Monday, 18 February 2008

Bakelite And Uranium Monday: X Minus One

by Edwin Hesselthwite

BAUM will be a little on the slim side this week, I have another LMWN project on and it's sucked up most of my productivity. So we're swapping our usually scheduled SF reviews for an endorsement of a major old time radio podcast. X Minus One was a half hour radio show broadcast on NBC between 1955 and 1958, it followed on from their earlier and similar Dimension X project, and it was amazing.

The format was of short science fiction stories, typically pre-published in the pulps, released in dramatised form. There's a corn-fed 50's old time radio feel to them, that atmosphere of Mars by way of Kansas that I last encountered in the heyday of Quantum Leap. But one needs only look at the list of stories to see that they managed to pull in the rights to some of the greatest SF shorts ever written, period.

The Veldt by Ray Bradbury is one of the most widely read, and downright eerie stories in his collected works, and Bradbury is among the best stylists SF has ever had. Nightfall by Isaac Asimov is, well, it's NIGHTFALL for fucks sake, do you know nothing about SF? Clifford Simak's Junkyard is a charming dose of that old country SF he was the master of. And on top of that they have numerous Theodore Sturgeon stories including the classic A Saucer Of Loneliness.

These have now all been podcast and are available here. They have almost no misfires, and while your brain will begin to goo (how many aliens can there be with accents this side of Little Rock?) there is, on this site, just under 3 days of continuous Golden Age SF (63 hours) for your audio pleasure... The Twilight Zone emerged in 1958 with the same basic blueprint: pulp SF with an added coat of polish, and X Minus One should be viewed in this context. On our side of the Atlantic the BBC was giving us cockney chappies in space: Operation Luna of Journey Into Space by Charles Chilton. Same imagery, different continent, this was truly Bakelite and uranium (and was the last radio show ever to pull bigger figures than television).


Bibliolatrist said...

Nightfall is a most excellent story - which reminds me I need to read more Asimov

Edwin Hesselthwite said...

Asimov is always worth re-reading... I read my way through a large proportion of his collected works in my late teens (which is saying a lot, since I think he is in the top 5 most prolifically published writers in the history of the English Language), and I look back on them very fondly...

However, I am holding off on BAUMing him because I have a gut feeling that no writer has contributed more to the SF being categorised as engineers in space, with poor characterisation and structure. He's a master, but the sheer wordage of the man managed to drown out a lot of the rest of the genre.

On the other hand, Nightfall and The Last Question are two of the best SF shorts ever written, fullstop... And The Gods Themselves is a cracking novel by anyone's reckoning.