Young People Read Old SFF

The Will

Walter M. Miller, Jr.

SF 68 was a South African radio show that ran in, well, 1968. Producer Michael McCabe went on to produce the more successful Beyond Midnight. SF 68 adapted a number of American SF stories to radio play form, many by authors I would not have expected to sell rights to an Apartheid era South African program. If there is a story behind that, I have not heard it.

Walter M. Miller is best known for his Canticle For Leibowitz (of which there is a top notch adaptation far too long for this project). Indeed, the rest of his body of work has been essentially eclipsed by Canticle. Still, there are pieces while not as iconic as Canticle are worth consideration. “The Will” for example demonstrates a laudable understanding of the true utility of time machines other, Hugo-winning, works manifestly do not. But perhaps my volunteers will not agree with me.

The Will can be listened to here.

"What difference does time make if you're working on a time machine?" This was a morbid little story but, as in other stories we've heard, I appreciate the agency that the child, Kenny, was allowed to exhibit. I also actually really liked the concept of the afterlife as a time slip rather than heaven or some other idea. The parents in the story also never try to stop Kenny from finding the time machine, either. Overall, I liked the way that this story explored the themes of time and loss. The actors' voices also added to the urgency of the narrative, andit was nice that Kenny's voice was not characterized as overly childlike.

—Claire

I listen to a lot of podcasts. I’ve been listening to podcasts since 2009, starting with Stuff You Should Know. Other podcasts I listen to now include The Adventure Zone (D&D style roleplay storytelling), Freakonomics (based on the book), Hello Internet (one of the genre of ‘two white dudes talk about their lives’), and Stuff You Missed in History Class (what it sounds like). I listen to podcasts to fall asleep, when waking up, on long trips and when doing chores. I find them soothing. My auditory comprehension is middling to poor, so I don’t catch as much in an auditory form as I do when reading. This is why I studied literature rather than media communications. (Well, that and my utter lack of interest or skill in producing journalistic articles.) This is all to say that I listen to audioentertainment while doing something else; I listened to this episode while

working out.

This episode started off slow, and I found the introduction poor and confusing. There was lots of music and sound effects at the beginning, which made it hard to get into the story and understand the premise of the story.

The story started off very slowly. The first half of it was rather boring, but the it improved in the second half. Overall, the episode was old-timey and charming with the stamps and time machine in the tree. The voicework also seemed old-fashioned, and the boy sounded like an adult pretending to do a boy’s voice.

The story reminded me of cheesy, low-budget Star Trek: TOS, which I am slowly making my way through on Netflix currently. And similarly to TOS, the woman’s role was so utterly stereotypical (ugh), it would have been better just not to have her in the story at all.

Overall rating: Could have been so much better. Not terrible, but surely there must be other episodes more worth your time.

—Mel

This was a heartbreaking yet optimistic story about a dying teenage boy. The start was a particularly beautiful description of childhood.

We don’t know exactly why he’s dying, except that it’s an incurable illness and there are only a few months left. There’s little hope for a cure to be found in time. We hear the despair in his father’s voice as he struggles to answer his son’s questions about why this is happening to him.

The boy’s favourite show is a program called Captain Chronos, about a hero who has a time machine. The boy becomes obsessed with time machines because they could come back and save him after a cure has been found. The boy’s father tries to protect him from being used for publicity.

And then the end comes.

The ending was bittersweet, as we do not know for certain whether the boy is saved by his efforts to leave behind caches to pay for time machine research. But there is hope.

I’m really enjoying this format of story. The constraints of the radio format seem to encourage clean plotting and good dialogue.

—Melissa

This story seemed a lot more aware of the potential consequences of time travel and how to use them then some other similar stories I’ve read. I liked that it discussed how going forward in time could provide access to new information and knowledge, while also acknowledging that this technology could also prevent those discoveries from happening in the first place.

I think in general I would have preferred a story like this to include the point of view of Kenny, and have more about what he was thinking and feeling about the situation, instead of just his father.

One aspect of listening to the story instead of reading it, was that whatever effects they used for the voice of the person from the future made it very difficult for me to understand what was being said.

I’m not sure if the ending was supposed to be a surprise. It seemed obviousto me, but I’m not sure if that’s because I’m used to these kinds of stories.

Overall, I liked this story. I think it would have been better if it had centred Kenny more, but I still appreciated its handling of time travel.

—Mikayla

Comments

  • Joel Polowin

    That the person from the future was a bit hard to parse seems to have resulted from the show trying to stay close to the original story. That was perhaps not an ideal artistic choice in this respect.

    "And someone else was calling to Kenny. A rich, pleasant voice -- somehow it reminded me of Doctor Jules, but it had a strong accent, perhaps Austrian or German.

    "'Come on along here, liddle boy. Ve fix you op. [...] Come along, liddle fellow, come mit oss. Ve fix.'"