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” I remember everything”: Red Planets by Una McCormack (2018)

This Doctor Who audio adventure from Big Finish  features the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), accompanied by Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Mel (Bonnie Langford). In essence it’s  an  “alternative history” story, a genre that I am  a bit of an addict for, my favourite being Pavane by Keith Roberts.

The story weaves together three threads whose connections only slowly became apparent:  Phobos, a   Communist spaceship on its way to Mars with a solo woman cosmonaut who proclaims “Good morning, brother Mars, we come in peace from all the people of Earth but then picks up a  mysterious signal from the red planet :  Ace’s adventures in East Berlin in November 1961 where she has been dropped off by the Doctor for a short break,  but immediately gets caught up  in a John le Carré-esque  espionage plot when she rescues an agent Tom Elliot  who has been wounded trying to cross the  newly built Berlin Wall; and finally, the Doctor and Mel’s  arrival in  London in  2017 to investigate a time ripple.

But they land in  a very different London, a London which is part of the People’s Republic of Mokoshia. And Mel is behaving  very oddly, recalling events that never happened in our time line, the take-over of Western Europe by Communism  in the  mid 1960s. If nothing else,  this story is worth listening to hear  just to hear  Mel  sing a snatch of The Internationale.

Back in East Berlin, Ace  finds that strange  things are happening, streets are vanishing, the city is disappearing,  and a deadly fog is killing people. In London the Doctor is trying to work out what  has caused the change in history,  “Nothing here is right,”  but finds himself in the hands of people who seem to know a lot about him. And on Mars  the expedition is heading for a rendezvous….with something impossible. Can the Doctor reverse history or will Mokoshia “unite the human race.”

This  is a  serious-minded story, which I enjoyed, driven by the idea that single events matter, that they can  send history down  a different  route. It’s also surprisingly violent with a number of characters not making it to the finale.

 

By the way, if you like me, you are womdering where “Mokoshia” comes from, Comrade McCormack tells me that she got it Mokosh, a Slavic goddess of women’s work and destinies. Mother Russia,  in fact.

More information here.

 

 

 

 

 

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The joy of text: “I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land” by Connie Willis (2018)

In previous posts I have written about Connie’s previous novels: Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the DogBlackout and All Clear.

Jim is in New York doing publicity for his  blog, Gone for Good,  (in which he apparently welcomes the disppearance of things  such as payphones and  VHS tapes). Taking a walk before his next interview, he runs across a second-hand bookstore called Ozymandias Books which  he ducks into to escape a downpour.

The inside was exactly what you’d expect: an old-fashioned wooden desk and behind it, ceiling-high shelves crammed  with books streching back  into the dimness. The store was only wide enough for a bookcase along each wall, one in the middle, and a space between just wide enough for a single customer to stand. If there’s been any customers. Which there weren’t. The only thing in the place besides the guy sitting hunched over the desk- presumably the owner – was a gray tiger cat curled up in one corner of it.

Jim cannot make sense of the way that the books are positioned on the sehelves which seems completely at random with no rhyme or reason. Then he notices a attractive  blonde young  woman  disappearing into the back of the shop, except there is  no back. He finds a door and cannor resist going through,  first  going up and then down into a vast room below street level  awash with books.

The blonde stood next to the carousel with a clip-board, supervising three burly workmen  in overalls who were scooping the books up and piling them onto big metal library carts. But not fast enough. They were working at top speed, but they still weren’t able to keep up. Books were piling up on the carousel adn beginning to fall over the edge. 

The woman is named Cassie and takes a Jim on a tour of  the  facility, which is neither  a bookstor nor a library, as Cassie is at  pains to  inform him

....libraries  are one of the biggest reasons we’re here…they destroy hundreds of thousands of books a year. They don’t call it  that, of course.  They call it ‘retiring books” or ‘pruning” or ‘culling’. Or ‘de-acquisition.’

The books are categorised  in different ways, from hoarders, attics,  garages, closed bookstores and libraries that have been  destroyed by fire or flood. Then there are sections  for  books left on beaches, dropped in the bathtub, torn up by a toddler, scribbled in etc..

Jim  thinks he has grasped what is going on.

It was an endangered -book archive, like those gorillasand elephant sanctuaries or those repositaries for rare type of seeds, to keep them from going extinct. And it was the scarcity of the book that determined its place here, not its collectible value or literary quaiity.

But  he hasn’t quite got it right.  Whereas we, the readers,  by now probably have.  You’ll need to read this novella  to find out for yourself, through.

Connie has written a paean of praise to books in all their scruffy, tattered, coffee-stained, dog-eared glory. Long may they continue.

Oh,  and the ending calls to mind  a short story by H G  Wells, The Door in the Wall.

 

Out of the Unknown, series 1 episode 6, “Come Buttercup, Come Daisy, Come…?” by Mike Watts (1965)

“Come Buttercup, Come Daisy, Come…” was broadcast on 8th November 1965.

