Writer, Broadcaster

Tag: James Roy (Page 1 of 2)

Faster Than Light: The Second and Third Pilots

An excerpt from Something Technical:

As I’ve written earlier, after the success of the Faster Than Light pilot, we did not receive a green light to proceed with a series. But that wasn’t the end of the story. The Director of Radio Programming at the time, Adrian Mills, did not reject the show outright. The following summer James Roy, now Acting Director of Radio Drama, approached me about doing another pilot for a summer run of the show. Presented in a half hour format, it would be Faster Than Light “light”.  Unfortunately, James had no budget for it.

Robert J. Sawyer
Host of Faster Than Light

No problem. We took a radio play directed by Bill Lane from the archives and built a show around it. I wrote a frame for the show about auditioning for a new host. Rob’s main competition was a robot called Huey (played by Julian Ford) whose main claim to fame was starring as a robot in the classic science fiction movie Silent Running with Bruce Dern. Huey didn’t get the job. Linda Spence also acted in this pilot as a fictional Associate Producer. The concept for Faster Than Light was gradually crystallizing in my mind: it would be a fictional show about making a science fiction radio show. A show within a show. Very meta.

Faster Than Light #2

The summer series didn’t pan out, though. James was willing to proceed, but with no funding and very little time to write and produce ten episodes, I didn’t think I could do the show justice. Seeing as it appeared we’d have an opportunity to try again later with proper funding and adequate time, I opted to wait. 

That fall we did get funding to do another pilot. For this attempt, I brought in Fergus Heywood to co-produce. Fergus had been highly recommended to me by Greg Sinclair. He enthusiastically agreed to help out. We were assigned Alison Moss as Senior Producer, who I always loved working with. I would eventually work with her on the summer replacement series Next with Nora Young. So it was a good team.

Chris Boyce, Head of the Program Development Committee, organized a facilitated session to help us further define the show. Fergus, Alison, Rob Sawyer, Chris Boyce and I all sat down to figure it out. Richard Handler, an experienced Arts producer, was also involved. This third pilot was a serious effort, but the whole spirit was completely different than the first pilot. The show would be half hour instead of an hour. It would include one full cast radio play instead of two, and it would not include a continuation of Captain’s Away, although I had written several episodes.

Chris had us come up with a mandate:

“To fire the imaginations of Canadians by presenting thought provoking encounters with masters of science fiction and fantasy along with engaging dramatizations of their work.”

When we were finally ready, I hired Wayne Richards to write and record original theme music for the opening of the show. We would use an original composition from Fergus Heywood for the closing. Having decided to make the theme of this pilot “The Other,” we secured the services of Cathi Bond, an experienced freelancer, to produce a short documentary on “the other” in science fiction films throughout history.

I wrote a high production frame for the episode that consisted of three parts. In the opening, a mad scientist creates a host for the show in an homage to Frankenstein, a classic “other” in science fiction. The mad scientist was played by Tony Daniels, who did a brilliant German accent as Dr. Frankenstein. Once the host has been created, he takes over and introduces the show. After the first part of the show, a second interlude or frame features the mad scientist conducting an experiment in which he accidentally transforms himself into a fly (an obvious homage to The Fly). Rob the host returns to usher us into the next part of the show, an original adaptation of Born of Man and Woman by Richard Matheson, adapted and directed by Barry Morgan. The end credits featured Rob as the host along with the mad scientist. Not realizing that the fly trapped in the studio with him is the mad scientist, Rob swats him.

FTL #3

I was attempting to seamlessly mix representational radio with presentational radio. The drama and the high production intro, middle and extro were all representational. You listened to those the way you would watch a movie or television show. They weren’t talking directly to the audience. They were meant to be entertaining as opposed to informative. Whereas the bits with Rob talking directly to the audience, and Cathi Bond presenting her short documentary, were presentational. The trick was to guide the audience from one style of radio to another without confusing them.

Ultimately the fate of the show would be determined by the Program Development Committee, a group of several experienced broadcasters assembled by Chris Boyce. I remember one of the members of this group listening to the opening of the show after I had finished mixing it. I was quite proud of it. I thought it was funny and that the sound effects and mix had achieved what I’d set out to do. This person listened to it, gave me no feedback whatsoever, and left the studio. My impression was that he didn’t get it, and didn’t like it. This did not bode well.

We finished the pilot and submitted it to the Program Development Committee. A representative of the committee phoned me sometime afterward to tell me the bad news. They weren’t going to pick up the show as it stood. They just didn’t think it worked. More work was required.

I didn’t entirely disagree. I didn’t think it had worked as well as the original pilot. The original pilot had had room to breathe. It possessed a certain charm. We hadn’t overthought it. The elements stood on their own. Rob brought a passion and an authenticity to it. The second pilot had itself been a Frankenstein monster. I liked the frame we had created for it. But I had been forced to edit the heck out of the radio play that I’d borrowed from the archives to make it fit. Even the audio quality of the radio play hadn’t been up to snuff; it had originally been recorded on tape and sounded a few tape generations old. The third pilot had more going for it. I liked the frame. I liked the opening and closing music. I liked Barry Morgan’s Richard Matheson adaptation. I liked Cathi’s piece. But somehow it didn’t all gell the same as the original.

Nevertheless, the committee still hadn’t given us a definitive “no.” They offered us a chance to make yet a fourth pilot. By now people in the drama department were calling me Wing Commander Joe, I had so many pilots under me.

 So, with a thread of hope still dangling before us, Fergus, Rob, Alison and I got together to talk about it. Rob made the point that maybe the show needed to be more serious, that our problem was trying to mix humour with seriousness. Thinking of shows like MASH and Life is Beautiful, I didn’t think that was the issue, though it could well have confused the Development Committee. Rob also objected to the CBC’s obvious efforts to make the show “stealth” science fiction. They didn’t want the show to be overtly about science fiction and fantasy. They wanted it to be something else that happened to include science fiction and fantasy. I agreed with Rob on this point. There seemed to be a slight bias against science fiction and fantasy. And not only that: against radio plays, too. Against storytelling. Against the representational. (This would be made abundantly clear when the entire radio drama department was shut down a few short years later, ostensibly as a response to financial pressures.)

Which was too bad. Because by now I had refined the concept even further. I was thinking that the host should be a sonic sorcerer, with the power to do anything, be anywhere. This concept, coupled with effective, liberal use of sound effects, would have several virtues. It would allow us to harness the enormous imaginative potential of radio. If the host wanted to be on the surface of Mars, he could be there in the blink of an eye—faster than light, if you will.  If he wanted to lasso a comet by the tail, he could.  He could pilot a spaceship, visit Heaven or Hell, single-handedly battle an army of knights… or simply conduct an interview. It solved the conceptual problem of how to veer from the fantastic portions of the show’s “frame” to the magazine elements of the show:  

SFX: STATIC

FEMALE VOICE: (TREATED) Incoming vessel. You have three seconds to identify yourself before we open fire.

HOST: (TWO SECOND BEAT)  (TREATED)  I’m Robert J. Sawyer, commanding Faster Than Light on CBC Radio. Be advised that if you open fire, we will respond.

FEMALE VOICE: Acknowledged, Faster Than Light.  What, may I ask, will you respond with?

ROB:   How about an interview with Canadian Independent author Maaja Wentz?

You see how it would work? Playful and imaginative. Veering seamlessly from fantasy to reality. It would itself be science fiction and fantasy while presenting the same to our listeners.

Alas, it never happened. The committee never did say no outright, but the truth is, Faster Than Light as we conceived of it never stood much of a chance. What we wanted to do was too much at odds with what the powers that be at the time were willing to let us do. Greg Sinclair was head of the drama department at the time (but did not represent the Program Development Committee… I felt he was on my side). We discussed the project and mutually decided to pull the plug. To make it work for the CBC, we were going to have to turn it into a show that none of us believed in or wanted to do. Greg informed Rob Sawyer.

We never got the green light that I had dreamed about for so long.

Rollback, by Robert J. Sawyer

Still, I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything. I’m proud of all three pilots. Rob and I became friends. I thank him for his generosity and time in trying to make it work. Later, he asked me to read and comment on the third draft of his novel Rollback (about a man and a woman in their eighties who agree to undergo a procedure to make them younger. It only works on the man. Of course, this has huge implications on their relationship. It’s a great read.) Rob made the protagonist a CBC Recording Engineer/Producer, which is what I aspired to be. He also featured me as a character in the novel, on page ninety-nine.

I went back to my normal life working on other people’s radio shows. That year CBC Radio launched a show called WireTap. I could barely make myself listen to it, out of jealousy, I suppose. Finally listening to an episode one day, I found myself impressed. I wrote the producers of Wiretap and told them how much I liked the episode, which had included some scby Roience fiction. I used my cbc.ca email address so that they would know that it came from a colleague. Nobody from the show ever responded.

