Commentary on Robert A. Heinlein's THE ROLLING STONES by Joseph T Major

Opus # 92; written November December 23, 1951; 70,000 words

Serialized as Tramp Space Ship in Boy's Life September-December 1952

British title Space Family Stone


Damon Knight was aware that Heinlein was an insightful observer of human nature. However, the terms in which Knight sought to express that insight were not always the most congenial to Heinlein:

This is a good place for me to eat a few words; I once wrote:

. . . Most striking of all, these people are not preselected for their gigantic intelligence or their colorful personalities; they are simply a random sampling of genus homo. So far as I can recall, there is not a character in any one of Heinlein's stories who is not essentially ordinary. Some of them have eccentricities. . . but. . .

This "but" is the sound of a reviewer missing the point. It's true that Heinlein's characters tend to seem commonplace by contrast, simply because they're all healthy, physically and mentally, except for an occasional psychotic villain. Heinlein isn't interested in neurotic people, perhaps because he feels they are obsolescent, like the modern automobile (disposed of with great gusto in Chapter 4): but eccentricity is something else again:

"Roger, have you ever met any normal people? I never have. The so-called normal man is a figment of the imagination; every member of the human race, from Jojo the cave man right down to that final culmination of civilization, namely me, has been as eccentric as a pet coon once you caught him with his mask off."

[The Rolling Stones, p. 59]

Damon Knight, In Search of Wonder, p. 81

What Knight didn't know was that Heinlein's attitude towards not only neurotic people but also those who pronounce them "neurotic" could have been characterized as wishing for obsolescence. Sometimes psychological attitudes were quite influential, as Heinlein once grumbled to his long-suffering agent about his long-afflicting editor:

I am sorry to say that I am again having "sex" trouble with Miss Dalgleish she has decided (from her Olympian heights as an amateur Freudian) that The Rolling Stones containes some really dangerously evil connotations. . . . I took one of her books for girls and subjected it to the sort of analysis she gave mine. I know quite as much Freudian, "bogus" psychology as she does; from the criteria she uses her book was dirty as hell and I told her so. If she is going to leer and smirk at my perfectly nice kids' book, I can do the same to her girls' stories. Amateur psychoanalysts make me sick!

Grumbles from the Grave, letter of March 8, 1952, pp. 63-5

And the subjects of this pudendum-symbol analysis would in times to come provoke a different sort of action, but that is another story (to be discussed in its proper place).


For all the sexual accusations, the story begins innocently enough:

The two brothers stood looking the old wreck over. "Junk," decided Castor.

"Not junk," objected Pollux. "A jalopy granted. A heap any way you look at it. A clunker possibly. But not junk."

"You're an optimist, Junior." Both boys were fifteen; Castor was twenty minutes older than his brother.

The Rolling Stones, p. 7

Without the cover, one would have assumed at the time (1952, remember) that these twins are discussing the virtues of a used automobile that they intend to convert into a hot-rod. Well, Heinlein dismissed autos in this book; the twins are discussing the flaws of a spaceship that they wish to buy in order to set up as traders.

The contemporary reader, inured to such matters by reading of the exploits of Han Solo and Chewbacca, has less need of the cover (the first edition showed three of the characters standing on the spaceship's hull, watching Earth pass by) to be prepared for this. Even that cover would do for the reader of Christmas 1952.

Which makes the realization that the Stone twins are at a used car lot, slightly redone, no less odd, though it should not be. The implication is that societies are harder to change than technologies are. Though later on this book we would see where Heinlein would maintain cars themselves to be absurd, his point is that the sale of transportation would remain much the same.

Trying to create some new "automation-punk" version would have been speedily dated and an obstacle to the reader's assimilation of the book. Imagine, if you will, a story about Lunarians of the twenty-second century who smoke Kools, wear vinyl jackets, comb their hair into pompadours with lots of oil, listen to Elvis and Buddy, and punch cards for computers with thousands of tubes it dates quickly.

Twins are hard to handle in literature as in life. In Time for the Stars (1956) Heinlein would differentiate twins, and indeed the differentiation is one of the major themes of the book. Here they are less so, to the point where Damon Knight considered them, as characters, to be a unit [In Search of Wonder, p. 81]. But not entirely and indeed, as well as finishing each others' sentences (yet we don't think couples who finish each others' sentences to be undifferentiated), we will see them arguing.

Indeed, Alexei Panshin was awed by the differentiation:

. . Writing is not completely unlike juggling and it is difficult to do everything at once. Scenes with one or two characters are not at all hard to write, but every extra character you add and use makes the scene that much more difficult. To approach a scene with five living, breathing, thinking characters in it takes a deep breath and rolling up one's sleeves. Several times, however, in The Rolling Stones, including the first chapter, Heinlein has all seven members of the Stone family on stage at once, all talking, all going off at cross-purposes. I respect him for even trying it, but he brings it off beautifully.

Heinlein In Dimension, pp. 65-6

(This apt simile is made particularly poignant by the comparison with the last chapter of Heinlein's The Number of the Beast (1979) which also has a scene with several members of the greater Long family on stage, all talking. Far from going off at cross purposes, though, they are not only all in accord but so much alike that it is difficult to tell which one is talking, and they talk a lot.)

Having looked over this used vehicle, the would-be solar system master traders head home. While getting a lift from a passing truck driven by a friend is still mundane, by way of contrast their perambulations "in the flying leaps the Moon's low gravity permitted," [p. 13] is the sort of prediction that Heinlein thought ordinary but which was cosmically concept-expanding to the readers. (Of course, if they were to trip and rip a p-suit . . .) The next step requires a mass-transit system as periodically overburdened as the far more advanced one of Tunnel In the Sky (1955), which may be a comment on mass transit in general, ending with a return to the bosom of their family.

Who else is in the Stone family? Consider, to begin with, that perennial butt of fifties family fare, the father. Roger Stone, the self-admitted dope of the family, is an engineer, a political figure (he was mayor of Luna City), and a screenwriter.

There is an interesting parallel here. Heinlein was an engineer. He was a political figure, having, as he had admitted, run for the California Assembly in 1938 and lost [Expanded Universe, p. 4] (and also having, as he had not admitted, been involved in Upton Sinclair's 1936 EPIC (End Poverty In California) gubernatorial campaign). Finally, he was a screenwriter; after having done "Destination Moon" in 1951, he went on (just after he wrote this book), to write a set of screenplays for a television show to be based on some of his stories, particularly the postwar short stories one was actually filmed for television and then, much to Heinlein's disgust, padded out into a theatrical release ("Project Moonbase", 1953).

So this may have been perhaps the closest example of the compliment that Spider Robinson had felt it necessary to refute: "this same perennial hero essentially he's Heinlein himself, and Heinlein likes himself." [In Search of Wonder, p. 80]

For all that he feels himself overshadowed by his nearest and dearest, Roger proves himself capable of mastering the situation and the family. The parallel would seem to be Jefferson's comment that Washington was not a first-rate mind, but he could direct and control the efforts of others, which was a far more difficult task.

Unlike George Lermer of Farmer In the Sky (1950), Roger Stone is still married as our tale begins, and unlike the shadowy senior Harveys of Between Planets (1951) the elders are very much on stage. Mrs. Stone, or to be more befitting her status, Dr. Edith Stone, is a physician, always referred to as one and (belying frequent plaints of retirement) using her medical skills throughout the story. (Indeed, she is referred to throughout as "Dr.", not "Mrs.") However, when we see her first she isn't practicing medicine, but drawing, complaining bitterly about her subject's moving.

The subject is the oldest child, the Stones' daughter Meade. Considering that is she is a moderately accomplished singer and a square dancer (cf. the community recreation and solidarity period in Tunnel In the Sky), and in the course of the book she becomes a space pilot, it is only, it would seem, by way of contrast to the rest of this eccentric and rambunctious brood that she earns Knight's demurrer of not being a complete character [In Search of Wonder, p. 81].

