Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: The Rolling Stones, by Robert A. Heinlein

A family of wisecracking polymaths take a rocket ship to Mars and beyond.

The Rolling Stones

Charles Scribner, 1952, 276 pages

One of Heinlein's best-loved works, The Rolling Stones follows the rollicking adventures of the Stone family as they tour the solar system.

It doesn't seem likely for twins to have the same middle name. Even so, it's clear that Castor and Pollux Stone both have "Trouble" written in that spot on their birth certificates. Of course, anyone who's met their grandmother Hazel would know they came by it honestly.

Join the Stone twins as they connive, cajole, and bamboozle their way across the solar system in the company of the most high-spirited and hilarious family in all of science fiction.... It all starts when the twins decide that life on the lunar colony is too dull and buy their own spaceship to go into business for themselves. Before long they are headed for the furthest reaches of the stars, with stops on Mars, some asteroids, Titan, and beyond.

This lighthearted tale has some of Heinlein's sassiest dialogue - not to mention the famous flat cats incident. Oddly enough, it's also a true example of real family values, for when you're a Stone, your family is your highest priority.

This was one of Heinlein's early juveniles, and it's a fun, light-hearted romp, less speculative than even some of his other juveniles, but typical early Heinlein. The Stone family is a bunch of geniuses constantly exchanging quips and affectionate put-downs, descended from Grandma Hazel, who actually showed up in her younger, hotter days in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

Castor and Pollux are twin troublemakers, whose schemes drive the story. They talk their pa into buying a rocket ship, and soon the whole family is off to the asteroid belt (which Heinlein, even in 1952, knew was so sparse as to make collisions vastly improbable). Mrs. Stone, a doctor, plays the part of the obedient helpmate who still always manages to get her way, and like all of Heinlein's women, she's as uber-competent as the men, sent to treat an epidemic aboard a quarantined ship. The twins get an education, and lessons in space discipline, and calculate trajectories with slide rules. (I think almost every Heinlein juvenile has the characters calculating trajectories with slide rules.)

There isn't much novel or challenging here for a 21st century reader, and the idea of a family buying a space ship and gallivanting off through the solar system seems charmingly naive now, but The Rolling Stones was probably the inspiration for such shows as Lost in Space and innumerable similarly themed movies and TV shows. Unlike Lost in Space, of course, Heinlein wrote science fiction that actually contained science in it, and most of it still holds up, as far as the physics goes.

This isn't my favorite Heinlein juvenile, because there isn't a lot to it other than the adventures of a wise-cracking Middle American family in their used rocket ship. But it's fun and probably still holds plenty of appeal for younger readers, and for Heinlein fans, it's one of his lighter, more innocuous works. 7/10.

Also by Robert A. Heinlein: My reviews of Have Space Suit, Will Travel, Starman Jones, I Will Fear No Evil, Farnham's Freehold, Orphans of the Sky, and Double Star.

My complete list of book reviews.
Tags: books, reviews, robert heinlein, science fiction

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