According to Wikipedia, the prolific author Robert A. Heinlein had six movies made from his works. But he wrote dozens of them, and in each one you can see how he constantly updated his vision of the future to work with what he was living with in the present.
I love Heinlein’s books because they’re well-paced, the characters are relatable, and they’re hopeful — you can see the hope in Heinlein’s writing that humanity will get its shit together and go into the damn future already. It hasn’t, unfortunately, but we’ll get there.
Maybe some Netflix serieses based on Heinlein’s books would help. Here’s six of the best Heinlein books that deserve to make it to Netflix — or Amazon Prime, or Hulu, or whomever, but Netflix is the “generic” when it comes to thought-experiments like this.
There will be spoilers, of course.
6. Friday (1982) — I like Friday mostly because of its middle. She starts out as a special agent of sorts, but ends up going across a big chunk of America, becoming part of a polyamory family, and then taking some cargo into space. It’s a little post-apocalyptic, a little ridiculous, and in general an enjoyable story.
If I cast it today… Hollywood would probably like to make this a Jennifer Lawrence vehicle — she’s young enough to take on the role, and versatile enough to pull it off. But I say we need someone a little more interesting-looking, like Troian Bellisario from Pretty Little Liars.
5. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, 1966 — This one won the Hugo award, which is the Oscars of sci-fi, and it deserved it. It’s a heavy, heady book with action, intrigue, and science. It’s about the moon being used as a penal colony in 2075, and the residents of the moon wanting their independence. Sounds simple, but it’s really not. It’s also a little preachy in favor of Libertarianism, but that happens in a lot of Heinlein’s books. It would take more than just a two-hour movie to do this justice; I feel like we’d end up with three seasons, just as there are three parts in the novel.
If I cast it today… Hollywood has a problem with whitewashing. We know this. And this series could probably get away with it because Mannie doesn’t really read as non-white. However, when your main character is named Manuel Garcia O’Kelly-Davis, I think you have to go with a Latinx actor, and Diego Luna is riding high on star power from Rogue One. Netflix could use that stardom to get people to watch a show that’s based on a book most millennials haven’t even heard of, let alone read.
4. Starship Troopers, 1959 — Sure, sure, we all know about Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers film, which isn’t well-thought of by non-nerds, but is actually a marvelous satire on patriotism, jingoism, and the rush toward battle. But I’ve read the book, and it’s much darker and grittier than the bright, shiny movie. If Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk succeeds, I bet Netflix could greenlight a Starship Troopers series filmed the same way.
If I cast it today… Michael Ironside was by far the best part of the film, as Rasczak, the leader of the Roughnecks. You would need someone like him — someone charismatic, someone who soldiers would follow because he (or she) is inspiring enough. I think Carla Gugino (one of my favorite actors) is the right age, and I can see her pulling off the role of Rasczak — and also adding an additional quirk if you have her go into an unapproved relationship with someone under her command.
3. Time Enough for Love, 1973 — This book would require substantial changes toward the end if you wanted to make a TV show about it, because the final act the main character Lazarus falls in love with his own mother and they have sex before Lazarus goes off to fight in World War I. But if you make it a story about life extension and the way you think and feel when you’re hundreds of years old, and you move through a different era each season, you could have quite a show on your hands.
If I cast it today… Lazarus Long is supposed to be an attractive red-haired guy in his thirties or forties — at least in appearance, since the character is pretty old. I would kind of like to see a black actor in the role, but given social and racial issues in America around World War I, those would have to be addressed and they might change the nature of the story. So let’s just go with Eric Balfour, who I think can act holier-than-thou with the best of them — which is what Lazarus Long comes across as, a lot of the time.
2. Stranger in a Strange Land, 1961 — Many people consider this to be the Heinlein book; it was so important that it even got a mention in Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”. On the surface it’s about an orphaned child of astronauts raised by Martians and sent back to Earth. It’s interesting, and weird, and full of all the ideas Heinlein seemed to want to proliferate: healthy maturity about sex and bodies, polyamory, Libertarianism, and understanding (hence the creation of the word grok). It also has cannibalism in it, but it’s tasteful (no pun intended) cannibalism. This would be a great long-form series, maybe lasting 15-20 episodes and then ending.
If I cast it today… The moment I started writing this part, my choice for Valentine Michael Smith (the titular Stranger) was cemented as Hale Appleman, who is probably best known as Eliot on Syfy’s The Magicians. I really think he could pull off Mike’s serenity as well as strength of character, and I like his look.
1. The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, 1985 — I originally planned to put Stranger in a Strange Land as the number-one choice, but I instead went with The Cat Who Walks Through Walls because it, like The Defenders, is sort of a meta-tale about many of Heinlein’s earlier works — the book includes bits from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Stranger in a Strange Land, and Time Enough for Love (as well as one scene with someone from almost every Heinlein book). It’s not Heinlein’s best book, but I liked it a fair bit, and given that everything seems to need to be in a connected universe, why not one for Heinlein?
If I cast it today… You would need someone charismatic enough to pull off Colin Campbell, who is an early-to-middle-aged military man masquerading as a writer (or who may actually be a writer; I don’t recall, as it’s been a while since I’ve read the book). Bruce Willis could probably do it. Maybe Denzel Washington, if he wanted it, but if not him, Michael Dorn is a possibility. You need an actor who can do humor as well as serious, and Dorn has shown he can do that.
This article took a lot of time for me to write, and I don’t have any bonus content in me right now. So instead here is a trailer for Stranger in a Strange Land that I found on YouTube. Not a bad effort.
Got an idea for a future “Six of the Best” column? Tweet it to me @listener42.
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