At the other end of the siblinghood is Lowell, the almost unbelievably precocious four-year old [p. 15] (at the beginning, Meade is just short of eighteen [p. 24] and the twins are fifteen [p.7]), "he licks [his grandmother] Hazel consistently at chess, and nobody is quite sure whether it's because he reads her mind or not," [In Search of Wonder, p. 81] is Knight's discussion of one of his precocities. Not that prodigies haven't had the various skills Lowell Stone prematurely possesses, but he seems to be well-nigh overskilled, like the infamous Clark Fries of Podkayne of Mars (1963). However, one can safely bet, even with his bet-winning grandma, that he will not grow into the unbalanced monster that Clark had become.

Oh, yes, Grandma . . .


Considering the problems of Heinlein's female characters is complicated by such examples as the self-proclaimed "final culmination of civilization," granny Hazel Meade Stone, a character very much to peoples' liking. Indeed, Heinlein liked the character so much that he did some dubious things to her:

"Mike, look at old organization file. Check Hazels."

"Four Hazels," he answered at once, "and here she is: Hazel Meade, Young Comrades Auxiliary, address Cradle Roll Crêche, born 25 December 2063, mass thirty-nine kilos, height"

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, p. 146

Slim got Hazel to change her name to Stone, two kids and she studied engineering.

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, p. 381

As Panshin argues, and in contrast to his ringing praise of the earlier book, this joining is a cheap and a poor fit:

. . . Apparently your affection and interest in her earned in The Rolling Stones is supposed to pay Heinlein's way in this novel. The only trouble is that it is impossible for the Lunar society of The Rolling Stones to be derived from the supposedly previous society of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and it is impossible for the Hazel Meade Stone of one book to be the Hazel Meade Stone of the other. (See pages 184-185 [p. 171] and 190 [p. 176] of The Rolling Stones just to start.) Heinlein doesn't care about this he is interested only in the effect of the tag "Hazel Meade Stone."

Heinlein In Dimension, p. 114

The first reference is to a description of Hazel as a "founding father" of the Free State; the second is a claim by her that she was trained as a lawyer in Idaho. I would add to this Hazel's complaints about food "When I came to the Moon" [p. 17], about when someone has been "on the Moon as long as I have!" [p. 17] (both in the initial argument about food following the predictions of many, Luna has centralized cooking facilities, but competition among them, as may be deduced from the speculation about which restaurant to subscribe to [p. 16]; moreover, the food has synthetic meat, which may be a further reference to Heinlein's many predictions regarding food shortages) and about the glass ceiling and her response to it, since she "had [Roger] to support." [p. 22]. These describe someone born on Earth who migrated to the Moon, not the Luna-born orphan of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress; someone who had had to raise a child [and a single child at that] herself without the aid of the child-centered (so Heinlein specifically says) commune/swinger lifestyle of the latter book.

There is a further point which argues for a small colony over a large one; "Why, during the epidemic of '93 there were times when I was the only woman in the colony able to change a bed," [pp. 128-9] snorts Hazel at one point. If there are a million women on the Moon and only Hazel is available to change a bed, they must be really sick. Also, if Luna has the medical resources mentioned in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, this seems to be an extreme lapse. Also, would she say "colony" about the free, flourishing, seventeen-year-old Luna Free State?

An excuse presents itself, for the immediate question and for the broader ones as well Granny Hazel exaggerates constantly: "Meade answered, 'Hazel, the last time you told us about that it was two months and it was tea instead of coffee,'" is the challenge to her very first claim.

But the claim would not have had any credibility had Hazel been, as in the later book, a second-generation member of a three-generation colony. Moreover, establishing a character as a pathological fantasist is hardly the way to encourage the reader to take the suspension of disbelief needed to accept a fiction in the first place.

Heinlein tried to adjust for this, of course. The reference that "she studied engineering" is a minor one. To correspond with Hazel's being a "founding father of the Free State" [p. 34 and p. 171] Heinlein has her sign the Lunar Declaration of Independence [The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, p. 210] which also presumably answers her comment that "I know that there is free speech on the Moon; I wrote it into the charter myself." [p. 19].

And then a few years later he went back and re-justified himself at considerable length: Colin Campbell said to his beloved: "You claim that you're Hazel Stone." And she replied "I am." [The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, p. 215] The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (1985), Heinlein's penultimate novel, is a sequel to The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress which works at reconciling it with The Rolling Stones. Stating that a thing is so does not necessarily make it so, and Heinlein merely states therein, at length, that the two works are connected [The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, pp. 215-21].

The incidents described as following this book are interesting and even fitting; they date The Rolling Stones to 2148 [The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, p. 219], incidentally. But the explanation that Heinlein cobbles up to cover the period between the two books is less so. For example, to explain the "lawyer" matter reference above, Hazel says "When the drugs against acceleration came along, I went dirtside for my law degree" [The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, p. 343], but given that this is stated to be right after Roger's father had died, one would think that her son would have been aware that Mother was a lawyer. And so on.

In this process the charming Grandma Hazel of the first book becomes the shallow, obsessed "Myrtle the Fertile Turtle, never happier than with a baby in her belly and a man on top!" standard female character of the disappointing books of Heinlein's last few years. The contrast is so pointed because in The Rolling Stones Hazel gets the speaking ability with "brisk, bright clever metaphor" of the lead Heinlein Individual:

Mr. Stone interrupted. "Hazel, I will not stand by and let you encourage this. I'm putting my foot down."

"You look silly standing there on one foot. Don't try to bring me up, Roger. At ninety-five my habits are fairly well set."

"Ninety-five indeed! Last week you were eighty-five."

"It's been a hard week. . . ."

The Rolling Stones, p. 28

(As a further discussion of this, if Hazel is eighty-five, and in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls it is presented that that was her age at the time, then Roger has to be seventy. He doesn't act that old.)

As can be guessed from her set habits, she is the later Heinlein Individual of this book; the self-reliant, morally autonomous and morally responsible one who knows why as well as knowing how. These traits crop up in little ways, such as her weapons policy she carries a gun, but it has cough drops instead of rounds [p. 34]. (Why would people in a lunar colony need guns anyhow? This says something disquieting about the social stability of the place. It is, however, a tie to The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress but it also reflects a state of mind going back to Beyond This Horizon (1942, 1948).)

One can then see the family as a tiered system of Heinlein Individuals, with Roger and Edith as the second stage, the experienced but not yet burned out one, and the children as the first stage, skilled but untutored in the ways of the world. They talk accordingly, but Hazel gets all the best lines. Some are saved for others, though.


The twins were, it turns out, looking into an investment; they were hoping to buy a usable cargo ship and go into trade. For all their intellectual precocity, they are still lacking in experience; it probably wouldn't be a good idea for them to zoom off like three young atomic engineers. Also, there's a little matter of the law, something that has never bothered Heinlein individuals much. (But throughout a distinction is made between laws and natural rights. In later chapters of this book Heinlein presents a case of laws run out of control.)

Something in the proposal appeals to Hazel, and to Roger, unknown to anyone else. Roger, as trustee of the twins' money [p. 17] (as part and parcel of that Heinleinesque talent, they have invented a rebreather valve for pressure suits [p. 10], and derive a comfortable income therefrom (though in these inflation-heated days three percent is an absurd interest rate [p. 17]), insists on approving the decision.

Hazel also comes along to check. Indeed, as Meade had not so subtly indicated [pp. 24-5] legal adults to be formally in charge don't have to be parents or other ancestors, or even passers-by. Though Pollux echoes Rod Walker of Tunnel In the Sky in averring that "Girls are a nuisance," [p. 25] Castor more sensibly points out that that particular description applies only to sisters. (Somehow the prospect of two brothers and a sister in a closed space for a long time with little to do doesn't quite sound like the "wholesome story" [Grumbles from the Grave, letter of March 8, 1952, p. 63] that Heinlein intended to write or would have been allowed to write at that time.) And Dr. Edith was all in favor of the idea, since things had seemed a little cramped at home once they came back from Venus [p. 24].

