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!