Cast;  Henry Wilkes – Milo O’Shea; Monica Wilkes – Christine Hargreaves; Anne Lovejoy – Patsy Rowlands; Dr Chambers – Desmond Jordan; Norman – Eric Thompson; Det Sergeant Crouch – Bernard Kay; Det Constable Fraser – Alan Haywood.

Script: Mike Watts

Director: Paddy Russell

Producer and Story Edtor: Irene Shubik,  Associate Producer: George Spenton-Foster.

Henry and Monica

 

An original script by Mike Watts, this is a domestic  story which takes place mainly in a house and garden.  The first scene introduces us  to the jovial Mr Wilkes whom we find in his garden talking to his large plants which surround him like pets. He is telling them about a new arrival –  a plant  sent to him by his friend  Mr Pringle – whom he names “Josie” and  puts into a bed between “George” and “Francis”.

His wife Monica  suffers from  what used to be called “nerves”. She is angry at not going away on holiday, and tells Henry that the  doctor will be calling around in the evening. Henry sets off to work at his  fishmonger. When he arrives  he gets very  angry when he discovers  his assistant   Miss Lovejoy putting out parsley between the fish and tells her off. He says;

Man, animals, even fish are preying on the vegetable world. We have got to do everything we can to stop it. Look at its delicate formation. She how curly and crinkly and soft it is. ..a thing of living beauty. Now it’s all brown and dead and decayed.

 

Back at home Henry feeds the plants, talking to them as he does so,  and they respond, moving and making sounds. When Dr Chambers calls Monica  tells him that she is afraid of the garden,  It dominates the whole house. She says that it started when Henry responded to an advert in a newspaper and began  receiving plants in the post. Then disturbing things started  to happen:  the fish disappeared from the pond and the greenhouse was smashed  to pieces one night.  Henry, she says,  has become  obsessed with the plants, feeding them rabbits and  cockels and injecting them with chemicals.

Those flowers are wrong, Doctor. They don’t belong in this country yet they survive the climate. They live all through the winter and  never die. He talks to  them, he has names for them, and sometimes I think they talk to him.

Henry and his plants

Henry assuages Monica by promising that they will go on holiday but his obsession grows. He steals a drug  from his friend, the chemist Norman,  and injects one of the plants.  Monica’s dog on whom she dotes gets into garden and vanishes (snapped up as a  juicy morsel by one of the plants we presume). Monica collapses in shock  and the doctor is summoned again. Speaking to Henry in the garden he realises what disturbed him on his earlier visit, There are no birds.

No birds every come here, explains Henry. The flowers won’t let them. They’ve got minds of their own. They think. You might say I’ve educated them.

Having set the scene, the last ten minutes of the story  are quite dark with loss and tragedy and a revelation about the mysterious  Mr Pringle.

This is really a horror story rather  than a science fiction story. The acting is perfectly  fine, especially from  Milo O’Shea  and Christine Hargreaves, and the director achieves a real sense of claustropobia. Having said that  any story involving sentient unfriendly  plants struggles to escape from the shadow of The Day of the Triffids which I write about in a previous post.

Where Else  Have  I Seen Them?

Christine Hargreaves (1939-1984) (who was from Salford)  appeared in many  televison plays from the 1960s to the 1980s. Her most celebrated  role was as Pauline,  a single mother fighting the benefit system, in  “The Spongers” by Jim Allen, broadcast in 1978 in the Play  for Today series.  Like much of Allen’s work it is not available on DVD.

Bernard Kay (1928-2014)  appeared  in four Doctor Who serials: “The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964),” “The Crusades (1965),” “The Faceless Ones (1967)” and “Colony in Space (1971)”.

Paddy  Russell  (1928-2017) was one of the first women  directors at the BBC. She began as an actress and was then the first female floor manager to work at the BBC. Her credits as a director were extensive. She directed four  Doctor Who serials:  “The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve” (1966). “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” (1974), “Pyramids of Mars” (1975), and “Horror of Fang Rock” (1977). She also  directed the supernatural thriller “The Omega Factor” (1980).

Eric  Thompson (1929-1982) wrote and performing the English narration for The Magic Roundabout, which he adapted from the original French.

 

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Out of the Unknown, series 1 episode 5, “Time in Advance” by William Tenn

“Time In Advance” was broadcast on 1 November 1965.

Cast: Nicholas Crandall -, Edward Judd;  Otto Henck – Mike Pratt;   Polly – Wendy Gifford;  Marcus Henson – Dyson Lovell,  Marie –Judy Parfitt ;  Paul Ryman – Jerome Willis;   and Dan- Michael Danvers Walker.

Script by  Paul Erickson

Producer and Story Edtor: Irene Shubik. Associate Producer: George Spenton-Foster.

Director ;  Peter Sasdy.