Had I managed to get Faster Than Light on the air, I would have personally responded to every single email the show received.                      

Captain’s Away!

Random Science Fictiony Looking Pic

Once I finished producing The Cold Equations for our science fiction radio show pilot Faster Than Light, I turned my attention to the second radio play in the show, an original called Captain’s Away! (Which I always wrote with an exclamation mark in the title because I liked the look of it. According to Goodreads there are 758 books with exclamation marks in the title, most of which are kids’ books, including a bunch by Dr. Suess.)

I didn’t intend Captain’s Away! just for kids but it was something I thought kids would enjoy. It was based on an idea I’d had several years earlier that had stuck with me. Roy Orbison once said if you had to write an idea down to remember it, it probably wasn’t worth remembering. I’d written the idea for Captain’s Away! down somewhere but I hadn’t needed to. It was an idea that had definitely stuck with me over the years. 

The premise was pretty straightforward. A waitress is approached by a crackpot who refers to her as “Captain” and implores her to return to her ship in space to lead her crew on a dangerous mission.  Except that the stranger isn’t actually a crackpot and there really is a spaceship and circumstances force our hero to assume the identity of the captain with no idea what she’s doing as all the while the question lingers: is she the captain or isn’t she? And if so, why can’t she remember being the captain?

Intending the piece to be a serial, to be aired in ten minute episodes during each instance of Faster Than Light, I set out to write the first ten minutes for the Faster Than Light pilot. I wound up writing the first three episodes, but we only ever produced the first one. I wrote it as a light, comic piece with plenty of opportunities for cool sound effects.

I got into a bit of trouble during the writing of it. When I gave what I considered to be the final draft to James Roy, he pointed out that this was not the way it was done. I was supposed to have written an outline and then a first draft and then a second draft and then a third draft and a polish, with feedback at every stage to inform the next stage. I don’t think I actually knew that. I was used to writing fiction on my own. Writing with the input of others was an alien concept to me. But James was right. I was stomping all over the way things were supposed to be done. He accepted the piece just the same, though.

As I mentioned in an earlier post about The Cold Equations, we cast the actors for both The Cold Equations and Captain’s Away! at the same time. Casting, I discovered, is quite difficult. It was so hard to make up our minds. So many great actors to choose from. I really liked a fellow by the name of Julian Richings for the part of the crackpot stranger named Choki. Julian has a wonderful British accent that I thought would work nicely (I was delighted to see him turn up in both Orphan Black and The Expanse years later), but we opted for Sergio Dizio instead (whom we also cast in The Cold Equations), after Sergio wowed us with a faux Italian accent. Later, after hearing Sergio’s comic Italian accent in the production, Damiano Pietropaulo, Director of Radio Drama at the time, of obvious Italian descent, expressed some dismay at the accent. Until he brought it up, it hadn’t occurred to me that it could be seen as offensive. That certainly wasn’t my intention. But nobody else complained.

We cast Kristina Nicoll as the lead and Richard (Rick) Waugh of Muckraker fame as her boss (he also doubled as a bus driver for a couple of lines). Both were terrific.

I contracted Wayne Richards to contribute original theme music and he came up with a fabulous piece that I called the Ah Oooh song (I don’t know if it has an actual name). I finished the play with another original piece of music by Rod Crocker called Turnaround, which I also love.

Turnaround (Rod Crocker, artist, composer)

Making Captain’s Away! was a lot of fun and I was disappointed we didn’t get to make any more. To make up for it, I’m hard at work on my second novel, working title Captain’s Away (this time without the exclamation mark). It’s not quite the same story as the radio play version—it’s a lot less silly and there’s a lot more to it—but it has a bit of the same spirit.

And maybe one day we’ll make a radio version of it.

Captain’s Away! (Well, the first ten minutes, anyway)

Just for fun, here’s the script for the first five episodes:

CAPTAIN’S AWAY!

By Joe Mahoney

KARIN KUDELKA, waitress, thirtiesh

ENSIGN CHOKI SUNERIN, early twenties

LEONARD SNODGRASS, Manager of the Pickled Onion, fortiesh

MIRIEL, female, thirty-five, hint of the islands

STREETCAR DRIVER

EPISODE 1: SCENE 1 — KARIN’S APARTMENT

1. MUSIC:                                AH-OOH THEME

2. KARIN (NARR): Kudelka’s Log, Tuesday, July twenty-seventh.  It’s been almost a month since… the accident.  I still can’t believe he’s gone.  It’s so lonely without him.  I hear him all the time, but when I turn around to look for him, he’s not there.  What I wouldn’t give to see that handsome little face one more time.  The guilt is almost more than I can bear – it was my fault, after all.  If only I hadn’t left the window open!  Maybe I should just replace him, but – I don’t think I deserve another gerbil.  Sometimes I think I don’t deserve any pet at all.

3. MUSIC: UP AND OUT

4. SOUND: TELEPHONE RINGS.  CREAKING OF BED AS OUR HEROINE PICKS UP TELEPHONE

5. KARIN: (SLEEPY) Yo.

6. SNODGRASS: (TREATED) Who’s this?

7. KARIN: You first.

8. SNODGRASS: It’s me, Leonard.

9. KARIN: Leonard…

10. SNODGRASS: Leonard Snodgrass!  That you, Kudelka?

11. KARIN: Omigod, M-mister Snodgrass, what time is it?

12. SOUND: KARIN SCRAMBLES OUT FROM UNDER THE COVERS

13. SNODGRASS: It’s late, is what time it is.  Do you not think, Kudelka, that it’s time you bought a clock?

14. KARIN:   I have one, it just doesn’t –

15. SOUND: SNODGRASS HANGS UP, DIAL TONE

16. KARIN:     — work, is all.

17. MUSIC: GETTIN’ THE LEAD OUT

SCENE 2: BUSY SIDEWALK IN DOWNTOWN CORE

18. SOUND: STREETCAR ARRIVES, BELLS CLANGING, KARIN STEPS IN, DEPOSITS COINS ONE BY ONE

19. KARIN: Hi, how ya doin’?  Okay, seventy, eighty, ninety, ninety-five, ninety-six, ninety-seven… uh oh.

20. DRIVER: Well?  You gettin’ on or not?

21. KARIN: Uh, do you have change for a twenty?

22. SOUND: CHOKI CLAMBERS ABOARD BG

23. DRIVER: We only take exact change.

24. KARIN: Oh.  Darn.  Uh, gee — 

25. DRIVER: Look lady, what’s it gonna be?  On or off?

26. CHOKI: (MOVING ON) Hello, hi, excuse me… maybe I can help.

27. SOUND: CHOKI DEPOSITS COINS

28. CHOKI:  There.  Is that enough?

29. KARIN: Yes, thank you.

30. CHOKI: You’re quite welcome, Captain.

31. KARIN: Captain?

32. SOUND: STREETCAR STARTS UP, KARIN SITS DOWN

33. CHOKI: Mind if I sit beside you, Captain?

34. KARIN: Be my guest.

35. SOUND: CHOKI SITS DOWN

36. KARIN: So, do you call everyone Captain?

37. CHOKI: Just Captains, Captain.  Excuse me.

38. SOUND: A TUNEFUL ELECTRONIC BLEEP SOUNDS

39. CHOKI: (DISCRETELY) Choki to Kimay (KEE’MAY), I’ve found the Captain, she’s assumed the identity of a human female, brunette, with quite a smattering of freckles about her face. A clever disguise.

40. KARIN:   Uh…

41. CHOKI: I’ll keep you posted, Choki out.  (CHUCKLES) You’re asking yourself, why am I talking to my watch.

42. KARIN: Well yes, actually.

43.  CHOKI: You see, it’s not just a watch, it’s also a communicator.  We had them specially made.  Clever, eh?  Here, I’ll show you.

44. SOUND: WATCH PRODUCES NEAT SOUND

45. CHOKI: You see?

46. KARIN: Oh, I get it, it’s a toy.

47. CHOKI: Noooo Captain, it’s no toy, it’s as real as the Kimay.

48. KARIN: The Kimay…

49. CHOKI: The Kimay… the starship that brought us here.  You’re a little confused, aren’t you?  I didn’t realize –

50. KARIN: You think I’m the one that’s confused?

51. CHOKI: Thank heavens I found you in time, before the enemy –

52. KARIN: Oh boy.

53. CHOKI: When the psionic link went down, I –

54. SOUND: “STOP REQUESTED” SIGNAL SOUNDS, KARIN GETS UP TO LEAVE

55. KARIN: Gee, is this my stop already?  (MOVING OFF)  Thanks so much for your help, I’ll just be getting off now, thanks, excuse me?

