MEANWHILE … in homes all across America, impressionable young minds were heavily influenced by THE ROLLING STONES. Of course, I am not referring to the bad boys (or should that be grandpas) of rock-n-roll. I mean THE ROLLING STONES by Robert Heinlein.
THE ROLLING STONES is one of a baker’s dozen novels that make up Heinlein’s “juvenile” output that started in in 1947 with ROCKET SHOP GALILEO and ended in 1963 with PODKAYNE OF MARS. I am not going to argue that it is Heinlein’s best book or even his best juvenile, but I will claim it as my favorite.
Originally published in 1952 by Scribner’s and serialized that same year in Boy’s Life as TRAMP SPACE SHIP, I discovered it circa 1976 in an Ace Books paperback edition. Now 1976 was probably as different from 1952 as it from 2014, but I maintain that the book is as readable and meaningful now as it was then.
It is a hopeful novel, not of a dystopian future as we tend to see dominating today’s YA literature, but of one where there is opportunity for everyone who possesses a touch of intelligence and an industrious streak. It is a tale of adventure with no violence. It features strong female characters. And, while some may scoff or belittle the importance of this, it is a wholesome novel.
THE ROLLING STONES is the story of the Stone Family, several of which show up in later Heinlein works.
Hazel, the grandmother, is the pistol-toting matriarch who supports the family as the writer of an entertaining science fiction serial “The Scourge of the Spaceways” – a role she actually takes from her son.
Roger, Hazel’s son, is an engineer and former mayor, who tries to reign in his family as “captain of the ship” in the sometimes ineffectual but ultimately loved and respected manner of the typical 50’s sitcom father.
Edith, Roger’s wife, is a doctor who is also a master manipulator. She cherishes her family but understands, even if her husband does not, that being a physician is a sacred calling to which she is fully committed.
Meade, the eldest daughter, is being trained in astrogation by her grandmother even though there seems to be the assumption, despite the accomplishments of her mother and grandmother, that her career options are minimal and her best course of action is securing a husband. Not to belabor the point as this really is an enjoyable and entertaining book, but based on the other female characters, I think that Meade is meant to represent the plight of most girls in the 1950s as opposed to the future for which Heinlein hopes.
Buster, the precocious 4-year old of the family, is a chess prodigy and sometimes plot device.
Last, but certainly not least are the twins, Castor and Pollux. They are would-be entrepreneurs of the get-rich quick variety. They are not scammers, but they are certainly schemers. It is those schemes that drive much of the action in the book.
Oh, and let’s not forget the flat cats. If you never heard of flat cats, let’s just say that without them, there would be no tribbles. Of course, without guinea pigs, there would be no flat cats, but those are both different stories entirely.
The story opens in Luna City, a colony on the moon, with the twins looking to buy a used spaceship to become traders. Dad puts the kibosh on that idea, but quicker than you can say, “have spaceship, will travel,” the family buys a second-hand ship and sets out for Mars. Then, as they say, hijinks and bureaucracy ensue.
The tale combines the schemes of the “unheavenly twins” with a hybrid of the westward expansion of America & the post WWII family road trip and plops it into the solar system that the 1950s expected to be explored and colonized by this day and age. Add in a fairly detailed look at how space travel might work (compete with challenges), the commercialization of exploration, and the need some will always have for more elbow room and you have a delightful tale that is a refreshing look at the future that never was.