“Time in Advance” is based on  a short story  by William Tenn (the pseudonym of Philip Klass) published in 1956

The story is set in a future society where you can opt to serve your sentence before committing the crime.  It  begins with  Nicholas Crandall  (525509) and Otto Henck (5245514) returning  to earth after seven year hard labour on the colony planets. The two prisoners   have survived the rigours of their hard labour by looking after each other, although Crandall has lost his hand in a lava  accident. (They arrive  aboard a  convict spaceship called  the  Jean Valjean, incidentally, please note Victor Hugo fans.)

The “pre-criminals” as they are known  leave through the “Liberty corridor” and are  now free to commit the murders that they have confessed in advance that they intend to commit.  The media are there as they emerge, eager to know the names of their victims.  After checking whether  they still want them,   the Examiner hands Crandall and  Henck  their licences which allow them “To go forth from this place and kill one man or one woman of your own choosing.”

Crandall and Henck

They lodge at the Hotel Capricorn Ritz, where you check in with a handprint and the  drinks are served by a machine. Whilst in the bar  they see their arrival announced  on television, “It might be you they are after,”  teases the newsreader. Henck intends to kill his  unfaithful wife, Elsa: Crandall has not  publicly revealed his victim,  but we learn that it   is  man called Stephensen, who  stole his work  for a unlimited power source and has  made a fortune whilst Crandall has been in prison.

In the bar Crandall meets Paul  Ryman, a former work colleague, who cannot get away from  him quick enough. (We later find out  that he betrayed Crandall by assisting Stephensen).  It’s the first in a series of encounters with people who fear him., including his ex-wife Polly who believes that she is the victim because she was unfaithful to him, unknown to Crandall. ” I made a mistake. I thought he loved me. I would never have divorced  you if I had known what he was really like… Please don’t  kill me,” she begs.   When his brother Dan  tries to kill him with a weapon, we learn that it was he that had the affair with Polly. Crandall lies to the police to save his brother from prison.

Henck has failed to locate his  wife. She has moved, her  flat been demolished and the area is now a  huge nature park . He tells Crandall, “It’s the last thing I expected, I  just stood in the middle of the park not knowing what to do.. You don’t understand Nick. .All the time we were away , all the while I keep thinking of how it was going to be when I finally caught up with her. The times I dreamed of it  and it always happened in that  place. It just isn’t there any more.”

Marcus Henson from  a media company  offers Crandall  50,000 credits for an exclusive story. “The public is excited by it. They have been lapping  up the details  ever since you landed… But the biggest thing they want to know about, and that’s why we are prepared to pay so much, is that special piece of information that just clinches your story…What do you think they are all excited about? What do you really think they are guessing at? …They are trying to figure out who your victim is going to be. You tell us. We follow your story. We’ll be there when it happens,  and you can retire a rich man, while at the same time completing what you set out to do.” Crandall turns down the offer.

Crandall

Henck  finally discovers  that his wife has been  dead for two years, and  is now bitter about   his decision. “Seven years of my life gone for nothing and now no future,  nothing to show for it, not even the satisfaction.”  Crandall responds,  “I’ve spent those last seven years hating one man, wanting my revenge, only to find  the others, the ones I  loved and trusted,   meant  no more to me in my life than Stephensen. I don’t know what it’s about anymore,  I don’y know love and hate mean . I only know thatI iam tired. All that effort trying to keep alive on the colonies. I am beginning to think there was point in it, no point at all. “

Crandall makes an appointment to see Stephensen at his laboratory, while  Marie, a  betrayed  ex-lover of Stephensen’s,  gives him a weapon. But the meeting does not go the way Crandall expects.

Strip away the futuristic  gloss from this story (the  shiny sets look like  the future as imagined by Tomorrow’s World)  and it boils down to an old-fashioned moraility tale:  that dreams of revenge can destroy you.  Despite the premise, there is hardly any tension in the story. Rather than  racing to complete their tasks, the two men spend much of their  sitting around in the hotel bar drinking (two credits for a drink, by the way). By the end you are not sure whether  care very much  about what you have just seen.

Most of the cast  wear blond wigs, remarkably similar to the ones we saw in a previous episode, “The Counterfeit Man”. Perhaps they were recycled?

The background electronic music is very good.

Mary Crozier reviewed the episode for the Guardian on 2 November

There is no doubt that when science fiction is bad it is very bad indeed and last night’s play illustrated  this ecellently . “Time in Advance” by William Tenn  was based on the quaint notion that on the earth of the future those with a criminal tendency can apply for lience to commit a crime – but first they have to serve a penal term in Outer Space. 

The opening of the story was about the best bit where the convict ship was nearing earth and the ex-convicts were shuddering, trapped in their bunks in the orbital countdown. This was horrid, of course, and in the fashion of science fiction, some of them had hideous growths or wounds on face, chest or hand. But at this stage you could not tell  quite how dull it was going to be on earth when the two would-be murderers started their grim work. The action took place in a singularly hideous hotel called the Hotel Capricorn Ritz where all the gimmicks of the future were singualrly scientific and unhomely.

