Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Radio: Marionettes, Inc. (Dimension X)

As we've seen, Astounding Science Fiction, sponsor of Dimension X, made its presence felt not just in providing the source material for some episodes out of its back issues, but also by having the occasional story adapted directly out of the issue then on the newsstand.

I wonder how much influence John W. Campbell, or anyone else at Street and Smith, had on the series' story selection otherwise. How did he/they feel when Dimension X adapted a story out of the competition? "Marionettes, Inc.," for instance, was from Startling Stories, a sister publication to Thrilling Wonder Stories.  Here's the cover from that, from my collection, by the way:

A previous owner took it on himself neatly to trim the ragged pulp edges, so that now the cover advertises that Hall of Fame Class by Clifford D. Sima, "The Loo of Tim."  That's one you won't ever be hearing on Dimension X.

Getting back on topic, I suppose having an adaptation out of Startling wasn't too bad for Campbell and Astounding, considering Dimension X didn't announce where a story was originally published unless it was one of those "ripped from the pages of Astounding" episodes. Many listeners might even assume automatically that all of the stories on the series were examples of what Astounding Science Fiction had to offer. In which case, "Bring on the best from the competition!" Campbell might think.

And this is definitely a good one. I'd heard at least one radio version and watched the Ray Bradbury Theater television episode of "Marionettes, Inc." before I read the story. Those half-hour adaptations work well, and the idea could easily extend even further. So I was surprised by how short the original is. The text covers a little under three and a third pages in its original magazine appearance. I think that's somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,500 words. I mean, Ray Bradbury is a master of the short-story form, but wow, that's packing a lot into a small space.

Scriptwriter George Lefferts does an excellent job expanding the story, shuffling around Bradbury's incidents and dialogue and interpolating his own seamlessly. Well, almost; the confrontation in the shop is maybe a little over the top. But for the most part, you wouldn't know what lines came from whom unless you were searching through the story while listening to it... as I was, writing this. (And my favorite line--Smith describing Mrs. Braling as "that female meat-grinder"--is original to Lefferts.)

"By the year 1990, we should see many amazing technological advances. And yet, in many ways, life will be very much the same." This is how the radio version opens. The episode inadvertently teaches a lesson in the perils of telling stories set in the not-too-distant future. (As does the story, in which the "1990 model" is also the current one. Although if Marionettes, Inc., is anything like car manufacturers in our time, it could be early in 1989.) I'm not just talking about how there are robotic duplicates realistic enough to fool the human original's loved ones. I'm talking about how it pretty much goes without saying that a working man's spouse is a housewife.

*Slight toning down for the radio audience of 1951: in the episode, the future Mrs. Braling "threatened to tear off her clothing and call the police" unless Braling married her. In the story, "she tore her clothes and rumpled her hair and threatened to call the police" unless he married her.

*Deflation? In the episode, there are two models, costing $7,500 and $9,000. In the story, they range from $7,600 to $15,000. And even that seems in retrospect like an enormous bargain for 1990. I spent more than that on a used Ford Bronco II in 1989. (Although, granted, that turned out to be a terrible bargain.)

Next time: "First Contact." No, not the Star Trek one with the Borg. No, not the other one, either. It has nothing to do with Star Trek. Just get Star Trek right out of your mind. Got it? Good. So join us in nine days as we pick up the sixtieth anniversary of Dimension X in its new timeslot with Murray Leinster's classic tale of, uh, a starship boldly going where no man has gone before.

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