May 27 2011 11:31am

Pass the slide rule: Robert Heinlein’s The Rolling Stones

The British title for The Rolling Stones (1952) is Space Family Stone, and as that’s what it says on the cover that’s what I’ve always called it. Since there was a rock band (founded sometime after 1952) called “The Rolling Stones” it seems like a better title—but only superficially. This is a book about a family with the surname “Stone” who go to space. Space Family Stone is a riff on Swiss Family Robinson that strongly implies somebody hasn’t thought about it enough. “Space family” rather than “Swiss family” is fine as designating a family with a nationality, but “Robinson” isn’t the name of the Swiss family in the way “Stone” is the name of the space family, “Robinson” is what happens to them—they are shipwrecked on a desert island in the style of Robinson Crusoe. So Heinlein’s original title has been overtaken by events of the Twentieth Century and the alternate title never meant very much anyway.

This wouldn’t matter much except that it’s emblematic of what has happened to the book. More than any other of Heinlein’s juveniles it feels outdated, set like concrete in a future that never happened because other things happened instead. Here we have family size atomic spaceships you can fix with a wrench, colonies throughout the solar system, sliderules, radio drama as major form of entertainment, no measles vaccine, and traditional early twentieth century American family life. Instead we got Mick Jagger, feminism, and the internet, and for once I’m not saying “where is my moon colony!”

I picked up this book to re-read because Nancy Lebowitz said it was a book without violence. She’s absolutely right. There isn’t any. This is a book with lots of engineering, family squabbles, and sightseeing. Conflict is mainly provided by the late-teenage genius boy-twins Castor and Pollux coming into conflict with their father or human society or the universe. There are no villains, and most of what we have here is family dynamics. I’m not sure who the book is aimed at—unlike most of Heinlein’s juveniles where the POV is firmly the teenage male hero, here we spend a lot of time being asked to sympathise with Roger Stone, father to a family all of whom are brighter than he is. But there really is no violence ever at all anywhere, and this is a notable achievement.

When I was a teenager and I read my way alphabetically through pretty much the complete works of Heinlein, I could tell that he had good books and better ones. The low end of my preferences were this, Rocketship Galileo (post), Podkayne of Mars and Have Space Suit Will Travel (post). I mean, Heinlein had written a shelf load of books before 1977, and you couldn’t expect all of them to be Double Star, though you could keep hoping. Looking at it now, I divide the books into juveniles and adult novels, but the way they were all published in identical covers by NEL didn’t encourage me to do that then. Now weirdly, this future was already obsolete by 1977. Calculators had been invented, just about. But I didn’t notice that. I just took a sliderule for granted as a futuristic whatnot. It’s more obsolete now, but I don’t think that’s what’s wrong with it.

This is a book about a family taking a trip, and it stands and falls on its family dynamics and the descriptions of the cool places they go. (I suddenly want to compare and contrast with Madeleine L’Engle’s Meet the Austins!)

The Stone family at first sight look like a perfect suburban 1950s family, only on the moon. There’s a mother and father, a grandmother, a nearly grown girl, two teenage boys and a much younger addition. Meade, the daughter and firstborn child, bears her grandmother’s maiden name. The twins are Castor and Pollux, and as they are born 20 minutes apart they address each other as Grandpa and Junior. (I find them completely indistinguishable — if they were one character with a habit of talking to themselves I couldn’t tell.) The little kid is Lowell, or “Buster.” The father, Roger, has been mayor of Luna City.

When you look more closely, they’re more interesting.

Edith, the mother, is an MD and who wins family arguments by not arguing and by manipulating with feminine wiles. I like that she’s a doctor and cures an epidemic, I like that she insists that she is in practice when her husband insists that she isn’t. I don’t like her husband insisting she isn’t. I loathe the manipulation. Also, why does she cook? On the moon, they’re dialing for food from a central kitchen. In space, Edith cooks with help from Meade and Hazel—not the boys, never the boys. Pah.

This time through, it occurred to me to wonder how and when Edith gets paid for being a doctor. I have always lived in places where doctors are paid for by the state since health is considered to be a basic right, so until now I had always assumed (without ever thinking about it) that Edith was drawing a paycheck from the governments of the juristictions they passed through—Luna on the moon, Mars for the epidemic, and from “One Price” in the asteroids. But actually, considering the US and everything—were her patients paying her per call? And did she charge different amounts depending on what was wrong with them, like Lydgate in Middlemarch? Or was she treating them for free? Heinlein never says, and considering the attention the book pays to the twins’ attempts to make some money, you’d think he would. She could have made a fortune in the asteroids where there were no other doctors and she had a monopoly on healthcare—I wonder if she did? I mean there are ways in which it might be possible to argue that it wouldn’t even be immoral. Ick.

Hazel, the grandmother, was a single mother raising her son on Earth before they emigrated to the moon. This doesn’t fit with the retrofitting done to put Hazel in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but as it’s explicitly stated here that Roger was born on Earth, I’m going with this. Hazel is far and away the most interesting character in the book. She was involved in the Lunar Revolution and is a founding mother of the modern Luna state. She’s had several careers—she gave up a career in engineering because of hitting a glass ceiling and started dealing blackjack to support her family. She has been Lunar chess champion. She’s presently supporting the whole family by writing a popular SF radio serial. (And if Heinlein loses points for having radio serials still popular, he gains them for mentioning science fiction in an SF novel. The Galactic Overlord series is fun.)

