Tuesday, July 20, 2010

OTR REVIEW: X MINUS ONE " A Gun for Dinosaur"

Series Name: X Minus One
Episode Title: A Gun for Dinosaur
Original Air Date: 1956
Available On: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Gun_for_Dinosaur
Sound Quality: Good

When a time travel story is done well, it's probably one of the most exciting, possibly due to the fact that most of us aren't really thrilled with our own time. Some of us look to glory days gone by; romantic visions of history populated with heroes and monsters. Others are mortified by the injustices of the past, and look hopefully toward the future for solace, or, if of a more cynical mindset, for our inevitable, self-designed end. Whichever the case may be, people love to speculate on and experience time travel in the only way currently available to us...unless someone out there knows differently.

One of my favorite tales of time travel derring do is the stalwart radio show X-MINUS ONE - A Gun for Dinosaur. It has several things to speak for it; it's wonderfully written(based on a story by L. Sprague De Camp), nicely acted, the production and direction are great. Besides the aforementioned time travel element, if that weren't enough to get one's adventure lobe vibrating, there are dinosaurs! What more could a Radio/pulp geek like myself want?

The plot centers around a small, bookish figure of some wealth who goes to a well known big game hunter in search of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure...he wants to bag a dinosaur. Of course, our hunter is connected with a team of government scientists, who, in exchange for a healthy commission to fund future research, allow him access to the device. They meet in a bar, and the first thing our hunting hopeful hears is that he's not large enough to hunt dinosaur, and then he's told why...

The rest is a great adventure of paradoxes and betrayal, of arrogance and of murder. The basic problem lies in the common paradox that one can't be in the same place as one's self. This brings on a clever twist that makes me smile every time. If you like time travel, and I know that you do, you'll see upon listening why A Gun for Dinosaur gets
5/5 Golden Masks from me. It can be downloaded at the Wikipedia article or at Archive.org...please do so, and enjoy!

Monday, October 12, 2009

OTR Review: X Minus One "Universe"

Series Name: X Minus One
Episode Title: Universe
Original Air Date: 5/15/55
Available On: Relic Radio Thrillers Podcast October 5, 2009
Sound Quality: Good

I was very excited when Jim from Relic Radio announced that he was going to play this episode as it was one of my all-time favorite radio stories back in the 90s when I was listening to a cubic ton of OTR. "Universe" is based on a science fiction novel by the Grandmaster Robert Heinlein.

This story takes place in an enormous space ship that has been drifting in space for ages untold. The people have forgotten that there is any world outside of the ship itself. Their God is Jordan who created the ship and all it's people. When you die your soul takes "the trip" where your soul joins with Centaurus where there is enough food and constant joy.

"Universe" opens with two scientists, Hugh and Alan, traveling 24 decks up to meet with John the Witness, an aged sage from whom the story of Jordan has been passed through the generations. Hugh is at the crossroads of life where he is doubting the spiritual dogma he has been fed and he is hoping that the old man will help quell his crisis of faith. John the Witness' words offer no comfort to Hugh. Rather he gets more and more riled up that the old sage has no story to offer beyond the same basic story that's been told to school children for centuries. Hugh ends up in a scuffle with John the Witness and accidentally kills the man. Alarms are sounded and the Hugh and Alan make their escape to the upper levels, where no sane man would go as these upper levels are the haven to the mutants.

From there the story continues to get more and more interesting. The hideous mutants and their leader Gregory are fantastic characters and the journey that Hugh takes, his spiritual awakening, is a fantastic tale. The story is surprisingly downbeat and holds a dim view of organized religion but throughout that view it also offers a kernel of hope. I gather from reading a wikipedia brief that the actual story by Heinlein differs quite a bit and has a completely different ending. I'm surprised to hear this as the ending is so darned fitting it's hard to imagine it going any other way.

The writing is terrific, the pacing is constant and it feels that far more than thirty minutes of material is fit in here without ever coming across as rushed. There is plenty of action but the action never gets in the way of the philosophical underpinnings. Just as it should be in the best of science fiction.

In addition to the fantastic writing, we are treated to a fantastic cast and wonderful direction. The actor who plays Gregory is of particular note as he captures the mutant's intelligence and nobility perfectly. Truly this story can be held up as a perfect piece of radio science fiction drama and it is one that I recommend everyone listen to!

Obviously 5/5 Golden Masks, this is probably the most 5/5 of any of them so far. Please download this one if you haven't already!

Here's the cover to the magazine where Universe first appeared. Apparently in the future swimming trunks are the outfit of choice for all men, even the two-headed ones!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

OTR Review: Inner Sanctum "A Study For Murder"

Series Name: Inner Sanctum Mysteries
Episode Title: A Study For Murder
Original Air Date: 5/3/42
Available On: Relic Radio Thrillers Podcast October 2, 2009
Sound Quality: Fair

Over the course of October Relic Radio is going to be posting numerous Halloween/Horror themed radio shows. Over 30 Halloween themed shows for the discerning OTR lover. Please check out their special site for details: www.relicradio.com/halloween

Every episode of Relic Radio Thrillers in October is going to feature a play starring the ghoulish great, Boris Karloff. We start out with this little gem from Inner Sanctum.

