Monday, June 15, 2009

The Rolling Stones

Teenage twins Castor and Pollux Stone are extremely intelligent, precocious kids, and when they get an idea in their heads, there isn't too much the rest of their family can do (except for attempts at damage control). When they get it into their heads that they are tired of boring old Luna Colony and would like to fix up an old spaceship and make a bit of money by trading for goods with people who live out on the Asteroids and. Their arguments ("We'd be out of your hair" and "Not late for dinner") don't carry much sway with their father, especially when he is convinced that it's time for the twins to go to Earth for a few years and attend school there.

But somehow the idea of the spaceship, of leaving Luna colony for awhile, worms its way into the hearts of everyone else in the family, particularly their grandmother Hazel, who is one of the founders of Luna colony and a true explorer at heart. Their mother doesn't say a whole lot, but a few words from her carry a whole lot of weight. Before they know it they have purchased a ship big enough for the entire family, including older sister Meade and little brother Buster. What better name for their new cruiser than The Rolling Stone? Off the Stones go on an unforgettable road trip through the solar system, full of action and adventure, laughter and peril.

I have read several "juveniles" by Heinlein, and while I think my favorite is still Have Spacesuit - Will Travel, I enjoyed this one very much. Castor and Pollux are fairly interchangeable and act almost as a single character, but they are an entrepreneurial force to be reckoned with, and it was fun to see how they managed to keep all their other family members on their toes. I appreciated the strong female characters, particularly grandma Hazel, who is incredibly intelligent, savvy, and courageous. The roles they played on the ship, particularly regarding cooking and childcare, were still fairly traditional by 1950s standards, which did make me laugh a bit, considering the depth and breadth of Heinlein's imagination regarding other matters.

I do not think a book for teens would be published today that includes the long expository passages that are present in this one - and I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand, sentences such as "A reciprocating engine was a collection of miniature heat engines using (in a basically inefficient cycle) a small percentage of an exothermic chemical reaction, a reaction which was started and stopped every split second" may stop some readers in their tracks. But I remember as a child, reading Heinlein's juveniles and other novels that never pandered or patronized to their audience, I felt almost flattered to encounter such language. I felt that if the author thought I could understand it, well, then, I'd reread it or look words up or ask someone about it until I did understand it.

I have heard (but have not found a source to corroborate) that this book inspired the "Trouble with Tribbles" episode on Star Trek. The adorable little furballs in this novel are called flat cats. And they stole my heart. Here the twins are in Mr. Angelo's shop on Mars, where he tells them about the flat cat they see on the counter:
It had no discernible features, being merely a pie-shaped mass of sleek red fur a little darker than Castor's own hair. "They're affectionate little things and many of the sand rats keep them for pets....It just purrs and snuggles up to you. Pick it up."

Castor did so, trying not to seem gingerly about it. The flat cat promptly plastered itself to Castor' shirt, fattened its shape a little to fit better the crook of the boy's arm, and changed its purr to a low throbbing which Castor could feel vibrate in his chest. He looked down and three beady eyes stared trustfully back up at him, then closed and disappeared completely. A little sigh interrupted the purrs and the creature snuggled closer.

I found myself wishing I could have a flat cat! They are especially endearing in free-fall. Since reading this book I have discovered that it is available as a Full Cast Audio production, and I think it would be a wonderful book to listen to on a family road trip (even if it's just in a boring old car instead of a wondrous space ship).

The Rolling Stones (UK title: Space Family Stone) by Robert A. Heinlein (Baen, 2009; originally published in 1952)


  1. I have never read Heinlein, and I really should. I don't think I even realized he wrote for non-adults. I'll have to see if I can find this -- sounds like a great deal of fun.

  2. I read this a couple of years ago and enjoyed it a lot. Thanks for reminding me that I should re-read it.

    Have you read many of Heinlein's books recently?

  3. Kiirsten - This would be a great introduction to Heinlein, and the characters of the twins reappear in several other novels, which is fun. Hope you enjoy it!

    Elena - I'm glad you liked it, too. I haven't read any Heinlein in ages, but a friend sent me this re-release and it's made me want to go back and do some rereading. And explore some of the ones I have never gotten to.


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