Hazel’s great. She doesn’t manipulate, Hazel straight out says things. She insists on her right to carry a gun at all times, though she has cough-drops in it instead of bullets. She is the one who always wants to go further on and further out—she’s had to pass up opportunities before. She gets stuck with looking after the kids, first Roger and now her grandchildren, especially Buster, with whom she plays chess endlessly. But she’s plausibly an able woman in an explicitly sexist world and irritated with it rather than bent on getting her own way behind people’s backs. She’s one of the most plausible of Heinlein’s women. She complains that there is prejudice against hiring women—much like in the US in the fifties. After she tutors Meade in astrogation she says she could get a job as an astrogator except that the lines wouldn’t hire a woman. I feel like I’m hearing the authentic voice of female engineers Heinlein worked with during WWII here—but it makes me like the universe a lot less.

I hate the way Meade and the boys have had different educational expectations, and how they want the boys to go to a good college and they want Meade to find a husband. The book starts with the twins wanting to go into business with the money they made inventing a valve, while their father wants them to go to school on Earth. Meade is older than they are, and she isn’t in school on Earth. Meade also doesn’t get characterised or a character arc—she can sing, and she can’t cook, and that’s about it. She accepts bribes to babysit, and she doesn’t have her junior license though the twins—younger—do. She is interested in dating, and she thinks there will be scientists at Titan who she can make “less dedicated.” I really dislike societies that bring girls up with these lowered expectations.

Oh, there are some male characters too. I already said I can’t tell the twins apart. They’re very smart and very foolish, their intellectual and engineering abilities are way ahead of their social and emotional abilities. They are less characters than a force of nature. The same goes for Buster, Lowell, the baby who is there to be a baby, to want a pet, to be in danger—from spacesickness, and from being lost among the asteroids. He’s intelligent, he plays chess, he may be reading Hazel’s mind. He’s just scenery.

I think we’re supposed to like and sympathise with Roger as he tries to control his brilliant but wayward family—but he’s a sexist who thinks he has the right to run everything because he’s male. He’s not the oldest, he’s not the main breadwinner—there’s absolutely no reason why he should be in charge rather than one of the other adults—and indeed no reason why anybody has to be in charge except when you’re talking about making fast decisions in the ship. In The Number of the Beast Heinlein gets very interested in this idea of who should be captain of a ship, and has the characters take turns. I wonder if he wanted to revisit what he’d done with this here.

My problem with Roger is that I feel that the text likes him and thinks I will understand his burdens, while in fact I see his privileges where the text doesn’t. I don’t think Heinlein was sexist—indeed, as Farah Mendlesohn said, Heinlein was trying desperately hard to imagine women’s liberation, he just had trouble imagining what it would be like. Very few people writing in 1952 would have made the grandmother an engineer or the mother a doctor. But Roger is consistently selfish and entitled.

So that’s the family, and the dynamic is that the twins want to do things, Hazel wants to do things, Roger has to be coaxed or won over, and Meade and Edith manipulate to get their own way. Oh, and Buster isn’t old enough to count.

The book begins when the boys want to go out exploring and making money instead of going to college. What happens is that the whole family takes off in their spaceship The Rolling Stone for a trip to Mars, the asteroid belt, and beyond. The plot is “look at the scenery,” so let’s look at it. Heinlein clearly put a lot of thought into the physics and economics. I’m sure the planetary ballistics are all correct, and I’m sure he really worked them out with a sliderule and wished he had the ballistic computer the characters have that is dumber than my camera. There’s a long sequence talking about how ridiculous automobiles are (my favourite line “Despite the name ‘automobile’ these vehicles had no auto-control circuits”) and how efficient spaceships are. It’s all flim flam but I’m sure it’s science, or it was science at the time.

What I like is the economy of Mars geared up to gull tourists in the brief window the tourists will all be there because of the ballistics. I like the bicycle export that nearly works. I like the flat cats. I like the asteroids being the remnants of an exploded planety and full of “high grade” that makes it worth mining—I believe that this was a reasonable theory at the time and has since been disproven along with Bode’s Law. But I think this may have been the place I first encountered it. As a solar system to take a tour around, Heinlein was using up-to-date science and showing societies based on historical US examples—Luna like the early US, Mars full of red-tape and protectionism, and the asteroids as the frontier.

Of course, as always even when I don’t like Heinlein I do like him. He writes these long explanations of things that are irresistibly readable. It’s partly that confidential tone of “we know better.” It’s partly the addictive quality of his sentences. And he definitely does brilliantly here at having a whole novel with no violence.

But really, The Rolling Stones leaves me feeling I can’t get no satisfaction. What use is my moon colony if all I’m allowed to do is cook and deal blackjack and not practice my profession?

Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and nine novels, most recently Among Others, and if you liked this post you will like it. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

James Davis Nicoll
1. James Davis Nicoll
I’m sure the planetary ballistics are all correct

Including use of a handy technique hardly ever seen in SF: the Oberth manuever as they are leaving the Earth-Moon system. Falling from a height past a massive object and doing a burn at periapsis lets you get more delta vee than you might expect:

V0 = (^2 - V1)^1/2

Where V0 is the final delta vee, V1 the local escape velocity, and V2 the delta vee of the rocket.

So if you're falling past Earth at an altitude where the escape velocity is 10 km/s and you do a 5 km/s burn, the actual delta vee you get is 14.7 km/s. Unless I've made a simple math error, in which case it isn't.

This means that in fiction where the rockets are not Mysteriously Efficient Fusion Drives that can boost at one gee forever (1) but rather realistic, while you might not want to stop at a particular planet, flying by one can often save reaction mass (and time, under some circumstances).

1: Which are common because it's simple to calculate the travel times and because most authors don't think about the implications .

2: For example, Ben Bova's Precipice features an Earth where power supplies are dodgy because of greenhouse-related issues (both the need to avoid adding more greenhouse gases and the inconvenience of having low-lying generator overrun by a rising sea). A quick calculation reveals that Starpower 1, the spacecraft developed in that book, generates more power than all Earth did in 2001 and yet nobody realizes the power plant on that space craft is a solution to Earth's energy problems.
Sky Thibedeau
2. SkylarkThibedeau
This is the book that caused a Kerfuffle with NBC and 'Star Trek' in the 1960's where the flat cats that infested the Stone's ship were too similar to David Gerrold's 'tribbles'.

I like all of Heinlein and Asimov's juvenile fiction. But, like you say most are very dated today as if 2050 is 1955 in Outer Space. Course John Carter is dated too but is still a rousing adventure.
john mullen
3. johntheirishmongol
I've always enjoyed this book, even if a lot of the science is outdated, the family dynamic isn't. I hate to tell you this but in most homes women still do the cooking and teach their daughters, and not their sons. I don't foresee it changing any time soon. (Personally, I do more cooking than my wife, but that's just me.)

Yes, Hazel is the coolest person on the bus, but she has her flaws too. I would suspect if a bio of her was done today, any ceiling was more because shes hard headed and abrasive rather than m/f deal. But at least Heinlein pointed out that there was a glass ceiling and that it was wrong.

One thing about RAH was that most of his characters were likeable. His was mostly situation scifi, working through problems and issues and even those that opposed him were doing it for reasons and not just because they were evil. Wrongheaded maybe, but not evil.
James Davis Nicoll
4. James Davis Nicoll
But Roger is consistently selfish and entitled.

This is the moment when I point at the relevent bits of that terrible and yet destined to win a Hugo biography of Heinlein from last year, the ones that go into detail about Heinlein's attitude towards his own wives working: he was against it.

Funny, until just now it didn't occur to me to wonder if one of the models bouncing around in the back of RAH's mind when he wrote this was Life With Father (although Clarence Day is a memorable character while Roger is just put upon and demanding). Still, the twins from Rolling Stones would have sympathy for the patent medicine scheme we see in the film...
David Levinson
5. DemetriosX
I think James @4 is on to something with Life With Father as a model. It's the model that has informed almost every sitcom about a family since the days of radio. Dad's a dope and Mom runs the show while giving Dad the illusion that he his in order to soothe his masculine ego. Toss in precocious kids and a cool older person (here Grandma, but sometimes a housekeeper or family friend) and you've got half of television comedy from the last 60 years.

I never thought about Edith not earning anything as a doctor before. It is odd, but I suspect Heinlein would have disapproved of her soaking the frontier folk just because she had a monopoly. It's all well and good earning a living as a doctor, but denying someone medical care because they can't afford it might not have set well with him. If we look at Lazarus Long's grandfather in To Sail Beyond the Sunset, she likely let them pay what they could afford, possibly even in kind, which we wouldn't necessarily see, since he doesn't discuss provisioning much.

As for Cas and Pol, they aren't really meant to be all that different. It's something of a twins trope really, one that Heinlein even dealt with by turning it upside down in Time for the Stars. There, the steady differentiation of the twins is a key element. I wonder if JK Rowling ever read this book. Cas and Pol do seem like a major influence on the Weasley twins. As for them learning to cook, would you let those two anywhere near your kitchen?
James Davis Nicoll
6. James Davis Nicoll
I suspect Heinlein would have disapproved of her soaking the frontier folk just because she had a monopoly.

It doesn't seem compatable with how she acts during the outbreak, either. It's hard to imagine her turning away someone who was broke.