The precriminals as they were called got  mixed up in many complications and the story was so stupid that it seemed only natutral that the transmission broke down altogether as if in despair. It is amusing to make fashion note on science fiction; all the men and  women  in this programme had the regulalion fair, shaggy hair combed forward and the regulation tunics so that they looked like a cross between pupils of a progressive school and pre-Revolution Russian peasants.

The great difference between this play and the recent  “The Counterfeit Man” was that the characters were totally uninteresting and the plot incredible. But the sound effects by the radiophonic workshop were very clever indeed.

 

Where have we seen them before ?

Peter Erickson wrote “The Ark” for Doctor Who, broadcast  in 1964.

Wendy Gifford   played Miss Garrett in “The Ice Warriors” (1967)  in Doctor Who. She played Dr Susan Calvin in “Liar!”, an episode in series 3 of Out of the Unknown.

Jerome Wills appeared in “The Dark Star” (1962), an episode in the series  Out of this World.  He played Stevens in the memorable Doctor Who episode,”The Green Death” (1973).

Edward Judd  had a leading role  in The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961) , a British  science fiction film in which the earth is threatened with destruction  after two atomic bomb tests blow it out of its orbit. He also appeared in Invasion (1965) , another British science  fiction film in which aliens (who are played by Japanese and Chinese actors)  arrive in pursuit of an escaped prisoner taken into a hospital. The story was thought up by Robert Holmes, although he did not write the script.  (Holmes later  used some elements of his story for an episode of Doctor Who, “Spearhead  from Space” (1970).)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of the Unknown; series 1, episode 4 “The Dead Past” 1965.

Written by Jeremy Paul,  based on a story by Isaac Asimov. Producer and Story Edtor: Irene Shubik. Associate Producer: George Spenton-Foster.

Cast: Arnold Potterley – George Benson, Thaddeus Araman – James Langton, Jonas Foster – James Maxwell, Ralph Nimmo – Willougby Goddard, Caroline Potterley – Sylvia Coleridge,  Miss Clements – Shirley Cain.

“The Dead Past” was broadcast on  25 October 1965.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) was probably the  most  influential  science fiction writer of the  1950s and 1960s  through works such as the Foundation trilogy and his robot stories. This was not the first of his stories to  be produced on British  television. Irene Shubik had produced “Little Lost Robot” as part of the Out of This World series on ATV in 1962  which was one  of his robot stories. (A copy of this  has survived).  Following her move to the BBC with Sidney Newman,  Irene followed this with a production of The Caves of Steel, one  of Asimov’s robot novels, broadcast on  5 June 1964 as part of the Story Parade series.   I  have a vague recollection of watching this, aged nearly 9. Sadly only a fragment has survived which  you can watch here.

“The Dead Past”  was first  published in Astounding Science Fiction in April 1956. It  is a time travel story with twist, set in some undated future and  begins  with Caroline Potterley having a nightmare in which she hears an unseen young girl screaming whilst  flames rise. Awakening in distress  she cries  for her husband Arnold,  and then goes into the living room  where she approaches  a small statue of a god or king.

Araman

In the next scene we see Arnold Potterley  having a meeting with Thaddeus  Araman, who  is “the top man in Chronoscopy”.  Chronoscopy,  we learn, is a science that enables the past to be seen through a machine. Potterley is an historian who specialises in the study of Cathage (a powerful city state on  the coast of what is now Tunisia which was destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC after a series of wars). I can’t help thinking that, unintentionally or otherwise,  Potterley looks a great  deal like the historian A J P Taylor, well-known in the 1960s for his history lectures on television.

Potterley has come to Araman because for two years he has been  trying to get permission  to  carry out  research on Carthage,  using  time-viewing to examine the landing of Scopio Africanus  in 202 BC.  Araman fobs him off with series of technical excuses and,  in addition,  says that there is long waiting line. As Potterley leaves disappointed Araman  warns him,  “You won’t try and get help anywhere else will you? The Department of Physics,  for instance? I am sure I don’t have to warn you that if you did, you would be considered guilty of  intellectual  anarchy  and your basic grant would be instantly withdrawn.

After Potterley has gone Araman confers with  his secretary (and perhaps lover) , Miss Clements, “I am always fascinated  to know what they think when  they leave this office. Do they really believe what they are told?” She replies, “You know what they do, they go home, stamp their feet , say unkind things about  you and wait for their wives to bring them to their senses.”   He ponders further, “Would you say that he is a threat to us? Determined? Cunning?…We are going to have a little fun with Professor Potterley.”

Potterley

Undeterred,  Potterley  approaches Jonas Foster, a  physics lecturer,  and asks for his help with chronoscopy.  Foster initially turns him down, saying that he knows nothing of neutrinics, the science  that led to the discover of chronoscopy by Sterbinski some 50 years earlier.  (Neutrinics was made by Asimov). In this society  it seems, research outside one’s field of study  is discouraged, is in fact  labelled “intellectual anarchy”. Foster says , ” It was different a hundred years ago, some marvellous discoveries were made.by sheer accident. But as we  got more data and more knowledge so we had to specialise…and now every branch of   of science is geared to the public’s  needs.” Potterley responds, “You speak like a computer. Official  propaganda every word…I say the government  is actively suppressing research in neutrinics and chronoscopy.”

