SF Audio Reviews
These are brief reviews of science fiction audio from the 1970s-90s that are not widely known about, and many are not available. They are definitely worth listening to if you can find them, except for some that aren’t.
1979-80 series. Some episodes written by J. Michael Straczinski (creator of Babylon 5 ) for commercial radio, and sounds like it. Well produced, though they all sound like 70s television shows. Some really good parts, though. www.alienworlds.com has all the episodes available on CD and download, including some that weren't aired. Apparently a half-hour series, with some stories covering two shows.
The Apotheosis Saga
1996. Jason Cole and Kevin Swan, wrote, produced and performed this fast moving series. The first four episodes are 15 minutes each, and episodes 5 - 9 are each a half-hour. Episodes 5&6 won the Mark Time Award for Best SF Audio Production of 1996. One more episode to complete the series, coming.
The story is of a guy in a very high tech future who is given Godlike powers, and is flitting around on the network trying to find other gods to find out what to do with all these new powers. It is delightfully written, and often moves so fast it's hard to follow - but that only makes me want to listen to it again. Very Firesign Theatre-esque in its concept and execution. Downloadable at http://www.cephalopod.com/listen.html.
A Canticle for Liebowitz
1984. 15 episode series - takes longer to listen to than to read the book. Really well done, though. Amusing, very good acting and direction, subtle use of effects and music. Kind of slow, so is the book by the late Walter M. Miller. The broadcast rights on this series were returned in 2001, and the series ran in 2002 on NPR Playhouse.
Centropolis - Soundplay
Written by Walter Adler, produced for Soundplay by Everett Frost. One hour story of a far future city and the secret totalitarian control of events. I had my doubts about it keeping my attention, but it did. Have not seen it available anywhere recently.
The Curve of Wonder
Judith Walcutt produced and David Ossman directed this three-part series of SF story adaptations, including "An Eye for an Eye" by Ursula K. LeGuin, "The Hindenburg Effect" by Kate Wilhelm, and "When You Hear The Tone" by Thomas Scortia. I liked the productions, though they aren't my kind of stories. Check for availability from Otherworld Media, (www.otherworldmedia.com)
Written by Jay Rath and Directed by Scott Dikkers, as the pilot episode of a proposed series, Radio Free Tomorrow. A good concept that apparently didn't get off the ground. It's a good story though, of a directionless college student who takes part in an experiment to move across into another parallel dimension. At first it doesn't seem like anything happened, but little by little people start moving around the room and he finds that he is jumping dimensions faster and farther from his own time line. I don't know if the series was going to continue his jumping - sort of like TV's "Sliders", or if it was an anthology series. Scott Dikkers is connected with "The Onion" in Madison, WI.
Four half-hours children's story of a brother and sister who don't get along, getting swept away into a ravaged future Earth. They find the Clockmaker's Castle on Wheels, and find that there's always a forest in front of the castle, and always a desert behind. So they escape. Good solid story, ecological message, fun to listen to.
The Foundation Trilogy
Produced in 1973 by the BBC as one-hour shows, aired on NPR Playhouse as half-hours, requiring some editing and narrative updates. Oddly produced with effects and music seeming incongruous or inappropriate sometimes. Very talky stories, like the originals, but they still draw you into them. All three books done in 3, 3 and 2 hours respectively. I have seen them available from a website that sells MP3 CDs of Old Time Radio, and has the entire series.
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy*
1978. Just the best there is! Twelve episodes from the BBC. The original, written and produced before there were any books, TV shows, movies or computer games of the thing. Still the favorite medium of it's late author, Douglas Adams, too. Dirk Maggs adapted the other three books of the “Trilogy” into radio for the BBC, with nearly all the original cast. Really good. CDs available from some places that import British stuff, including the ZBS catalog. In 2012 it toured as a live stage show in the UK, featuring the original cast.