Indeed, it turns out that Roger Stone is as tired of domesticated life as the rest of his family. After some preliminary maneuvering in the used-ship lot (Hazel fakes a systems flaw in a ship to conceal the obstacle to the twins' plans that it doesn't have enough room for them all [p. 38] which suggests she may not be as attentive as she thinks) the would-be buyers find a cargo-passenger liner.

We have subtly segued from automobiles to merchant ships. It is also apparent that we are in, if not the specific universe of "The Green Hills of Earth", at least in one like it of "commercial (not exploration nor adventure) interplanetary travel."

Roger, however, does not intend to buy it for the twins, but for himself. His flyer in politics, while it ended better than, say, second place in the California State Assembly Democratic Primary, still has ended for him, but others think differently. And the apartment is getting too crowded; it would be nice to see the Solar System.

His mother thinks so too. By a neat piece of finagling, which to avoid boring the juvenile reader is set up offstage, she makes the deal to buy the spaceship they want at an even less-than-bargain basement price. Then there comes the matter of naming it.

Unlike the contentious and talky family unit of The Number of the Beast (1979) the Stones can come to a decision. In this case, it's a decision about a name, and it comes after what seems to be a masterpiece of stalemate worthy of the later book:

"Rubbish! We thrive on trouble. Do you want to get covered with moss?"

"What's 'moss,' Grandma Hazel?" Lowell demanded.

"Huh? It's . . . well, it's what rolling stones don't gather."

Roger snapped his fingers. "Hazel, you've just named the ship."

"Eh? Come again."

"The Rolling Stones. No, the Rolling Stone."

The Rolling Stones, p. 52

(Another blow to the idea of a Luna-born Hazel; why would the orphan from Cradle Roll Crêche have known about "moss"?)

While Roger moans that he has "a soft head, a pliable nature, and probably the lowest I.Q. in the family," [p. 57] his decisiveness and authority belie this self-deprecation. On several occasions throughout the book he accepts responsibility and asserts authority with a firmness beyond the conception of the comic semblance of the caricature "daddy" of popular entertainment.

As when, during the refitting of the ship, Castor and Pollux decide to save time and money by not replacing gaskets in the engine. The original ones are still usable (Hazel thinks they would be usable spares) but Roger wants all new ones. Getting the new ones shipped up from Earth would take three days, or maybe a week too long for impatient teenagers. So the boys put the old gaskets back in. But when their father finds out, he does put his foot down and requires them to take the gaskets out again. And he drives in his point by cracking his disobedient subordinates' heads together no figure of speech, either, but a realization of gravitational differences [pp. 49-50; he had picked up the boys and held them each at arm's length].

This is an example of Heinlein's either-or attitude towards authority. Authority one hadn't accepted could be obeyed or flouted, as desired. (Again, there will be a detailed example of this later on in the book.) Authority one had accepted, however, had to be scrupuously obeyed. The most extreme example of this philosophy can be seen in Starship Troopers (1960) with its contrast between the freedom and ease enjoyed by the non-citizens and the regimentation and authority those in Federal Service are subject to. The payoff for the latter, though, is full citizenship.

The Stone twins are admittedly less free to choose since they are subject to the authority of their parents. This follows more Panshin's portrayal of "mentoring", the process where each level of Heinlein Individual protects and instructs the next lower one. We won't see this in a normal family again until Time for the Stars (1956) though the best example of this is the Russells in Have Space Suit Will Travel (1955). Broken families, now that's several different stories.

It could be argued that here Heinlein is reflecting his own experiences again, his service in the navy which could and did turn down nineteen out of twenty volunteers, but insisted on tough standards for the selected five percent elite. As earlier unpublished works have been brought to light, the degree to which Heinlein incorporated his own life experiences into his works has become obvious and indeed blatant. Damon Knight was even more right than he thought.

Not that this either-or policy excludes originality, innovation, or initiative; the twins' original idea had been to go into the shipping business, and when their father usurped their ship-buying to his own ends, they were naturally concerned. He will, however, permit them to pursue their original goal, at a price. Not only the usual charges of shipping and handling, but with an additional input; they will have to study math. Heinlein equated mathematics with rationality throughout his life, from Theobald's course of advanced study in Beyond This Horizon (1942, 1948) to the proposed voting qualification given in Expanded Universe, page 400. The twins are going to have to put in effort to live up to this persistent standard:

"Oh, we'll study!" The twins got out while they were ahead. Roger Stone looked at the closed door with a fond smile on his face, an expression he rarely let them see. Good boys! Thank heaven he hadn't been saddled with a couple of obedient, well-behaved nincompoops!

When the twins reached their own room Castor got down the general catalog of Four Planets Export. Pollus said "Cas?"

"Don't bother me."

"Have you ever noticed that Dad always gets pushed around until he gets his own way?"

"Sure. . . ."

The Rolling Stones, pp. 61-2

The refit involved a thorough teardown and rebuild, of which the injector gaskets were only a small part. In the process of discussing that work Heinlein sticks in a thorough lecture on the theory of vehicle design. This is where what Knight had described as the disposal with great gusto of the modern automobile comes in [pp. 52-4], and it is quite an amusing, and thought-provoking, engineering exposition.

The Rolling Stone has a nuclear rocket engine rather like the title vehicle of Rocket Ship Galileo (1947) and is gyroscopically stabilized like it and like the unfortunate landing shuttle of Space Cadet (1948). The nuclear materials are installed by officials of the Atomic Energy Commission, which says something about persistence of institutional structures. In an interesting cybernetic point, the ship has an IBM computer (which would have reassured corporate executives of the sixties and seventies and appalled any later hacker) which has triple-processor redundancy. (This methodology would recur in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and The Number of the Beast in different form.) Still more persistience of institutional structures. At least, unlike the case with speculations of a colleague sixteen years later for forty-nine, they didn't get passengers flown up on Pan Am and calling home on the Bell System.

When the repair, refit, and rebuild work is done Captain Stone and crew have a ship. Somehow this process makes one think of the play in Citizen of the Galaxy (1957) telling the legend of how the first Captain Krausa built a ship, crewed it with his family, and set off to trade among the stars. History repeats itself.

The new Captain of the Rolling Stone has earned his title the easy way, too: "I bought this ship with money earned in spite of the combined opposition of my whole family", Roger grouses, quite unfairly [p. 57]. Where did he get this money? Stay tuned for our next thrilling installment!


"Captain John Sterling was my childhood hero," confessed Colin Campbell/Richard Ames to his odd new spouse [The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, p. 219] but his ostensible new son-in-law had thought differently at the time: "I've hated that mealy-mouthed Galahad ever since I thought him up," was Roger's response to allegedly the same person at an earlier age [The Rolling Stones, p. 31].

Adventure serials had gone out of favor for a while, but back in the fifties they were all the rage, an inheritance of television from the movies. In the starry skies above Captain Video competed with Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, much to the dislike of the nominal creator of the latter. The resemblance between the TV show and the original Space Cadet is minimal, and disdained by Heinlein [see Grumbles from the Grave, letter of January 5, 1951, p. 45] in any case. (And nowadays there is Babylon Five.) One could therefore regard the derring-do of Captain John Sterling, The Scourge of the Spaceways, as a response to this.

This is the screenwriting that has occupied ex-Mayor Stone's time for the past two years, to his great personal distraction. Another supporting factor in his acquiescence to his offsprings' proposal was that someone offered to take the burden off his shoulders: ". . . give me a blank spool and I'll dictate the next three episodes while brushing my hair," crows Hazel [p. 23]. This seems to be a prime example of "being pushed around until he gets his way," for now Roger is free to plan purchases and be a commander.

Hazel throws herself into the adventure with a vengeance. Captain John Sterling can no longer go "zooming through space, rescuing people and blasting pirates and having a grand ole time" [The Star Beast, p. 183] with quite as much ease and delight as before since she introduced a new opponent for him, the Galactic Overlord.