56. CHOKI: (CALLING AFTER) But Captain, you don’t understand, we need to – the mission, it’s in jeopardy… Captain, the Kimay needs you!

57. MUSIC: WHIRLWIND STING

SCENE 3: KITCHEN OF THE PICKLED ONION, A RESTAURANT

58. SOUND: DOOR BURSTS OPEN,  RESTAURANT KITCHEN SFX

59. KARIN: (BREATHLESS) I’m so sorry –

60. SNODGRASS: Third time this month, Kudelka.  Third time.

61. KARIN: Sorry, Mr. Snodgrass, won’t happen again, getting a new clock soon as I can afford one.  Then on the bus, there was this, this guy –

62. SNODGRASS: You’re on thin ice, do you hear me?  And it’s melting, just like the polar ice cap.  (BEAT)  Be sorry to see it go.

63. KARIN: (BEAT)  What go?

64. SNODGRASS: The polar ice cap!  All those polar bears – won’t be a one left.  Punctuality and polar bears – I shall mourn their passing.  Okay, get out of here, table twelve’s waiting, what’s the matter with you?  Take his tray, weirdo’s been waitin’ half an hour already.

65. KARIN: Like I said, Mr. Snodgrass, I’m really sorry about –

66. SNODGRASS: Out!

67. KARIN: (MUTTERING) Okay, okay… this his tray here? (GROANS PICKING UP TRAY) Fella’s got an appetite…

68. SOUND: PICKS UP LARGE TRAY OF FOOD, OUT THROUGH SWINGING KITCHEN DOORS

SCENE 4: THE PICKLED ONION

69. SOUND: PATRONS EATING, CHATTING BG

70. KARIN: (MOVING ON) Table twelve, table twelve, here we are… morning, sir, sorry to keep you waiting, I must say, this is one heckuva a big breakfast for just one per – (GASP) – you!

71. CHOKI: A ploy to remain seated, Captain, no time to eat.  Now listen: The enemy, they’ve affected your brain, I think.  We must get you back to the ship —

72. KARIN: Are you stalking me?

73. CHOKI: Captain, please —

74. KARIN: Stop calling me that!  I’m not your Captain, or anyone’s Captain, I’m a waitress, and you, sir, need help —

75. SOUND: CHOKI TAKES A DEVICE FROM HIS POCKET – THERE IS A HUMMING SOUND

76. KARIN: What’s that?  What’ve you got there?  What are you-

77. CHOKI: P.T.A, Captain – personal time accelerator, for use in emergencies only.  It’ll buy us the time and privacy we need.

78. SOUND: BLEEP OF PTA; RESTAURANT CHATTER VARI-SPEEDS DOWN, THEN STOPS

79. KARIN: What the – my god, what have you done?  It’s like, they’re all frozen!  Everyone!  Not cold to the touch, but –

80. SOUND: WOMAN TOPPLES OVER

81. KARIN: Omigod!  I just touched her and she fell over, I didn’t mean to — 

82. CHOKI: ‘S’okay, Captain… (STANDS UP), it’s not a problem, I’ll just get up and (GRUNTS WITH EXERTION) stand her back up, like so…

83. KARIN: Watch her head!  The table!

84. SOUND: SICKENING THUD

85. KARIN: Ooh!

86. CHOKI: That’s gonna leave a mark!  (BEAT)  Shame, too… it was such a nice table.

87. SOUND: MORE EXERTION FROM CHOKI

88. CHOKI: There!  Except for the big lump on her head she’ll never know what happened.

89. KARIN: What exactly is happening?

90. CHOKI: (RAPID-FIRE) The personal time accelerator, it speeds us up, we’re moving much faster than everyone else, too fast for them to see or hear us.  Got it?  No.  Okay, doesn’t matter, not important.  What is important is this:  You are Captain Karin Kudelka of the Kimay, you’re not from here, you’re a T’Klee, you’ve been hurt in some kind of accident, that’s why you can’t remember who you are.  Mighta been enemy action, maybe you just slipped on a banana, hard to say.  Thing is, we‘ve got to get you back to the Kimay before the damage becomes irreversible.

91. KARIN: Okay look you, I don’t know what kind of shenanigans you’re up to or how you know my name, but I’m not going anywhere.  I am not a whatever you said, I’m a waitress.  You, this, this thing you’ve done, I’m just delusional is all, it’s… the gerbil!  The stress of his death, it’s getting to me, the guilt, I’m, I’m losing my mind –

92. CHOKI: Captain.  There’s far too much at stake here.  If I have to, I’ll sling you over my back… 

93. SOUND: INSISTENT BLEEP OF PTA DEVICE

94. CHOKI: Drat, time’s up.  Grab on to something, quick.

95. SOUND: THERE’S A WRENCHING SOUND AS TIME IS TORN IN HALF.  RESTAURANT SFX SUDDENLY RETURN TO NORMAL

96. KARIN: Oh!

97. SOUND: KARIN DROPS THE TRAY OF FOOD SHE WAS HOLDING ONTO

98. SNODGRASS: (STORMING ON)  Kudelka… Kudelka, was that you?  Did you drop your…  what’s got into you?  Look at this mess!  As far as the eye can see, nothin’ but scrambled eggs.

99. KARIN: Mr. Snodgrass… you were frozen, all of you, just like statues, you came back to life and I musta – (SNIFF; SHE’S TRYING NOT TO CRY) jumped, I didn’t mean to — (SNIFF) I’m just having a bad day (SNIFF SNIFF)…

100. SNODGRASS: Oh, Karin, Karin, Karin, there there, it’s okay, here’s a handkerchief.

101. KARIN: (SNIFF) Thank you.

102. SNODGRASS: It’s drugs, isn’t it?

103. KARIN: Huh?

104. SNODGRASS: You disappoint me, Kudelka.  Didn’t think you were the type. 

105. KARIN: No, no!  No drugs!

106. SNODGRASS: You’ll consider this an act of kindness some day — you’re fired.  Get help if you have to.  Now get your things and get out.

107. KARIN: Fired?  No… you can’t!  The rent, how will I… Mr. Snodgrass, please –

108. CHOKI: (APPALLED) Captain, please, the dignity of your station, begging before a mere human —

109. KARIN: You stay out of this!

110. SNODGRASS: Sorry, mind’s made up.  Oh, and Kudelka – if you wouldn’t mind, just, cleaning this up before you go?  Hmm?

111. MUSIC: AH-OOH THEME

End of Episode One

EPISODE 2: SCENE 1 — OUTSIDE THE PICKLED ONION

THEME:       AH-OOH THEME

2. SFX:       CHOKI & KARIN EXIT RESTAURANT

3. CHOKI: (BREATHLESS, MOVING ON) Captain, we have to get back to the ship.  The crew… you’ve been gone a long time, they’re restless.  I can’t blame them, the enemy, closing in —

4.  KARIN: “We” must not get “me” anywhere.  I’m going home.  Alone.  (MOVING OFF)  Taxi!  Taxi!

5. CHOKI: Captain!  Home is an awfully long way from here!

6. KARIN: (ON) What am I doing, I can’t afford a taxi.  (MOVING OFF)  Bus!  Bus!

7. CHOKI: Half way across the galaxy.  Remember?  No?

8. KARIN: (ON) Hypnosis.

9. CHOKI: Captain?

10. KARIN: Hypnosis.  That whole slowing down time thing in there.  It was a trick, wasn’t it?  You’re some kinda loony hypnotist.  Well thanks for the show, pal, but you’ve gone and got me fired!

11. CHOKI: Captain, you’re not well.

12. KARIN: (DERISIVE SNORT) I’m not well! 

13. CHOKI: Come with me.  Back to the ship, I implore you.  We’re in danger, all of us, great danger.  The mission… you want to go home?  Captain — there will be no home, not here, not there, not — not anywhere, unless you and I get back to the Kimay, back where we belong, and finish what we came for!

14. KARIN: Look you — wait a minute.  What’s your rank, young man?

15. SFX: CLICK OF BOOT HEELS

16. CHOKI: Ensign Choki Sunerin, at your service, Captain.

17. KARIN: Ensign.  So I’m your Captain, am I?

18. CHOKI: Yes.  Yes, that’s right.  Captain Karin Kudelka of the Kimay, Marauder Class Starship of the Imperial Republic of T’Klee.

19. KARIN: Of what?  Never mind.  Okay.  If I’m your Captain, then you have to follow my orders.  That’s right, isn’t it?  Ensign?