If I recall correctly, the whole belt in TRS has only 6000 people living in it and I think most of them are on a few major bodies. Not a huge customer base there....
Tara Mitchell
7. Jaxicat
Hazel Stone was my favorite part of the book aside from Heinlein's voice which I enjoy in all of his books. Heinlein brought her back in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls.
James Davis Nicoll
8. DavidA (still)
Jo's insights to this book are, as usual, spot on, and highlights all that is right and all that is wrong with this book. But I still like it better than she does. That's no doubt because (1) I first read it in the sixties when I was ten; my world looked a lot like the book's world; and (2) I was and am male, so I can only see and appreciate things that Jo feels more viscerally. I also like Roger Stone better. I think one of the aspects of the book is that everyone (except the twins) is consciously aware of the social role they've been thrust into, and instead of fighting it they overplay it, almost for laughs. Hazel plays the cranky, outspoken old person, Dr. Stone plays the soft-spoken healer, and Roger plays the family tyrant. As I recall, there is a scene from Roger's POV that expressly says that Roger is acting the tyrant so that the others will push back (I don't recall the specifics, so perhaps I am wrong). But Jo might validly respond, that still leaves the question, why do they embrace/accept these social roles rather than overcoming/changing them?
James Davis Nicoll
9. James Davis Nicoll
More than any other of Heinlein’s juveniles it feels outdated,

More than Podkayne and its final message that working moms are bad people? Granted, as delived by a guy who used his niece and nephew as meat-shields.
C Smith
10. C12VT
Maybe the reason Roger says that Edith isn't practicing is because she's not making money off it (making it "not a real job" in the same way as raising kids and keeping house are sometimes seen as "not real jobs", mostly by those who have never done them). Note I haven't actually read the book...
James Davis Nicoll
11. Susan Loyal
Meet the Austins would be a grand comparison/contrast, although I suspect you want to compare with l'Engle because of the (maybe) telepathic toddler. And she does traditional mid-century parents better, I think. I really wish someone would reboot the Touring the Solar System in the Family Vehicle trope, because I like that aspect of the story (and the flat cats). It would be nice to have that with improved gender politics, rather than Life with Father/Father Knows Best/etc. But while I want Castor and Pollux to learn to cook, I draw the line at eating anything they concoct. Ever. (This would still hold true if they were girls, though. Twin mad builders/engineers, who are female, and like to drive, and egg each other on.) Wonderful article, as always.
James Davis Nicoll
12. James Davis Nicoll
I really wish someone would reboot the Touring the Solar System in the Family Vehicle trope (...) with improved gender politics.

Huh. I wonder if H?suke Nojiri has ever dabbled in this? He's done Plucky Girl Astronauts (Rocket Girls) and Determined Female Engineer versus Aliens Who Have Never Heard of an EIS in Their Lives (Usurper of the Sun).
Dirk Walls
13. dirk
Did you ever read Nathan Lowell's Quarter Share? It reminds me a lot of those old Heinlein space novels. Similar lack of violence too.
David Dyer-Bennet
14. dd-b
Definitely granting all the observations about the feminist issues in the book, I think the book was written explicitly to be a feminist tract, within the author's ability to do so at that point in time. And remember that it was intended to be published as a juvenile, meaning appearing in Boy's Life (where a huge number of boys will be exposed to its message) and then getting by the editor at his publisher too. And was published in 1952, when they were still working hard to undo the progress made by women economically during the war (when they skills were badly needed).

Okay, "feminist tract" is overstating it; but I think it's a strong intentional thread running through the work. There's already been mention of Hazel's experience watching three men who couldn't do a triple integration without paper and pencil get promoted over her head, and her explicit statement that it was due to prejudice against women. There's Mrs. Stone being a doctor (and yes, I agree lots of details around that, especially economic, were completely absent, and do raise questions). There are a number of other discussions in the book that get into sex roles a bit. (While completely skipping any questioning of sex roles in the home, I agree; I suspect this was the compromise made to get his subversive message past the censors.)

Remember when they discussed naming the ship? People put slips of paper into a box, and Roger Stone took them out and made fun of them? There was only one REAL person whose name was suggested for the ship. Remember what name that was? It was Susan B. Anthony. I don't think that's a coincidence.

Yeah, by modern standards it's rather weak, and it's inconsistent on sex role issues. I think it had much more positive messages about women than the other things published through the channels it was intended for, though -- which went straight into the hands of a huge number of children, mostly male. And I'm quite sure he did that deliberately, when he didn't have to (had to work against expectations to manage it).
James Davis Nicoll
15. Matt McIrvin
This book was a huge influence on me in my childhood--strangely, I never read any other of Heinlein's juveniles, or any other Heinlein for many years after that. But I loved The Rolling Stones.

Characteristically for my personality of the time, I remember the world of it more clearly than any of the characters--the flatcats, the offhand mention of 3-D photographs in brochures, the way you could have a "Detroiter" spaceship that was clearly analogous to a family car. I think the passage about automobiles was the first time I ever encountered the device of someone talking critically about our world from a science-fiction future perspective.

I must have been about ten when I read it, in the 1970s.
James Davis Nicoll
16. Melanie S.
I've never been particular fan of Heinlein, and I haven't read this one and almost certainly won't. But nevertheless I thought this review was fascinating--it gave me lots of things to chew on when reading older SF. I find most of your reviews are this way, so I just wanted to say thanks.
James Davis Nicoll
17. Royce Day
This was the first Heinlein I'd ever read. I'm fairly certain it was the first sci-fi book I'd ever read (thank you, dear future brother-in-law, for sucking up to your date's mom by getting some books from the library for her ill son) so I'm inclined to give it some slack, patently outdated gender politics and all. But re-reading it as an adult I have to admit that it's painful to watch the eldest child Meade care not at all about making an independent future for herself, or Dr. Stone sit quietly admidst the chaos (at least until she flat out informs her husband that she'll Do What She Must).