The play opens with Karloff, in the role of Herbert Large, interviewing Sam Edwards, a man moments away from a date with the electric chair. Edwards, in a fit of rage, murdered his wife. Large is a psychiatrist is doing the interview to get material for his new book but it becomes obvious very quickly that Large's obsession goes beyond mere research and that the man is in the thrall of a perverse fascination with murder. He wonders what it is that allows anyone, even the most apparently law-abiding man to murder another human.

Edwards' interview reveals a deep-rooted hatred for all humanity and Edwards is dragged to the electric chair in a fit of sobs. The prison warden has no time for the cold-blooded psychiatrist and turns down his appeal to watch Edwards burn in the electric chair.

Upon arriving home to his wife Margaret we discover the depths of which Large's obsession with murder has taken him. Large has assembled his own "tribe" of underworld associates, and with his gang he hopes to bring himself closer to understanding the essence of murder. His wife pleads with him to give up his research but there's no going back for Herbert.

The story continues to follow the spiraling fate of Herbert Large as he gets himself deeper and deeper inside his obsession. The cast is uniformly excellent here and the script is genuinely creepy in a way that many of these old stories are not. There is a real feeling of perversity in Karloff's morbid performance and it shines especially in comparison to the more empathetic side characters, his wife, the warden and even Whitey his criminal accomplice whose reactions to murder are more human than the draconian psychiatrist.

This is definite 5/5 Golden Masks to me. One of my favorite OTR shows in recent memory, I've listened to it three times so far and still love it.

Our man, the ghoulish Boris Karloff gives a delightfully evil performance as Herbert Large

Sunday, September 27, 2009

OTR Review: Lights Out "Lord Marley's Guest"

Series Name: Lights Out Everybody
Episode Title: Lord Marley's Guest
Original Air Date: 9/7/43
Available On: The Horror! Podcast (from relic radio) September 26, 2009
Sound Quality: Good

I have fond memories of Lights Out's classic intro with the spooky voice claiming "It...is...later...than...you...think..." with the sound of an ominous bell tolling in the backgroun. It's been years since I've heard a Lights Out so I was excited to see one come up on this week's The Horror! After the introduction, writer/producer Arch Oboler appears before the microphone to introduce this evening's episode. Oboler has to be one of the most pleasant OTR hosts. His language and delivery is soft but he always comes across as genuine and passionate towards the material.

Thus particular story has the unfortunate setting of England which causes for some very strange British accents. We open with two fishermen whose accents are so completely not resembling British that it's hard to get your head around. They sound more like a bad Southern drawl than they do Brits. This pair of fishermen have come to warn Lord Marley of some oncoming danger though Marley explodes into various accusations of poaching and the like before chasing them out before they can issue their warning.

As the fishermen run off Lady Jane is informed by Lord Charles Marley that an American actress is coming to stay for business. As it turns out Madeline Kaye, the actress is there for business alright, the business of landing a millionaire for a husband! Though this is a surprise to his wife, Marley's affections have already transferred from his wife to his mistress.

The actress and the Lord go for a swim in the ocean when the sky turns black and there comes the sudden sense that there's something in the water with them... From there we move into straight horror territory.

The story is creepy and the pacing and dialog is quite good. The overall production is of high quality but that little issue with those accent drops the story by one point. I'm going with 3/5 Golden Masks.

A picture of Arch Oboler in studio with an actress

Thursday, September 24, 2009

OTR Review: SF68 "Survival"

Series Name: SF68
Episode Title: Survival
Original Air Date: 3/8/68
Available On: Relic Radio Sci-Fi Podcast September 21, 2009
Sound Quality: Excellent

Here's an oddity, a South African science fiction radio show from the late 60s. Honestly until I downloaded this podcast I had no idea such a thing existed. That's not where the strangeness ends either. Almost everything from the sound effects to the way it's written to the music to the direction is different than any other radio drama I've heard.

The story is about a young woman, nick-named "Mouse", who goes with her husband and a crew of men on a spaceship voyage to Mars. It takes place in a 1960s sexist-style future so "Mouse" is generally looked at as someone who should have stayed at home knitting rather than joining the expedition. En route to Mars there are complications aboard the flight and the drama plays out from that point.

The drama takes place over the course of relatively short scenes and the play features numerous speaking roles. In fact, there are more speaking roles here than I believe I've heard in any other half hour show. This causes a certain amount of confusion as it becomes difficult to tell characters apart from each other. The script adds to this confusion by flashing forward between certain scenes without much warning. The John Cage style sound effects and the noisy soundtrack add to the truly bizarre feeling of this show.