(Since Heinlein rarely describes appearances anyhow, and never even tries to do so in this case, we can't know if the Galactic Overlord resembles the Space Emperor of Captain Future, who as you know is "always concealed in a big, queer, black suit, and he speaks out of it in a voice that don't sound human" and happens to resemble another galactic overlord who was in touch with the force of nature.)

As mentioned earlier, Heinlein would shortly thereafter try to create a more serious science fiction anthology series for television; he wrote scripts for it based mainly on his stories of the postwar period, the ones intended for the Saturday Evening Post and chronicling the era of "commercial (not exploration nor adventure) interplanetary travel." One can see this proposed series as a positive response to the problems of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet in the way this is a not so positive one, as with the adventures of Pidgie-Widgie in The Star Beast.

At first Hazel too wants to get out of the rat race, but yachting costs money and she has to keep on. One of the recurring plot lines in this story will involve her quest to get written scripts back to the producers in New York. (The Stones must have come cheap, or one of the more implausible future advances in this universe must have been increased honesty on the part of producers.)

Not that she doesn't have other sources of income above and beyond the pension granted to the Founding Fathers (and mothers, as Heinlein pointedly reminds us) by a grateful lunar colony [p. 34] this passage seems to equate Luna City with the bulk of the human colony on the Moon, which seems rather to contradict the multiple communities of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, incidentally. She makes bets and hasn't lost yet.

When the twins submit their first proposed cargoes Roger noticed something unusual. "Castor thought we ought to buy hardware; I favored foodstuffs," Pollux informed their father [p. 67]. Roger looked at the copper tubing, valves, and fittings the elder twin wanted and the sugar, wheat, potatoes, and rice the younger twin proposed, and put two and two together to get a solution that Sergeant Anderson of Starman Jones (1953) had found tolerable within limits and intolerable outside of them: "I figure I could build a fair-sized still," he informs his would-be Jim Beams [loc. cit.], and refuses to permit them as Grandma had bet her descendants. What they do end up shipping are what were referred to at the time of writing only as bicycles and would now be considered more like trail bikes. Heinlein sets forth plausible reasons why such vehicles would be of particular use to prospectors in his claimed environments; they would be portable and mobile. (Presumably the wheels are fitted with solid tires of temperature- and vacuum-extremes resistant material.) There being a glut of such trail bikes on Luna at the moment (local production, having a gravity-well advantage, has created that surplus), the twins have bought up used ones for refitting and resale at bargain but profitable prices. This entrepreneurship, and how it came out in the end, was one of the plot lines of the book that Knight thought would broaden the appeal of the book to older readers.

And so with fond farewells from a "goodly portion of Luna City" the space family Stone lifts off for Mars.


The rest of the family has space experience, but this is the first time for Lowell, and he responds by getting ill. His condition worsens over the first day of the trip, as his mother continues treating him. This is very serious and it even drives the twins and Hazel to consider aborting the journey, since the bikes will keep, but a brother (or grandchild) is a terrible thing to waste.

However, it turns out that while Lowell had been queasy about his first experience in microgravity, what really got him down was the medication he was given. (Substantial proportions of astronauts have had similar problems of longer term, so Heinlein may have been more optimistic than anything else.) Nevertheless, this concern for the lives of others has earned the twins a certain heightened esteem in their mother's view.

This change of vector would have required extra computation and maneuvering, as the Rolling Stone and the other ships following would be using maneuvers near Earth to get the final impetus for Mars. No, not a gravity-well boost like with the Pioneers, Voyagers, and Galileo did with other planets. Rather, Heinlein says something about the kinetic energy balancing to compensate for the expended mass of propellant at the closest encounter with Earth. Did the Heinleins sit down and calculate this out the way they did for the mission to the orbiting academy ship in Space Cadet? [Expanded Universe, p. 520] But this entails passing very near Earth, with the concern of a close encounter with "the robot atom-bomb peace rockets of the Patrol" [p. 87] another link with Space Cadet, one speculates. Fortunately they miss the bombs, but instead they have a hair-raising encounter with a research satellite.

Yet another technical link with the earlier book seems to be the low receiving capability of earthbound radio systems. Hazel demands time off to knock out a complete run of episodes of The Scourge of the Spaceways while they can be received on Earth. Her son speedily points out to her (no doubt with some enjoyment) that while their transmitter may not always be able to reach Earth, it can communicate with the passenger ships following behind them in orbit, which do possess radios of such power.

The point had been made earlier that the Stones were as capable of working in pressure suits as was Kip Russell of Have Space Suit Will Travel presumably Roger and Edith would not have thought it unusual for their offspring to appear at the table in p-suit, and they wouldn't even have bothered when it came time to get a napkin. And so they move their cargo outside to work. (One hopes that they would not have tried to manufacture explosives at home, the way Kip had done.) This enables Heinlein to compose the scene which became the basis of the original cover:

"Okay. But it's too nice a day to talk business." He raised his open hands to the stars and looked out. "Swell place. Lots of elbow room. Good scenery."

"That's the truth! But come around to the Sun side if you really want to see something."

"Right. Help me shift my lines." They walked around the hull and into the sunlight. Captain Stone, Earth born, looked first at the mother planet. . . . "I'm glad we came, boys. Are you?"

"Oh, you bet!" "Sure!" They had forgotten how cold and unfriendly the black depths around them had seemed a short time before. Now it was an enormous room, furnished in splendor, though not yet fully inhabited. It was their own room, to live in, to do with as they liked.

The Rolling Stones, p. 111

This scene is most important. It is an evocation of the sense of wonderment that space travel has to imbue, the embodiment in ink of the famed earthrise shot from Apollo 8. It foreshadows the ending, with its poetic invocation of the pioneering spirit. And it delivers the ultimate disproof of the tie between The Rolling Stones and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (Hazel stayed on the Moon until after Slim's death, which makes it rather hard to have Roger be "Earth born.")

While the bicycle mechanics rebuild their stock in trade, their captain works on sales. To the War God, following in their course, the Rolling Stone is a strange and wondrous vessel indeed, endowed with an inexplicable outgrowth. (Why would the Rolling Stone need to be streamlined? An atmosphere-capable ship, which would be streamlined, would be so compromised as to be far outclassed by vacuum-designed ships.) On learning the nature of the new fittings, Captain Vandenbergh of the War God, who is fortuitously an old friend of Captain Stone of the Rolling Stone, wants to buy one, and the bicycle mechanics are quite happy to make a deal.

But the next big news from the War God is not so good. Roger's ongoing chaff with his old friend suddenly isn't possible any more: Captain Vandenbergh, his executive officer, and many of the crew and passengers are ill. And the ship's surgeon is dead. Now Roger, having preached the burden of responsibility to his children, is feeling it himself, on behalf of his wife.

A part of the work on orbital mechanics that the characters have been learning (and the author working on, which was why these stories took so much out of him) makes it clear that the ship must be lightened. However, those same orbital mechanics make the loss a temporary one. And the other loss also looks like a temporary one. But then Dr. Edith becomes "too busy" to talk to her husband, who draws the obvious conclusion: "Edith Stone had contracted the disease she had gone to treat."


If Heinlein had wanted to show how great a burden the responsibility of authority is, he picked a noteworthy example to demonstrate in this book. As his wife remains on the War God fighting illness, Roger Stone stalks the bridge seething with fury and worry.

The mysterious ailment seems to be related to measles (rubeola); at least no one who has had measles gets this disease. This could be a source of concern for the Stones, since "Luna City was by long odds the healthiest place in the universe; the routine childhood diseases of Earth had never been given a chance to establish." [p. 128] None of the Stones, except Hazel, has ever had it. [Another blow to the Moon Is a Harsh Mistress/Cat Who Walks Through Walls sequence.] This lapse of immune systems is now about to rebound on the Stones with a vengeance. (It could be even worse; as Hazel says, measles "can be fairly serious in an adult," [p. 128] like fatal.)

