Tag Archives: rod serling

[June 22, 1960] Here comes Summer! (Twilight Zone wrap-up)

Summer is here, and that means the television season is wrapping up, freeing time for a slew of blockbusters.  But the small screen hasn’t quite finished with all it has to show us–between Maverick, Bonanza, and The Twilight Zone, there’s still plenty to enjoy.  I must confess a guilty affection for What’s My Line, too.  I like to close my eyes when they display the guests’ professions so I can play along with the contestants in guessing.

Twilight Zone, in particular, continues to impress.  The latest three episodes (there was another gap in the schedule for some reason) are all interesting, and they break from the early season mold of featuring a fellow descending into madness and screaming through the second act.

In fact, it’s rather hard to pick a favorite from this bunch.  Perhaps you can help:

Jack Klugman stars in A Passage for Trumpet as an alcoholic, down-on-his-luck trumpeteer with a real talent for horn.  His rendezvous with the bottle has killed his career, spiraling him into a depression for which booze is his medication.  Seeing no way out of the vicious cycle, he throws himself in front of a speeding car.  Surprisingly, he seems unscathed… except now no one can see him anymore.  Is he a ghost?  Perhaps the mysterious trumpeteer named Gabe knows the answer…  Klugman is particularly great in this role, but he is great in everything (q.v. 12 Angry Men).

Mr. Bevis is an altogether different sort of episode, though like the last, it is excellent and marked with more than a little touch of the supernatural.  The eponymous protagonist, played by Orson Bean, is eccentric in the extreme.  He wears a mismatched suit topped with an archaic bow-tie.  He drives an ancient Rickenbacker.  His apartment hasn’t a square inch of free space, so crammed is it with half-built models, random toys, instruments, clocks.  He plays football in the street with urchins.  He listens to zither music.  His demeanor is uncommonly, unhealthily cheerful and engaging.  At work, he’s a disaster, bouncing from job to job with seasonal frequency.  He rarely makes rent on time.

In fact, the episode begins with Mr. Bevis being fired, evicted, and losing his vehicle.  But then he’s offered a second chance by his family guardian angel.  Will he trade his happy-go-lucky lifestyle for security and success?  Would you?

After Hours, starring mostly women (at last!  In this case, Ann Francis and Elizabeth Allen), throws a curve ball.  A young woman goes to a department store looking for a gold thimble to give her mother as a present.  She is taken to the all-but deserted ninth floor… of a building that has only eight floors, where she is sold the item by a most unsettling saleswoman.  When she later sees the retailer is just a mannequin, she faints, waking up after the employees have departed and the store has been locked up.  It’s set up like a conventional episode with a mystery, an increasingly distraught protagonist, and a manic second act.  The ending isn’t what you think it will be, however.

My contacts at the studio tell me there are only two episodes left before the season is out.  I’ll cover those, and pick out my favorites for the season, in just a few weeks.

Stay tuned!

[April 11, 1960] A Steady Flame (Twilight Zone wrap-up)

Some shows start with a bang and quickly lose their spark; some are a slow burn, taking a while to find their stride; The Twilight Zone has remained a class act from the beginning.

As of Friday, April 8, 1960, there have been 27 episodes.  They have ranged in quality from fair to outstanding, and the current crop of four (I like to review them in monthly batches) comprises superior installments.

I think the success of the show can be attributed in large part to the high bar that creator and writer, Rod Serling, has set for its production.  This is a person who clearly knows his craft and seeks out like talents (Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, etc.) to draft screenplays.  Much of the credit must be doled out to the directors, cinematographers, and composer Jerry Goldsmith, to say nothing of the frequently excellent acting talent that CBS has managed to contract.

So much for the general praise.  On to the reviews!

Long Live Walter Jameson sets the standard for this batch.  The eponymous Professor Jameson is a brilliant history teacher with a knack for vivid anecdotes.  It’s almost as if Jameson has lived through each of the periods and settings he describes, which is, of course, the case.

