REVIEW: Project Moonbase and Others by Robert A. Heinlein
REVIEW SUMMARY: A glimpse into a television series that never was.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A collection of previously unseen scripts and story treatments for a science fiction television series that never came to be.
PROS: A look at one of the many careers of Robert A. Heinlein, in this case, scriptwriter for a science fiction show well before serious SF was seen on television.
CONS: Alas, conditions dictated that this be a limited edition and sold at a high price. This means that many of those who would enjoy this book the most will never see it or be able to afford it.
BOTTOM LINE: If you enjoy Heinlein or if you enjoy reading about the nuts-and-bolts of television or film production, this will be a must-have purchase for you.
After the success of Destination Moon, Robert A. Heinlein teamed up with television producer Jack Seaman to bring to the small screen an anthology series based on both Heinlein’s existing short stories and a number of new treatments. Don’t remember the show? Well, it never came to be: Seaman decided to make a movie out of the pilot script (you can watch it online here) and the project faded into obscurity.
The movie, Project Moonbase, was pretty awful. Even so, you could detect a number of Heinlein’s touches. The pilot of the moonship was a woman (as was the President of the United States). The station orbiting the Earth was there for observation and to act as a missile platform. The ferry ships had city names. It was “almost” like reading Heinlein’s Space Cadet (which was itself adapted to the small screen…loosely!).
The book is a collection made up of a script for Project Moonbase, a number of screenplays based on Heinlein’s short stories (ranging from “The Black Pits of Luna” to “Deliah and the Space Rigger” to “Rocket Jockey” to Misfit). Most of the stories take place in Heinlein’s future history series (collected in books such as The Past Through Tomorrow, The Man Who Sold the Moon and The Green Hills of Earth); and originally appeared in genre publications such as Astounding Science Fiction as well as a number of the “slicks” that Heinlein wanted to break into (the money was bigger).
Because of the differences between what occurs in Heinlein’s future history and what happens in the scripts of the series, some changes are made. For example, in “Requiem“, Delos D. Harriman did not finance the first trip to the Moon. In “The Long Watch“, Ezra Dahlquist is not a member of the nascent Space Patrol. The changes here, and in the other stories are minor, you’re getting authentic Heinlein here.
The collection also includes a non-future history tale (“-And He Built a Crooked House-“) as well as two script treatments (which can be skipped and are the weakest and least-interesting parts of the book).
The real meat of the collection are Heinlein’s notes. Remember, we’re at the dawn of the space age here. Nobody has been in orbit, let alone to the Moon. Heinlein spends a lot of time educating, through notes and asides, the potential stage crew on how to depict space flight (of course, from some of the productions today, education is still needed!). There is, for example, an extensive note on how to use a tennis ball, suitably marked with pen, to understand how direction on the Moon is different from that of the Earth. “Crooked House” is followed by very, very extensive notes on how to build the sets. Some of the advice is pretty funny such as this:
And console yourself that any slips aren’t too likely to be spotted by the audience. But it is worthwhile to try to get the relationship right, time and money permitting-it helps to build empathy, a point in which most space opera fails miserably.
A fascinating (if expensive!) look at what might have been. Maybe this will lead to an in-depth look at the production and filming of Destination Moon!
Filed under: Book Review
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