In the pre-antibiotic era, when bacterial diseases were not so much treated as alleviated, the hand-holding physician would wait for the crisis, when the struggle of the ailment with the patient's natural immunological defenses reached its maximum and either the disease or the sufferer won. In the coming age of antibiotic-resistant organisms (thanks to overuse of antibiotics), this may come again. And for the epidemic on the War God, it does, and ebbs, leaving a weaker but surviving Captain Vandenburgh and Dr. Stone. Which means that the boys can try to deliver the bicycle the captain had ordered.

The captain of the War God gives value for value: in return for the loan of Dr. Edith Stone to treat the disease that had struck him down, he provides fuel enough for the Rolling Stone to recover its drifting cargo. One wonders if Heinlein discussed the techniques of at-sea refueling with his classmates, as the description of the method by which they transfer reaction mass [p. 132] is more like that of oiler-to-warship refueling than like, say, aerial refueling of warplanes by tanker planes. It did, to reassure the reader, suffer a sea change "space change"? to reflect the particular requirements of the environment. Once refueled, the Stones roll off after their drifting cargo.

An example of the thought that went into this story has to do with the markers. One is of a shape and methodology that was not widely thought then, the radar corner marker. For all that radar technology had made crucial differences in the recent confilct, it was still a magical mystery to most. Those who remembered the laser reflectors parked on the Moon by the Apollo astronauts will recognize the means that made the drifting cargo light up on the radar screens of the Rolling Stone.

The other marker belongs to a different field of thought. Attached to the wired bicycles and other impedimenta is a simple note, informing the potential finder that this is not space jetsam:


This cargo is in free transit by intention. The undersigned owner intends to recover it and warns all parties not to claim it as abandoned. U.P. Rev. Stat. #193401

Roger Stone

P.Y. Rolling Stone, Luna

The Rolling Stones, p. 122

And indeed they do. [The "P.Y." seems to mean "Private Yacht", i.e., not a merchant ship and so regulated differently.] The laws of orbital dynamics that Pollux had intuitively recognized had made the orbit of the mass of bicycles and other goods as predictible as was the course of the missing ship that the Aes Triplex had searched for in Space Cadet. It was even easier for the Stones than for Matt Dodson and his brothers-in-arms; their target didn't have a radar reflector.

Another demonstration of the dynamics of free-fall occurs when they begin recovering the goods. Originally Castor had pushed it away with the tiniest of pushes; now he is all too eager to drag it back in and his grandmother has to remind him of something similar from her past observation: "I saw a green hand at the space station try to hurry a load that way. Steel plate, it was. . . He had started it with a pull; he thought he could stop it with a shove. They had to amputate both legs but they saved his life." [pp 134-5] (Another glimpse into Granny Hazel's colorful past, a far more diverse life than it was later made out to be.) There is a surprise waiting for them on the notice:

An endorsement had been added at the bottom:

"Sez you!

"The Galactic Overlord."

The Rolling Stones, p. 135

Screenwriting matters had oppressed the new screenwriter for some time, back to relaying messages through the War God [p. 103]. In a Johnsonian attitude suitable for the man who had started writing to pay off a mortgage [Expanded Universe, p. 4; more proof that the sneer in op. cit. p. 462 is unjustified], Hazel confesses that she signed on for another season "Because they waved too much money under my nose, as you know full well. It's an aroma we Stones have hardly been able to resist." [p. 104]

In the end-of-season cliffhanger, too, Hazel had killed off the Galactic Overlord and left Captain John Sterling in fatal peril, or so someone unacquainted with movie serials would have thought. So the season opener (set on Ganymede, an interesting touch) begins with the Captain modestly relating his escape to a colleague, but "Just as he's jokingly disparaging his masterly escape the next action starts and it's so fast and so violent and so bloody that our unseen audience doesn't have time to think about it until the next commercial. And by then they've got too much else to think about." [p. 104] From there they go to thinking about the current peril. In what may be a gibe directed at the producers of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet Hazel comments "I get my best ideas from Lowell, he's just the mental age of my average audience." [p. 105] Lowell's father feels that his youngest issue might resent the comparison. As for John Sterling's allegedly deceased foe, their master's voice "revived him in her next episode." [p. 135]. And it looks like they may be needing the money.

In a parallel to water navigation, and perhaps an unanticipation of computerized controlling, the Rolling Stone has to be landed on Phobos by a pilot. The hurtling moons of Barsoom have turned out in this world and time to follow closely in use if not precisely in inception I. S. Shklovskii's theory [Intelligent Life In the Universe, pp. 373-4] of their purpose and origin: "Phobos was almost spherical and fairly smooth as we found her . . . by one very plausible theory the Martian ancients used her themselves as a space station." [p. 136], says the author, stepping outside the frame of the story. (The cratered, lumpy, and battered orbiting potato found by the Viking spacecraft was by comparison a severe disappointment.)

The pilot would seem to fall under the classification of "local character", and following the parallel controls the ship by intuition (were Heinlein using an aircraft parallel instead of a boat one he would call it "flying by the seat of his pants"). It's an example of the shifting standards of radiological contamination that the principal concern about using the main drive is that it is overpowered, not that it will spray radioactive contaminants across anyone there. The pilot comes alongside in a shuttle, attaches a portable control board at the auxiliary control sockets, steps outside to fit the landing engines, and then sits and makes small talk. Just at the point where Castor (at least) is about to go mad with concern, the pilot interrupts his story, advises everyone to brace themselves, and makes a perfect landing burn to bring the Rolling Stone to a safe landing.

One of the noteworthy characteristics of this natural space port Damon Knight was certainly impressed by it [In Search of Wonder, p. 82] are the consequences of the low gravity. Exiting the ship is easy; it is perfectly possible to walk down its side. Moreover, it would be perfectly possible to take a running jump and become a satellite of a satellite, and the twins and Hazel discuss the details of this. Meanwhile, Roger is champing at the bit to go and rejoin Dr. Edith. He had already wanted to go once, only to be dissuaded by his realization that he would be leaving his own ship in less than reliable hands [p. 130] (it's disconcerting that in the list of ones responsible he leaves out Meade "two cocksure half-trained student pilots" [loc. cit.]). Now there's no such restraint to guide his course. Their pilot had previously landed the War God (p. 138; one hopes he kept his pressure suit on throughout) and had conveniently provided the berth numbers. Now he gets his wish, and not surprisingly "Roger Stone promptly caught the epidemic disease and had to be nursed through it and thereby extended the quarantine time" [p. 145] which no doubt made him much beloved by the passengers, crew, and far-distant owners of the War God.

If this is a sequel to Red Planet (1949) the atmosphere program has done its work well enough; tight-fitting suits and rebreather-humidifier masks are not required here. The perils of Mars are now instead metaphysical. The maneuverings required for Hazel and the grandkids to get through Martian immigration are strangely similar to the problems the author had had getting into Australia, particularly since the Heinleins' tramp royale of Tramp Royale was November 1953 to March 1954, after this book was written. And costs are a nightmare, but if Pollux thinks Mars is "the Land of the Fee" now [p. 147] he hasn't seen the half of it yet, to get ahead of our story.

The budding bicycle salesmen are appalled to learn that there is now no longer a market for their products all the prospectors have gone out to the asteroids! However, they hit upon an alternative solution with remarkable speed, and try to encourage the tourist trade. The proprietor of the restaurant outside the spaceport turns out to be remarkably receptive to some well-placed arguments about diversification and speedily buys the bikes to establish a rent-a-bike stand. The partnership Pollux thought of too late probably wouldn't have been feasible.

"Third World" countries are well known for their intractable and incomprehensible regulatory structures, established to assuage the socialist principals of their rulers' teachers and provide a source of income in bribes. Case in point: the twins promptly get busted for criminal conversion, importing work tools and selling them as luxury items. This news is a fine welcome for their parents to get upon leaving quarantine.