This is a thoughtful, fascinating piece that describes the blessing and curse that is immortality.  It’s hardly the first, of course.  The one I remember most vividly is The Gnarly Man, by L. Sprague de Camp, but it is always a worthy topic.  In a piece I wrote many years ago, I once put these words into the mouth of a 5000 year old man:

“Imagine being in library with every book you ever want to read, and all the time in the world in which to do so.  And you read them… and you still have all the time in the world.”

The following week, People Are Alike All Over.  Two astronauts, a rock-chinned type and a frightened intellectual, go to Mars where they find a remarkably human populace.  But why does the fine house crafted for the scientist (the hero-type having died soon after landing) have no windows or doors? 

I’ll spoil it for you.  Roddy McDowell (the panicky scientist’s actor) has been turned into a zoo specimen, relegated to live out the rest of his life as an exhibit in his “native habitat.”  I get the message, but I still think it was a weak story idea.

Execution is another time travel fish-out-of-water story, but unlike The Last Flight, the voyager is a thoroughly unlikable chap.  Snatched from the hangman’s noose in 1880, the murderous viewpoint character finds himself in 1960, the guest of a dapper chronologist (is that what you call a time travel expert?) The criminal remains true to type, killing and looting, being driven close to madness by the ever-present 20th century cacophony.  The ending comes as a surprise, for the most part. 

An interesting point—time travelers often are inordinately worried about changing the past, but no one gives a thought to changing the future.  After all, the present is really just someone else’s past, and any gross modification of the present (say, sending one of its inhabitants permanently into the past) must to a resident of the future, make a severe alteration to the timeline.  Food for thought.

Finally, we have The Big Tall Wish, the first episode to date that features a black protagonist (and several black supporting actors).  An over-the-hill boxer tries to win a come-back fight with the help of the wishes of a little boy. 

The episode doesn’t feature the madness or the weirdness of its predecessors.  Rather, it is a slow, wordy piece.  My daughter particularly enjoyed the heart-warming relationship between the boxer and his child friend.  That said, the twist (there’s always a twist on this show) is very effective, and we are left with this conundrum: is a fight won with magic preferable to one honestly lost? 

That’s the wrap-up for this month.  I’ll be back in two days with this month’s F&SF!

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[March 16, 1960] Four More! (Twilight Zone Wrap-up)

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears, and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call … The Twilight Zone.

It’s a stirring intro, no doubt, and it never fails to put me in the mood for a half-hour of suspense and surreality.  Since its debut in October of last year, The Twilight Zone has consistently delivered a superior television experience (though even this fine show occasionally misfires: if I have any complaint, it is how frequently the protagonist degenerates into screaming madness about 15 minutes in.)

Continuing my tradition of recapitulating episodes in batches of four, here are episodes 20 through 24:

By far the weakest of the bunch, at least to me, is the first: Elegy.  A three man crew of a deep space mission crash land on an “asteroid” (you’ve got to love those entirely Earth-like asteroids on this show.) They appear to have traveled back in time some two centuries to mid-20th Century America—except that all of the inhabitants of the area seem to be frozen in time.  Rather than coming to the logical conclusion that the place is an exhibit in a museum, they instead become increasingly hysterical and spend much wasted time trying to get the dummies to respond to shouts.  It turns out that the asteroid is actually a cemetery with myriad themed plots for the wealthy deceased.  In the end, the crew are duped by the cemetery’s caretaker into becoming permanent residents.  It’s all rather silly.

Mirror Image, in which a sensible young woman discovers that there is another her attempting to take over her life, is better.  For one thing, it is one of the few episodes starring a woman.  For another, rather than going insane, she quite reasonably comes to the right conclusion as to what’s happening.  Also, the obligatory helpful young man is far less creepy than the one we saw in The Hitchhiker.  The only flaw comes in the second act, when our heroine spends several minutes retelling the events that the audience has just seen happen to her: Twilight Zone often suffers from passing in the second act.  Disregarding that, it’s an interesting premise, and the best stories are the ones that keep you pondering after they have finished.