 

Foster

Potterley has successfully  lit a the flame of curiousity in Foster. When  he vists the Potterleys for dinner,  Caroline discloses that  their daughte Laurel  died in a fire at the age of 10, while the statue in Arnold’s study is revealed to be that of the  god Moloch to whom the Cartathaginans allegedly  offered human sacrifices. Foster eventually  agrees to build a  chronoscopy machine,  using  research information unearthed by his uncle, Ralph Nimmo,  a science  journalist, played splendidly by Willoughby Goddard with an eye-patch (not part of his character,  but  worn due to an eye infection, apparently). Potterley  tells  his worried  wife,  “It’s Carthage that counts and human knowledge, not you and I.” But their activites have not gone unnoticed. Araman, it seems,  somehow  knows what is going on.  Miss Clements challenges  him,“What happens if they learn the truth? What will we do with them then?”

The Chronoscope is built in the Potterley’s cellar. But there is bitter  disappointment  for Potterley when Foster tells  him, “You will never see Carthage…When the field is interpreted you get random factors, it’s the same with all sub-atomic particles, random factors which  produce a kind  of fuzziness…the further back in time you go, the greater the fuzziness..until finally the picture is drowned.  You can only time view so far back, a century and a quarter at the most…No historian

has ever used the chronoscope, they couldn’t. The government has been having us on, it’s a hoax.”

Caroline Potterley

Caroline  interrupts  the two men in the cellar, having realised what the machine could offer her.  “Listen to me.  Even if it only goes back twenty years, we could see Laurel . What does it matter about Carthage, its’s Laurel Arnold, she’ll be alive for us again..” Distarught,  Potterley begs her, “Caroline, please, what will you see? Do you want to live those years over and over again? Watching a child who will never grow up? You’ll go mad. Is that want you want? Is it?  “I want my child“, she cries in response, “she’s there in that machine. I want  to see her, I want my baby.  In rage or despair  or guilt, Potterley smashes the machine beyond repair.

But this is not the end of the story. Araman has  Potterley, Foster and Nimmo arrested and brought to his laboratory where he reveals  the truth of what is is going on.  The final scene is silent  – and heartbeaking.

 

This  is  a very effective piece  of drama, well-scripted and directed,the cast is uniformly excellent. Tt raises qestions about  whether progress is always a good thing, something that seems very pertinent  in our “brave new world” of   unescapable social   media  and non-stop 24 hour news. Do we really want to know everytning about everybody? And what of the personal?  In the end,  Asimov,  suggests “You and I” do count, count a great deal, in fact.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of the Unknown: series 1, episode 3 “Stranger in the Family” (1965)

Written by David Campton. Director – Alan Bridges. Producer and Story Edtor: Irene Shubik. Associare Producer: George Spenton-Foster.

Cast: Boy – Richard O’Callaghan, Paula – Justine Lord, Sonny – Eric Lander,  Charles Wilson – Peter Copley, Margaret Wilson – Daphne Slater, Brown –  John Paul, Evans – Jack May, Hall – Joby Blanshard, Swain –  Brian Vaughan.

This  was broadcast on  18th October 1965.

After the claustrophia and  paranoia of the  previous episode,  “Stranger in the Family” brings us down to earth, specifically  the London of the mid 1960s,  in an original story written by David Campton. Campton (1924-2006)   wrote many  plays for the stage, radio, and cinema for thirty-five years.  The critic Irving Wardle once described  his  work  as “comedies of menace”.  Campton himseself said that “.It seems to me that the chaos affecting everyone today––political, technical, sociological, religious, etc., etc.,––is so all-pervading that it cannot be ignored, yet so shattering that it can only be approached through comedy. Tragedy demands firm foundations; today we are dancing among the ruins.

The  opening  filmed scenes show us a young man visiting the Science Museum and wandering near  the Thames.  apparently tailed by a man.  There are also some shots of a young blonde woman that the young man seems to be following.  When the  man  approaches thhe young man he  shouts at him: “Go away, leave me alone”. The man  backs away and is  run  over by a lorry. The young men then  flees  back to his parents’ flat.

Boy (Richard O’Callaghan)

Here we  learn that  he is  called “Boy” and that he is being hidden away for some as yet unknown reason. His father is angry that Boy  went out alone: “Do you want us to be forced to move home  again?”.Boy tells his parents that a man was following him: “I made him leave me, I think we was killed, I didn’t mean to hurt him”.

The family is being watched by two men who have moved in next door called  Brown and Evans. Their  interest in Boy becames apparent whenit is revealed  Boy  has the mental  power to influence or even compel other people. He poses the question:

“Why am I different?.. I’m a mutant , I’m an improbability that happened. And I want to know how… I know I make mistakes, I try not to  but it is  natural for me to use my will. And then we have to move again. And so I have to be insulated against the world”.