20. CHOKI: Uh…

21. KARIN: (STERNLY) Ensign!

22. CHOKI: Yes Captain.  But —

23. KARIN: No buts!  I order you to go away!  Far, far away!  Vermont, at the very least!  And leave me alone! 

24. CHOKI: (GENTLY) Captain, with all due respect, you are not fit to command.

25. KARIN: That’s a direct order, mister!  You can’t disobey a direct order!  (BEAT) Can you?

26. CHOKI: I’m afraid I must.  We’re running out of time.  I’m sorry, Captain, but…

27.  SFX: CHOKI WITHDRAWS A WHIRRING OBJECT FROM HIS POCKET

28. KARIN: Okay, what’s that, what’ve you got there –

29. CHOKI: S’okay, Captain, won’t hurt a bit.  Well not much.  A bit of pain, maybe –

30. KARIN: Hey!  Whattaya…  don’t you dare stick me with that thing!

31. SFX: THEY STRUGGLE

32.  CHOKI: It’s for the best, Captain.  You’ll go to sleep, you’ll wake up on board the Kimay, and everything’ll be juuusssst fine.

33. KARIN: Oh no you don’t…!

34.  SFX: MORE STRUGGLING.  CHOKI IS STRUCK OVER THE HEAD WITH A FRYING PAN AND COLLAPSES

35. CHOKI: Ooof!

36. KARIN: Mr. Snodgrass!

37. SNODGRASS: To the rescue, it would appear.

38. MUSIC BRIDGE: SHORT AND SNAPPY

SCENE 2: SNODGRASS’S OFFICE

39. MUSIC: CLASSICAL MUSIC PLAYING QUIETLY BG

40. SFX: SNODGRASS POURS DRINK

41. SNODGRASS: A little something to help you relax.

42. KARIN: Thank you, Mr. Snodgrass.

43. SNODGRASS: (SITTING DOWN) Where was I… oh yes.  When I saw the weirdo hadn’t paid his bill, I went after him.

44. KUDELKA: With a frying pan.

45. SNODGRASS: Naturally.

46. KARIN: Did you – did you have to hit him so hard?  I mean – I know he was crazy, but —

47. SNOGRASS: He was assaulting you with a deadly… with a deadly… thing, you know.

48. KARIN:    I know, but… he was kind of sweet in a way.  Calling me “Captain” all the time.  Captain!  Usually it’s “Honey where’s my baloney sandwich?”

49. SNODGRASS: Yes.  “Captain.”  Curious that.

50. KARIN: You’re being awfully sweet too, Mr. Snodgrass.  To tell you the truth, I didn’t —

51. SNODGRASS: Think I had it in me.  Yes, I know.  You all think I’m some kind of “monster,” don’t you, heh heh.  Well there’s a lot you don’t know about me, Kudelka.

52. KARIN: Um… Mr. Snodgrass… seeing as how you’re being all nice to me and all now, um…

53. SNODGRASS: No.

54. KARIN: No?

55. SNODGRASS: No.  You can’t have your job back. 

56. KARIN: But – but Mr. Snodgrass…!

57. SNODGRASS: This may sound harsh, Kudelka, but… well… jobs are for people who show up on time.  They’re for people who don’t drop things, and… who aren’t about to die horribly.

58. KARIN: That aren’t about to… huh?

59. SNODGRASS: Kudelka, I’m gonna to show you something I haven’t shown anyone in years.

60. KARIN: Oh, I’m not so sure I wanna see that —

61. SFX: SOUND OF FALSE FACE RIPPED OFF

62. SNODGRASS:    (TREATED AS AN ALIEN) My true face!

63. KARIN: (GASPS) Mr. Snodgrass!  You’re hideous!

64. SNODGRASS: (TREATED) I beg your pardon!  I’ll have you know I’m considered quite the catch back on Necronia Prime.

65. KARIN: Necronia…

66. SNODGRASS: (TREATED) Prime, my dear Captain.  My homeworld.  Yes, that’s right: I know who you are, even if you don’t.  I heard every word your ensign said.

67. KARIN: (WEAKLY) Homeworld?

68. SNODGRASS: (TREATED) Oh, how I long for those crimson skies, those sulphurous seas!  Here everything’s so… bright and… fuzzy, I – I simply can’t stand it any longer.  Fortunately, once I’ve extracted what I need from your feeble brain, I won’t have to.  What have you to say to that, Captain Karin Kudelka of the Kimay?

69. KARIN: Uhhhh… help?

70. MUSIC: “HELP” FROM THE BEATLES, SEGUING DIRECTLY INTO:

71. MUSIC: AH-OOH THEME

End of Episode Two

EPISODE 3: SCENE 1 — SNODGRASS’S OFFICE

1. MUSIC CLASSICAL MUSIC PLAYING QUIETLY BG

2. KARIN: (UNDER HER BREATH) This is not happening.  It’s not happening!

3. SNODGRASS: (TREATED) We’ll have to be quick about this, Kudelka.  Come over here.

4. KARIN: No…! 

5. SFX: SNODGRASS GRABS HER ROUGHLY.  SHE STRUGGLES FUTILEY

6. SNODGRASS:   I just insert the…

7. SFX: SUCTION DEVICE PLACED ON HEAD

8. KARIN: (GASPS)

9. SNODGRASS: Turn it on, and…

10. SFX: WHIRRING, SUCKING SFX

11. KARIN: Oh…!  Oh, it hurts! 

12. SNODGRASS: Yes.  Yes I’m sure that it does. 

13. SFX: BUTTONS, WHIRRING BG

14. SNODGRASS: But you mustn’t think me cruel, Kudelka. Merely expedient.  You see, the truth is, I’ve always been rather fond of you.

15. KARIN: Right!

16. SNODGRASS: We have much in common, you and I.

17. KARIN: What could I possibly have in common with a monster like you –

18. SFX: BUTTON PUNCHED HARD, SFX OUT

19. SNODGRASS: (BEAT) Monster?

20. KARIN: Have you looked in a mirror, pal?  I mean, you know, since you ripped off your face?  A little something to consider: Instead of a gaping hole in the middle of your face?  How ‘bout some kind of, oh, I dunno, nose

21. SNODGRASS: Show me your true face, Captain.  Talk to me then of monsters.

22. KARIN: My true face…? What do you mean my true face?

23. SNODGRASS: (CHUCKLES) Never mind, Captain.  No time for that now.  Now —

24. KARIN: I’m warning you, I’ll scream.

25. SNODGRASS: Oh good. I was rather hoping you’d scream.  Soundproof walls, Captain.  Scream to your heart’s content.

26. SFX: BUTTON.  PAIN MACHINE ON

27. KARIN: (CRIES OUT)

28. SNODGRASS: Time to find out what you know.

29. KARIN: What I know?  I don’t even… know about what?

30. SNODGRASS: (WARNING) Captain…

31. SFX: PAIN INCREASED

32. KARIN: (SUFFERING) Wait!  Wait…I know…

33. SNODGRASS: What?

34. KARIN …pain…

35. SNODGRASS: My dear Captain.  We all know pain.  Tell me something I don’t know.

36. KARIN: Okay!  Okay!  Just don’t… I’ll tell you something, something I know…

37. SNODGRASS: Hmm?

38. KARIN:     I know…

39. SNODGRASS: What?

40. KARIN: (BABBLING, DESPERATE) What do I know?  Uh… well, I’ll tell you one thing, I know that this is really a bad day, ‘cause Mr. Snodgrass I have to tell you I thought that yesterday was a bad day, I mean, you’re gonna laugh, but I got my little finger caught in a cheese grater, trying to get it out I thought I’d rip it clean off, man did it hurt  — but compared to today that was nothing

41. SNODGRASS: (INTERRUPTING) Captain, Captain.

42. KARIN: What?

43. SNODGRASS: The Apple.

44. KARIN: Apple…

45. SNODGRASS:    I need to know about The Apple.

46. KARIN: (HASN’T A CLUE) The apple.  Yes.  Yes, of course.  The apple.    

47. SNODGRASS: It’s the entire reason you’re here, isn’t it.  To find The Apple.  Bring it back to your people.  Win this silly war with it.

48. KARIN: (TRYING TO FOLLOW) Win the war with the apple…

49. SNODGRASS: So what I need to know, Captain…

48. SFX: SHOT OF PAIN MACHINE

50. KARIN: (GASPS)

51. SNODGRASS: …is… where is The Apple?

52: KARIN:  I don’t know!

53: SNODGRASS: Maybe you have it already.  Do you?  No?  How close are you to finding it?

54. KARIN: Mr. Snodgrass, please…

55. SNODGRASS: ‘Cause it’s here, somewhere.  Oh yes, I know it is.  Has to be.  So close I can practically smell it.

56. KARIN: (BEAT) Without a nose?

57. SFX: ANOTHER SHOT OF PAIN

58. KARIN: Oh…!  Oh, Mr. Snodgrass.  Why are you doing this to me?

59. SNODGRASS: Make no mistake, Kudelka, you’re doing this to yourself.  Tell me where the Apple is and all the pain will stop.  It’s as simple as that. 