I do wonder at the ending, and how much of it was because Heinlein still had to listen to his editors. Hazel surviving because of an old fakir's trick has the smell of a last minute ass pull. Though the alternative would have resulted in the sci-fi equivilent of Old Yeller.
James Davis Nicoll
18. HelenS
I don’t think Heinlein was sexist—indeed, as Farah Mendlesohn said,
Heinlein was trying desperately hard to imagine women’s liberation, he just had trouble imagining what it would be like.

Oh, I think that makes it worse. He actually thought about this stuff and this is still the best he could do? Yow. And I really don't think I'm being anachronistic here; my relatives from around his generation were more progressive (though of course still affected by sexism; heck, I don't call myself completely nonsexist).
j p
19. sps49
Dr. Stone has to be billing her patients, just like it used to be in Canada and Europe, and still is in most places. She probably wouldn't turn away anyone in need of urgent or short-term care, would bill them, and would hope that paying customers paid enough to make up for the deadbeats. Much like the USA is currently, where the only potential patients ever turned down are those needing long term non-urgent care.

And why shouldn't she?
David Dyer-Bennet
20. dd-b
Maybe it does make it worse that he was actively thinking of feminist issues, and this is what he came up with. I think the evidence that he was thinking of such issues is very strong, in any case.

But when did you know those relatives from "around his generation"? In 1952? Or much later, when they'd had a chance to learn and adapt from a changing society?

And what other books intended for young adults in 1952 had stronger feminist messages? I imagine there are some; but what are they, and how common were they and who published them and how many people did they reach? And what are the messages in the rest of the books like?

All we have objective access to is the words in the book as published; especially for a work intended for children in the 1950s, there were strong constraints on what could go through a mainstream publisher.

Some things we see as anti-feminist today would be invisible then; some things we see as 'normal' today would be ragingly feminist then. And I think The Rolling Stones has a number of ragingly feminist bits that didn't have to be there.

Heinlein was 8 years older than my father, plus grew up in a much smaller world (by the time my father got to college, he had lived in England, Germany, Canada, and the US; and it was the University of California at Berkeley, not the Naval Academy). But I don't know what my father was like in 1952; I was two years away at the time (and not up to making any serious intellectual appreciations for several years after that :-) ).
David Levinson
21. DemetriosX
Thinking about this a little more, I wonder if Meade was meant to be a negative example. Given the target audience of teenage boys, both Edith and especially Hazel would have seemed pretty cool, while Meade was just another girl like all the other girls they knew. The family tends to be somewhat condescending toward Meade, as though they're supportive, but not really thrilled by her choices. Of course, she also has the problem that, no matter how smart she is, she's the dumb one in the family, even compared to stodgy old Dad. That's a bit of incentive to just give up and go with the expectations of society.
James Davis Nicoll
22. RandolphF
Thinking it over, it seems to me that Heinlein critiqued every aspect of this book that most bothered you in characters and situations in his later work. Podkayne of Mars is an extended meditation on maturation and suggests that the technical competence of the twins may be less healthy than the social energy of Meade, however superficial that seems to a modern eye. The otherwise execrable Number of the Beast suggests that the family would have done better with Hazel in charge. I am not sure that Heinlein believed the system he spelled out in The Rolling Stones, even as he wrote it; your doubts may mirror his.

So why did he write it as he did? Perhaps a heavy editorial hand. Or perhaps he was marketing by telling parents and librarians--who would have been the intended market for the book--what they wanted to hear.

One thing that you don't remark on is how much time the Stones spend together, and how isolated they otherwise are. They are like a little tribe with tribal roles, a pattern which, hmmm, Heinlein may have used elsewhere. I don't know many families that could stand up to those conditions. I don't know how much Heinlein's family-centrism has been remarked on in the critical literature. Staying at home with the family is something of a positive for Heinlein and some of what to a modern reader seems like sexism may in fact be a bias in favor of that isolated family life.

In terms of the science, the biggest unrealistic assumption that Heinlein makes was in the controllability of his nuclear power systems. They are much more like gasoline or diesel engines than actual nuclear power systems. This, I think, was wishful thinking on Heinlein's part.
James Davis Nicoll
23. CarlosSkullsplitter
Here's a serious question. Heinlein had a number of ideas on how to raise a family. It's a topic that pervades his later fiction. But how much time did he actually spend in that role? Not as a parent, of course, but as a close friend to other parents, perhaps. Did Heinlein have any experience regarding the subject, or was he just pulling things from the air?

(Patterson's biography is more interested in providing context for the surviving Heinlein documents than in answering basic questions like this, although I understand Patterson's attempt to provide a more subjective point of view was nixed by his editors.)
Jo Walton
24. bluejo
I've never heard of Life With Father, US TV isn't something I've ever had any time for.