There was a lot of buzz around the water cooler regarding the third episode, The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.  After a strange meteor causes a local power outage, the inhabitants of a suburban neighborhood quickly become suspicious of each other and soon degenerate into violent anarchy.  It’s a pretty clear metaphor for The Red Scare.  I’d dismiss it as hackneyed, but McCarthyism is too recent a memory.  Mistrust is a cheap commodity, easily traded.

That brings us to last week’s episode, A World of Difference, which I quite liked.  A corporate businessman sits down to make a call to his wife.  When the phone doesn’t work, he hears a director call, “Cut!” and discovers that he’s really on a soundstage, and everyone believes him to be an actor.  He is then confronted by an angry ex-wife and a much put-upon agent, who corroborate his new identity.  There is a fine ending that leaves one questioning which is the true reality?  And in the end, what does reality even mean? 

Coming up next, the April 1960 Astounding!

Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!

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[Feb. 16, 1960] 1 in 4 (February Twilight Zone round-up)

Unless you’re watching the rather dull Men Into Space, the putatively “realistic” tales of astronaut Colonel MacCauley and his lunar mission crew, there isn’t a lot of science fiction or fantasy on television.  Thank goodness we have Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone to tune into every Friday night.  This is a mature show for adults, and while the scripts have not been as cutting edge conceptually as the stories you can read in the digests, they evince a sophistication you won’t find much of…well, anywhere, on television.

It has been a month since the last Twilight Zone round-up, so here’s a summary of the last four episodes so you’re ready come rerun time:

I’d had high hopes for The Hitch-Hiker after seeing its star, Inger Stevens in The World, The Flesh, and the Devil.  Ms. Stevens drives cross-country with a spectral hitcher constantly on her tail.  The story is let down by a couple of points.  The story is largely told in narration—Ms. Stevens mostly tells rather than shows her plight.  This strikes me as lazy storytelling.  I also find the section where she picks up a sailor to keep her company (and maintain her sanity) particulary off-putting; the fellow who accompanies her is far creepier than any shabby hitching bum.  I can’t figure out if this was intentional or not.  I suspect not.

The Fever is more of a public service warning against the dangers of gambling in which a normally sober husband is seduced by a demonic slot machine who calls the man’s name with an eerie tinkling, silver dollar-laden voice.  It is highly overwrought, and the ending is ridiculous.  Moreover, one can’t help feeling glad that the domineering wretch gets his comeuppance; he really is inexcusably rude to his wife, and his initial sanctimony, rather than pointing up the tragedy, is just annoying.

That puts us at two for two episodes involving someone going raving mad by the second act!

But then you get The Last Flight, which makes up for a lot of prior sins.  Yet another Richard Matheson teleplay (and far better than Third from the Sun), it’s the story of a Royal Air Corps aviator who takes off from a French airfield in 1917 and lands at a French airfield in 1959.  There is some delightful paradox looping and a very pretty Nieuport plane, and it’s all a lot of fun.  My daughter, who is just old enough to appreciate such things, noted that the pilot’s British accent was “so cute!”

Finally, we have The Purple Testament, another war-themed episode, involving a young Lieutenant in the Pacific Theater who can see death in his soldiers’ faces several hours before their last breaths.  Unremarkable, unambitious, at every turn predictable. 

The show started so promisingly that it’s frustrating when one gets several mediocre turns in a batch.  Still, even the worst episodes generally have something to recommend them, there’s no slighting the production values, and the stand-outs keep my daughter and I watching every Friday night.

As you all know, my editor loves to publish reader commentary in this column, so please feel free to tell me your thoughts on this show.  Do you agree with my rather curmudgeonly appraisals?  Do you wish to set me straight?  Sharpen those quills!

Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!

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[Jan. 12, 1960] Twilight of the 60’s (Twilight Zone monthly wrap-up

I was asked by a dear reader if I had stopped watching The Twilight Zone on Fridays, it having been a month since I last discussed that delightful science fiction/fantasy/horror anthology.  Well, fear not.  I just like to let four episodes get into the queue before describing them.