60. KARIN: It is?

61. SNODGRASS: It is.  I promise.

62. KARIN: You do?

63. SNODGRASS:     I do.  I really do. 

64. KARIN: Umm…

65. SNODGRASS: Mmm?

66. KARIN: Uh… what about the fridge.  Have you looked in there?

67. SFX: PAIN, TERRIBLE PAIN

68. KARIN: (CRYING OUT)

69. SNODGRASS: Tsk tsk tsk.  Why do they always insist on dying horribly?

70. SFX: MORE PAIN GENERATED 

71. KARIN: (MORE CRYING OUT)

72. SFX:     DOOR SPLINTERING OPEN

73. SNODGRASS:  What the…?

74. SFX:          SHOT OF FUTURISTIC BLASTER

75. SFX: SNODGRASS FALLS TO THE GROUND

76. SNODGRASS: Oh!

77. MIRIEL:   Hello, Captain.  Long time no see.

78. MUSIC: AH-OOH THEME

End of Episode Three

EPISODE 4: SCENE 1 – INTERIOR CAR

1. SFX: INT. CAR SCREECHES AROUND CORNER, DRIVING FAST

2. KARIN: (IN SCENE): (FRANTIC) Gotta… gotta get a grip.  Gotta think!

3. SFX: PURSE RUMMAGING FOR PEN, PAD

4. KARIN: Have ta… organize my thoughts… maybe, maybe write things down…

5. KARIN (NARR): (STILL FRANTIC) Kudelka’s Log, Wednesday, July… July…

6. KARIN (IN SCENE): What’s the date today?

7. CHOKI: Human calendar, Captain?  Or T’Klee?

8. KARIN: (BEAT) Never mind.

9. KARIN: (NARR): They’ve taken me in some kinda — some kinda car.  Who?  I don’t know. Why?  Dunno that either.  My… my job — gone!  Eggs!  Everywhere… boss some kinda – freak! Nose! Gone, all gone.

10. CHOKI: Captain… Captain, are you okay?  Sir, she’s shivering.

11. SFX: SCREECH OF TIRES

12. MIRIEL: (FROM FRONT SEAT TO BACK) Don’t worry, Ensign — we’ll get her looked after as soon as we can.  Get her seatbelt on — I’m gonna take a shortcut.

13. CHOKI: Yes sir. 

14. SFX: SEATBELT CLINKING

15. CHOKI: Captain, if you could just–

16.  KARIN: (IN SCENE) Don’t –! Touch me.

17. CHOKI: Captain, your seatbelt.

18. KARIN: I’m not your captain.  And I may be crazy, but I still know how to…

19. SFX: GRAPPLING WITH SEATBELT BG

20. KARIN: … how to… how to get a…! Arrgh!  How do you get this thing to —

21. CHOKI: Just… you just have to –

22. SFX: SEATBELT ATTACHES PROPERLY

23. KARIN: (BIG SIGH) Thanks.

24. CHOKI: You’re welcome, Cap – you’re welcome.

25. SFX: DRIVING GETS REALLY BUMPY

26. KARIN: (SHAKY) Look, Ensign – whatever your name is – maybe – maybe it wasn’t such a good idea me coming with you.

27. CHOKI: No, no, Captain, don’t say that—

28. SFX: OVER PARTICULARLY BIG BUMP

29. CHOKI: (PAIN) Oh!

30. KARIN: What? What’s wrong?

31. CHOKI: Nothing… it’s nothing…

32. KARIN: It’s your head, isn’t it? Where he hit you —

33. CHOKI: My head’s fine. Really. 

34. KARIN: Really?

35. CHOKI: Absolutely. My real head, anyway.  But this one? Hurts a lot!

36. KARIN: (BEAT) Could you sound any more like you have a concussion?

37. CHOKI:      I just need to get back to the ship, Captain.  I’ll be fine then. We all will. (SOTTO VOCE) I think.

38. KARIN: Oh yeah.  The ship.  The – what did you call it?

39. CHOKI: The Kimay. You – you do remember her, don’t you, Captain?

40. MIRIEL: Ensign.

41. CHOKI: But – but sir, she’s got to remember! If she doesn’t even remember the Kimay, how can she can possibly –

42. MIRIEL: Ensign! 

43. CHOKI: Yes sir.

44. KARIN: Look you… people – or whatever you are — what if – and just, just go with me on this, um, what if I don’t remember anything because, you know, call me crazy, but, ah, because there isn’t anything to remember! Eh? And – and — and – and maybe it isn’t me that’s crazy at all but, but – and, don’t get mad — ha ha! so to speak — but, but, but it’s you that’s crazy, and not me!  Eh?  Or, or, or this is all some kind of a joke, some kind of really, really horrible, mean joke —

45. MIRIEL: Karin —

46. KARIN: (WEAKENING) A joke that… that Mr. Snodgrass put you up to… except – except that – you guys – it really hurt the stuff he did to me, you know…? 

47. MIRIEL: Karin, listen to me. You’re going to be okay — 

48. KARIN: No, no I don’t think so.  I am anything but okay! —

49. MIRIEL: You’re scared… confused. I don’t blame you – all you’ve been through.  Hang on.

50. SFX: BIG BUMP, THEN SMOOTH DRIVING

51. MIRIEL: I’ve no idea what happened to you, Karin – why you can’t remember who you are. I know it must’ve been something bad.  But we’re going to figure it out, you and me – all of us, together. You have my word on that. We’ll sort it all out just as soon as we… uh… (SHE’S SAID TOO MUCH)… as soon as we…

52. KARIN: (RECOVERING COMPOSURE) What?

53. MIRIEL: Um… as soon as we, ah, soon. We’ll sort it out soon.

54. KARIN: As soon as what? What were you going to say?

55. MIRIEL: (SIGH) As soon as we cross over.

56. KARIN: Cross over.  I don’t even want to know what that means.

57. SFX: SEATBELT UNBUCKLED

58. KARIN: Stop the car.

59. CHOKI: Captain…

60. KARIN: Stop the car.  I mean it! I’m getting out.

61. SFX: DOOR OPENS, HIGHWAY IS LOUD

62. CHOKI: Captain no!

63. KARIN: You’re got three seconds and then I jump!

64. MIRIEL: Karin –

65. KARIN: One!  (BEAT) Two!

66. CHOKI: Sir — I think she means it, sir!

67. MIRIEL: Of course she does, Ensign. She rarely bluffs, our Captain.

68. KARIN: Three!

69. SFX: CAR SCREECHES TO A HALT

70. MIRIEL: (FACING BACK SEAT FOR FIRST TIME) Well? Karin. Go if you’re going.

71. CHOKI: (AGHAST) Sir? You’re not going to just –!

72. MIRIEL: That’s enough out of you, Ensign.

73. SFX: CAR PASSES, HORN DOPPLERING

74: KARIN:      I just… it’s just —

75. MIRIEL: Mm?

76. KARIN: It’s all just so… insane!  I mean… isn’t it?

77. MIRIEL: Oh yes, Captain, quite insane, I assure you.

78. SFX: LONG BEAT AS CAR PASSES ON COUNTRY ROAD

79. MIRIEL: We have a long ways to go yet, Captain — if you would be so good as to close the door?

80. SFX: ANOTHER LONG BEAT.  DOOR CLOSES.

81. MIRIEL: (SIGH OF RELIEF) Yessirree… a long, long ways.

83. SFX: CAR STARTS OFF

End of Episode Four

EPISODE 5:  SCENE 1 – CLIFF

1. SFX: WIND WHISTLES, BIRDS CRY, WATERFALL CRASHES ONTO ROCKS BELOW

2. KARIN:    I was afraid of this.

3. CHOKI: What, Captain?

4. KARIN:    I don’t see it.

5. CHOKI: What are you looking for?

6. KARIN: Your ship. The… the Kimay. I thought you were taking me to the Kimay. (DERISIVE SNORT) You know, you almost had me convinced. 

7. CHOKI: No… no, Captain — we are taking you to the Kimay, really!

8. KARIN: So… what.  Is it down there?  Under the water?

9. CHOKI: Noooo….

10. KARIN: Wait! Don’t tell me: it’s in a cave in the cliffs.

11. CHOKI: Noooo….

12. KARIN: (SARCASTIC) Is it a cloud?  A tree? No, no wait, I got it — it’s a bug, isn’t it.  A ladybug, or — or a bee!  And we have to shrink to get in it. Right? Am I right?

