Original image: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Original radio play: Ernest Kinoy
Originally aired: 27 February 1957
Plot synopsis: A sculptor produces highly detailed miniatures that have made him very rich, but what is the secret behind their creation?
Favourite line: 'You do the writing for that real gone show on NBC, don't you? That X Minus One, with the rocket ships and the three-headed men from Mars, and all that jazz.'
Review: There are two main points of interest in this episode. First, there is the surprising, postmodern self-referencing of X Minus One within the story - see the line I quote above - which is fun and raises a smile. Second, there is the appearance of Al 'Jazzbo' Collins in the lead role - I had no idea who he was until I googled him (he was a DJ, musician, and radio and TV personality), but his enthusiastic performance makes a refreshing change from those of the familiar company of actors used in many other X Minus One episodes. Unfortunately, though, the story itself is fairly unexceptional. There's a reasonable - if slightly predictable - payoff at the end, but the rest of the episode is pretty humdrum, without any great excitement or particularly original ideas. Given that the story is about the creation of intricately detailed miniature sculptures, perhaps it would have more impact if presented visually, but as it is, there's not much here to fire the imagination of listeners.
Rating: * *
[Other adaptations: Radio - Future Tense, as 'Really Heavy' (1974)]
The Reluctant Heroes
Author: Frank M. Robinson
Originally aired: 19 December 1956
Plot synopsis: When the most experienced member of the moon base team is reluctant to extend his tour of duty because he wants to return to Earth, he comes under great pressure to change his mind - to be, therefore, a 'hero'. Based on a short story first published in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, in January 1951; and later in Frank M. Robinson's short-story collection A Life in the Day of ... and Other Short Stories, in 1981.
Favourite line: 'She can look up in the night sky now and tell him how she was once engaged to the man in the moon - that's a real conversation piece, isn't it?'
Review: As an antidote to traditional science-fiction heroics, this episode makes for a refreshing change. The story is all about character, specifically that of the main character, whose motives are all-too real and understandable: having served his time on the moon, his only desire is to go home, and inducements such as money or claims on his sense of duty seem unable to persuade him to do otherwise. There are no strange alien creatures, fanciful gadgets or mind-blowing concepts in this tale, it is simply a very good, straight drama that happens to be set in the not-too-distant future. Its low-key realism is indeed one of its major strengths. Some may bemoan the lack of much in the way of plot, but stick around for the ending, which packs a definite emotional punch - it is surprisingly dark and cynical, yet in its way, also serves to highlight the true meaning of 'heroism'.
Rating: * * * *
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Originally aired: 27 October 1955
Plot synopsis: A business tycoon nearing the end of his life seeks to fulfil his dream of going to the moon. Based on a short story first published in Astounding Science Fiction magazine, in January 1940; and later in Robert A. Heinlien's short-story collection The Man Who Sold the Moon, in 1950.
Favourite line: 'Well, they used to call me crazy, but that depends on your credit rating.'
Review: This is one of the X Minus One episodes adapted from a Dimension X script that is significantly shorter than the version presented by the latter series. Even so, I would still recommend this adaptation as to be preferred, because the audio quality of the surviving Dimension X version is quite poor; plus, the performances are stronger in the X Minus One episode. Regardless, whichever adaptation is listened to, the story itself is pretty weak. It may be that I have a blind spot for the virtues of Robert Heinlein's fiction - as my reviews of other episodes adapted from his work may attest (see my Authors list for details) - but I just could not find a great deal to get excited about in this episode. The problem is that it simply doesn't amount to very much: an ageing billionaire wants to travel to the moon, and after overcoming a few obstacles, does so. Meh. Yes, it's obviously intended to be more a wistful, elegiac piece than one that is overly plot-heavy, but I did not feel at all moved by the episode, even the conclusion. I would strongly urge anyone who listens to this story also to try the episode The Vital Factor, as this is similarly about a wealthy individual who tries to realize his burning desire to journey into space, yet offers a much more interesting plot, and a much more interesting main character - even if he is completely unlikeable! At any rate, a back-to-back listen provides an instructive contrast between the capitalist-as-hero perspective of the Heinlein tale, and the capitalist-as-bad-guy viewpoint of the other. (Furthermore, a more rewarding episode inspired by a Heinlein story about a trip to the moon, similarly produced before the first moon landing had actually occurred, is the Dimension X episode Destination Moon.)
Rating: * *
[Other adaptations: Radio - Beyond Tomorrow (1950), Dimension X (1951)]
The Roads Must Roll
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Originally aired: 4 January 1956
Plot synopsis: A group of engineers who maintain the country's 'rolling roads' - conveyer belt-like strips that transport people and freight - attempts to seize control of this vital part of the nation's infrastructure, in the knowledge that this will therefore give them enormous political power. Based on a short story first published in Astounding Science Fiction magazine, in June 1940; and later in Robert A. Heinlien's short-story collection The Man Who Sold the Moon, in 1950.
Favourite line: 'Whoever controls the roads controls the country.'
Review: Despite the story upon which this episode is based being considered by many a classic of the science fiction genre, there are four major problems with it. First, the technology of the rolling roads is pretty absurd. In Robert Heinlein's imagined society, these are supposed to have replaced conventional highways and railways as the main mode of transportation, but it is hard to believe in this as a practical technology; and even if it were, that such a complicated, and likely very expensive, system would be superior to traditional forms of transport. Frankly, until matter transporters - à la Star Trek - are invented, familiar vehicles like cars, buses and trains will surely remain the much better bet, even if in future they may look different or are powered differently to those of today. Second, there is the question of who would even be able to use these roads. The rolling roads work by utilizing a series of strips moving at incrementally higher speeds (from five to one hundred miles per hour), meaning that pedestrians are required to pass from strip to strip to achieve faster travel - which is all very well, but one has to wonder how exactly the old, the very young, the disabled, mothers with pushchairs and so on are supposed to navigate this potentially treacherous system. Third, there is the story's politics. Anyone who doesn't subscribe to the robustly right-wing perspective espoused in this episode may well baulk at its plot, which essentially amounts to a fairly crude anti-union tract. Union members, especially those who dare to go on strike, are presented as being not only wrong, but psychologically and emotionally unstable. The story's answer to the problem of rebellious engineers is the establishment of an academy to create compliant, uncomplaining workers to operate the roads instead - in other words, a government brainwashing factory. Finally, even leaving aside these technological and political issues, the plot just isn't very strong. A story exploring, say, how the rolling roads came into being, or how they had transformed the functioning of society, would have been much more interesting than the half-baked tale of an engineers' revolution we are offered.
Rating: * *
[Other adaptations: Radio - Dimension X (1950)]