Fortunately their lawyer has some connections. "I knew your grandaddy well. I'm a Founding Father too," [p. 171] Hazel, her grandsons' advocate of desperation, says to the judge after his Honor prides himself in his Lunarian connection. This familiarity aside, Hazel proceeds to launch herself into a sentimental, moving speech about economic advantage and how tourism is really a means of production. This moving argument results in a quick acquittal. Perhaps the judge was himself frustrated with legalism.

This entire section is noteworthy for the analyses of economics, the dismal science, and the political consequences of directed economies. You would think that anyone who could explain such a serious, abstruse set of circumstances and manage to make it funny would be heralded throughout the stars. No such luck.

But Mars has one more surprise for them. There turns out to be a stiff tax, and the large roll of bills the restaurant proprietor had paid [p. 164] is transformed into a few small coins of net profit, which makes Hazel's stiff contingency fee (two-thirds of their profit [p. 177] it's usually only one-third) turn out to be rather exiguous. This is where the part about Hazel studying law in Idaho before Roger was born, she says comes in. This does not correspond with the events described in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, where the fifteen-year-old Hazel had a child supposedly Roger shortly after her marriage to Slim Lemke Stone, and even less so with the attempted reconciliation in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls.

And speaking of cats . . .


If this book is a sequel to Red Planet, Jim Marlowe could have had a less interesting (and certainly less troublesome with the authorities!) pet than a bouncer. While trolling for buyers, and learning the bad news about the lack thereof, Castor had noticed a sample of the local fauna:

. . . "Say, Mr. Angelo, what is this? At first I thought it was a fur cap; now I see it's alive." Castor pointed to the furry heap on the counter. It was slowly slithering toward the edge.

The shopkeeper reached out and herded it back to the middle. "That? That's a 'flat cat.'"

The Rolling Stones, p. 154

[One wouldn't expect the audience to know that "castor" is Latin for "beaver" and make a hat joke. Be glad that Miss Dalgleish didn't know or wouldn't admit to knowing other connotations of that term.]

It seems to be the perfect pet; omnivorous, not given to messes, disease-free, and affectionate. Jim Marlowe would certainly have found it familiar; as with Jim and Willis, "[Castor] looked down and three beady little eyes stared trustfully back up at him, then closed and disappeared completely." [p. 155] Also, the flat cat can curl up in a ball when conditions get bad; parallels to the curling-up desert cabbage that saved Jim's and Frank's lives and the curled-up Martian they later saw who was rejecting the outside world can be drawn.

Back to our story, and fortunately for Mr. Angelo's pocket they don't know this, flat cats are commonplace. (The author steps forward again, with a reference to his own background at that, saying that the flat cat has the worth "of another kitten on a Missouri farm." [p. 156].) It probably didn't help the case with the editor that Castor promptly named the cat "Fuzzy Britches".

Lowell has some initial skepticism about this present: "If it's a Martian, it ought to have three legs," [p. 166] he says. But before long, like everyone else there he takes to the creature: "'Lowell, quit feeding that mop with your own spoon!' 'Yes, Grandma Hazel. May I borrow yours?'" [p. 175] In fact, everyone seems to take to the creatures very quickly; Mr. Angelo had described them as commonplace pets, for rather impolitic reasons.

Nevertheless, Lowell still wants to see a Martian with legs. His wish has problems, though: "Ever since an unfortunate but instructive incident forty years earlier a prime purpose of the planetary government had been to keep humans as far away from the true Martians as possible tourists most especially." [p. 153] (If this is a reference to the untimely not soon enough, that is demise of Headmaster Howe and Resident-General Beecher for bouncernapping, it would seem rather odd not to mention that it took place in the middle of a revolution.) Nevertheless the still-grateful Captain Vandenbergh pulls some strings, and Lowell gets to see and even talk to a Native Martian. Frank Sutton and Jubal Harshaw had had about as much comprehension of it all.

The rest of the family's chaos stems from a different cause. The Venusian prime orbit is coming up and it would probably be a good idea to take it. Or maybe some of them take it. We get a rare look at Meade's love life: "I am not interested in Second Officer Magill . . . Besides, I found out he has a wife in Colorado." [p. 181] (And it's interesting to note that Hazel observes "He's still eligible off Earth." [loc. cit.] another alternative matrimony slipped in on the sly.)

The Rolling Stone could go to Venus. Or perhaps some of the Stones could go to Venus (how much credit can they get off that disaster relief for the War God? On the other hand Captain Vandenbergh will be needing a ship's doctor) while others go to the Asteroids. The twins advance many profitable arguments in favor of this. Finally, Dr. Edith delivers the culminating argument: "You know, dear, I don't care for Venus, either. And it would give you leisure for your book." [p. 185] (The problem of adjusting to different gravities, so significant in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, never seems to have been considered throughout. Not even the level of workout seen in Podkayne of Mars (1963, 1995), which given their having made the transit in free fall should make such an even greater topic of concern.)

Among the curious subjects brought up in this debate is philosophy, in spite of the auctorial disdain for it, and economics. In a later justification for his decision, Roger points out that while miners did not do well even on the average, people who provided services to miners did extremely well. Taking this wise advice, and referring to the limited space on board (extra fuel is required for this trip), the entrepreneurs invest in luxury food and pin-ups (!). Well, they did get their money back on the bicycles.

And speaking of problems:

I remember all too clearly the advice you gave me about Willis in Red Planet and how I should "consult a good Freudian" in consequence I most carefully desexed the creatures completely. I used the pronoun "it" throughout (if you find a "he" or "she", it is a fault of my proofing); the circumstances make it clear that the first one, and by implication, all the others, reproduce by parthenogenesis.

Grumbles from the Grave, letter of March 7, 1952, p. 65

In which case "she" would have been more appropriate, I would think. Reproduce by parthogenesis they indeed do:

Thirty-seven days out Fuzzy Britches had eight golden little kittens, exactly like their parent but only a couple of inches across when flat, marble-sized when contracted. . . Sixty-four days later the kittens had kittens, eight each. Sixty-four days after that, the one hundred and forty-sixth day after Phobos departure, the kittens' kittens had kittens; that made five hundred and thirteen.

The Rolling Stones, pp. 192-3

His math is off. It can only be five hundred and thirteen if the two intervening generations died off, and if each flat cat had only one litter. If we remove the first assumption the total number of flat cats is one (Fuzzy Britches) plus eight (the original litter) plus sixty-four (the kittens' kittens) plus five hundred and twelve (the kittens' kittens' kittens) for a total of 585. If each flat cat could have more than one litter the grand total comes to 729.

The difference hardly matters. The ship is overrun with what can be called vermin and what are eating the Stones out of house and home. So Dr. Edith takes up a sideline of biologist-ecologist: "With any increase in the food supply, then at once almost like throwing a switch it expands, multiplies to the full extent of the food supply." [p. 195] Hazel shouldn't have let Lowell have her spoon.

An interesting and thought-provoking side reference is casually dropped off just before this: "Except for the water-seekers, which probably aren't Martian in origin anyhow. . . " [p. 194] Water-seekers play a minor role in Red Planet, and if they were adventitious fauna, that would explain why they were so unlike everything else there. Which in turn leads to some interesting speculations on how they did get to Mars in the first place.

As well, this comment should indicate that The Rolling Stones is far more closely tied to Red Planet than to The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. But with all the taxes, fees, and licenses they have on Mars in this book, apparently Doc MacRae lost out after all.

Their affectionate nature leads to distractions that pass from annoying to catastrophic. Back when Fuzzy Britches was alone, Roger found that it had a magnetic attraction for his face, usually when he was trying to sleep [pp. 191-2]. This seems to be the natural habit of flat cats in their natural environment well presumably not to other creatures' faces and merely a desirable side-effect for human companionship. Well, not quite desirable in the numbers experienced. "You look as if you were wearing a fur coat," [p. 195] says Roger to Edith of this clingy look. The twins have a debate over whether the flat cats are actually swimming through the air or merely drifting on air currents. The former would be an interesting example of environmental adaptation.

