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Masters of Science Fiction #3: Jerry Was a Man
directed by Michael Tolkin
written by Michael Tolkin, from a story by Robert A. Heinlein
principal cast: Anne Heche and Malcolm McDowell

Masters of Science Fiction #3: Jerry Was a Man
A review by Steven H Silver

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Of the four episodes of Masters of Science Fiction which ABC has elected to air, "Jerry Was a Man" was written by the author probably best known to the masses, Robert A. Heinlein. The story, adapted and directed by Michael Tolkin, tells the story of the Van Vogels, a wealthy couple whose sole purpose in life appears to be out-doing their neighbors.

When the Van Vogels (Anne Heche and Russell Porter) visit Controlled Genetics, they are met by Tibor Cargrew (Malcolm McDowell). After being one-upped at their exclusive club by a member with a six-legged dachshund, the Van Vogels have decided they need a pegasus. While on a tour of the laboratory, Cargrew convinces them to instead take a miniature elephant who can write.

However, as the Van Vogels are preparing to leave, Martha Van Vogel sees a group of Jerrys, one of whom (Jason Diablo) spoke to her earlier, being taken away for destruction. Jerrys are this world's cheap labor source, and it is clear that Martha sees in this Jerry yet another toy, like the miniature elephant, or her husband. However, once she gets Cargrew to agree to lease the Jerry to her for a year, her attitude begins to change and Martha begins to campaign for Jerry rights.

Unfortunately, it is just when the story gets to the meat of the issue that it begins to fall apart. Heche's conversion from bored socialite to rights crusader doesn't seem to have a basis in her character and there is no natural progression. It doesn't even appear that it is just another way of her dealing with the ennui of life. One second she has a new toy (and while there is a sexual element there, it is ignored), and the next she's a crusader, apparently sincere, but it is difficult to tell.

The teleplay does raise of issue of what it means to be human, and even provides a rather cynical definition. However, the ethical considerations of the script are eclipsed by the unconvincing nature of the characters' relationships and transformations.

Copyright © 2007 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a five-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.


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