Paula (Justine Lord)

Boy goes out again this time to a   bar where he sees the young woman in conversation with a man, Sonny.  He makes Sonny go away and  starts a friendship with the young woman, an actress called  Paula,  that deepens over the next few weeks,  much to the dismay of his parents who fear that it is obsession on his side, calculation on  hers. Paula  has become aware of his powers when, during an argument he renders  her unable to speak, an effective chilling sequence. Sonny,  who is her agent,  plots to make money out of Boy. “You never know, Pussy, this might be the start of something really big.”

The two men  in the flat are revealed  to be scientists. Over a fish and chip supper Evans tells Brown that Boy  “…is something rare and wonderful. At present we don’t know how rare or just how wonderful…Every now and then history throws up a man with unusual powers of persuasion. On his account steady willed, strong minded men behave out of character, irrationally…but the ability to infuence another mind must be there in the brain, rather like our powers of reasoning. Imagine that highly developed,  full of extra sense. And then you have him. There is  great deal more to him than that”.

Paula urges  Boy not to trust her: “This is  a hard world.. you have got to be harder, grab what’s going while it lasts. There won’t be any second chances. I learnt the hard way”. Jealous of Sonny’s relationship with Polly , Boy almost  drowns him in a bath, using his powers, before relenting.    Despite this,  Sonny aranges for Boy to star in a television advert for a cigarette, a bizarre sequence which ends with everyone in the studio demanding cigarettes.

Brown reveals  to Boy that there are others with his powers:  “I guess you thought you were the only one. There are others with your capabilities,t hey al llive together in an old  castle with lovely stone walls and towers, just like in a fairy tale. Each one of them thought he was alone until we brought them together. Wouldn’t you like to join them? It must be lonely life on your own”. He  attempts to inject Boy with a drug of some kind,  but is compelled to inject himself with fatal consequences.

Following this  second death  Evans urges Boy’s parents to allow him to take Boy  to his research establishment for the sake of the  survival of the human race. “When  the mutants were first persuaded to live  together I noticed a struggle  for supremacy going on among them but the conflict was entirely in the mind,  there was no physical struggle as we know it. The strongest will is the winner…If this new species survives,  then wars as we know them will end.. Of course we will  be back numbers , you and I, but at least there won’t be the danger of the world being blown up. There will be a future. This new strain must have every chance.  That’s why I need your son.”

His parents reject Evan’s proposition,  but events force their hand  after  Boy goes to Paula’s  flat and finds her with Sonny. In his anger he compels Paula to wound Sonny.   Evans arrives and  speaks  to  Boy, who  admits,  “I am  sorry.. I hadn’t realised, there  are universes between us…the crack in the ice and the gap grows wider…I must be completely what I am… I accept myself  as I am… That way iIcan grow..I am ready to go now.”

The premise that humanity  might one day evolve new chacteristics is not a new one, it was  posed by John  Wyndham in The Chrysalids, for instance, which I have written about here.  But  by rooting the story in contemporary London, Campton makes it seem both  more real and more disturbing. How would humanity react? Evans defies our expectations by welcoming a new kind of human being, that might be both our saviours and repacements. Is this how the Neanderthals felt when home sapiens appeared?

In many ways the production feels in look and tone  likes a  Wednesday Play, particularly the satirical cigaarette advert sequence,  and indeed the director Alan Bridges directed six Wednesday  Plays, five Plays of the Month and  four Plays for Today.

The one real problem I have with “A Stranger in the Family”  is that Richard O’Callaghan is too old for the part.  He is meant to be 18, just out of adolescence,  and still learning how to be an adult, but he looks in his mid 20s, as indeed Callaghan was.

Where have I seen them before?

Jack May played  Adam Adamant’s manservant  William Simms in Adam Adamant  Lives!  who is given to acerbic limericks often aimed at Miss Jones.

Justine Lord played Sonia (aka Death)  in a memorable episide of The Prisoner;  “The Girl who was Death”

John Paul and Joby Blanshard  were both in the eco-thriller series Doomwatch. 

 

 

“the Moon will become the seventh Continent of our Planet…”: life in the twenty-first century, edited by M Vassiliev and S Gouschev (1961)

First  published in the Soviet Union in 1959, the authors compiled accounts from  29 Soviet scientists on what life might be like in 2007.  It is unlikely  that such a volume would have been translated and published in the West ten years previously,  but the Soviet  launch of Sputnik, the first satellite sent into  earth orbit,  stunned the world in October 1957. The Soviets followed this  with further satellite launches,  and then  sending the first man into space, Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who orbited the world on 12 April 1961. Previously regarded as a country barely emerged from peasantry, the Soviet Union now seemed to  be at the forefront of scientific discovery and development, and hence became the focus of intense interest.

This volume was published by Penguin as number 195  in their Penguin Specials series in 1961.