I genuinely think Heinlein was far more progressive on women's issues than was normal for the time when he grew up, and that this book was good for 1952. But Roger wrote Edith down as ship's MD and cook, and then when an MD was needed he insisted she wasn't in practice -- but the other jobs are real, the twin co-piloting and the other twin engineering. And Heinlein didn't, if I can trust the Patterson biography, want his own wives to work, except in wartime emergencies he believes he should support them.
James Davis Nicoll
25. James Davis Nicoll
Life With Father was also a book, a play and a movie; it was very popular in its day, despite which I managed not to see it until Elizabeth Taylor died and we watched a stack of movies with her in them (she has a very minor part in LWF but she does get a nice nose tilt and derisive sniff).

LWF the movie has William Powell in it, so I don't know how I came not to see it.

I'll give Roger this; he's a better dad than Hugh Farnham. Or the Lunar crowd.
James Davis Nicoll
26. James Davis Nicoll
Now weirdly, this future was already obsolete by 1977. Calculators had been invented, just about. But I didn’t notice that.

Neither did Heinlein, really. There's a bit in Expanded Universe where he's updating the predictions he made back in the early Rock and Roll era where he says something the effect that some invention currently in existance was going to change life for everyone. IIRC he admitted he wasn't sure what that invention would be, unless it was the computer...
Clark Myers
27. ClarkEMyers
And Heinlein didn't, if I can trust the Patterson biography, want his own wives to work, except in wartime emergencies he believes he should support them.
I'd be inclined to take the assertion as true regardless of the Patterson biography - though I'd equally be inclined to phrase it work outside the home for money. I'd wonder what the word count for the unpublished correspondence by Ginny might be. I might even suspect based on such tales as the fluid drive car with tires frozen to the ground that traditional housekeeping roles prevailed - however much labor saved the little woman - by clever male design. Maybe a bred in the bones sense that the traditional frontier and settler allocation of economic activity across the family unit was part of the outward urge way to the desired future. Maybe a sense that the outward urge was enough of an agenda for the time?
James Davis Nicoll
28. CarlosSkullsplitter
Heinlein's prejudice against working women in a household is *very* bourgeois, in the precise sense of that term. He was a middle-class townie kid, who grew up to be a middle-class townie adult.

I have to ask a similar question to the one I did before: did Heinlein know any actual farm women as an adult, by that time the closest thing America had to the myth of the pioneer woman, or did he base his ideas of what a pioneer woman should be on family mythology and his gut? Not only in this book; I am thinking of the Dora episode in Time Enough For Love in particular.
David Dyer-Bennet
29. dd-b
But ship's MD is a real job.

She makes a life-and-death decision about returning to Luna or proceeding with their trip as planned when Buster is sick initially (turns out he's sensitive to the sedative, so they caused the problem themselves), and that's accepted. Roger tries to stop her going to the War God (an unknown kiling epidemic!), but she overrules him and he doesn't try to resort to force or even tell her she's wrong. And he bows to the inevitable out in the asteroids, without her even having to tell him it's inevitable.

Cook is also a very real job. Not glamorous, but real. And most of the time MD doesn't occupy much of any time (very few people on the ship).
Jo Walton
30. bluejo
Ship's MD is a real job that involves healing sick people, and as soon as there are sick people outside the family Roger tries to claim she's not really a doctor.

I think Heinlein writes Roger really well as an entitled jerk. I have worked with men just like him. I veer between thinking Heinlein did this on purpose and that he thought this behaviour was cute.
James Davis Nicoll
31. Doug M.
I have to say, Heinlein doesn't read like a guy who spent much time around kids. Nor one who particularly sought out or enjoyed their company.

Doug M.
James Davis Nicoll
32. CarlosSkullsplitter
31: I don't want to veer too far off into biographical criticism, but yes. To adapt that definition of Bujold's, these books are pretty clearly Heinlein's fantasies of family and pioneer life. They have sweet Forrest Ackerman to do with the real thing, except possibly through the memories of a child. It's all a bag of sand. I think James Nicoll and other commenters are correct in suspecting a literary model.

Though we do know Heinlein wanted children, I don't think we get a strong sense of what Heinlein wanted his children to be from his fiction. We have a rather good sense of the ideal Heinlein man and the ideal Heinlein woman. But for Heinlein, a boy is an instar stage on his way to becoming a competent man, and a girl is a literary experiment. It might be that lack of specifically child-marked things is what makes his juveniles compelling to younger readers of previous generations.

(I am afraid they all read like period pieces today, though many of today's young readers are sophisticated enough to enjoy period pieces -- although it would be amusing to modernize them for today's world, as some publishers are said to have done with other writers.)

Hm. If Heinlein had children when he was financially able to afford them, they would have been growing as he was writing his juveniles, and come of age in the mid to late 1960s. I'm sure they would have turned out fine.

(Before you ask, Doug, I am drying out. As Asimov once exclaimed, "it's raining on the ocean!")
Jo Walton
33. bluejo
Carlos said:

It might be that lack of specifically child-marked things is what makes
his juveniles compelling to younger readers of previous generations.

Now that's an interesting insight. I mean Heinlein had been a child, and a boy, hard as it is to imagine. But I talked about the realistic child in Charlotte Sometimes and how I didn't like that as a child reader, I wanted active brave protagonists. I think Heinlein's young protagonists are boys on the cusp of manhood -- they are often about to go to college or start a career. But they have no sexuality yet. For readers who are eight or ten years younger than them, that in itself can be appealing.

