The Rolling Stones by Robert A. Heinlein
Castor and Pollux Stone are 15-year-old red-headed twin boys who live in Luna City (a moon colony). They are young entrepreneurs and are making plans to buy a spaceship so they can start a trading business. When their father Roger Stone, a retired engineer and former mayor of Luna City whose current job is to write cheesy sci-fi stories for a television show, finds out about their plans, he decides to buy a space yacht and take the whole family on a trip. That includes their baby brother, their mother Edith Stone (a doctor), and their Grandmother Hazel Stone (an engineer). You may recognize some of their names from later Heinlein novels in which they are mentioned or make cameo appearances.
The family names their yacht The Rolling Stones and Mr. Stone appoints himself ship captain while his wife is, of course, the ship doctor and his mother is, of course, ship engineer. The twins help with the navigation by calculating flight plans by hand with their slide rules. To do this, they must take into account the shapes of orbits, reactive mass, changes in velocity and acceleration, gravity wells, relative motion, and kinetic energy. They are also concerned with making money, so they must plan for, and acquire, appropriate cargo.
The Stone family banters its way around the Solar System and has a variety of adventures including selling bicycles on Mars, visiting mining operations on asteroids, meeting a plague ship, and inadvertently breeding Flat Cats. (The Flat Cat plot inspired the Star Trek episode which was my favorite when I was a kid: The Trouble With Tribbles.) While the Stone twins are having adventures and making money, they also make some big mistakes and have to get out of a couple of scrapes. All the while, though, their family love and loyalty stays strong.
The Rolling Stones isn’t one of Heinlein’s best Juveniles, and it often feels dated (slide rules!), but it’s a fun and sweet little science fiction adventure that many kids and teenagers will enjoy. Heinlein fans will recognize many of the author’s favorite themes and character types. Taxes and regulations, of course, are complained about. Guns are carried. The members of the Stone family, like so most of Heinlein’s protagonists, are super super clever and are always challenging each other in ways that allow them to display their various sorts of genius. Their dialogue is full of supposedly witty banter (“Pull me in, you red-headed moron!” “Don’t call me red-headed!”), they do an awful lot of math (“we cut our teeth on differential equations … we can do a triple integration in our heads faster than Hazel can.”), and they discuss scientific principles as if they all have degrees in several academic fields. Father Stone is obsessed with running a tight ship, to the point of militancy. While I thought the family’s interactions were sweet, I found them to be more annoying than “hilarious” as the publisher’s blurb promises. Honestly, I was glad I wasn’t on that ship with the Stones. Their banter would have driven me nuts after about two hours. This gets better once we get off the ship in Mars and the boys are able to get away from their parents and grandmother.
I know I say this all the time when I review Heinlein, but one thing I love about his Juveniles is that his female characters are just as smart as the males. The Rolling Stones, which was first published in 1952, features a mom who’s an excellent and compassionate medical doctor, a grandmother who’s a brilliant engineer (and can’t cook) and a husband/son who admires and respects them both. That’s pretty awesome! Now, why didn’t Heinlein put those types of women in his books for adults???
A condensed version of The Rolling Stones originally appeared in the magazine Boys’ Life in 1952 before the novel was published. I listened to Blackstone Audio’s version of The Rolling Stones. It’s 7 hours long and was narrated by Tom Weiner who always does such a great job with these classic science fiction stories. I recommend this version if you want to read The Rolling Stones.
I’ve always wanted to read this one. Thanks, Kat! Wouldn’t it be great if they filmed this book with Mick Jagger & Co. as the leading players? The REAL Rolling Stones in outer space! I’d pay good $$$ to see that!!!
That would be cool! Too bad those guys are so old, though! :)
Just reread this one (after 60 years), and — as with the other Heinlein titles — you’ve got it exactly right! And I second your praise for Tom Weiner’s work on the audiobook.
P.S. The novel’s final paragraph is a beauty. It still gives me chills.
Simon, thanks for the comment! I’m going to go back and read that final paragraph again.