13. CHOKI: A good guess, Captain —

14. KARIN: But?

15. MIRIEL: No. The Kimay is not a bug.

16. CHOKI: You see, the thing is, Captain, the Kimay is not actually here.

17. KARIN: (ASIDE) Why am I not surprised? (LOUDER) All right, then — where is it?

18. MIRIEL: Tell her, Ensign.

19. CHOKI: Yes… well, you see, Captain, it’s difficult to say exactly where the Kimay is at any one time.  We have to keep it out of harm’s way, you see, because of the, ah, well the war and all… and — um, should I be…?

20. MIRIEL: It’s okay, Ensign, she has to hear about it sometime.

21. KARIN: The war… Snodgrass said something about a war. Kept asking about… an apple?  Can that be right? Maybe I didn’t hear him right.

22. MIRIEL: We are at war, Captain.

23. KARIN: Over an apple?

23. MIRIEL: No.

24. KARIN: Well that’s good. (CHUCKLES) Be a pretty silly war, over an apple.

25. MIRIEL: Wars have been fought over less, Captain. 

26. KARIN: Yeah? Like what… grapes?

27. CHOKI: There is an apple involved.  But it’s not a real apple – we just call it an apple.

28. KARIN: Let me guess – it’s really a grape.

29. MIRIEL: Ensign. Tell her about the Kimay.

30. CHOKI: Yes sir. You see, Captain, the thing is, we don’t actually know where the Kimay is.

31. KARIN: You don’t.

32. CHOKI: No.

33. KARIN: So… what. This is some kind of a game, then?

34. CHOKI: Oh no, Captain.  By no means.  You see, we may not know where the Kimay is…

35. SFX: A TUNEFUL ELECTRONIC BLEEP

36. CHOKI: But we know how to get there.  Choki to Kimay.

37. SFX: FUNNY HIGH PITCHED SQUEAKING

38. CHOKI: Kimay, we have the captain.

39. SFX: SQUEAKING MANAGES TO SOUND LIKE “YOU HAVE THE CAPTAIN?!”

40. CHOKI: Yes.  We have the captain.  Standing by to cross over.

41. SFX: MORE FUNNY SQUEAKING 

42. CHOKI: Understood.

43. SFX: TUNEFUL ELECTRONIC BLEEP

44. SFX: A LOW, OMINOUS SOUND BG

45. KARIN: (AFRAID) What’s that?

44. CHOKI: Psionic field.  It’s up, sir.

45. MIRIEL: Good.  That gives us… what.

46. CHOKI: Seconds, minutes… hard to say.

47. MIRIEL: (CONCERNED) Hmm.

48. KARIN: A sonic what?  What do you mean by “cross over… you’re not talking about beaming up, are you?  Know what I think? You guys watch too much television.  You should listen to the radio more!

49. MIRIEL: Get a move on, ensign.

47. CHOKI: (OFF) Yes sir. 

48. KARIN: What’s he doing?  (PANIC) Where’s he going?

49. CHOKI: (OFF) It’s okay, Captain!

50. KARIN: No!

51. SFX: WATERFALL & OMINOUS SFX LOUDER

52. KARIN: No… no, Choki, what are you… don’t do it! Don’t jump!

53. SFX: THEY STRUGGLE BG

54. CHOKI: Let – go, Captain!

55. KARIN: But – but Choki – it’s gotta be a hundred feet down there! There’s rocks – you could hit a rock beneath the surface!

56. CHOKI: (STRUGGLING TO FREE HIMSELF) Captain, there’s — no time —

57. KARIN: But – but Choki!  You’ll drown! Or – or wind up a quadriplegic! Or worse!

58. CHOKI: Captain, it’s – it’s how you do it!  How you get to the Kimay!

59. KARIN: Choki…!  Choki… You! Help me!

60. MIRIEL: (OFF) He knows what he’s doing, Captain.

61. KARIN: Choki… Choki damn you!

62. SFX: THEY STRUGGLE; CLOTHES RIP, ROCKS, PEBBLES FALL

63. SFX: SILENCE ENSUES, UNTIL:  

64. KARIN: Choki! Omigod… omigod Choki!  I – I can’t see him!  Where’d he go?

65. MIRIEL: (APPROACHING) He’s on board the Kimay, Captain.

66. KARIN: (URGENT) I don’t see him on the rocks… he must be in the water! Quick! Call 911!

67. MIRIEL: I’ll go next.  You need to come right after, Captain.  No dawdling… the field won’t stay up forever.

68. KARIN: Whattaya you guys… in some kinda cult?

69. MIRIEL: See you on the other side, Captain.

70. SFX: SCRAMBLE OF ROCKS; SHE JUMPS

71. KARIN: Noooo!  Oh no… I – I can’t believe this… omigod, there she is!  In the water! Can’t… just… gotta, gotta do something!

 72. SFX: RUSTLING AS SHE TAKES OFF SHOES, CLOTHING

73. KARIN: Maybe – maybe can’t save both of them… but… but gotta try at least!  Wasn’t a syncronized swimmin’ champ for nothin’!  All right.  Here goes! (TAKES A BIG BREATH)

74. SFX: SCRAMBLE OF ROCKS; SHE JUMPS.

PSIONIC FIELD KICKS IN, RIPS KARIN’S PSYCHE FROM HER BODY

76. KARIN: (CRIES OUT IN SHOCK) Oh! Ohhh!

77. MUSIC: AH-OOH THEME

End of Episode Five

The Cold Equations

The Cold Equations is a short story by Tom Godwin, first published in Astounding Magazine in August 1954. You might want to read it before we go any further. I wouldn’t want to spoil anything for you.

The spoilers begin here.

The story’s about a teen-aged girl named Marilyn Lee Cross who stows away on an emergency space shuttle with disastrous results. I chose it as one of the two radio dramas we included in our science fiction radio pilot Faster Than Light.

I chose The Cold Equations because it was dark and sombre. I’m partial to humour, but I wanted something with a little gravitas, something that I thought people would take seriously.  I wasn’t the first to adapt The Cold Equations for radio. It had been adapted twice before, for an episode of the radio program X Minus One in 1955, and for the radio program Exploring Tomorrow in 1958.

August 1954 edition of Astounding Magazine, which included Tom Godwin’s The Cold Equations. Cover art by Frank Kelly Freas

In the story, Marilyn just wants to visit her brother on a nearby planet. The emergency shuttle is delivering critical medical supplies to sick miners on that planet.

Unbeknownst to Marilyn, the shuttle is designed with a strict set of parameters: it has just enough fuel to carry its sole pilot and his critical cargo to the planet. With Marilyn on board, the shuttle will run out of fuel, the mission will fail, and the miners will die.

Critics of the story point out that the writer, Tom Godwin, unnecessarily stacked the deck against the girl. Why was it necessary to design the shuttle with such a slim margin of error? Godwin might argue that fuel would be a precious resource in space; you wouldn’t want to use any more than was absolutely necessary. Of course, the real reason is that Godwin needed to create a very specific set of circumstances for the story to work. But consider the recent plane crash in Colombia that tragically killed most of the Brazilian Chapecoense Real football team. The plane ran out of fuel because the company that owned the plane skimped on fuel to save money, with horrific consequences. Godwin’s plot may not be so unrealistic after all.

Realistic or not, in the universe of the story the girl must be jettisoned from the shuttle into deep space for the mission to succeed. Not exactly a Hollywood ending. My story editor, Dave Carley, felt that Marilyn learns the consequences of her ill-fated decision to stow away too quickly. She spends the rest of the story waiting to die, while the pilot reflects on the cold, harsh reality of the universe. There is no hope and therefore no real tension.

I didn’t necessarily agree, at least initially. I’d originally come across the story in an English class in high school in one of our text books. I began reading it during class, during the teacher’s lecture, and quickly forgot about the lecture. I found the story utterly gripping. This was long before cold-blooded authors like George R. R. Martin began killing off our favourite novel and television characters with impunity. I didn’t believe that the girl was going to die. I kept waiting for her to be saved, and was utterly gobsmacked when she was finally jettisoned from the space shuttle. Reading the story as a teen-ager, I had never encountered such a brutal ending before. It left quite an impact.

But Dave felt strongly that we needed more tension, more suspense, so for my version of the story I concocted a storyline where there was some slim hope that another ship (the Stardust) would catch up with the emergency shuttle and rescue Marilyn. I made other changes as well. In the original story, Marilyn was older, in her late teens. I reduced her age to thirteen to make it more believable that she would do something so ill-considered as to sneak onto an emergency shuttle without understanding the consequences. This also injected a little more pathos into the story. Because it was radio, I needed her to speak at the beginning of the story to help illuminate to the listener what was going on. (You can’t just have a character say, “I’m sneaking into the shuttle now,” and so on. Well, you can, but that would be narration, and I didn’t want a narrator.) So I had Marilyn sneak into the shuttle while talking to her cat, Chloe (which happened to be the name of one of my cats at the time.)