In fact, if anything the show has only gotten better.  It helps that creator Rod Serling has been joined by a myriad of other established writers, which broadens the themes and tones we get to see.

Four weeks ago, Episode 12, What You Need debuted.  A kindly old sidewalk peddler seems to know exactly what items a given person can use at any given moment to achieve success.  At first, one expects the episode to have a cynical sting in it—perhaps it’s a deal-with-the-Devil sort of thing.  But it’s not.  In fact, as my daughter and I guessed early on, it turns out that the salesman has a limited sense of precognition.. and a big heart.  But what happens when this fellow runs across an unscrupulous man whose heart is as dark as the peddler’s is light?  Has the criminal found a golden goose?  Or a tiger by the tail?

It’s really good stuff, though the salesman has a plot-summarizing line at the end that is wholly superfluous, I suppose to drive the point home for the slower folks at home.

The Four of Us are Dying, the following week’s episode, involves a man who can change his face to match that of any person he can see, in life or photo.  It just takes a little time to concentrate.  He hatches a scheme to win the heart of a beautiful woman and to bilk a criminal of ill-gotten gains.  But when he puts on the wrong face at the wrong time, he suffers the consequences.  A solid, surreal show that is very effective despite the complete lack of special effects.

I was a little disappointed with Richard Matheson’s Third from the Sun, in which two families attempt to flee impending Armageddon by departing their doomed planet in a spaceship.  The kicker, obvious from the title, is that the refugees aren’t going from, but rather fleeing to Earth.  It suffers from overlongitis in the middle act, as earlier episodes did, and the constantly crooked camera angles look more silly than atmospheric.

Just the other day, we saw I Shot an Arrow, about the first manned spaceflight.  The ship goes off course during take-off and crashes on a remarkable Earth-like “asteroid.”  The next twenty minutes involved the crew dealing with thirst, hopelessness, and most significantly, a selfish crewmember gone mad and murderous with the desire to survive.  Both my daughter and I knew how it would end almost from the beginning—in fact, the expedition had crashed on Earth, and the actions of the crazy crewman were wholly unecessary.

I suspected the ending since the “asteroid” had an terrestrial atmosphere, was the same distance from the Sun, and all the other incidentals (including gravity and geology) were identical.  Of course, this sticks in the craw a couple of ways.  On the one hand, to buy that the crew had landed on an “asteroid,” you have to believe that the writer has no idea what the surface of an asteroid would really be like.  After all, asteroids have so little mass, relative to a planet, that they have no atmosphere and virtually no gravitational pull.  Moreover, no asteroid routinely comes very close to the Moon.

On the other hand, since it was so manifestly obvious to the audience that the crew had actually crashed on Earth, one has to wonder how the crew was so thick-headed as to miss the fact.

My daughter noted that space stories have been a common topic on this show, which makes sense given the current mania for the Space Race.  I just wish The Twilight Zone had the budget to really pull off stories set off-planet.  I feel the show is more successful when it sticks to intimate, moody, Earth-bound stories.

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!

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[Dec. 15, 1959] Between Superstition and Knowledge (Twilight Zone 4-week wrap-up)

This Friday night was a bit of a repeat performance of last week’s: another trip to the German delicatessen in Escondido, another beer, another coffee and dessert.  This time, I was in the most enjoyable company of my wife, and we had an avid discussion of what it is to be a “fan.” 

A mutual friend of ours once observed that fandom has three things in common—the following utterances:

“Where did you get that?”

“How can we get more people into it?”

“It’s not as good as it used to be…”

It’s true that fandoms come and go.  The “Golden Age” of science fiction, when Astounding ruled the roost with its Campbellian stories, is departed.  The boom of science fiction magazines came to an end a couple of years ago.  The cozy British country-house mystery is becoming a thing of the past. 

Things change.  It’s an inevitable part of life.  But it’s a mistake to get so stuck in nostalgia that one cannot see the old fandoms that continue to thrive (Conan Doyle, for instance) or the new evolutions in current fandoms (the small but rising tide of female authors, the general increase in quality of science fiction and fantasy even as the number of digests diminishes). 

