austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

Hey, did you know that I'm always going back in time

OK, I have to take a break from recounting my life in relentless detail to grumble about an old-time radio program. Well, not actually old-time radio but something created by the Radio Enthusiasts of Puget Sound, a group that does a lot to celebrate old-time radio and which tries, enthusiastically, to provide new content, by doing re-creations of shows whose recordings have been lost, or writing entirely new scripts, a candle-flame of a genre now basically dead in the United States.

One that I heard yesterday started historically, with Edward Jenner facing a crisis of confidence about testing his smallpox vaccination on the eight-year-old boy James Phipps. Then it gets weird: he's brought forward in time by the Royal Society to receive the acclaims of modern medicine for his work. This includes a lot of Jenner's guide blasting modern terms at Jenner without context or much point --- I'd imagine the Time Travel Division of the Royal Society could find someone who could be neither patronizing nor oblivious --- and then, when Jenner says he's still deciding whether to carry out his experiment, they offer to send him into a future in which he doesn't try to vaccinate Phipps.

And so he goes, to circa 2000 in a world that never tried vaccination, because nobody else would ever have thought of it ever, and quickly learns that about the only cure for any problem, including gout, is amputation; and that smallpox is indeed still with society and claims ``five or six million of us'' per year. From the dialogue I'm not sure whether that's meant to be ``us'' as in the world population, or just the population of the United Kingdom, but either way that seems like a rather more serious smallpox plague than the world ever supported.

Anyway. The point of all this is ... I honestly don't know. I think the starting point is a really good one, especially if someone on the brink of great work that's tormenting their conscience could have some idea of the good and ill that comes from it, but this is just ... Well, after all, vaccination has one of the highest good-to-ill ratios of all human ingenuity, and, ``do the thing that works brilliantly and keeps the future from sucking roundly'' isn't much of a lesson.

I know, it's hard to do an alternate history that isn't stupid, especially when you have a couple minutes of screen time to do the whole thing. But this one really forgot to give anyone any points where they have to make choices, and shouldn't there be some better reasons behind plucking Jenner out of the 18th century for a stretch than just have him get applauded by strangers? It's a weird misfire.

Trivia: O'Hare Airport cost $120 million to complete in 1963. Source: Naked Airport: A Cultural History of the World's Most Revolutionary Structure, Alastair Gordon.

Currently Reading: Macro-Life, George Zebrowski. Wow, Zebrowski really went in for O'Neil Colony propaganda, didn't he? Of course it was the 70s.

Tags: old time radio
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