Wednesday, December 5, 2012

50s Sci-Fi: X Minus One

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.

These are the words that kicked off each episode of X Minus One, a sci-fi radio series that ran on NBC from 1955-1958. I like old-timey radio shows, but everything I'd ever come across had been mostly mysteries or dramas, things like Orson Welles' Mercury productions, The Many Lives of Harry Lime, a series of "prequels" to The Third Man, Suspense!, which would sometimes land guest stars like Peter Lorre, and The Shadow, which was just kinda bad.

But it wasn't until recently I came across the 50s sci-fi goldmine that is X Minus One. Like most of these old radio shows, there are some clunkers -- and it'll take a smarter man than me to figure out the 1950s fixation on creepy dolls -- but there are also dramatized short stories from Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, and Theodore Sturgen, among others. This is vintage, present-at-the-creation type stuff, here, before these guys were really famous, let alone legends. The shows were co-sponsored by sci-fi pulps like Galaxy Science Fiction and Astounding Science Fiction, and drew from all of the writers that were being published prominently there.

What these radio shows really do is plug you directly into the zeitgeist of the time. We can watch classic sci-fi movies now and recognize the markers of Cold War paranoia, the fixation with the brand-new space race, and the ignorance of what lay beyond our atmosphere, but it's not the same.  Listening to several of these shows, you begin to realize how dominated they are by tales of invasion, and how every single plot -- from brainwashing our kids out from underneath us to staging a ticker-tape parade down 5th Avenue -- to take over the world is really just a plot for the dirty Commies to take over the Good Ol' US of A.

But setting aside the anthropological interest, these things are just pulpy fun. And you can't top hearing vintage commercials for Pabst Blue Ribbon right after the secretly embedded Venusians just killed the secretly embedded Martians and we're wondering how the private eye who found them is going to get out of *this* fix...

You can find X Minus One episodes on the Internet Archive (link embedded below) or as podcasts through iTunes. I imagine you can find them on CDs still, too, but that might be a little too much retro for one person to handle all at once.

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