There are also brand new fandoms.  I am very excited to have gotten in on the ground floor of one on which the paint is still wet: Rod Serling’s anthology science fiction show, The Twilight Zone.

Three months ago, the program was an exciting idea.  Now, eleven episodes in, it is a bonafide phenomenon with staying power.  Though the quality of each episode varies, of course, Twilight Zone is still head and shoulders above what came before on television.  I’ve high hopes it will only rise in excellence.

Here’s what my daughter and I have enjoyed for the last four Fridays:

Time Enough at Last came out on November 20.  The buzz I hear is that it went over well, and there’s no question that Burgess Meredith turned in a fine performance as a frustrated bibliophile bank teller, who finds himself alone after surviving a nuclear holocaust.  But the ending, where he finds a lifetime of books to read and then immediately breaks his glasses, is not clever.  It’s just cruel, and it soured me on the whole piece.

Charles Beaumont is the first writer whose name isn’t Rod Serling to pen an episode, and his outing, Perchance to Dream was interesting.  A fellow with a heart condition is afraid to sleep for he knows that a temptress in his dream will lead him into a carnival of horrors, which will aggravate him into cardiac arrest.  The afflicted man tells his story to a sympathetic doctor, and we get to see the narrative progress in flashback.  It’s creepy and fascinating.  I guessed the ending early on, but the tale was so compelling, I forgot all about my premonition until it actually happened.

I enjoyed the subject and setting of Judgment Night, in which a German man finds himself aboard a British liner cruising the Atlantic during World War II.  He is deathly afraid of U-Boats and seems to be certain that an attack from under the sea is impending.  It’s a suitably atmospheric piece though somehow a bit plodding.  It was during this episode that my daughter noted that virtually none of the protagonists on the show are female.  I can only recall one, from The 16 millimeter Shrine.

This week’s episode was a winner.  Written by the master of science-fiction horror teleplays and fiction, Richard Matheson, it stars the excellent Rod Taylor as one of three survivors of a spaceplane crash.  It seems each of the astronauts is disappearing one-by-one, not just from the Earth, but from history and memories.  Creepy creepy stuff, though my daughter complained that she was getting tired of episodes featuring “people acting crazy.”  (A neat tidbit: the spaceplane featured is the X-20, a real-life Air Force project that has either just gotten or is in the process of getting the green light for construction.  This vehicle will be the next step beyond the X-15, actually capable of orbital flight!)

As much as I enjoyed the episode, it shared the same overwrought middle that I’ve seen consistently in the last eleven episodes.  This, I think, is the main weakness of this young show.  While the writing is often brilliant, the acting usually excellent, and the cinematography remarkable, the middle third of each episode tends to take a bit too long padding out the set-up before the payoff. 

Perhaps I’m just a little too clever, guessing the ends before well before they happen.  It may well be that Twilight Zone is starting easy to draw in the uninitiated, those who haven’t read a thousand science fiction stories already.  With all the talent going into this program, I have faith that the show will continue to mature and, as with science fiction, move beyond “gotcha” storytelling.

What say you?

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[Nov. 14, 1959] Disappointments and Weirdness (Glenn L. Martin and The Twilight Zone)

Have no fear, for The Traveler has returned from Orlando safe and sound.  My apologies for not submitting this article earlier, but I did not have easy access to a typewriter or my editor while on my vacation. 

I have come home to my brand new typewriter, however, and it is time to tell you all about the local Glenn L. Martin Company plant… and to wrap up the last four weeks’ worth of that television sensation, The Twilight Zone!

First off, the plant.  Martin has become one of this nation’s leading developer of rocket systems including the Titan and the Atlas, both of which have been tapped for service with the manned space program.  Their Orlando plant opened in December 1957, and I was looking forward to seeing some boosters in the process of manufacture.