The Insiders' Lounge
1982. One hour contemporary fantasy full of music and good humor. Homer Duckencover always felt like an Outsider, never fitting in anywhere. One day he finds himself "on a back road, at the outskirts of the Middle of Nowhere", and gets picked up by his high school girlfriend, Raisinette. She takes him to the weirdly folksy Insiders' Lounge, where he feels right at home. But Powerful Forces are scheming to return Homer to his old world. Several terrific and strange country songs interspersed through the hour. Really one of the best pieces I've heard in a long time. Very entertaining. Written and produced by Leslie Fuller. Available in the ZBS Catalog. Get one!
The Last Game Show
1990. Four half-hour episodes story of a future where everyone is tuned into the video network, except for the usual anarchists who want to show the people that the controlling government is lying to them. They enter into the network themselves - how? is not explained - and eventually triumph. Music cleverly integrated into the story line. Written, produced and directed by Norman Jayo. Good story, rises above its low budget with good writing and acting by Brock Peters, George Takei, Danny Valdez, Abby Lincoln and others.
The Lord of the Rings
There are two versions out there of both The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. One produced by The Minds Eye is quite good. The Minds Eye was sold to another company that ruined their catalog, but I see the wooden-boxed version in used book stores regularly.
The other version is by the BBC. I have heard one person call it the best audio drama ever made. Perhaps. It even stars Ian Holm as Frodo, though he plays Bilbo in the movie. The BBC audio version is really, really, good.
The Lost World
1996. Professor Challenger is one of Arthur Conan Doyle's most annoying characters. He's arrogant, stubborn, and usually right. This is his tale of going to South America and finding a plateau where dinosaurs and cave men have survived into the 20th century. This version is a pretty good adaptation by Perry Jacob and Bob Flick, and still available from Ziggurat Productions. Other versions of this story available, also.
1997. Skye King's best friend, Grant, appears to have been killed by a Demon. Then the friend turns up in Skye's computer. This is all part of the "Magicnet", a computer network enhanced by magic. But the Net is taking on a terrifying and uncontrollable life of its own, and Skye's only protection is that he doesn't understand it or believe in it. Who knows when they'll meet a Gryphon in the middle of the road? There were a few times I waited for a sound effect that didn't come, and sometimes it felt like I was listening to a book on tape. But this is much better than a simple reading. The story is engaging, the acting is up to the task. Original novel by John DeChancie, production by Ziplow Productions. Winner of Publisher's Weekly "Listen Up" Award for Best Science Fiction Audio. Pretty good stuff. (This is NOT the audiobook version read by the author.)
A Martian Odyssey
1997. From Starquest Entertainment (CA). A classic story from Stanley Weinbaum, in a terrific adaptation for audio by Perry Jacob. Story of a member of Earth's Martian exploration team who crashes far from the base camp, and walks back across unknown Mars. He is accompanied by a Martian, "Tween", who helps him in avoiding harm from other Martian life forms along the way. Great sound effects, an excellent story, and good acting make this really worthwhile. Winner of a Mark Time Gold Award, 1997. The story is included in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame collections. Recommended. The producer’s done a few other works, too. See The Lost World above.
1989. Thirteen week anthology of original stories from Nebraska Public Radio. Written and produced by Barry Anderson of Whiz Bang Productions. Stories very reminiscent of X Minus One, though not quite as well done. Everyone lives underground because the surface is ecologically dead - except that some of the stories are of people who return to the surface and survive. Really wanted this series to be better, but each episode seems like the first chapter to a longer story, and it left me wanting to know what happened next. Don't know about availability - try Nebraska Public Radio.
Proposition Four - New American Radio
A wonderful story by Bill Morelock, produced for New American Radio. Story of a man making a radio documentary about a VERY rich man who is draining San Francisco Bay to build an amusement park. The rich man is especially fond of roller coasters. There's also this ancient Indian hologram they dig up from the bottom of the bay, that's supposed to say hello from the ancient past. Great direction, with parts of the story on top of other parts, causing some delightful confusions.
