Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Radio: Requiem (Dimension X)

Well, thanks to my hard drive troubles, I missed the actual sixtieth anniversary of the last two episodes of Dimension X, but I'll go ahead and finish out the series before we move on to other things.

* * *

A few weeks ago, I pointed out the similarities between "Vital Factor," the 1950 story by Nelson S. Bond, and the 1950 novella "The Man Who Sold the Moon," by Robert A. Heinlein.  Dimension X adapted the former.  Then, ironically, they went on to adapt the story to which "Sold" was a prequel, "Requiem," which hit the newsstands near the end of 1939.

(Yes, Internet, "prequel" means "a story created later which takes place earlier," not merely "a story created earlier."  The Phantom Menace (1999), for instance, is a prequel to Star Wars (1977), but it is not a prequel to Attack of the Clones (2002).)

Now, I'm not an expert on Heinlein, but it seems to me that he (like the huge majority of his contemporaries in the field) wasn't all that strong on characterization.  The heroes of his juveniles, for instance, always struck me as being distinguished by their hyper-competence, self-interest, and willingness to take a lot of crap on the way up-- not for any real quirks of personality.  And this is one of Heinlein's earliest stories, so it's not as though the characterization here were something he learned from experience.  Perhaps it's that Heinlein employed perhaps the best way to make a reader care about a character, which is to give him a motivating need that the reader can sympathize with.  No doubt many of the readers of this story-- or listeners on the radio --also had dreams of going to the Moon.  And that Heinlein no doubt put some of his own background and dreams into Harriman, as we'll see later.

The focus on character isn't the only reason I find it somewhat surprising this story was written in 1939.  It's remarkably matter-of-fact about rocket travel to the Moon.  And it fits in so well with its prequel that they almost seem of a piece.  There's no feeling in "The Man Who Sold the Moon" of straining to fit the circumstances of "Requiem."  You could almost believe "Sold" was written first.

But perhaps they should be read in the order they were written.  Knowing the more sympathetic Harriman at the end of his life goes a long way, I think, to making the brash, impatient, self-interested S.O.B. of the prequel easier to take.

By the way, probably the best sign that "Requiem" was written in 1939 is that the pilots, flying their run-down rocket at carnivals, were so obviously based on the post-World War I barnstormers who were still active at the time.  Heinlein even uses the word.  (The radio version, nearly twelve years later, does not.)

I don't have a lot of fancy stuff to say about the episode this week.  The story, it appears, was just the right length for Dimension X, because Ernest Kinoy was able to write a pretty straightforward adaptation with only a few short additional scenes.

He expands a bit on Harriman's past.  We're there as he's served with a subpoena.  Harriman is shocked to realize that the judge may rule against him.  We witness their approach to the Moon.  But most of these come naturally out of the story, and don't feel like padding.

Oddly, although he had to expand elsewhere, Kinoy deletes one of my favorite bits.  Charlie asks Harriman how he got so rich, and Harriman says he didn't try.  "I just wanted to live a long time and see it all happen. I wasn't unusual; there were lots of boys like me-- radio hams, they were, and telescope builders, and airplane amateurs. We had science clubs, and basement laboratories, and science-fiction leagues--the kind of boys who thought there was more romance in one issue of the Electrical Experimenter than in all the books Dumas ever wrote. We didn't want to be one of Horatio Alger's Get-Rich heroes, either, we wanted to build space ships. Well, some of us did."

To me, that line gets right to the essence of Harriman as a character.  It also describes many of the readers of science fiction in the generation leading up to 1939. Like, say, Robert A. Heinlein.  It was a shame to lose it.

(Also, as someone who picked up the tradition of Thrilling Wonder Stories, I enjoyed the two references to Hugo Gernsback. He published science fiction in Electrical Experimenter years before creating the first specialty science fiction magazine with Amazing Stories. And his later magazine, Wonder Stories, established the Science Fiction League, which helped fandom organize.)

He also deletes a cute bit where Harriman, realizing their ship has no name, suggests the Lunatic.

By and large, Kinoy uses Heinlein's dialogue as the basis of his own, but renders it a little more naturally.  For instance, in the story, Mac says, "Well, what if I did take a couple o' drinks? Anyhow, I could have squared that--it was the darn persnickety regulations that got me fed up." On radio, it's "All right, all right, so I took a few drinks. I-- I could have squared that. Too many regulations, red tape."

There's a little added emphasis on Harriman's infirmity, in the added bit of the driver helping him out of the limousine.  And what Harriman is able to pass off in the story as a "heart flutter," the doctor correctly identifies on radio as a "cardiac condition."

Kinoy later adds a little tension by changing "We've got enough fuel, I think" to a more uncertain "If we've got enough fuel."

And now, a nitpick.  In the story, the rocket is "the ACTUAL TYPE used by the First Man to Reach the Moon!!!" In the episode, it's "The actual type used by the first men to fly it," which is not only less impressive-sounding, it's a tautology. (How could it not be the same type as used by the first men to fly that type?)

However, the price for the ride in the story was 50 cents. Here, it's $25, which is, at least, fifty times less absurdly cheap. Now, for 50 cents, you just get to go inside and look.

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