Story Editor Dave Carley (far right) on the job in Studio 212 with Gordon Pinsent and Linda Grearson during the taping of the Radio Play Test Drive (photo by John McCarthy).

Writing the adaptation, I felt like I was writing yet another draft of Tom Godwin’s story. This may be horribly presumptuous, and my apologies to Tom Godwin, but I felt like it was an opportunity to correct some of the story’s flaws. For one thing, the original story was quite wordy. I cut an awful lot out of it. Now, I have a lot more respect for Tom Godwin than some, such as editor Algis Budrys, who reportedly once said that The Cold Equations was “the best short story that Godwin ever wrote and he didn’t write it” — referring to the fact that editor John W. Campbell sent the story back to Godwin three times before Godwin finally got it right—that is, before Godwin stopped coming up with ingenious means of saving the girl. Oh, and allegations that he borrowed the idea from a story published in EC Comics’ Weird Science #13 .

Anyway, Campbell recognized the true power of the story: the idea that the universe is impartial. It doesn’t care whether you live or die. Reading it back in high school, I glimpsed, perhaps for the first time in my life, a sense of the implacability of the universe. You play by its rules or you die. The stowaway is done in by cold, hard facts. For others to live, she had to die.

Several drafts into my version of the story, I was happy with everything except the ending. Something was missing. It didn’t feel complete, somehow. Endings don’t always come easy for me. I work hard at them because I consider them extremely important. Getting the ending wrong can ruin an entire story. Getting it right can elevate all that came before.

Producer Barbara Worthy

I discussed it with my wife. Something she said (unfortunately, I don’t remember what, exactly) made me realize that the pilot didn’t need to talk or think after ejecting Marilyn from the shuttle. He needed to acknowledge what he’d just been through. He needed to cry. It was an epiphany for me. It allowed me to cut a bunch of extraneous boring dialogue and get on with the emotion of the scene.

Later, one of my colleagues suggested that if you allow a character to cry, you are depriving the audience of the chance to cry themselves, because you’re doing it for them. I felt differently. Making the pilot cry felt like what would actually happen. I know that truth doesn’t necessarily equate to good fiction—the truth is deeper than that—but sometimes it does. So my pilot cried, and it felt right and true to me.

Matthew MacFadzean

Once the script was complete, we held auditions for the cast. An embarrassing amount of actors showed up for the casting call (we auditioned for both radio plays included in Faster Than Light at the same time, The Cold Equations and Captain’s Away). Ultimately we cast Matthew MacFadzean (not to be confused with British actor Matthew Macfadyen) in the role of the shuttle pilot, and Vivian Endicott-Douglas as the young stowaway Marilyn. Shawn Smyth played the stowaway’s brother Gerry Cross. Andrew Gillies played Commander Delhart of the Stardust. Sergio Dizio played the Clerk and Jennifer Dean one of the surveyors. Julia Tait was our casting director (replacing regular CBC Radio Drama Casting Director Linda Grearson, who, I believe, was subbing for Deputy Head James Roy at the time).

Barbara Worthy directed The Cold Equations while I sat behind the Neve Capricorn console recording the show. Matt Willcott did all the live sound effects. I was extremely happy with the work of our actors. I have to single out Vivian, though, who was extra-ordinary. She nailed every single take of every single scene. We could have used any of her lines in any take.

We did have trouble with one lengthy scene during which the pilot must stoically accept Marilyn’s fate. Couldn’t quite nail the pilot’s tone and neither Barbara nor I could figure out what direction to give Matthew to make it work. We did four takes and were running out of time—we only had the actors for so long. We were forced to move on and record other scenes. Just before production wrapped for the day we came back to that problematic scene and did two more takes. Matthew finally nailed the tone, sounding troubled yet together.

Vivien Endicott-Douglas

It didn’t take me long to edit The Cold Equations, probably a couple of hours. I used most of the scenes we recorded in their entirety, which was unusual. Usually we scavenged lines from other takes of the same scene. I mixed the twenty-five minute long play in a single day in Sound Effects Three, my favourite mixing studio.

I didn’t have the budget for much original music, but I was able to use an original piece of music for the opening called Snowfire Reprize, by Rod Crocker. I used a couple of Manheim Steamroller pieces from Fresh Air 1 for a couple of tiny music bridges. At the end, I had Mozart’s Lacrimosa swell up underneath the pilot’s tears. At first I thought it might be too much, a little too heavy, but after listening to the completed mix in the studio I was convinced that the pathos of the piece supported it.

The Cold Equations may not be the most accomplished or sonically interesting radio play I’ve ever worked on.

But I’m pretty darned happy with it.

The Cold Equations was originally broadcast as a part of Faster Than Light on Sept 22nd, 2002 on Sunday Showcase (in mono) and again Sept 23rd on Monday Night Playhouse (in stereo).

Faster Than Light

One of a series of posts about working at CBC Radio back in the day.

(Here’s some more).

Once upon a time I made my own radio show. I mean one that was actually mine, as opposed to someone else’s (I’ve made plenty of those).

I only ever made one of these that actually aired. You might well ask, what’s the big deal? So you made one lousy radio show. Other people make their own radio shows all the time. What’s so special about this one?

Nothing, really, except to me, and maybe those who helped me make it.

It was, of course, a science fiction radio show. (This is me we’re talking about, after all.) It was a radio show about science fiction, featuring science fiction, hosted by a science fiction writer, and, on a meta-level, was science fiction itself. I still think it’s a cool idea.

You see, I’ve loved science fiction ever since I was six years old. I’ve loved it since I stumbled upon this crazy low-budget television show from Japan called Johnny Sokko and His Giant Robot. Johnny Sokko was extremely low budget and super cheesy, but it didn’t matter. What kid doesn’t want a giant robot as a best friend? Especially one that can fly, and clobber alien villains. Once I could read, it was Robert A. Heinlein’s juveniles (Have Space Suit Will Travel, Rocket Ship Galileo) and James Blish’s adaptations of the original Star Trek scripts (unlike most people, I read most of the original Star Trek television episodes before ever seeing one on TV), and then Isaac Asimov’s robot stories, and Cordwainer Smith (The Ballad of Lost C’Mell) and A. E. Van Vogt (Slan), and David Brin (The Postman), and on and on and on.

My favourite TV show when I was six

It so happens that the CBC has produced some excellent science fiction and fantasy over the years. My pals Bill Howell and Matt Willcott both worked on Johnny Chase: Secret Agent of Space, a radio space opera that aired for two years (featuring music by the Canadian Progressive Rock band FM). There was also Vanishing Point, a science fiction anthology series produced by Bill Lane, and Nightfall, a supernatural/horror anthology series created and produced (for the first two seasons, at least) by Bill Howell.

Working for the radio drama department, I aspired to join this select club. One day I mentioned this to producer Barbara Worthy, who doubles as a ball of enthusiasm. She promptly suggested we pitch a science fiction show, so off the top of my head I suggested a show based on science fiction magazines such as Analog, Asimov’s, and The Magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy. I thought it would be fun to produce full cast radio adaptations of classic science fiction stories interspersed with interviews of science fiction luminaries and other fun, fantastical elements. Never dreaming that anything would come of it.

James Roy happened to be Deputy Head of the Radio Drama Department at the time. Shortly after our conversation, Barbara marched into his office and pitched the idea. To my astonishment, he gave us a greenlight, providing a budget and a broadcast slot for a pilot.

Barbara and I got right to work. The first order of business was finding a host for the show. Years earlier, I had worked on a couple of episodes of Ideas about science fiction produced by a young freelancer by the name of Robert J. Sawyer. Rob and I had a lot in common. We both loved science fiction and we were both interested in writing. Rob told me that he had a novel coming out soon called Golden Fleece. I told him I’d keep an eye out for it.

Secretly, I thought that Rob Sawyer would vanish into the ether like so many other freelancers I’d met and never heard tell of again. After all, I was going to be the famous author, not him. But in the time it took me to write one novel (debuting this coming October, 2017, thanks for asking), Rob wrote twenty-three novels. He also won many (if not all) of the field’s major awards, such as the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. In short, Rob became one of the most successful writers on the planet (of any genre, let alone science fiction).

Robert J. Sawyer in Studio 212

I read Golden Fleece, along with many of Rob’s other novels, and watched his growing success from afar with something akin to amazement. From time to time I would send him notes of congratulations. Rob always responded warmly. Once, he suggested I call him to chat, but he was already pretty famous by then, and I was kind of shy, so I didn’t. Until it became time to produce a science fiction radio show.

“You know who would be the perfect host?” I told Barbara. “Rob Sawyer.”

“Call him,” she said.

I was still kind of shy. I emailed him instead.

Rob was interested.