Nothing doing.  The Orlando plant is specifically for the production of smaller weapons systems including the Lacrosse and Pershing artillery missiles (for the Army), the Bullpup air-to-surface missile (for the Navy), and the Missile Master, an electronic air defense control system.  Worse yet, all of the work is secret, for obvious reasons, and I was turned away at the gate.  So much for the inside view!  At least I had a lovely time in the Orlando sun, which looks much like San Diego’s sun, with my cousin and her family.

Also, I got home in time to watch The Twilight Zone last night, so I now have four episodes to talk about.  Ready for a preview?

The fourth episode of The Twilight Zone was The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine, in which Ida Lupino, playing an aging star of the screen, shuts herself off from he world to watch endless replays of her old movies.  Unable to face an aging reality and the reality of aging, she ultimately disappears into one of her films.  The end is telegraphed from the beginning, and this was one of the show’s poorer entries.

Walking Distance, episode five, fares a bit better.  A 36-year old ad-man (played by a 46-year old Gig Young) flees from the city, desperate to recapture the simplicity of his small town pre-teen days.  He returns to his stomping grounds to find them unchanged—in fact, he has gone back in time.  He even meets himself and his family, whereupon his father urges him to return to the present and let his younger self enjoy an unshared youth.  It’s not bad, but it is mawkish and somewhat drawn out.

I’m a sucker for “deal with the Devil” stories, so I enjoyed Escape Clause: A thoroughly unlikable hypochondriac played by David Wayne bargains his soul for invulernability and immortality.  The fellow had only been concerned with himself before the exchange, and such remains the case afterward.  Rather than focusing on a myriad of fantasized ailments, he instead throws himself into a series of would-be fatal accidents in an attempt to chase thrills.  He quickly tires of the game and becomes just as miserable as he had been. 

Things look up when his wife ends up in a fatal accidental fall.  Our “hero” calls the police and confesses to the crime, hoping to get the Chair, which he would endure with ease and a smirk on his face.  Instead, he receives life imprisonment.  Oh the irony.  In his final act, the prisoner beseeches Old Nick to take his life prematurely, and off he goes—to Hell, presumably.

That ending frustrated me.  Were I immortal and stuck in prison, I’m sure I’d find little difficulty (and excitement) in breaking free.  But, as my daughter noted, the fellow hadn’t much soul to begin with; selling it to Satan couldn’t improve matters.  It’s no wonder Wayne’s character was doomed to disappointment.

Finally, we’ve got the brand-new The Lonely.  A convict is incarcerated on an asteroid; a supply ship comes every three months, but besides that, he has only a few books and a diary to keep him company.  Though the prisoner is innocent of the murder for which he was convicted, a pardon seems unlikely.  The supply ship captain takes pity on the convict some four years into his sentence and gives him an unusual gift—a robot in the shape of a woman.

I actually don’t want to spoil this one in the event it gets rerun mid-season.  Jack Warden does an excellent job with his role as the convict.  The episode kept us guessing throughout.  It has the setup of Eric Russell’s Panic Button and much of the plot of John Rackham’s If You Wish.  These stories were so recently published that I have to wonder if they did not directly inspire the show.

Back shortly with a wrap-up of the new Galaxy.  Stay tuned!

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[Oct. 20, 1959] The Twilight Zone and the Far Side (Television and Luna 3)

Twilight Zone, the new television science fiction/fantasy serial program, continues to be excellent.  As a result, Friday night’s activities now revolve around ensuring that the family can tune in.

Here’s a quick recap:

Episode 2, One for the Angels features aged sidewalk peddler Lou Bookman, beloved by the neighborhood children.  Unfortunately for all concerned, his hours are numbered; a certain Mr. Death has been dispatched to ensure that the salesman’s departure occurs according to schedule.  Of course, the huckster has other plans, but cheating Death has its own set of consequences…

There were no surprises in this episode, at least not to me, but I did enjoy the characterization of Mr. Death a great deal.

