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Happy Birthday, X Minus One - radio's greatest sci-fi anthology!

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 24, 2012 11:23am | Post a Comment
Today is the 57th birthday of X Minus One, a science fiction anthology that debuted on NBC radio on 24 April, 1955. 

It began as a sort-of revival of pioneering sci-fi program, Dimension X and the first fifteen episodes were remakes from that series. The remainder of the episodes were originals from staff writers Ernest
 Kinoy and George Lefferts as well as their adaptations of new works by the likes of A. A. PhelpsJr., Alan Nourse, Algis Budrys, Arthur Sellings, Clifford Simak, Donald A. Wollheim, Evelyn Smith, F. L. Wallace, Finn O'Donovan, Fletcher Pratt, Frank M. Robinson, Frank Quattrochi, Frederic Brown, Frederick Pohl, Fritz Leiber, Gordon R. Dickson, Graham Doar, H. Beam Piper, H. L. Gold, Isaac Asimov, J. T. McIntosh, Jack McKenty, James Blish, James E. Gunn, James E. Gunn, James H. Schmitz, Katherine MacLean, L. Sprague de Camp, Mark Clifton, Milton Lesser, Murray Leinster, Ned Lang, Peter Phillips, Phillip K. Dick, Poul Anderson, Ray Bradbury, Richard Maples, Richard Wilson, Robert Bloch, Robert Heinlein, Robert Sheckley, Robert Silverberg, Ross Rockland, Stephen Arr, Stephen Vincent Benet, Steven Tall, Theodore sturgeon, Tom Goodwin, Vaughn Shelton, William Tenn, and Wyman Guin.

Each episode began with announcer (variously Ben Grauer, Bill Rippe, Don Pardo, Fred Collins, Jack Costello, Kenneth Banghart and Roger Tuttle) intoning:

Countdown for blastoff... X minus five, four, three, two, X minus one... Fire! From the far horizons of the unknown come transcribed tales of new dimensions in time and space. These are stories of the future; adventures in which you'll live in a 
million could-be years on a thousand may-be worlds. The National Broadcasting Company, in cooperation with Street 
and Smith, publishers of Astounding Science Fiction presents... X Minus One.

As a result of renewed interest in Old Time Radio, Robert Silverberg wrote a new episode "The Iron Chancellor" in 1973 but did not result in a revival.

NBC was infamous for not showing much interest in their radio programs -- especially as radio waned and TV waxed -- and Dimension X suffered from being bounced around between Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and barely received any promotion. However, they didn't skimp on the writing and sound effects budget and the results were frequently amazing.

Ultimately the series ran for 124 episodes (plus the audition). Its last episode aired 9 January, 1958. Almost all episodes have been preserved and most can be listened to here. They also appear on CDs and Audio DVDs, which can sometimes be found at Amoeba. NB: the ongoing popularity of X Minus One has led to some unscrupulous folks splicing together various previously existing material from different sources to create "newly discovered" episodes. Special thanks to the folks at the Digital Deli Too for their hard work in the name of preserving OTR. Consult with them before splurging.




*****

Happy Birthday, Dimension X - Radio's pioneering sci-fi series

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 8, 2012 08:57am | Post a Comment
Dimension X debuted on NBC radio on this day (April 8), 1950. The first thirteen episodes were performed live whilst the remainder were pre-recorded. It was directed by Fred Wiehe and Edward King. The narrator and announcer was Norman Rose, who began each program with the introduction, "Adventures in time and space- told in future tense..." before "Dimension X!" boomed and echoed.


Dimension X wasn't the first adult science-fiction anthology program (2000 Plus debuted a month earlier on the Mutual network) but it was, perhaps, the best - drawing from writers like Clifford D. Simak, Donald A. Wollheim, E. M. Hull, Fletcher Pratt, Frank M. Robinson, Fredric Brown, Graham Doar, H. Beam Piper, Isaac Asimov, Jack Vance, Jack Williamson, Kurt Vonnegut Jr, L. Ron Hubbard, Murray Leinster, Nelson BondRay Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein, Robert Bloch, Stephen Vincent Benet, Villiers Gerson, and William Tenn. Most episodes were adapted from pre-existing works by Ernest Kinoy and George Lefferts but the two also provided original
 works.
It was first auditioned as Out of This World, which it was originally auditioned as on February 23, 1950. Though one of the best sci-fi series ever, the famously clueless folks at NBC never gave it proper promotion or care, bouncing it around to various slots on four different days of the week.


It's influence can most easily be heard in X Minus One (1955-1958), many episodes of which wereremakes of Dimension X programs. On TV, Dimension X inspired shows like Tales of Tomorrow (1951-1953), Science Fiction Theatre (1955-1957), One Step Beyond (1959-1961), Twilight Zone (1959-1964), Way Out (1961), Outer Limits (1963-1965), The Ray Bradbury Theater (1985-1986), and Masters of Science Fiction (2007).


