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Podcast script 23

 

mySF Project podcast, number 23

 

Download at http://media.libsyn.com/media/pataphysics/mysf_023_2009_04_25.mp3

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Index:

Introduction
Suitability for secondary students
'Good to go' podcasts
Drawbacks to some podcasts
Recommended podcasts from X Minus One

And the Moon be Still as Bright - Ray Bradbury

Martian Death March - Ray Bradbury

A Gun for Dinosaur - L Sprague de Camp

Almost Human - Robert Bloch

The Cold Equation - Tom Godwin

Drop Dead - Clifford Simak

Nightfall - Isaac Asimov

Zero Hour - Ray Bradbury

Possible assessment tasks
Resource list

 

Introduction

 

Podcast 23 looks at the use of a collection of radio dramas now referred to as X Minus One in secondary classrooms. This podcast was written by MichaelS and was read by Chantal with sound excerpts from the X Minus One series, uploaded to the LibSyn system on 25 April, 2009.

The X Minus One radio dramas followed an earlier Science Fiction series of on-air dramas called Dimension X.

Over one hundred episodes of X Minus One were made between 1955 and 1958 and they are now available as podcasts from a variety of sources, including from LibSyn, where this podcast originates. The radio shows have been catalogued, uploaded to servers and all the right meta-tags put in so that they can be pushed out to the user through iTunes or other services, then played on iPods, little Creative Zen players like mine, or from home computers.

The X Minus One podcasts are not alone as early science fiction radio dramas now available by subscription online through iTunes and other podcatchers. There is the British Science Fiction series with dozens of dramas in longer story arcs and also the Science Fiction Theatre.

This discussion covers only the X Minus One series even though the other two are great fun and valuable as SF resources in their own right.

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Suitability for secondary students

X Minus One seems to suit teachers of secondary Science Fiction more readily, mostly because the episodes are separate and self-contained and also because they are shorter.

Good research from Charles Sturt University by Chan and Lee in 2005, called ‘An mp3 a day keeps the worries away’ and many papers since note that travel time can be used for listening to educational podcasts, with students finding it useful to plug in earphones and click on their mp3 players to listen when on the bus, exercising or travelling to their campus.

The X Minus One podcasts are around thirty minutes long with introductions, some music and even station idenitifiers and promos.

The thirty minute dramas were just right for me as I cycled around the lake to my school. I would arrive for classes with my mind still full of distant star systems, aliens, invasions and the problems of colonising distant planets, not to mention the black swans with their cygnets on the steel blue waters of the lake.

I figured that thirty minutes would be about the right time for a bus trip in from the school hinterland and then a walk over the ovals to the schools, so the timing for X Minus One seemed suitable. I also hoped that because so many of my students had mp3 players and earphones plugged in, they could listen to podcasts for their studies but would be assumed to be listening to music, escaping vilification from peers.

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'Good to go' podcasts

Using the X Minus One podcasts within a teaching unit of science fiction falls into the ‘Good to go’ podcast format as described by Kathleen P King and Mark Gura in their fine text Podcasting for Teachers, produced by Information Age Publishing in 2007.

King and Gura note that ‘Good to go’ podcasts simply require listeners to access them for use. The podcasts become instructional resources “often providing wonderful content not available through other means.” They add, “Bringing authentic materials into the learning experience has long been a favoured practice of teachers and podcasting is one way that technology makes this previously difficult to achieve practice infinitely easier.”

A very strong reason for using the X Minus One podcasts within a Science Fiction study is found in the stories themselves. Many of the short dramas were adaptations of published science fiction stories, including several by Ray Bradbury, Philip K Dick, Robert A Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. As it would be next to impossible to teach a science fiction course without using stories by one or more of these writers, the radio adaptations were very handy, especially for students reluctant to read. As I used my own podcasts for my teaching, the X Minus One podcasts were a natural addition or ‘scaffolding’, to support the students in their studies. The mySF Project has a thematic approach to the studies and the large number of podcasts from X Minus One made it simple to aim specific podcasts to suit the five different theme areas.

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Drawbacks to some podcasts

Before discussing and advocating the use of a few of the X Minus One podcasts I have to mention that there can be drawbacks to using these radio productions. A major drawback is the adaptation of some famous and important short stories into radio dramas. Sometimes the story is butchered. Sometimes the strangeness, the alterity of the narrative is lost entirely when the adaptation looks for laughs rather than simply dramatising the story.

Some of the readings of the parts can be painful with changes to the original author’s work so pronounced that the radio drama can seem more of a lampoon of science fiction than a careful treatment.

The radio dramas are introduced and as with most science fiction productions, the sound track can include a quavering and distracting theremin, or a studio orchestra that seems to have taken up flugelhorns to drone Wagnerian themes behind an arrival on a threatening planet or to accompany disaster in space. Many students may, like this listener, find these accompaniments intrusive and annoying.