Rob, Barbara and I met to talk about it. We agreed that it would be modelled after classic science fiction magazines. That Rob would host. That it would include one adaptation and an original drama, the latter of which would be the first part of a potential serial. I would write and adapt the dramas and Rob would contribute an essay. Rob would also interview a science fiction personality still to be determined. Rob was enthusiastic and perfectly willing to collaborate.

I wrote what I thought was a fun opening involving Rob taking off in a spaceship of his own to launch the show (this was the meta-science fictional component, which grew more elaborate in subsequent pilots). We picked Canadian science fiction author Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring, Midnight Robber) to interview in between the two radio plays. Once we had part one of the original drama (Captain’s Away) and the adaptation (Tom Godwin’s The Cold Equations) in the can (more on them in separate posts) we recorded all the other bits, including SF poetry by Carolyn Clink (read by Barbara Worthy) and Rob’s intros and extros. I also included a brief station ID recorded by William B. Davis, aka “Cancer Man” on the X-files, which I’d asked Davis to record when we worked together on a radio adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

I had some corrections for Rob’s essay. I feared this was rather presumptuous of me, considering Rob’s track record of having written several award-winning, best-selling novels versus my track-record of having (at that point) sold a mere short story or two.

I apologized as I gave him the corrections. “Who am I to correct your work?”

“You’re the producer,” he reassured me. “If it needs correcting it needs correcting!”

We needed a name for the show. Early on I considered “All in a Dream”, a lyric from a favourite Neil Young song—I even wrote a draft of the script using that name—but even now, a decade and a half later, I cringe at the thought. Fortunately, somebody—probably Rob—suggested Faster Than Light, which, in three simple words, perfectly encapsulated what we were up to. You could shorten it to FTL and literate fans would still know what we were talking about. We all loved it instantly.

Creating Faster Than Light was the most fun I’ve ever had making radio. I loved every single second of it. All the fussy producers I’ve ever worked with—and I’ve worked with some damned fussy producers—didn’t hold a candle to me on this show. Everything—every line, every level, every edit—had to be absolutely perfect. And it was, by the time I was done with it.

Faster Than Light broadcast Sept 22nd, 2002 on Sunday Showcase (in mono) and again Sept 23rd on Monday Night Playhouse (in stereo). We had a listening party at my home. Barbara Worthy, Rob Sawyer, Rob’s wife Carolyn, my family and several friends attended. It was great fun, though I have one regret. I happened to be watching my pennies at the time (public broadcasting, remember) so I purchased flimsy 4 ounce hamburgers to barbecue instead of nice plump 5 ounce burgers. What a cheapskate! Nobody complained, but I still wince every time I think about it. On the plus side, the show was well received by Rob and my friends.

Yes, these are the cheap burgers I’m frying up during the FTL get together, which somebody thought necessary to record for posterity.

The response from our listeners was even more positive. Faster Than Light did pretty good for itself. It was named a finalist for the Prix Aurora Awards 2003 for the Best in Canadian SF and Fantasy. One of its elements, “The Cold Equations,” a full cast adaptation, was selected by CBC’s internal jury for the New York Awards. The show received an unprecedented response for the drama department. Many listeners wrote to convey unbridled enthusiasm for the show. Particularly gratifying was feedback from as far away as California and Australia, from listeners who tuned in over the internet. James Roy informed me that it was the biggest response any Sunday Showcase show had ever received.

I would like to think that the response was a consequence of the effort we’d put into the show, and I’m sure that was indeed a factor—but I know it also had a lot to do with Rob Sawyer’s role in the production. Faster Than Light had been quite well promoted by Rob and his fans before the broadcast. I suspect that many of those who wrote in were already fans of Rob’s. Still, the feedback boded well. Everyone wanted more.

Adrian Mills, the Director of Programming at the time, invited me into his office to talk about the show. He asked me what I thought of it. I told him honestly that I thought it was the best work I’d ever done in my life on anything. I was inordinately proud of it. I still am.

We were asked to make a second pilot, and then a third, and even a fourth, but with each pilot the concept seemed to stray further and further from its original conception. In the end, I’m afraid the stars never quite aligned for Faster Than Light.

I treasure the experience just the same. I became friends with Rob Sawyer and his wife Carolyn Clink. I learned how to adapt a short story into another medium. I got to write, mix, and broadcast an original drama of my own. I discovered that directing was a lot harder than it looked watching from behind a console. And I acquired a modicum of empathy for fussy producers.

In a sense, Faster Than Light lives on. In the fictional universe of Robert J. Sawyer’s novel Rollback, published a few years later, Faster Than Light did become a regular series on CBC Radio. Where, for all I know, it continues to be broadcast to this day.

Rollback, where Faster Than Light the radio show lives on…

Asparagus

In nineteen-ninety-two, while on vacation in Halifax, my girlfriend and I went to see a play.

There was a statue above the stage in a little alcove. I assumed it was just a part of the theatre’s decor.

Before the play started, Lynda leaned over to me and whispered, “Do you think that statue has anything to do with the play?”

It's a Stone Angel, silly

It’s a stone angel, silly

“You mean that stone angel?” I asked, realizing as the words came out of my mouth that of course it did, because the play was an adaptation of Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel.

The play was directed by James Roy, who worked for CBC’s radio drama department back in Toronto. I didn’t know James then, but I knew of him, so when I returned to work I sought him out to tell him how much I had enjoyed his play.

Seven years later James welcomed me into the Radio Drama department, where I had the honour of working with him on many radio plays. Seven years after that I was invited to record a play in Blyth, Huron County, during the Blyth Festival, at which time I learned that not only is James an accomplished director, he was also the founding Artistic Director of the Blyth Festival.

The Blyth Festival is unique. James, along with his co-founders Anne Chislett and Keith Roulson, created a festival dedicated to the production and development of Canadian plays, which was at one time—and perhaps still is—the only five hundred seat theatre in Canada devoted solely to Canadian plays. Not content with merely producing plays, James and his partners also created an Art Gallery, and the whole enterprise is still going strong forty years, ten artistic directors, a choir and an orchestra later.

Blyth Festival

Blyth Festival

In the summer of 2006 I drove up to Blyth in a rented car accompanied by sound effects engineer Anton Szabo, who would be doing live effects for the reading we would be recording. That afternoon we sat through a rehearsal of the reading. Actually, I snoozed through the rehearsal in a really comfortable armchair. I was suffering from cat allergies which were waking me up in the middle of the night with the sensation that I couldn’t breathe, a sensation that would linger throughout the day. At the time, I had no idea that it was because of cat allergies, so it had me rather on edge.

Anton and I set up the next morning. AKG 414s on each of the actors and another one for Anton’s sound effects. Anton had a keyboard sampler plugged in for additional effects. I was situated on the stage not far from Anton’s setup, well behind the actors, but visible to the audience. I had two DAT machines but I’d learned my lesson at the Royal George; they were only for backup. My main recording would be done on ProTools on a Mac laptop. I was getting a 60 hertz buzz on one of the lines. Somebody that worked for the theatre lifted the ground on an extension cord. It did the trick.

We recorded one dress rehearsal, and then the actual performance. I don’t remember much about either recording except that they went well.

What I do remember is asparagus.

After the performance, James, Anton, myself and several others went for supper at the Stage Manager’s house. I am doing the Stage Manager a great injustice by not remembering her name. She had a house on a hill outside Blyth. But not just any hill—it was a hill from which you could see for miles and miles. A house from which you could see the sun set, but not set into the rooftops of houses halfway up the sky. Here it set directly into the horizon, painting half the sky wonderful shades of red, one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. The Stage Manager had a garden out back in which she grew fresh vegetables, some of which I may have eaten, but all I remember is the asparagus. I’ve had asparagus soup before, and possibly actual asparagus, but I had never eaten fresh asparagus straight from anyone’s garden before.

I was astounded.

Hmm... fresh asparagus!

Hmm… fresh asparagus!

The asparagus was sublime—the food of, if not all the Gods, then at least those with sense enough to eat vegetables. I couldn’t stop eating it. We ran out. Seconds before I capitulated to symptoms of withdrawal, the Stage Manager went out and picked more, God bless her.

The asparagus wasn’t all that surprised me that night. I found myself enveloped in a wonderful sense of fellowship. It was a privilege to be part of such a company: directors, stage managers, writers, sound effects engineers, producers, and me. Colleagues, but also friends. We had a lovely meal, and a lovely talk. Such a night had snuck up on me unawares. I felt as though I belonged. I felt as though I could breathe. I felt as though I could eat more asparagus.

So I did.

A few weeks later I bought some asparagus at Sobey’s and served it to my family. It was the first time they had ever tried asparagus. It was stringy and tasteless. We all hated it, and have never eaten it since.

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