Which Came First — Flatcats? or Tribbles?

A friend of mine once said, memorably, “Heinlein’s women are men with tits.”

She was referring, of course, to Robert A. Heinlein, author of some of the best and most influential science fiction in the genre. It didn’t mean she wasn’t a fan, because she was. She was also right. Mostly.

I think that’s why I love Heinlein’s The Rolling Stones so much. Don’t get me wrong, I love all his juvenile novels almost equally, with Have Spacesuit Will Travel a little in the lead.

But The Rolling Stones, the story of the Stone family’s unintended odyssey through the Solar System, discovering tribbles, oh, I’m sorry, of course I mean flat cats, along the way has some great women characters. Hazel, the matriarch of the clan, is an engineer, one of the founders of the colony on Luna, a successful parent if her son Roger is any measure, and knows how to shovel literary gore with the best of them, thereby financing said odyssey. Edith, Roger’s wife and the mother of his four children, is a doctor who takes the Hippocratic oath seriously, as witness her deep space mission of mercy to a cruise spaceship plagued with the, uh, plague. Meade, the teenage daughter, is motivated by more than hormones and fills out the astrogator’s chair on the good ship Rolling Stone quite nicely, thank you.

The book really belongs to Castor and Pollux, the twin teenage boys, and for that matter to Buster, their youngest sibling, who gets to go visit a Martian and then won’t talk about it. Annoying little brat. Cas and Pol were going to light out to the territory on their own until Hazel wangled it into a family exodus, Luna getting a little crowded for comfort. The following adventures are many and various, risking everything from life and limb to the family finances (those Martians are tourist-fleecers of the first water), and introducing tribbles, oh I’m sorry, of course I meant to say, flatcats to us all.

Hazel gets the last best line. “After we get to Titan we might — “ and Heinlein continues

The blast cut off her words; the Stone trembled and threw herself outward bound, toward Saturn. In her train followed hundreds and thousands and hundreds of 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.

Oh, let it be so.

But here and now, if you’ve know someone who thinks they don’t like to read, child, adolescent or adult, try them out on this novel. You won’t regret it, and neither will they.

And just for fun…

Also for fun…

I include that last video clip because long ago and far away I was invited to talk at the Kenai Community Library on the topic of science fiction. Before I got there I had them read H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy and then in class we watched “The Measure of a Man.” After which we talked about sentience.

Sentience, who is sentient, and how we decide is one of sf’s greatest tropes. I’ve been watching Star Trek: Discovery‘s Season Four, and in “…But to Connect,” the seventh episode, there it is again, when Discovery‘s computer manifests consciousness. The discussion between Stamets, Kovich, and Zora is all those things that Betty Smith said great dialogue should be: Characterizes the person speaking (including the new life form, computer Zora), advances the plot, and is interesting in and of itself. It is, admittedly, the B story of the episode, but it is by far the more important. You really, really hope that 900 years in the future we are those people.

Book Review Monday Chatter

Dana View All →

Author and founder of Storyknife.org.

10 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I’m also a Heinlein juveniles fan (and think his women are men with tits, and boo to Spider Robinson, but I digress).

    I’m particularly fond of Sir Isaac Newton, the Venusian “dragon,” discovering and being entranced by the word “shucks”

  2. I think of Sir Isaac every time I hear an Alaskan Yupik use the word “gatcha.” It’s like “shucks” in that it means whatever you want it to mean, an expression of approval, impatience, awe, disgust.

  3. Dana, I’ve been reading all your books this past month and, in spite of being a solid Northern California/Kauai warm weather addict, have fallen in love with the Alaska Bush. Clearing space, I have 25 Heinlein paperbacks, including Rolling Stones and most if not all of the other juveniles, to give away. I have most of the books now on my Kindle and reread them all every 5 years or so. I’d like these books to go somewhere up there where they will be read and reread until the covers fall off and will be happy to mail them. Suggestion?

  4. Grew up reading Heinlein, H. Beam Piper…loved Little Fuzzy (speaking of furry little critters) and others.
    I recently discovered an episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine that had been combined with footage from The Trouble With Tribbles and got a real kick out of it.
    I’ve been a bit behind on my sci-fi reading of late as I’ve become addicted to the Kate Shugak novels. Five more to go and I guess I’ll switch to Star Svensdotter – Unless you can find a way to send Kate and Mutt to Space Camp…(just kidding).

  5. I thought I had read all of Heinlein’s books, but I don’t remember this one! I’ll have to check it out at my library. Thanks, Dana. One of the things I am loving about reading your Kate books is smiling when a character is reading or referring to a book I’ve also read. Which makes me want to make a list and read all the other ones mentioned that I have Not read. Ripples in a pond!

  6. I have read all of Heinlein’s stuff, and reread many over the years, and while he definitely wrote women that were not shrinking violets, I never got the impression that they were men with tits. His women were often more memorable in minor roles than his male protagonists. My favorite is Wyoming Knott from “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.” But Heinlein used virtually the same principle characters with slight modifications for almost all of his novels. Didn’t detract overall from his mastery of the field, either. His juveniles actually exploited a lot more situations than his adult novels. They are still the best way to introduce young readers to the genre.

  7. “Have Spacesuit-Will Travel” is a wonderful book! I love it, my children love it, their children love it.

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