To be honest, I was rather down on the show much of the time I was listening to it. Early on I had assumed that I knew where the story was going and all the jumping around and multiple voices seemed to make an essentially simple story unnecessarily complex. However "Survival" ended with such a big and unexpected bang that I literally felt a chill through my spine.

It's true that a tighter script, more reigned in music and far fewer characters would have made this an easier listen, however there are times in which easy isn't always best and I'm not convinced the story would have been half so good if it had been presented in a simpler manner.

I'm still not a hundred percent sure about what I thought about this episode. Perhaps after another listen or three I'll be able to settle on it being a 5 or a 3. For right now I'll give it 4/5 Golden Masks and strongly recommend you give it a listen and make up your own mind.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

OTR Review: X Minus One "Sea Legs"

Series Name: X Minus One
Episode Title: Sea Legs
Original Air Date: 5/1/56
Available On: Relic Radio Sci-Fi Podcast September 7, 2009
Sound Quality: Good

X Minus One is the successor to the science fiction radio show Dimension X. Both series are favorites of mine, the stories are adapted from Galaxy Magazine and they capture the feel of Atomic Age Sci-Fi. In general the direction, acting and stories are more complex than many of their peers. These shows are the spiritual ancestors to such TV classics as "Outer Limits" and "Twilight Zone".

"Sea Legs" starts out well with a carefully measured script. Robert Craig is a space pilot who's put in for a transfer to Earth. Everyone from the desk clerk to the staff psych officer seems wary about him going back to Earth which irks the man. Why are people trying to keep him off Earth? While taking a hospital stay due to a mishap during his gravity training he meets Charlie Brockman, a dying "space bum" who gives Craig a message tube to open when he's on Earth.

The pacing of the story is really the highlight. Many OTR shows try to cram so much into their half hour that the stories never have time to breathe. The careful unfolding of the events here makes for a welcome change and a very entertaining listen until the over-arching theme of the story takes form. A lot of 50s science fiction falls into the whole "Red Scare" themes of the day and that's what happens in "Sea Legs". The set-up here is so good that it is disappointing to hear things move down that well worn and personally uninteresting path.

The acting, music and direction are all quite good and I feel bad giving the story any less than a 4 but due to the ending I can only give it 3/5 Golden Masks. Worth listening to but I don't imagine it's one I'll re-listen to.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pulp Review: The Avenger "Justice, Inc."

Series: The Avenger
Story Name: #1: Justice, Inc.
Original Publication Date: September 1939
Available In: The Avenger #1 "Justice, Inc." and "The Yellow Hoard" (Sanctum Books, April 2009)

It's the first adventure of the dead-faced Dick Benson, whose cold eyes burn with gray fury at every available chance. The set-up for the story is quite grand. Benson, his wife Alicia and daughter Alice board a plane last minute in order to visit Benson's sick mother-in-law. Benson goes to the restroom and when he comes out his wife and daughter are nowhere to be found. He frantically searches the plane but to no avail, the two he loves more than life itself are gone, and all those in the plane claim that they were never there. His hysterics are cut short when the pilot knocks Benson out.

Upon waking Benson discovers that his face and hair have gone completely white. In fact his face is now devoid of expression, Benson is trapped in a permanently blank state unless he molds it like clay with his hands. This would be enough to mess with the sturdiest of folk and to top it off, everyone from the ticket counter girl on up swear that Alicia and Alice did not leave with him on the plane. Can Benson, the cold-faced man of steel, find his missing loved ones? Can he solve this classic locked door mystery? The answers await!

The Avenger was created by Street & Smith to help capitalize on the pulp heroes sensation that their own Shadow and Doc Savage pioneered. The Kenneth Robeson pseudonym, popularized by Lester Dent in the Doc Savage stories, was brought out to help sell the series. However, don't be fooled it is Paul Ernst not Dent who pens these tales, and the execution is a blend between the two popular pulp titles. The plot for the story feels a lot like a Shadow story, though the lead character and his agents are more in the style of Doc.

The plot follows raging gray eyes of Benson as they assemble a pair of agents; Smitty the moon-faced and surprisingly bright giant and Mac the tall Irishman with hands the size of hams. There's also kidnapping of various stockholders in the company Buffalo Tap & Die that appear to be connected to the missing wife and daughter.

The plot is nothing revelatory, but it is quite exciting and fun. That the locked door mystery's resolution isn't as exciting as it's concept is to be expected, that's usually the way those type of stories pan out. The real disappointment here has nothing to do with plot and almost everything to do with Paul Ernst's prose. The way he continually draws attention to the cold white death mask's face of the lead and his cold burning gray eyes gets tiring as the story moves on. These sort of filler phrases are common among pulps, whose writers often got paid by the word, but I found them far more distracting in Ernst's prose than in Dent's or Gibson's work.

For plot and characters this would be a 4 but I'm afraid the prose knocks it down to a 3/5 Golden Masks. It's not bad but it didn't have me rushing through it anxious for the next plot twist.