On the other hand, the X Minus One podcasts with their famous, iconic introductions will be unusual for students. While they are dated, they have definite enthusiasm and freshness. The stories can be so powerful that the voices and sound effects do not seem corny. They can communicate the rise of science fiction into popular culture more effectively than any article or discussion. There will certainly be some students who will download and listen to more than the required texts and there will be several others who will want to create their own 50s style SciFi audio drama. More on this, later.

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Recommended podcasts from X Minus One

Now, on to some recommended podcasts for students in middle and upper middle secondary school.

And the Moon be Still as Bright

The first is probably the most famous, ‘And the Moon be Still as Bright’ written by Ray Bradbury. Much has been written about this story and others in the series of Martian tales by Bradbury. The story of the arrival of an Earth expedition on Mars is complex and it is well suited to modern audiences, especially Australian audiences, as it explores the treatment of indigenous cultures by invaders. A sensitive soul amongst the invaders sides with the newly deceased Martian culture, kills one of his own and then attempts to defend the much older culture against human barbarians by killing all comers. The reactions of the Captain, the crew of the Earth rocket and the florid descriptions of the ancient and aerie cities singing in the wind make the narrative worthy of consideration and discussion, especially set against the backdrop of the European invasion of Australia and early treatments of Aborigines. Bradbury’s story was a pilot for the series and it stills works well, also introducing a splash of poetry into the obvious analogy with the American experience with their indigenous cultures.

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Martian Death March

As a companion piece to this podcast is ‘The Martian Death March’ with direct parallels to the Western set in space. This is another Ray Bradbury story but it has an even stronger polemic bent as Mars has been colonised and the spidery Martian survivors locked up in settlements. Treatment of the indigenous Martians is clearly linked to concentration camps and reservations but one Martian, supported by a few Earthers, tries to walk free across the Martian desert and into the allegorical hills. The story is distinctly Biblical but again fits easily into Australian treatment of indigenous cultures, refugees and its intended target of land-grabbing Westerners slaughtering native Americans. As with the first podcast recommended, this would be a fine opportunity to discuss how Science Fiction can be used for political and social critiques, extending into the Bush and Howard clamp-downs after the start of the War against Terror.

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A Gun for Dinosaur

The third podcast recommended fits easily into the Time Travel sub-genre of stories so popular in the 1950s. This is ‘A Gun for Dinosaur’ adapted from an L Sprague de Camp story. The mySF Project covers time travel in the Fate and Predestination theme area and this story is a great exemplar. It is simple and obvious and again criticises modern culture’s arrogance in assuming dominance over nature itself, when it is the nature of humans that is the real problem. It is well suited to students who may have trouble with the more laboured and self-conscious time travel narratives such as Heinlein’s series found in the mySF Project.

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Almost Human

A story by Robert Bloch, ‘Almost Human’ is recommended next and it fits directly into the Ghost in the Shell theme area of the mySF Project. With a strange cinema noir feel, a robot is controlled by a gangster who teaches the mighty machine evil. As is always expected, the gangster is himself a victim of the robot, after it learns a little about love and wants the gangster’s woman for itself. With direct reference to the Frankenstein Complex but with a neat and unique gangster overlay, this simple story may support less confident students studying the sub-genre of artificial intelligence.

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The Cold Equation

Regardless of a heavy dose of sexism and some tenuous science, the podcast adapted from Tom Godwin’s ‘The Cold Equation’ is recommended. This podcast relates to visions of the future with travel between planets possible, so it fits into the Shape of Things to Come theme area.

In this story a young woman stows away on a rocketship to meet up with her new husband, serving on a mining planet. Unfortunately, the rocketship is on an emergency run with vaccine for a terrible plague and the Cold Equation is used because there is not enough fuel for the young woman to complete her journey. She must be thrown off the ship or walk out the airlock into space, or the vaccine will not be delivered and thousands will die. This is a useful story for looking at depictions of travel in space from a 1950s perspective as well as for discussions of the role of women in SciFi narratives, especially as the stowaway is so obviously silly, young and beautiful.

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Drop Dead

With more humour and a deft touch for irony, the Clifford Simak story ‘Drop Dead’ is recommended in its podcast form. A space exploration team arrive on a wonderful planet but are amazed that there is only one species on the whole place. The creature (not an animal or any other distinct family of creature but a hybrid of many) wants to be eaten and by the end of the short story it is clear that its successful survival mechanism is simply to be consumed. The crew of the starship eat the creatures and become them. The sole survivor must choose the bucolic life of the creature on the gentle and lovely planet, or die of starvation as a lone human. It is an interesting story with no subtleties and traps and it will be useful for any discussion of humour in Science Fiction as well as the more heady discussions of Darwinian evolution found in many SciFi narratives.