All fifty episodes (and a fifteen-minute preview, "Preview to the Future") have been preserved and most can be listened to here. They also appear on CDs and Audio DVDs, which can sometimes be found at Amoeba. Special thanks to the folks at the Digital Deli Too for their hard work in the name of preserving OTR.

*****

SF at the AFI Fest

Posted by Charles Reece, November 1, 2011 09:37pm | Post a Comment

Among the standard schlocky dramas (J. Edgar), this year's AFI Festival has surprisingly quite a few works of speculative fiction. Here are the trailers:


Beyond the Black Rainbow


Melancholia


Carré Blanc


Extraterrestrial


Target

Overall, there's a lot more decent genre material than in years past, and it's free.

Li'l Bit #11

Posted by Job O Brother, April 26, 2011 05:57pm | Post a Comment
Here is the debut film from my nephew, Orion. It's entitled The Bossy Alien. I love it soooooo much more than Avatar.
 

Even Aliens Do It: Monsters (2010)

Posted by Charles Reece, November 7, 2010 11:45pm | Post a Comment

Most alien invasion movies deal with the central idea in H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, a radical change in perspective. His Martians look upon us as we might look at microbes through a microscope. Humans are made to face the question of what our cumulative history (moral, social, etc.) amounts to in the presence of a superior, celestial other. Wells suggests there's hope for us, that we're not so insignificant, by having the Martians taken down by bacteria, which were no more significant to us than we were to the invaders. As it turned out, we should've had more respect for bacteria.


An optimistic response to our diminished ontological status would be Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek universe, where Earthlings get over their petty (in the cosmological sense) differences to work together in establishing our species' significance in an ever expanding world. The success of Earthlings in the Federation is because liberal humanism is taken to be an absolute, superior to all the alien moral alternatives found in the universe (Vulcans might be our intellectual superiors, but they don't possess our heart and good old common sense). The wish fulfilled here is that humans overcome all our cultural, socially constructed differences to prove the importance of what unites us, presumedly biology and whatever inalienable rights obtain therefrom (again, liberal humanism).


The more pessimistic spin is seen in Robert Wise's The Day the Earth Stood Still, which involves a representative, Klaatu, from a council of master races (not unlike the Federation) coming to Earth with a warning: do what you want to each other, but should you try any of that human-all-too-human bullshit with us as you travel into space, we have the technology to annihilate you. If we're to be united, it'll be through negation, all of us being fundamentally different from the other, causing us to cuddle together in fear. A similar togetherness led Earth to attack the bug planet in Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers, the bugs not possessing the technological power of Klaatu.


Even more cynical is Neill Blompkamp's District 9 that suggests if there is a unifying human instinct, it's bigotry. The alien arrival doesn't fundamentally alter class and racial divisions, but instead proves shit rolls down hill. The aliens are restricted to the poorest area where they're subjected to discrimination from the most discriminated of humans. Although biological alteration of the protagonist results in his empathizing with the alien plight, it's not biology per se that's the basis for moral insight (as it is in Star Trek), but rather being socially reconstituted as other in the eyes of his (formerly) fellow humans, particularly those from his bourgeois background.


Gareth Edwards' Monsters applies a similar socio-historical determination to extraterrestrial reception as District 9, where the invaders aren't seen as transcendent beings that defy our categories, but are instead reduced to extant concepts of class, nation-state boundaries and otherness. The octopoid aliens (a cross between those in The War of the Worlds and Watchmen) are quarantined in Mexico along with the majority of Mexicans. Fulfilling the Minuteman Project, there's a Great Wall now separating Central from North America. Regardless of the terror and destruction being inflicted on the resident population by the giant octopuses, the only immigrants allowed into the States are the wealthy. An interesting enough premise, but nothing much is made of it except as backstory for yet another bourgeois coupling.

Basically, all the suffering exists so that the two protagonists can find time to fall for each other. Andrew, a jaded photojournalist (you know he's jaded because he prefers to take pictures of dead, indigent children that'll make him more money than those of the still living), is forced to return Sam, his boss's daughter, back to the safety of the States. Mostly the film is a lot mumblecore-styled cooing behavior against background ruins, occasionally punctuated (and only very occasionally) by the appearance of a monster killing some Mexicans or being bombed by American jets overhead. It's not until Andrew and Sam witness two octopuses making out that they fully realize love is the only way out of all this destruction, the only thing that connects us all. That is, provided you're not poor or an alien who accidentally landed on the wrong planet. As the Christians would have it, some have to suffer for the rest of us to be saved.
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