Fortunately, other characteristics of indigenous Martian fauna make this infestation controllable. At first, a comical sequence where the Stones pass around floating fur mats in a futile attempt to corral them ensues:

. . . "How many have you got so far?"

"I can't count them they keep moving around. Close the door!"

"How can I keep the door closed and still send them in to you?"

"How can I keep them in here if you keep opening the door?"

The Rolling Stones, pp. 195-6

Are you sure the family name wasn't originally "Shteyn"? Such a problem, the captain needs like a loch in kop. This mat-passing obviously isn't going to work, so they suit up and chill out. "Captain Stone reduced the temperature of the entire ship to a chilly twenty below [-20 F. presumably, not -20 C. which is only -4 F.]; the flat cats, frustrated by the space suits and left on their own resources, gave up and began forming themselves into balls, like fur-covered grapefruit. They were then easy to gather, easy to count, easy to store in the hold." [p. 196]

And speaking of fur-covered grapefruit . . . Fifteen years after all the problems of writing this book, Heinlein got an autographed screenplay of an episode of Star Trek. The episode dealt with a problem of a parthenogenetic creature that "expands, multiplies to the full extend of a food supply" that turned out to be needed, and to have pernicious additives. As David Gerrold, author of that script, recounts the story in his "The Trouble With Tribbles" [p. 250-4], he was profoundly disturbed. "Coincidence or influence, there is no great honor in repeating another writer's ideas, no matter how well you do them." [op. cit., p. 254]

Fortunately for Gerrold's self-esteem, Heinlein felt that his scene wasn't entirely original. In a letter not reprinted in Grumbles from the Grave he kindly explained: "Let me add that I felt that the analogy to my flat cats was mild enough to be of no importance and we both owe something to Ellis Parker Butler . . . and possibly to Noah." {"The Trouble With Tribbles", p. 253]

Heinlein was thinking of Ellis Parker Butler's story "Pigs Is Pigs", about the delivery of two guinea pigs that was aborted because the freight agent considered them to be livestock, charged at a higher rate. (10 more each!) The guinea pigs were a pair, and so, when the agent is finally ordered to deliver them at the pet rate, after a long correspondence with the home office, and the original consignees have fled town, he shovels thousands of guinea pigs into a box car for return to sender, moaning about how he will now charge for every kind of animal at the non-livestock rate.

(Incidentally, Gerrold got his math right. See "The Trouble With Tribbles" pp. 65-6, 78, 116-7, and 228 [Act 4; Scene 70] where the population of the tribbles is predicated on intermediate generation surviving and all members reproducing.)

Gerrold describes how he had been thinking about the expansion of rabbits into Australia, where an introduction of exotic fauna into an environment without predators had resulted in a drastic population explosion ["The Trouble With Tribbles", p. 251]. (Or, why the Tasmanian Devil is cheered there whenever he tries to eat Bugs Bunny.) These works, in their several ways, display in a comprehensible manner, because in part of its humor, the problems of overpopulation and ecological balance. But then, Heinlein had discussed ecology in Farmer In the Sky (1950), and Gerrold, like every good fan, had read the juveniles.

Besides the pictures, the twins had felt that the miners would be longing for a change in diet, and had stocked up on exotic foods. But the flat cats made a great inroad into the regular rations on the Rolling Stone, and the trade goods had to suffice for regular meals.

Fortunately there's enough food left on the Rolling Stone after having to feed the pets that Dr. Edith doesn't have to start experimenting with ragôut de chat plat au jus and other such exotic returns on their investment. And, with this unusual cargo, the Stones roll into a region of rolling stones.


"[The] Asteroids were indeed fragments of a greater planet destroyed Lucifer, long dead brother of Earth," [p. 197] the author comments as introduction to the Hallelujah Node of asteroid miners. (Perhaps the discovery made by the Aes Triplex in Space Cadet (1948), perhaps not.) The miners picking over the shards of a planet are modeled more on the grubstakers of the Yukon California is just a little too hospitable to be considered as a parallel. However, the result has just a little extra variation from its model but then, there is supposed to be speculation here.

They don't need any longer the "cut-rate Martian" pilot from Phobos to set maneuvering rockets (which are, one would think improperly, called "jato units" [p. 199] "JATO" stands for "Jet-Assisted Take-Off" and the comparison is far from exact), Roger and Meade ("Meade, you're just trying to get out of helping with dinner." "I can spare her, dear." "Spare the child and spoil the fodder. Come with your fodder, baby." [p. 199] Ouch.) and the twins can handle this. While the crew is setting the rockets the local authorities message the Rolling Stone, and the content of the message is profoundly disturbing to Hazel's amour propre; they informed the ship of the local speed regulations. Being cautioned by traffic cops in the Asteroid Belt somehow offends Hazel's sense of fitness.

Before she can get worked up into a proper stew, there is a knock on the door. Metaphorically, anyhow; the airlock starts cycling. The Stones only write about space pirates; wanting to encounter them personally is a different matter and while Dr. Edith, Meade, and Lowell flee to the control room the others go for their guns. The prospector who opens the inner door is slightly bemused to be facing all that hardware, particularly since he was merely coming on an ambulance run; his partner had a broken leg.

News spreads fast and the Word has got round that that spaceship coming into the Node has a doctor on board, a real live physician and not one of those science johnnies. Dr. Stone, Medicine Woman promptly becomes a popular figure among the miners. That miner's crippled partner is only the first of a stream of patients. Indeed, when the Rolling Stone docks at City Hall of Rock City, ex-Mayor Stone discovers that no matter how far he goes, he can't escape politics, having been elected to the Citizens' Committee of the miners on behalf of having brought them medical care.

The miners' society could have been the topic of an entire book on its own. Having postulated an origin for the asteroids, Heinlein went on to create a plausible basis for their economy, the extraction of fissionables. From there, he described how these miners would be kept alive, how the mining economy would function, and how its ecology would be sustained. And beyond that, he followed the model by creating legends, customs, and mythology for this mining community. In some ways, this background work is far more impressive than the orbital calculations made for describing rocket flights.

One thing needed by the Stones is the ability to conduct rocket flights the miners flit from station to station riding bare-bones vehicles built of rocket engines, tanks, and controls all strapped together to ride like, say, a sand bike, units called by parallel "scooters". Such a one would be useful if, for example, Dr. Stone needs to make a house call. (Which she only intends to do in emergencies, having perhaps been thinking in parallel to Dr. Johnson's prediction in To Sail Beyond the Sunset (1987) of how communication would make house calls obsolete.) The other end of the customer shortage observed on Mars is hitting home; there is an equipment shortage here as all those sand rats who weren't on Mars to buy bikes are in the asteroids buying scooters. Well, "One-Price" Fries knows of one man nearby who seems to accumulate junk and might be able to help.

Even such an innocuous matter as the name of a minor character, a piece of colorful comic relief, could cross up the editor: "Another objection she made has nothing to do with sex, but I find it illustrative of how far afield she has gone to find trouble; she objected to my naming a prospector 'Old Charlie' because the first name of Mr. Scribner is Charles! How silly can one get?" [Grumbles from the Grave, letter of March 8, 1952, p. 64] If Charles Scribner, Jr. (actually IV), boss and namesake of Scribner's, thought that every character named "Charles," or any variation thereof, in any book submitted to Scribner's was a personal comment, he would seem to have been a very odd person indeed. There's nothing of the sort mentioned in his memoirs, In the Company of Writers: A Life in Publishing (1990) and In the Web of Ideas: the Education of a Publisher (1993).

(As for very odd persons I had a relative who, like "Old Charlie" in this book, accumulated castoffs and salvage, lived alone and reclusively, told stories, and attained to a considerable age in spite of seeming physical neglect. His first name was Charles.)

