After rereading Starman Jones and writing a review it occurred to me that the Heinlein juveniles are better than ninety percent of all the Young Adult (YA) science fiction that’s come out since. So my idea is not to just look at plot but really give a thorough analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of these classic stories. Let’s look at “The Rolling Stones.”
The Stones are a family of “Loonies.” That’s what the human inhabitants of Earth’s Moon call themselves. In his Future History Heinlein has decided that the Moon is officially named Luna. Roger and Edith are the parents of Meade, Castor, Pollux and Lowell (or as he’s nicknamed Buster). And Hazel Meade is Roger’s mother.
Roger is an engineer by profession but lately his job has been writing a television (or whatever they call it) serial called Scourge of the Spaceways. He despises the vapidity of the show but the hefty paycheck has hooked him.
Edith is a medical doctor and housewife who manages to keep the individualistic personalities of her children from wreaking havoc with her husband’s ideas of domestic sanity.
Meade is the oldest, recently graduated from high school and a social butterfly. Castor and Pollux are identical twins high school juniors. They are precocious engineering inventors who have made a good amount of money on an invention and are aching to break out on their own and make their fortune out in the far flung reaches of the solar system. Buster is a four-year-old who is either a chess prodigy or can read his grandmother’s mind. Finally, Hazel is one of the original “Founding Fathers” of the Luna Revolution (which Heinlein later back filled in his novel “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”). She is a senior citizen but because of the preservative effects of living on the low gravity Moon she is quite lively and also extremely outspoken on everything from child-raising to larceny.
Heinlein creates a story about a middle-class family leaving their comfortable but boring environment in order to head out into the frontier of the solar system and experience life as a family and a crew. Roger and Castor (and later Meade) handle the astrogation. Hazel and Pollux run the engines. Edith is the ship’s doctor, cook and also Buster’s mom. Buster is (as his father notes in the crew list) supercargo.
But really what Heinlein is trying to point out is that the family hasn’t fared well under the modern lifestyle and living life together as a team can allow a father to get to know his children. And allow them to find out more about their parents than just how much they are willing to spend on useless junk. All the children benefit from the skills, talents and experiences of their parents and grandmother and the adults are enriched by the challenges of the trip and the chance to influence the choices their children make.
Of course, this is an altogether outlandish odyssey that they are on and apparently bankrolled by the amazingly lucrative writing contract for Scourge of the Spaceways. Perhaps this is in a way a stand-in for Heinlein’s own lifestyle which was made possible by his well-paying books. And considering the paucity of other money coming in from the commercial enterprises that the Twins attempt you could be excused for thinking the whole trip was a bust. But it’s the setup we’re supposed to enjoy. Seeing the Twins through the eyes of their grandmother as she attempts to extricate them from a legal mess that their ingenuity and inexperience combine to create, we see that this family is resourceful and interesting even when they fail. These are the story elements that give the book its character. The action, such as it is, is light and only occasionally rises above familial squabbling. But Heinlein paints an entertaining picture of his Swiss Family Robinson in space. Despite the futuristic backdrop and the extraordinary qualities of the individuals, the ethos and character of the family is mid-twentieth century American and it is a charming world that Heinlein has reimagined in the unrealizable future of his era. The children despite their precocity are decidedly normal and compared to today’s versions, decidedly a breath of fresh air.
And whereas he did manage to tie Hazel somewhat into his other books, I had hoped he would have had a follow-on novel of the brothers in their grown-up stage pursuing fame and fortune while trying to avoid execution. Some more exciting adventures in this frontier environment wouldn’t wear out the welcome for the Stone family among Heinlein readers. In fact, one day I might write some of those stories, although if the copyright forbids, I’ll have to alter them to the extent of calling them Castor and Pollux Rock or Boulder or Pebble. Either way the characters are too good to waste.
A remarkable thing about this book is that it introduced the science fiction creature the flat cat that was stolen by Star Trek and turned into the Tribble. Of course, Heinlein was gracious enough to permit the theft but it just goes to show you how impoverished Hollywood really is.
The Rolling Stones is different from the other Heinlein juveniles in that the adventure is muted. But I believe it has its own charm that is completely character driven. The showcasing of a normal functional family is especially enheartening today when they are almost completely missing in books and films.
Highly recommended for children and adults.