January 18th, 2009

krazy koati

Lucite nose, rustproof toes, and when her antenna glows

My old-time radio station (the American Council for the Blind's Treasure Trove) has a middlingly heavy Jack Benny-oriented format. They're not specifically comedy oriented, although their Friday programming is built around comic shows; it's just that at 11 am, and 3 pm, eastern they have The Jack Benny Program or its related shows, including sometimes shows that just happened to have Jack Benny on. At 8 am, noon, and 4 pm, though, they've got Suspense, featuring tales well-calculated to keep you in it. Suspense didn't mind going slightly afield for its source material: they've adapted The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, for example, and had an outstanding episode with Jim and Marian Jordan --- Fibber McGee and Molly --- as a couple taken hostage by a carjacker, and even adapted the song Saint James Infirmary Blues into a tale of ... Suspense!.

So I was only modestly surprised to find Jack Benny on an episode of Suspense. He was cast, against type, as a genial but much put-upon character at the center of a modestly cranky set of characters. What did surprise me was that they had put together a science fiction story, set somewhere in the mid-21st century, with Jack Benny starring as a Martian and preparing for the arrival of the first, and rather obnoxious, expedition from Earth.

I don't know who wrote it (an unfortunate side effect of the new format is putting in commercials for themselves, made up for by cutting credit announcements), but it had a very Eric Frank Russell-ish feel, as the locals know the Earthlings are going to be a right total nuisance and the only way to effectively defend themselves is sociological. (Well, and it involves a mysterious ray used to affect humans.) As you might expect it's also played heavily for the laugh, which probably helps it feel less dated than the sociology and references like the ``atomic escalator company'' otherwise would. Gently humorous takes on science fiction seem to age better.

Trivia: In negotiating peace at the end of the Franco-Prussian War, Otto von Bismarck was forced to call a national assembly of the French electorate, as deposed Emperor Napoleon III insisted on much better (for France) treaty terms to serve as puppet. Source: The Struggle For Mastery In Europe, 1848 - 1918, A J P Taylor.

Currently Reading: The Manhattan Project: Big Science and the Atom Bomb, Jeff Hughes.