Child markers, hmm. They often have missing parents, as is standard. But when they have parents they tend to be eccentric.

If I put Starship Troopers in, I could do a whole post about this.
Ursula L
34. Ursula
One interesting thing about activism and reform work is that while you want to make a situation better, you can't always visualize what that better would be.

For example, in the gay rights movement, the people in the Stonewall riots certainly couldn't imagine how AIDS would affect the movement. And at the height of the AIDS panic, I doubt that many people imagined that marriage equality would take on such a large focus in the future.

So the trick is, I think, to do what you can see ahead, but anticipate that you aren't seeing everything.

Heinlein saw the effects of first wave feminism - the fight for voting rights, for property rights, for access to education.

But when this was written, second wave feminsim hadn't happened yet, with women looking to changes in society and the family that would allow them to take full advantage of the rights that were won earlier.

And this book, I think, really reflects the time between first- and second-wave feminsm. The women characters all have what Betty Friedan called "the problem with no name" - white middle and upper class women who had taken advantage of increased educational opportunities but then found themselves cut off from using their education because of the expectatios associeted with marriage and raising children.
James Davis Nicoll
35. Datepalm
I don't think Heinlein was doing it deliberately, as such, but the contrast in the book, between Hazel and Edith's proffesional achievments, and complaints, and the way it belittles Meade (she just wants a husband, she's the one who gets the maths wrong all the time) was so jarring, that I think it might be the reason why this is the first book I can ever recall reading from something like a critical, feminist persepctive. (I was maybe 9 at the time :-))

That is, I didn't just dislike Meade, I disliked Heinlein because I suddenly recognized that Heinlein should have written Meade differently and the reason he wrote her as he did was becuase she was the girl, (and furthermore, that this was wrong.) I can't remember doing that with any book before, including Narnia and the like.

So, um, its kind of a feminist book?
James Davis Nicoll
36. Madame Hardy
Late to the party: "And I really don't think I'm being anachronistic here; my relatives from around his generation were more progressive."

I am the daughter of a working mother and my father's wholehearted support of my mother's working is nearly contemporary with this novel. I never, at any time, saw my mother ruling my father through manipulation; she and my father worked it out -- occasionally by shouting -- in the open. Heinlein was, in this and several other books, demonstrating a fairly toxic model of marriage in which one partner -- always the woman -- chooses to scheme and manipulate because she can't get what she wants through negotiation.

When it comes to feminism or race or any of those issues, "of its time" is not good enough when you realize how many people are doing better than their times. Jo is talking about whether she finds the novel readable today, and it's the experience of a modern reader that this essay is intended to address.
David Dyer-Bennet
37. dd-b
Datepalm@35: That's an interesting history. I do think he was trying to write a book that was significantly feminist for the time and market it was written for. And the ways in which it is glaringly un-feminist to more modern eyes in some areas caused it to function as a feminist seed for you. That's amusing, perhaps even ironic.

Bluejo@33: Being afraid of your wife going to treat a deadly plague of unknown type is not unreasonable. Yes, it's a character flaw that he tries to deny the necessity. But he accepts her decision pretty well; he clearly knows he was wrong to let his fear rule him.
James Davis Nicoll
39. Bill from PA
I just discovered this blog and by coincidence I have been reading my way through RAH’s juveniles for the past few weeks. I actually lived the first 5 years of my life during the 50s and can say that, in the US at least, at that time doctors were usually paid in cash or check out of pocket like other providers of services and their services were affordable to middle class families. Nobody that I am aware of had health insurance which would have covered visits to doctor’s offices – medical insurance was used to cover hospitalization. So Dr. Stone would have likely been paid for her services in the same way the twins were paid for their bicycles and, later, flat cats. I am about to start Tunnel in the Sky and have been struck so far how many of the stories fit into entertainment paradigms of the 50s, particularly that of television shows. I thought that The Rolling Stones was basically a family sitcom, while books such as Red Planet and Farmer in the Sky could without too many changes be re-written as Westerns, a genre which dominated popular entertainment in that decade. The title Have Space Suit, Will Travel is actually a variant of the title of a TV Western, Have Gun, Will Travel.
Clark Myers
40. ClarkEMyers
#35 - Maybe Meade is written to be denied the stars for denying math just as Susan is written to be denied Narnia for her own choices?

Just possibly Mr. Heinlein intended an implication that the frontier allowed everybody, especially to include woman, more scope than creeping civilization. There is no Utopia only Secundus then Tertius in a long sequence
James Davis Nicoll
41. a1ay
I think one of the aspects of the book is that everyone (except the
twins) is consciously aware of the social role they've been thrust into,
and instead of fighting it they overplay it, almost for laughs. Hazel
plays the cranky, outspoken old person, Dr. Stone plays the soft-spoken healer, and Roger plays the family tyrant.

