has taught me that having the emotional level of a six year old has never mattered for much in college, but that’s just my observation.)

    And yes, I consciously meant for only HSWT fans to catch the references. If a reader hadn’t yet read the novel then he or she should make an effort to peruse what is still one of my favorite SF novels (and competing with “Citizen of the Galaxy” as my favorite Heinlein juvenile.

  9. Duane

    Well, I didn’t catch that “United Nations” thing, either. Oh, well. Oddly, when I figured out about Peewee’s age, I thought, “Heck, she could have done it by 19.” Maybe your first hunch was correct. I’m not sure whether or not I’ve read “Citizen of the Galaxy.” I’ve read a lot of his that have sort of faded away. Let’s see, was that “Farmer in the Sky” or “Tunnel in the Sky”? By the time he got to “I Will Fear No Evil” I thought he was losing it. But HSWT? That one has stood out like a glowing star since the day I first read it. It wasn’t that long ago that I finally read “Podkayne of Mars,” and she was a character I didn’t particularly care for.

    After your inspiration, I did go and rough out a first chapter. Now I’m trying to remember if the book ever actually says where Centerville is. I made a comment that it was two hours later in Princeton, but I’m not sure that’s true. I did the calculations (or rather, Peewee did them, in her head). At near maximum distance, it takes about a week at one g to get to Jupiter. I wonder how many games of Parcheesi that is. I’m throwing in a few preludes to romance. At some point, I imagine I’ll post it as a serial.

  10. Duane

    For Michael and any other HSWT fans, I started serializing my near-future story. http://www.duanevore.com/have-spaceship-will-travel-1-peewee-in-centerville/

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