enhanced] DD-B

Book Note: Robert A. Heinlein, The Rolling Stones

I read this book about 24-Feb-2007. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 1952. This note was last modified Saturday, 10-Mar-2007 10:11:06 PST.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


An old favorite, this is around the quintillionth reread. But apparently I haven't done it since I started this booklog.

This book is older than me by 2 years. And contains nuclear rockets (basically the NERVA design), triply redundant computers, and an ongoing thread about discrimination against women.

Castor and Pollux Stone are "the unheavenly twins", identical twin teenagers with a penchant for engineering and tinkering. They've got some money from a "frost-proof rebreather valve" they invented, and want to buy a used spaceship and try to run cargo out from Luna to Mars and the asteroids to make a huge profit. They have the junior licenses to run the ship, even.

Their father, Roger Stone, is opposed. He thinks they need to go down to Earth for real schooling. And besides he thinks they're not up to the competition, I think, but he doesn't try to tell thm that. He's making a living writing a space-opera serial (which he got into via a bet with his mother). He has in the past been mayor of Luna City.

Roger's mother Hazel lives with them, and is one of the founders of the Lunar state. One can try to relate her to the Hazel from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, who marries into the Stone gang eventually; but Hazel's stories of growing up on Earth, and bringing Roger up from Earth, are definitely incompatible. Still, I suspect Heinlein was thinking of that connection when he wrote her into the later book.

Edith is Roger's wife, and she's a doctor. There's no evidence that she's practicing on Luna, but being a doctor becomes an important element of the plot later.

I've joked about writing an article on this book as a feminist tract; but I couldn't really do it. What there is, I think, is something of a background current of discussion on employment discrimination against women. Hazel talks about getting out of engineering when she watched three men who couldn't do a triple integration in their heads promoted over her, and realized there was sex bias. She took a job dealing blackjack instead, as Luna City didn't offer a lot of choices back then. And when naming their ship, the one name of an actual person anybody proposes is Susan B. Anthony; no mention is made of the significance of that name, but by being the only non-fictional person mentioned, it become significant.

I suspect this was the sort of thing that brought many women into technical fields when the books were relatively new, but which is overlooked by women reading the books now.

Meanwhile, Edith is apparently responsible for supplying meals to the household—even though that's just a question of which restaurant she subscribes to.

So the family eventually buys (and refits) a ship for a little vacation, and heads out for Mars for a while, and then the asteroids, and is heading for Titan (to see the rings of Saturn) at the end. Doesn't look like they're going to get back to Luna City any time soon. And with powerful radios, they can continue to write the serial that pays the bills (Hazel and Roger have traded off writing it at least once by the end of the book).

This is one of my very favorites, for a long, long time. I like the twins, and I like the family dynamics, and I like the kids being able to really do things (repair and pilot a spaceship, or even simple stuff like reconditioning bicycles). And I like the world where humanity is expanding off Earth, and where fammilies can own a spaceship. There's enough discussion of optimal launch times and crowded schedules to make it clear that it must actually be extremely rare for a family to fly its own ship, though; he just doesn't dwell on that.

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David Dyer-Bennet