This is certainly how I read it... It was one of the first sf books I read, and I remember being very struck indeed (at age 9 or so) by Hazel's description of the glass ceiling in engineering.
As for Meade, she's the least interesting character in the family, but she is very much the familiar character from YA books - the Boring Older Sibling. She's not fun, she's not bright (at least not by Stone standards) and she's even less concerned with fun stuff than either of the parents.
Nancy Lebovitz
42. NancyLebovitz
My usual take on The Rolling Stones is that it's a book where nothing happens and is nonetheless consistently interesting. It's quite possible that I described it to you as a book without violence-- your memory is better than mine.

I suppose that when I say "nothing happens", I mean nothing dramatic or tragic.

I should reread it-- Roger never came into that much focus for me, and Edith never registered as a character at all.

I believe one of the bits which was important to a fair number of people is the moment when Roger shows the twins how much math they don't know.

In re Roger's arrogance: how does it fit into the story that his poor judgement (not letting the twins help with the rescue from an accident that they were responsible for) would have led to her and Buster's death if they hadn't disobeyed him?

In some Heinlein, there's a tension between adventure and home-- The Rolling Stones finds a perfect balance by going on adventures while taking one's home on the trip.

In re Edith and the plague: Heinlein keeps emotional pain at arm's length compared to (most?) modern authors. I realized this when I read Stross' Saturn's Children, which does Heinlein (especially in the opening and closing chapters) as well as I've seen anyone do it. However, Stross is a high-angst writer, and Heinlein wasn't.

I don't think this is just a trait of a particular light-hearted novel.
Jim Hardy
43. JimZipCode
@42 – I'm going to say that the results show it wasn't poor judgment for Roger to bar the twins from helping with the rescue. If they had been permitted to join the rescue search, they would have been assigned a search grid like everyone else (or split up, each joining a different team in a grid), and that would have made Hazel & Buster's deaths inevitable. The rescue was made possible by the twins being given time to think. Roger's action enabled that.

I don't believe Roger anticipated that. But he shouldn't be charged an error for it, either. Nothing wrong with relieving delinquent officers from duty. And Roger's intuition may have been sharp here. It is predictable that the twins would rush off on their own resuce theory. This way, their departure doesn't leave a gap in the search effort.

I feel like Roger is being given a bad rap here. On my last re-read, I found him much more sympathetic & interesting (now that I am a dad myself!) than I ever had before. On his behavior when Edith is enlisted to act as an MD: I think "selfish" is the wrong word to use here. The episode reminds me of something that happens occasionally in Heinlein, where an individual perceives himself to have conflicting duties, and sparks practically fly out of his head, until a wiser figure gently redirects him. A good example is in Man Who Sold the Moon, where Harriman goes to check on progress at the rocket center, and finds the chief engineer haggling with a trucking company. Harriman brings in an efficient managing secretary, and the engineer refocuses on his real work. Juan Rico finds himself in a similar bind, trying to get his troops ready for a drop and help with required maintenance on the combat suits and do the math tutoring the captain has assigned him and keep himself physically sharp for the upcoming drop. Rico's CO straightens him out, focusing him on the real priorities and dialing him back on the other stuff. This is a classic Heinlein Conscientious Protagonist dilemma.

That's what Roger winds up in here. His gut has him in 50's Dad Mode, protecting his wife from danger. (And protecting his family from the possible loss of Mom.) But he has accepted the position of Captain, and that gives him responsibilities toward other ships in the area. What makes Roger a Good Guy – a recognizably Good 1950s Guy – is that he's the last person on board to recognize and accept the situation. Any other stance makes him a bad father, 1950s style. Edith and Hazel serve as the wiser heads, in this version of the Conscientious Protagonist dilemma.

The issue isn't selfishness, at all. (Except maybe in the sense that a wife is being selfish if she prefers her SWAT-team husband not be first thru the door in the hostage situation.) Instead it's a familiar Heinlein responsibility lesson.

Also, isn't Roger the breadwinner at the beginning of the novel? He's the creator and writer of the radio serial. He's ready to retire from that job to go on the trip, but Hazel persuades him to let her take it over.

I seem to remember Hazel gets a passage of narrative somewhere, maybe it's during the getting-lost sequence, where she reflects on Roger continuing to grow up. He's got a handful with those kids (all 4 of them), and he's doing passably at a difficult job, moving beyond his long-standing King Log approach. Please don't make me look this up, I'm not sure where my copy is!

That's my position. Roger Stone: not a selfish jerk.

Re: Edith's pay – I always assumed the asteroid miners were paying her a little something per visit, but she was too demure & feminine to ask for it herself. Or maybe too principled, since she wouldn't refuse treatment. Old One-Price got on the radio and urged his community to do the right thing by the little lady doc. Some of the "pay" might have been in kind, rather like the arrangement old Doc Johnson had with his community in To Sail Beyond the Sunset.

The luxury liner company settled directly with the Stones, maybe at Mars, possibly not with cash but with some generous arrangment – like free refueling of their vessel in perpetuity at any port where the company does business, or something. I think there's some polite fiction at work, where Edith won't accept cash payment because she offers her services freely in a public health emergency. Physician is a noble profession. So the company doesn't "pay"; instead they give some generous gift in return.
(There's a cute riff on this idea in the 3rd Aubrey/Maturin novel by Patrick O'Brian.)

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