Old Charlie has a module attached to Fries's space station. Going over there brings the twins face-to-face (to face) with accumulation mania at a peak. Charlie has accumulated the junk of every dead prospector, it seems, and has a story to tell about each item. Fortunately for their plans and intent, one of those items is a rocket motor, which was the one item Fries did not have.

If the third stage of the Heinlein Individual [Alexei Panshin, Heinlein In Dimension, pp. 129, 169-72] is the burned-out cynic who knows not only how things work, but why they work, Charlie would seem to be the closest thing to a fourth stage. He knows how and why, but just doesn't care any more. Moreover, he doesn't think much of the outside world "'Cash!' said the voice. 'Banks! Governments! What you got to trade? Any chocolate?'" [p. 216] Not quite solipsism, there. The rocket motor was traded for three pounds of chocolate and a flat cat.

Which gives the twins an idea on how to recoup their lost investment. Charlie had longed for a flat cat. The miner who had dropped in on the Stones was profoundly moved by seeing, and holding, Fuzzy Britches [pp. 204-5]. Presumably there is a market, therefore, for those "fur-covered grapefruit" in the hold. But they have to sell them quickly, before someone makes the same discovery that they had made about the reproductive strategy of the flat cats. Being traveling space salesmen won't get the goods moved fast enough (and besides the joint and several efforts of the parents Stone and the locals are unlikely to be allow the circumstances of those jokes to be allowed). So "The Men Who Traveled In Flat Cats" are out.

All things go in cycles, it seems, and it looks like radio shows are the in thing for the Asteroid Belt. "One-Price" Fries adds to his jobs of mayor and storekeeper that of news broadcaster and commentator. Now if this had been really predictive there would have been miners calling back on the radio with comments, even though the delay might have slowed the flow of commentary ["Megadittos from Asteroid 7411 'Coco.'"]. After the news, therefore, the twins find that there is an opening (there being no Asteroid Communications Commission to levy taxes, fees, regulations, and requirements for public service programming, educational shows for juveniles, equal time for opposing viewpoints, and other unfunded mandates designed to provoke Hazel's ire) for an entertainment program.

Some of those "educational shows for juveniles" even back then were nothing more than half-hour advertisements for tie-ins. ["For is it not written in the Book of the Space Merchants that there will be globular trusts?"] "Flat Cat Alley" is not quite a running ad for flat cats. They also have music tapes of all kinds "as well as Ajax three-way projectors in the Giant, Jr. model for sound, sight, and stereo." [p. 223] Did anyone else ever mention VCR's? Not to mention those pinups.

There is also the advantage of live entertainment, not just the twins' rather simple humor, either. Among her many accomplishments, Meade sings. Surprisingly enough, for all her popularity (remember how many boys mourned over her departure from Luna City? [p. 71]) it's never mentioned if anyone made an offer for her.

Commerce finally works out, as the twins dispose of their surplus stock before anyone else discovers the reproductive strategy of the flat cats. Having recouped their investment, they consider diversifying. But prospecting, the local industry, so to speak, is for them a losing game. If nothing else, the rather long prospecting trip they take on their scooter demonstrates that.

And then there was that problem with the scooter . . . Dr. Edith needs to make a house call, and Lowell wants to go on a jaunt. Solving both problems at once, Hazel offers to pilot them. Then the doctor goes off on another call, and Hazel can fly her grandson home.

Or maybe not. Like the other ships, the scooter is gyroscopically stabilized (instead of having attitude thrusters) and in the middle of the journey the gyroscope tumbles, throwing the scooter off course. When Knight and Panshin discussed "edge-of-your-seat" control room sequences, they somehow missed this one, especially as Hazel doesn't have any backup or fancy electronics, and has to navigate by visuals and approximation. It almost works. With the scooter drifting, out of control, and their oxygen running out, Hazel gives the last bottle to Lowell, and gradually drifts off into a daze while Lowell sobs out over the radio. (A convenient homing signal withal.)

Meanwhile, back at the Rolling Stone, Roger is giving the twins the third degree. The scooter had a defective bearing in the gyroscope and they went to Charlie's to get parts. It takes a long time to get anything out of Charlie. Enraged at this lapse, leaving an item of equipment out of commission, the Captain puts them under arrest.

(And it hadn't been opened up to check?)

While the entire Node explodes with searchers, the two prisoners have time to reconstruct the situation and deduce the probable course. This is a little harder than the search the Aes Triplex conducted since they couldn't calculate by machine the most probable vector, and there are a great many unknowns. (A computer small enough to fit on a man's lap would seem to be an absurd pipedream to even the wild speculator twins or their fantasizing grandma.)

The only person not out searching is Charlie. Which leaves the problem of persuading him to go look in their area, and then the problem of steeling themselves to go with him:

Charlie disappeared into the underbrush, came out fairly promptly with a suit that seemed to consist mostly of vulcanized patches. "Dog take it," he complained as he began to struggle with it, "if your mother would stay home and mind her own business, these things wouldn't happen."

"Shut up and hurry!"

"I am hurrying. She made me take a bath. I don't need no doctors. All the bugs that ever bit me, died."

The Rolling Stones, p. 242

Charlie's equipment is antiquated as he is. His only search gear consists of a radio loop antenna. See Expanded Universe, pp. 452-5, the Afterword to "Searchlight", for Heinlein's personal experience with that particular item of equipment. The twins' search is nearly as frustrating, but it does bring them to their target at the end, homing in on their sibling's sobs. Recovering the hysterical Lowell and the unresponsive Hazel from the drifting scooter, the now heavily loaded scooter boosts for City Hall.

Viewers of emergency-room TV might find Dr. Edith's procedures primitive, but recall that artificial respiration (not even CPR!) requires different procedures without the aid of gravity to channel action and reaction. Guilt-ridden, the rescuers cry themselves out while their parents labor at revival.

Roger Stone then noticed them, came over and put an arm around Castor's heaving shoulders. "You must remember, boys, that she is very old. They don't have much comeback at her age."

Hazel's eyes opened. "Who doesn't, boy?"

The Rolling Stones, pp. 246-7


Hazel had put herself in a self-induced coma, presuming that in that somolescent state she could survive on the oxygen remaining in the suit proper. Captain John Sterling would have been proud.

Meanwhile, there is the little matter of the rescuers. The twins' neglect had made the rescue necessary; their cleverness had made it possible. But now the accounts have come due. Not just a flogging, though they might welcome that:

"I know you would. That way you'd be through with it. But instead you're going to have to live with it. That's the way adults have to do it."

The Rolling Stones, p. 249

Moral responsibility, in other words with perhaps a touch of guilt. This is hardly a light-hearted adventure about building a ship and blasting off into the Solar System.

But blast off to Ceres they have to. After a fond, emotional farewell from all and sundry at City Hall, one reminiscent of the farewell from Luna City, the Rolling Stone makes orbit for Ceres, where they sell the ore they had taken in return for goods and services and prepare to go home. Or are they? "Meade said suddenly, 'Did you say "home," Daddy? It seems to me we are home." [p. 250]

And Hazel wants to leave home for Saturn. All the rest of the family, she says, could do well enough without her; for example: "I've taught Meade all the astrogation I know. She could get a job with Four-Planets tomorrow if they weren't so stuffy about hiring female pilots." [pp. 251-2] An interesting comment, one worthy of "Delilah and the Space-Rigger" (1949), but sadly contrasted with the immediately subsequent "They're thinking you are about husband-high, hon." [p. 252] Fortunately for her Meade responds "Pooh! I'm in no hurry!" [pp. 252-3]

And with this questionable tribute to a morality on the knife-edge between rigidity and laxness, the Stones set out for the outer planets: "The blast cut off her words; the Stone trembled and threw herself outward bound, toward Saturn. In her train followed hundreds and thousands of thousands of restless rolling Stones . . . to Saturn . . . to Uranus, to Pluto . . .rolling on out to the stars . . . outward bound to the ends of the Universe." [p. 253] What a moving ending. It almost invites one to write a sequel.