"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Sunday, December 07, 2014

The Year of the Jackpot (Updated 07 DEC 2014)

At first, Potiphar Breen did not notice the girl who was undressing.

Most good writers will try to hook you with the first paragraph (the first line, if possible), and Robert A. Heinlein (the author of the novella this post is named after) was a master at that.

In the story, Breen is a statistician who has been following a number of peculiar and disturbing trends, and intervenes when the girl (who had absolutely no idea of why she did what she did in public) was about to be arrested. Although that changes, at that moment what he rescued was just another statistic.

Meade Barstow (yes, the statistic has a name) demands: "I want to know why I did what I did!".

He looked at her soberly. "I think we're lemmings, Meade."

He explains what has him so worried, talking about a 54-year cycle of events, an 18 & 1/3, a nine-year one, a 41-month one and several others, all laid out on a chart he is showing her.

Poitiphar: "See anything odd there, Meade?"
Meade: "They sort of bunch up there, at the right end."
 . . .
Potiphar: "Meade, if statistics mean anything, this tired old planet hasn't seen a jackpot like this since Eve went into the apple business. I'm scared."
 . . .
Potiphar: "This is it. The Year of the Jackpot."

Ok, then. It's a story. Anything to it?

When I first read it (in the story collection "The Menace from Earth"), something about it triggered a memory. As a kid, in the late '40s and early '50s, I devoured copies of Mechanix Illustrated (my uncle was a subscriber). Besides the usual do-it-yourself articles on auto repair and furniture building, and the Tom McCahill auto tests they were famous for, they often had articles that seemed to have nothing whatever to do with what you'd think the magazine was about.

One of those articles was on cycles and I remember it mentioning some of those Heinlein named. "Jackpot" was published in 1952 and the article was from around that time. I figured that Heinlein probably came across it.

Much later, at a used book store, I found ...


Back cover

Published in 1947, it covers every one of the cycles Heinlein mentions in his story, and was almost certainly the inspiration for it. I suspect that one of the authors probably wrote that Mechanix Illustrated article I recalled, but I've had no luck in verifying that.

What's the verdict on this book? Being lazy, I'll let someone else sum it up ...

[Cycles: The Science of Prediction] is not a scientific book: the evidence underlying the stated conclusions is not presented in full; data graphed are not identified so that someone else could reproduce them; the techniques employed are nowhere described in detail.

That's from Milton Friedman (reputed as being somewhat knowledgeable in economics and trends :-), who dismissed the book as pseudoscience.

Did Robert Heinlein believe it?

He was a professional writer, with an insatiable curiosity about anything and everything, who may have went "hmmmm" about it, but never used it again (as far as I know). That sounds a lot like someone who figured a good story could come from it, but would not take it to the bank.

So, I seriously doubt that Dewey and Dakin had made a devoted convert.

In one of Heinlein's darkest and most prophetic stories, "Solution Unsatisfactory", his main character (Colonel Clyde C. Manning) was described by the first-person narrator ...

... what I liked about him was that, though he was liberal, he was tough minded, which most liberals aren't. Most liberals know that water runs downhill, but Praise God, it'll never reach the bottom.

Manning was not like that. He could see a logical necessity and act on it, no matter how unpleasant it could be.

I believe that to be a fair description of Robert Heinlein himself.

Straying slightly from topic: Heinlein on film ...
For such a prolific writer, not much of his stuff has made its way to film. Considering the fate of all too many beloved stories and novels, perhaps that's a blessing.

In 1950, Destination Moon was released, for which he was a writer and technical advisor. Sort of like a Life Magazine article brought to life, it wasn't bad but probably contributed to his attitude towards Hollywood ("Take the money and run!").

The IMDB lists three of his short stories ("The Green Hills of Earth", "Misfit", "Ordeal in Space" ) in a short-lived CBS TV series that I'd never heard of, Out There (1951–1952), about which an anonymous writer noted ...