The book takes the form a gentle meander by the authors  through the studies. lecture halls  and laboratories of Soviet scientists. (Whether this actually happened,  or  whether it is  just a literary conceit and the chapters were written by the scientists themselves,  or indeed  a  Committee we have no way of knowing.)

The first chapter “Learn to Dream”  begins with a vist to the study of Alexander Nikolaievich Nessmayanov. “On a huge desk stood a bronze Atlas bearing on his shoulders a gleaming globe. Portraits of Russian scientists hung on the walls. In one corner a wooden bust of lenin, smiling , the work of the well-known sculptor S. T. Konienkov…”

Nessmayanov (1899 – 1980) was President  of the Academy of Sciences in the USSR from 1951 to 1961.He was twice awarded the title of Hero of Socialist Labour.

He tells the authors, “We do not always care to dream, nor are we always capable of dreaming, but it  is essential to do so. Without dreams prospects do not exist, without dreams man, the scientist included, is inevitably halted in his progress. Creation is not consistent with kicking one’s heels.”

Subsequent chapters encompass a range of  predictions.  In the future it is suggested  that

  • electricty production will be vastly increased and transmitted  for huge distances;
  •  mining will be carried out without  digging
  • bloodless  surgery  will be possible
  •  the hours spent in sleep could be greatly shortened
  • large scale underwater mining will be possible
  • submarines will  be used to carry passengers under the oceans like liners
  • trains will have atomic engines;
  • private cars will be banned from cities
  • moving pavements will transport people around cities (an idea that Isaac  Asimov  had already used in  his novel The Caves of Steel (1953), by the way)

From the viewpoint of this blog the three  chapter on space exploration  are most interesting. Our guide to  the future in chapter 26 “Space Travel” is the scientist  U. S. Hlebsevitch. He suggests that radio controlled unmannned space craft will be  best way of  conducting the space explorations of the future, thereby eliminating the need to send vast stores of food and fuel into space to feed and sustain the Cosmonauts.

In the next few years we shall approach  the Moon, Mars,  and Venus  without waiting for an artificial satellite capable of carrying human occupants. The first guided rockets will soon explore the Moon and in the following five or perhaps ten years there will be a permanent scientific observatory on the Moon.  Return flights to the Moon will become a commonplace  by the end of the century. At the beginning of the twenty-first century the Moon will become the seventh Continent  of our Planet. and, strange though may sound now, we shall be in a position to exploit its natural wealth…

He goes on to posit  that the Moon will  initially be explored by an unmanned rocket carrying an exploratory vehicle which will examine the soil, temperature  and surface and send back the results by television and radio. He does not rule out other life in the solar system:

Today we are planning on the assumption that neither Mars nor Venus are inhabited. But suppose we find this to be untrue? Then we shall try to build space  ships which can enter into radiotelephonic or television contact with the inhabitants of those planets. Only then shall we tackle the most difficult problem of how to land on them.

He envisages using the Moon as a broadcasting platform:

The Moon, for example, will become a radio-telescope for the purpose of retransmission. Transmissions from the Moscow televison centre, for example, will be received on the Moon, reinforced and retransmitted back to the earth. These picturs  will be seen by the inhabitants of half the terrestrial globe.

Hlebsevitch suggests an earth observation station will be established on the Moon toprovide   very accurate weath forecasts for the whole planet, and that satellites will give advance  warning of harmful cosmic radiation and meteors

Finally,  he sums up in true Soviet style:

All I have said , all my forecasts can only be realised provided the peoples of the world remain at peace. The combined forces of science and the human brain must be utilised,  not for an armaments race,  but for the solution of those grandoise problems, the only problems worthy of man. If the endeavour and money spent on missiles with war-heads were used in preparation for interplanetary flight our forecasts would be proved very much sooner.

In Chapter 28 “In The Lunar City” Nicholas Alexandrovitch  Varvarov describes what a Soviet permament  base on the Moon might look like:

The aluminium was mined on the moon, the glass and the plastic materials were made in lunar factories. The water comes from the depths of the satellite and gives the neccessary humidity for the cultivation of the soil. Oxgen and nitrogen are obtained from lunar materials. The lamps  which burn during the long night, which lasts almost a month, are fed from batteries which, at the same time heat the city and supply the power for the factories. All this has been set in motion and the whole work is designed to utilise the energy of local and solar atomic power stations.

The lunar city is not only self-supporting  but is also working, one might say, for export. For example, synthetic fuel for rocket servicing is prepared  for rockets departing for the earth; plans are ready for the construction of a wharf for cosmic ships. Soon rockets, built in lunar factories, will depart on long-distance journeys. The lunar cosmodrome will soon see the launching of an enormous rocket bound for Mercury, having on board the first expedition of earth’s scientists.