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Nightfall

One of Isaac Asimov’s most famous short stories, ‘Nightfall’, has also been adapted for X Minus One. This podcast would be a handy accompaniment to a discussion of SciFi as the great ‘what if’ scenario, or to run with the entertaining movie Pitch Black.

The story shows Asimov’s interest in cycles of history and the thin line between scientific enlightenment and barbarism. It is set on a planet that has night only once every 2,500 years and when it comes, all Hell breaks lose. It would be well situated in the Shape of Things to Come theme area, as part of a study of Asimov’s Foundation series, or just to examine one careful and thoughtful example of a stunning ‘what if’ narrative that helped make SF so popular.

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Zero Hour

While several other podcasts can be recommended, I will end with another Ray Bradbury adaptation, in this case ‘Zero Hour’ where two story ideas were presented back to back, including the eerie and tantalising ‘Invasion’ story of a world-wide children’s game. The second story links to Phillip K Dicks interest in automata with annoying personalities, seen in a smart house that has survived a nuclear war while its owners’ shadows are printed on its outside wall. Both stories are heady, lyrical and done superbly by the X Minus One team – certain to snare young readers into reading or listening to more.

Many of the writers for X Minus One found a large audience through the radio show, consolidating their popularity from magazines like Astounding and Galaxy. While some productions hurt good stories, a few others were silly and not really within Science Fiction but instead utilised a specialised, wise-cracking fantasy mode. Nevertheless, some X Minus One productions were so effective that they set a very high standard for later radio drama, as seen best in the double from Ray Bradbury produced as ‘Zero Hour’.

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Possible assessment tasks

In these podcasts and their web pages in the mySF Project no worksheets are offered, attempting to stay within fuzzy and open Constructivist pedagogies. For the X Minus One podcasts assessment tasks leap out including comparisons between the original stories and their adaptations for radio with its wider audience, and the need to please radio sponsors.

Other straight-forward tasks include making two dozen of the podcasts available to the students on their intranets and asking them to work in teams to report on three of their favourites with links to the themes explored and their studies.

Some student SciFi enthusiasts might tackle the most famous of the podcasts, such as those recommended here and then research authors and their other writings for a presentation.

Most excitingly, teams of students might create their own SciFi podcasts in this remarkable 1950s style and these students could be nudged into focusing on attitudes to gender, race, class and relationships to technology in these creations. They can present their podcasts to the rest of the class, a wider school audience, or uploaded back into iTunes for the world audience, given appropriate safeguards – and appropriate time.

For the last of these tasks sound effects and perhaps a quavering theremin and rolling flugelhorn blasts may be required to recreate the X Minus One ambience. In Podcasting for Teachers King and Gura might call these productions ‘dramatic readings’ and note they have been used successfully in their case studies from several schools. Some assistance when considering sound for Science Fiction podcasts can be found in the next of this series in the mySF Project.

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Resource list

Chan, A. & Lee, J. (2005). 'An mp3 a day keeps the worries away: exploring the use of podcasting to address preconceptions and alleviate pre-class anxiety amongst undergraduate information technology students'. In: Dirk HR Spennemann & Leslie Burr (eds), Good Practice in Practice, Procedings of the Student Experience Conference 5-7th September 2005. Wagga Wagga, NSW: Charles Sturt University. Pp. 59—71.

King, KP & Gura, M. (2007) Podcasting for Teachers: Using a new Technology to Revolutionize Teaching and Learning. Information Age Publishing.

Lee, M. (2005, October). 'New tools for online collaboration: Blogs, wikis, RSS and podcasting'. Training and Development in Australia. Pp 17-20.

iTunes Store for downloads. Complete X Minus One podcast list and subscription - http://www.apple.com/itunes/overview/?ref=http://itunes.com. Accessed 25 April, 2009.

Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs. X Minus One names, links, summaries and brief notes - http://www.otrsite.com/logs/logx1001.htm Accessed 25 January, 2009.

Partial downloadable list of X Minus One podcasts, from LibSyn - http://xmone.libsyn.com/ Accessed 25 April, 2009.

Old Time Radio Plot Spot's X Minus One page for 121 X Minus One episodes with brief descriptions and some recommendations from the Webmaster and others - http://www.otrplotspot.com/X_Minus_One.htm Accessed 17 April, 2009.

Ottolejeune.com list of X Minus One podcasts with comments and links - http://ottolejeune.com/index.php/downloads/P120/ Accessed 25 January, 2009.

X Minus One, Wikipedia entry - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X_Minus_One Accessed 25 January, 2009.

Complete list of X Minus One episodes, Wikipedia entry - <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_X_Minus_One_Episodes. Accessed 25 January, 2009.

 

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ends

Michael Sisley

 

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