The Radio Arcade
1988. A four-episode story about a guy who finds a fabulous 'video' games arcade. The first half-hour story is "The Situation Room" wherein the hero plays a complex game where he is the President of the U.S., and must make decisions based on information he gathers from the game while he learns to play it - sort of like real life. The second part, "The Campaign Game" stars Eli Wallach as the hero's father, who introduces him to the game, showing him that you have to sell out to win, and then the father literally gets sucked into the game and disappears. The next two parts are the hero's efforts to retrieve his father from the game. (Eli Wallach no longer plays the father.) Richly produced with effects and good acting. This is one of my favorite SF series in recent years. Produced by E Radio Theater, of whom I know nothing else.
1989. An anthology of magazine short story adaptations, with a pretty good choice of the stories. My favorite is "Houston, Houston, Do You Read", by James Tiptree, Jr. 26 week series of half-hours produced by Kevin Singer. Acting is sometimes stiff, which distracts from the stories, but the production is very well done and listenable on radio. Aired on NPR playhouse and other stations. All story rights have reverted, but in October 2012 they showed up on Archive.org. Look here: http://archive.org/details/Sci-fiRadio. Following is a list of the plays included in the series and the author of the original story.
- I'm Scared, Jack Finney
- Dark Benediction, Walter M. Miller
- Light of Other Days, Bob Shaw
- Sales Pitch, Philip K. Dick
- Diary of the Rose, Ursula K. LeGuin
- Frost and Fire, Ray Bradbury
- The Cold Equations, Tom Godwin
- Sundance, Robert Silverberg
- Shape, Robert Sheckley
- The Twonky, Henry Kuttner
- Yanque Doodle, James Tiptree, Jr.
- Close Encounter with the Deity, Michael Bishop
- Wall of Darkness, Arthur C. Clarke
- Vintage Season, Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore
- The Grantha Sighting, Avram Davidson
- Call Me Joe, Poul Anderson
- Imposter, Philip K. Dick
- Field of Vision, Ursula K. LeGuin
- Houston, Houston, Do You Read?*, James Tiptree, Jr.
- Home Is The Hangman, Roger Zelazny
- The Ballad of Lost C'Mell, Cordwainer Smith
1997. Three satirical science fiction short stories by Daniel Cline, produced by Steve Ziplow at Ziplow Productions, and performed by the Hilton Head Island (SC) Repertory Company. Quite good, well acted, and funny in a sitcom sort of way.
"General Emergency" - Medical wonders like "the All Psychiatric Network", and palm-print identification where they take the hand for print ID and return it to you later, and guaranteed universal treatment (payment is neither). Frighteningly funny.
"The Lost Planeteers" - Usually the crew just had to transport the shipfull of malcontents to a planet and drop them off, so they become colonists whether they want to or not. But this time they crash land, there's no communications, and now they are surrounded by giant lizards. Hungry giant lizards. Bad to worse, indeed!
"Twin Engines - Renaldo works at NitroDyne, maker of those Twin Engines transport shuttles. But this day starts with several unexplainable misunderstandings with - well, everyone - and suddenly he's on the run and accused of various crimes. He finally confronts his tormentor, and that's more unexplainable still.
The Secret of Dominion
Avoid it! It is a reasonably well produced 13 episode story on cassette. But the story is completely derivative from Star Wars, Buck Rogers TV, and other places. They are unrelentlingly serious, even when they're not trying to be. It's episodic, and in each episode they avoid the question they have asked at the end of each episode. And at the end, the big secret is nothing they could have done anything about, and it dies on its own anyway. Really a cop out. Acting and directing is stiff and unbelievable.
Star Wars* & The Empire Strikes Back & Return of the Jedi.
Lavishly produced series covering all three movies. Mark Hamill (Luke) and Anthony Daniels (C3PO) are actors carried over from films, and Daniels the only one in "Return." But the cast is terrific, especially John Lithgow as Yoda, and the acting may be better than in the film versions. Scripts written by the late Brian Daley are pretty good, and are available in book form from Ballantine/Del Rey. Actually covers more than the films - like who was Biggs, anyway? Effects and music are still remarkable. 13 and 10 and 6 episodes respectively.
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