Finally, in chapter 29  “Through Interstellar Space” Kiril Petrovich Stayukovitch  imagines photon engines which,  by  combining matter and anti-matter, will propel the rockets to the speed of light:

…, the course of time on it would be much slower than on earth. On the basis of the meaurement of time on earth a hundred years could elapse. In this time the space ship would travel a distance …corresponding to a hundred light years. But in reality, aboard the space ship only two or three years would elapse and the men on board would only age to this extent. They would visit planets and stars at a great distance from our  sun  and the return journey  to the earth, acording to their time, would be in two or three years.  Nevertheless, on their return to earth the astronauts  would not find a single person  they knew still alive. Because on earth, during the same period , two hundred years would have elapsed.

All contributions in life in the twenty-first century display boundless faith in the ability of science to solve all problems. But as we now know the Soviet plans for interplanetary travel, devised by Sergei Korolev, encountered many problems and were cancelled. The Soviet Union itself dissolved on 26 December  1991.

I  have not been able to find  anything about the authors, Mikhail  Vassiliev and Sergei Gouschev. I did discover that a character  called Mikhail Vassiliev appears in Philip Pullman’s short story, Once Upon a Time in the North (2008)

This is a list of all contributors was carried as an appendix in the book.

A.N. Nessmayanov:
President, Soviet Academy of Science. World-renowned authority on organic chemistry in general, and on the metallo-organic aspect of it
in particular.
J.P. Bardin:Vice-President, Academy of Science. Pioneer of Sovietmetallurgy; took the leading part in constructing the Kuznetsk Steelworks in the early years following the Revolution.
I.S. Garkousha and N.A. Fedorov: Two young Russian scientists and engineers who are acknowledged as the country’s leading authorities on the underground  gasification of coal; they work together as one man on research and projects in this sphere.
S.I .Mironov and M.A. Kapelyushnikov: Both belong to the older school of Russian scientists, the first a full member of the Academy of Science and the second an associate member. Both have behind them a lifetime of research and study in  their speciality – oil; despite years, are still ‘young’ enough to look keenly ahead.
A.V. Vinter: Academician; the doyen of Russia’s hydro-electric power schemes; was at Lenin’s elbow when he drew up the general
electrification plan; had main responsibility in the building of the first two Soviet power stations, commenced in 1918.
V.I. Popkov: Associate, Academy of Science; one of the rising generation of Russian technologists; writer of
numerous highly speciali zed works on electric power.
G.I. Pokrovsky: Professor; specialist in the technique of explosives and explosions; paints, writes poetry, and composes music
in his spare time.
V.A. Engelhardt: Principal of the Department of Biology, Academy of Science.
M.G. Ananiev: Bachelor of Medical Science; Principal and Head Surgeon of an ultr-modern Moscow hospital where bloodless, supersonic
surgical methods are practised.
S.I. Volkovitch: Academician; specialist in agronomy.
L.A. Zenkevitch: Associate, Academy of Science; Chair of Invertebrate Zoology, Moscow
University. His speciality is marine life, both animal and vegetable.
A.R. Jebrak: Academy of Science, White Russian Republic; expert on agriculture; views the subject mainly from a biological angle.
V.A. Kotelnikov: Young Academician and Professor of Moscow University; considered to be the country’s greatest authority on radio.
S.A. Lebedyev: Principal of the Institute of Precision Mechanism and Computer   Technology at the Academy of Science, regarded as the leading authority in the electronic computer field.
G.I. Babat: Professor; somewhat of a freelance and an individualist. Specializes in high-frequency current; his inventions in this line include an
artificial ‘sun’. Author of popular scientific works, and fiction with a scientific background.
V.L. Ginzburg: Associate, Academy of Science; astronomer, mainly in the context of radio-astronomy, to which he has contributed considerable literature.
V.V. Zvonkov: Associate Member, Institute of General Transport Affairs and Problems at Academy of Science; an authority on every form of transport.
N.F. Yevstratov: Civil Engineer and Architect; Principal of the Moscow Town Planning Institute.
U.A. Dolmatovsky: Mechanical Engineer; emphasis on motor cars.
G.A. Gradov: Civil Engineer and Architect; Principal of the Institute of Communal Planning and Construction.
E.M. Goldovsky: Professor; expert in the field of photography and the cinema, particular interest being electro- (or ‘dry’) photography.
L.V. Pustovalov: Associate, Academy of Science; Deputy Chairman, Committee for Study and Investigation of Potential Productive Energy; devotes particular attention to Siberian development.
U.S. Hlebsevitch: Bachelor of Technical Science; radio-astronomer, specializes in ‘Sputnik’ and other like projects.
D.I. Scherbakov: Academician; geographer; a much-travelled man in the remoter regions of the world.
N.G. Romanov: Civil Engineer; emphasis on the hydraulic aspect; author of a scheme for bridging the Straits of Tartary by a dam.
N.A. Varvarov: Engineer; Astronautical Consultant to U.S.S.R. Armed Forces; has made a particular study of the Moon.
K.P. Stanyukovitch: Professor; physicist whose particular subject is the harnessing of nuclear science for the conquest of outer space