The Rolling Stones (novel)

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The Rolling Stones
Written by: Robert A. Heinlein
Central Theme:
First published: 1952
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A well-loved YA novel written by Robert A. Heinlein and published in 1952, The Rolling Stones follows the adventures of the Stone family, primarily through the viewpoint of fifteen year old red-headed troublemakers Castor and Pollux. Together they finagle their father, beleaguered script writer Roger Stone, into purchasing a space ship for a family outing through the solar system. Hilarity Ensues.

Like most Heinlein novels, it's very much hard science fiction: all of the math checks out.

It takes place in the same universe as The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, which is a direct prequel.

Not to be confused with an obscure band from Great Britain.

Tropes used in The Rolling Stones (novel) include:
  • Adult Fear: Quite a bit for poor Roger, as the head of a family travelling out to the frontiers of the Solar System.
  • Asteroid Miners: The titular family Stone travels to the Asteroid Belt, where the twins of the family hope to sell food and luxury items to the miners extracting radioactive ores.
  • Asteroid Thicket: Averted. The book takes care to note that the asteroids are far enough apart that the risk of being hit by one is infinitesimally small. Nevertheless The Rolling Stone takes precautions anyway when they enter an unusually dense field that's a haven for miners.
  • Captain Space, Defender of Earth!: Roger Stone and, later, Grandma Hazel help support the family by writing a deliberately over-the-top three-vee serial in the Captain Space Defender mold.
  • Cliffhanger Copout: Appears in-universe in a Story Within a Story, "Scourge of the Spaceways". John Serling ends one season in an unsurvivable Death Trap. He starts the next season out of the Death Trap and, hero that he is, is too modest to tell people how he managed to escape. Then the next adventure starts.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: Played with when Buster is suffering from severe space sickness. The twins note that it would be better if the Stone (illegally) corrects their orbit to return to Luna, noting that if their brother died "It would spoil the whole trip."
  • Cool Old Lady: Hazel Stone (Cas and Pol's grandmother) serves at the Rolling Stone's chief engineer. She once made her way dealing blackjack and is one of Luna's founding fathers.
  • Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off: Played with when Roger Stone talks the twins after Hazel and Buster are rescued. He seems to be threatening them with it for their screwup, but then notes that they're too old for it to do any good, and they're going to have to live with the consequences of their actions like adults, instead of just being punished and getting over it.
  • Expospeak Gag: Hazel tries to pull this along with a big helping of Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness to explain to Captain Vandenberg why they got a flat cat for Buster, trying to satisfy his need to see the intelligent Martian natives. The boy sees right through it.

Hazel: The situation has multifarious ramifications not immediately apparent to the unassisted optic. This immature zygote holds it as the ultimate desideratum to consort with the dominate aborigine of the trifurcate variety. Through a judicious use of benign mendacity, [the flat cat] performs as a surrogate in spirit if not in letter.[1] Do you dig me, boy?
Captain Vandenbergh: I think so. Perhaps it's just as well. They are certainly engaging little pets—though I wouldn't have one in any ship of mine. They—
Buster: -she means that I want to see a Martian with legs. I still do. Do you know one?
Hazel: Coach, I tried, but they were too big for me.

  • Henpecked Husband: Roger gets grief not from his wife, but from his mother, who insults him constantly and literally calls him a sissy when he refuses to rise to the bait.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: Used when Castor plays a trick on Pollux and sends him flying away from the ship, refusing to pull in his line.

Pol: Pull me in, you red-headed moron!
Cas: Don't call me "red-headed!"

  • Market-Based Title: Space Family Stone in the UK.
  • The Medic: Dr. Edith Stone, M.D. (Roger's wife), is a classic example of this. Easy-going on everything else, she is draconian on enforcing proper medical procedure and the Hippocratic Oath. At one point she politely but firmly ignores her husband's objections when she volunteers to transfer to a ship that is suffering from a viral plague that has already killed their ship's surgeon.
    • When the Rolling Stone arrives at the asteroid colony, the family's only intent is to sell their cargo, stay long enough to pick up a load of high-grade from the miners, and spend some time taking a rest. That intention lasts exactly five minutes, because the colony has no doctor and has just discovered that the Stone has a qualified M.D. on board. Edith issues a flat ultimatum -- she will ensure that every person who asks for her services is given the best medical treatment she can give them. Roger is barely able to negotiate a compromise in which a) Edith's clinic will be set up in the town hall/general store, not the ship and b) she will not be obligated to do house calls save in gravest emergency.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: As is a common theme in Heinlein's work, Hazel and Roger both have careers as fiction writers.
  • Noodle Incident: After Cas and Pol are arrested on Mars for tax evasion, their father notes that at least it wasn't for experimenting with atomics inside city limits.
  • Redheaded Hero: The twins.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: Martian flat cats, which predate Tribbles.[2]
  • Rocket Ride: Rocket-powered rideable craft much like broomsticks are used in asteroid mining.
  • Setting Update: Invoked in universe when Roger Stone accuses his mother of using recycled plots. She cheerfully admits it and states that in the next episode, "I'm going to equip Hamlet with atomic propulsion."
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Averted in the book proper of course. In Hazel's serial she cheerfully makes Science whimper loudly and hide its head in the very first episode she writes.

Roger: For starters, spaceships do not make 180 degree turns!
Hazel: Mine do.

    • Also played with in that Hazel is hardly technically ignorant - she's a qualified nuclear engineer and the best astrogator and mathematician on the ship - she just doesn't care about technical accuracy, because she's writing B-movie grade schlock and knows it.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: Early in their trip to Mars, Buster, the youngest of the Stones, suffers from severe space sickness. Roger makes plans to swing their ship back towards Luna, despite being turned down by traffic control and knowing he'd at minimum be heavily fined, and have his ship master's license revoked.
  • Shown Their Work: In the book Expanded Universe, Mr Heinlein explain how Mrs Heinlein and he spent many hours calculating the precise orbit of the spaceship when it departs Luna and slingshots around Earth toward Mars. They had to do it with paper and pen, because in the early 1950s there was no other way and he wanted it to be correct.
  • Take That: You have to wonder if some of Roger Stone's rantings about his much hated science-fiction show contract had anything to do with Heinlein's experiences working on Destination Moon, or Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.
  • Theme Twin Naming: Castor and Pollux are of course named after the twins of Greek Mythology.
  • Twin Banter: Cas and Pol are masters of this.
  • Twin Switch: Pulled by the twins when Pollux attended the same math class in school twice. Castor paid the price later when he had to catch up on his studies.
  • Yamato Nadeshiko: Edith Stone skirts this. Outwardly she's the quiet, solid center of family with seemingly no strong opinions and who seems to have given up on her career as a doctor when she married. On the other hand Cas and Pol note that no family argument is decided until she weighs in, and that she has never failed to get her own way in the end.
  • You Are Grounded: Roger Stone confines Cas and Pol to quarters after they almost kill Hazel and Buster by not logging a malfunction in the family rocket scooter. In typical fashion they break it to save the day.
  1. "It's a trick. The kid wanted to see a native Martian, we got him a Martian pet and hopefully it will distract him."
  2. But despite accusations to the contrary didn't inspire them; Trek‍'‍s legal department noticed the similarity right away, however, and cleared things with Heinlein.