This is a collection of TV scripts and treatments that Heinlein did for a proposed television series in 1952. The first item to notice here is the age of these scripts, done five years before the first Sputnik started beeping from the skies. The second is to recognize that most of these scripts were based on stories Heinlein had written as part of his Future History series, with some of them dating back to 1941. Because of the age of these stories and the technology that was available at that time (both in terms of what we could really do, space-wise, and what a television studio on a tiny budget could do), many of the items detailed here will seem both quaint and in some cases laughable. It is difficult to imagine today just how cutting edge and forward-looking these items would have appeared to studio executives, let alone the potential TV audience.
However, even making allowances for the period it was written and the severe budgetary restrictions, the first and longest script here, "Project Moonbase" (working title "Ring Around the Moon") is just plain bad. As this is one of the few stories here that was not based on his previously published stories, this is a severe disappointment. This story was intended to be the pilot episode of the planned series, but when plans for the series were dropped, the screen-writing collaborator on these scripts, Jack Seaman, decided (apparently unilaterally, without Heinlein's consent) to make a full-length movie Project Moonbase out of this, which was eventually released in 1953. The movie manages to keep all the faults of the script, and adds some very wooden actors and even cheaper sets (many of which were also used for the movie Cat-Women of the Moon, another disaster), with a net result of it being one of the cheesiest movies of that year (or almost any year).
There are two major faults with the script: first is a very implausible "plot", imagining an infiltrating spy being placed on the first planned mission to orbit the moon with a mission of destroying the space station this mission will debark from, and the horrendous sexism that pervades this situation. This last deserves some further comment. Heinlein, even this early, was promoting female characters in positions of authority, and for this script he has a female Colonel in charge of piloting the flight and a female President of the U.S. But having set this up, he now proceeds to totally undermine this forward-looking position by naming the Colonel "Breiteis" and having everyone refer to her as "Bright Eyes", having a General state that he will "put her over his knee and spank her" as suitable discipline for insubordination, and finally making it clear that the only acceptable relation with a male is both married and subordinate to him. How much of this was due to Heinlein's own thoughts at that time and how much was due to his either thinking that the studio execs would not tolerate a truly strong, independent woman in the show or what his co-writer added to the script, we'll probably never know, but it certainly makes for very uncomfortable reading.
The rest of the scripts are a mixed bag. The one for "It's Great to be Back" comes off very well, retaining all the power of the original story along with careful instructions for sets and scenes that place the story solidly in the real world. "The Black Pits of Luna", however, suffers immensely as a script (and probably as TV show if it was ever produced) as the prime motivation of the major character does not show here. The original story was written in first person, and all of that internal dialog that so sharply showed just why and how he could do what he did has been cut, leaving a very bare `incident' that just doesn't have any emotional gripping points. "And He Built a Crooked House" shows the amount of effort Heinlein put into these scripts, with a lot of instruction about tesseracts ,3-D models of same, and the weirdness of the mathematics involved, but here I think the script is marred by the basic weakness of the original story.
So what is good in this volume? Throughout the scripts are Heinlein's instructions for how to build the sets and achieve certain special effects, and these are well worth perusing. It's quite apparent that Heinlein realized the constraints that the TV studio of that day had to work under, and bent over backwards to show ways to minimize the cost of the effects while still retaining as much scientific accuracy as possible. He was also aware that few directors working in TV at that time had any real appreciation for just what science fiction was and how important the `science' portion of it was, and his scene directions often have `educational' comments about what is important about a scene or effect. Clearly getting the `science' component right was important to him (as it had been for his Destination Moon). But while these `new' words from Heinlein provide an interesting window into what he thought was important, they are far from enough to justify the cost of this volume.
This one is strictly for the Heinlein dyed-in-the-wool fan and historical scholars.
---Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)