Innovative anthology series was one of the first adult-oriented science fiction series of the early-fifties and probably suffered for it. Teleplays were adapted from the best science fiction stories available from such masters as Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein. The series, which did not have a sponsor, was canceled after only twelve episodes.

There's a thing called The Brain Eaters (1958) in which the IMDB lists Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters (uncredited). I'd love to think that Heinlein told them, "Put my name on that thing, and I'll KILL you!". But, as the Writers Guild of America allows the use of pseudonyms to protect both your royalties and your dignity, I suspect they thought they had changed enough details and names to avoid the necessity of even mentioning it to him. Oh, and Leonard Nimoy's in it too.

In 1994, a three-part animated mini-series Red Planet was adapted from his juvenile of the same name.

In that same year, one of my all time favorites of his novels was legitimately adapted into The Puppet Masters by the writing team of Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio (who had much better luck with the first three "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies). Not even the presence of Donald Sutherland could save this movie.  Those writers had a blog post for a long time, "Building the Bomb" (apparently no longer available), about the writing of their screenplay, in which they demonstrated that what you finally saw on the screen was not at all what they had in mind. Enough said.

1997, a year that will live in infamy, saw Paul Verhoeven's savaging of Starship Troopers. When a movie has Clancy Brown in a major role, and I still cannot stand it, what more needs saying? :(

What I'd like to see ...
"Stranger in a Strange Land" - This has been rumored since before many of you were even born, and I have doubts about living long enough to ever see it happen. When I first read it, I could see John Philip Law as Valentine Michael Smith, most likely because I had seen him as the blind angel Pygar in Barbarella.  But he died in 2008, so I suppose they'll have to make do with someone else.

"Lifeline" - Heinlein's very first published story.  Set entirely indoors, it could work quite well as a stage play.

The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag - That this one has a link means it's actually in the works. From the IMDB synopsis ...

A man, who suddenly realizes that he has no memory of what he does during the day, hires a husband and wife detective agency to follow him. The truth takes a dark turn as their investigation leads to a series of frightening revelations.

"takes a dark turn" - Boy, does it ever!

While I was less than thrilled with Director Alex Proyas' treatment of Isaac Asimov's I, Robot, I do believe the director of The Crow and Dark City just might be the perfect choice for this tale.

Whenever I read the story, I can't help seeing the late comedian Ernie Kovacs as Hoag. But, because of that word "late", I'm tempted to cut Mr. Proyas some slack when it comes to casting.

Scheduled for release sometime in 2013, this is one I'm really looking forward to.

And finally, for inflicting upon you two of the most boring images imaginable, let me apologize by presenting (even though it has absolutely nothing to do with this post) ...
Jolene Blaylock as Vulcan Commander T'pol in Star Trek: Enterprise
(c) by Thomas Raube 04/2004 - Thunderchild2604@freenet.de 
WWW.HyperspaceVision.de

Am I forgiven now? :-)

Originally published 25 JUN 2012. 1640 CDT

Update: 07 DEC 2014 - So, what happened with "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag"?

Above, I had noted "scheduled for release sometime in 2013". You may have noticed that date has come and gone, along with most of 2014 as well.

The link I gave above for the movie still lists it as "In developement", which could mean exactly what it says, or that nobody has updated the page since the April 2012 news that Alex Proyas had picked this as his next project.

Alex Proyas' IMDB page also still lists it. THAT suggests that he hasn't given up on it, but is probably facing the usual hoops to jump through on getting financing and had to move on with other projects (because rent is due and he might like to eat).

That happens all the time in this business. Director Guillermo del Toro ("Hellboy", "Pan's Labyrinth". "Pacific Rim") had worked to bring H.P. Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness" to the screen, until Universal pulled the plug in January 2013. I understand that he has not given up on the project, and it may eventually happen someday.

THAT could be the case for "Jonathan Hoag". At least,I sure HOPE so.
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I have bookmarked it in my google bookmarks to visit later.

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