Episode 3, Mr. Denton on Doomsday, follows the eponymous Al Denton, a former gunfighter turned alcoholic both for his protection and that of those who would challenge him (and lose).  An encounter with a new gun and a mysterious snake oil salesman named Dr. Fate sobers Denton up, but also appears to set him back on his old destructive path. 

I did not see the twist coming in this episode, and it’s a good one.  And if you like oaters, you’ll especially enjoy this outing.

My daughter summed up the last fortnight’s viewing with this: “The great thing about this show is it takes all your deepest fears and sets them on their head.”  I think I may have her start writing my columns from now on.

In other news, Luna 3 has finally returned a dozen vacation slides from its jaunt around the Moon.  At first glance, it looks as if the back side is quite a bit different from the front.  Significantly, there are far fewer of the gray splotches or “maria” (seas).  The Soviet news source, T.A.S.S., has been typically tight-lipped regarding the primary question on everyone’s lips: is the far side where the Moon keeps all the cheese?

Seriously, I have not read anything in the press regarding data from Lunik’s other scientific instruments.  These are the results I was really excited about.  It is rumored that previous releases were incorrect and that Luna 3‘s only experiment was the camera.  That’s a shame, if true, though one cannot deny the moment of that lone experiment’s success.

Next up: A Canticle for Leibowitz! See you soon.

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P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!

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[Oct. 3, 1959] Entering the Twilight Zone (Twilight Zone’s first episode)

It never ceases to amaze me how far technology can progress in such a short time. 

Think about it: a thousand years ago, the pace of history was pretty placid.  Sure, there was plenty of turbulence in the span of a life, from war to plague to famine, but the background of civilization (or lack thereof) was fairly constant. 

Over the last few hundred years, the pace of change has accelerated exponentially.  There are people alive today who clearly remember a time before automobiles, before air travel, before the telephone, before electricity, before atomic energy, before computers.  So much of our values and coping mechanisms are rooted in our childhood and upbringing; how do people adjust to living in a world so wildly different from that of their youth?

It seems inevitable that change is going to become so rapid that we just won’t be able to deal with it.  Perhaps science fiction is the lubricant that keeps it all from being too overwhelming.  After all, if we’ve already gotten a sneak preview of the future, it can’t surprise us as much.

What brought this all home to me was the debut of a new science fiction/fantasy anthology on television called The Twilight Zone, hosted by screenwriter and producer, Rod Serling.  It debuted yesterday, October 2, 1959.  And here’s why it is so significant, to me.

Twenty years ago, “hard science fiction” was just beginning, led by Astounding and Campbell’s brood.  Ten years ago, print science fiction exploded and produced a profusion of genre magazines.  Many have died, but I think the science fiction novel may fill that gap.  And, in the last decade, the science fiction movie (and it’s bastard step-child, the science fiction B-movie) has come into its own.

Now we’re getting science fiction delivered to every home in the country courtesy of the little glass-screened box in the living room.  We truly are living in the future. 

If this first episode of The Twilight Zone, entitled “Where is Everybody?” is any indication, the future is bright, indeed.  For the show is produced with movie-level sophistication, including technically innovative cinematography and excellent musical scoring.  Production values would be meaningless without a good story, however.  So how did TZ do on its first outing?

The episode opens up with a jumpsuited youngish man walking down an empty road.  He arrives at a cafe where music is blaring from a jukebox, steam is rising from a coffee pot, pies are in the oven… but there’s no one in sight.  Moreover, the man doesn’t remember who he is or where he came from.

Walking into town, he hears the reassuring bells from a church marking the passage of time, and there are hints that life is going on: a lit cigar, a phone ringing in a booth, but still no people at all.  Our protagonist stumbles upon a movie theater, which springs to life as the sun sets, and he realizes he is a member of the Air Force (which explains the jumpsuit). 

At this point, my daughter cleverly guessed that the man had flown an experimental plane so fast that he’d broken some kind of time barrier.  This was after I had guessed that the man was somehow in the same time as everyone else but out of phase.

It turns out that both of us were wrong.  The man is actually an Air Force sergeant enduring three weeks in an isolation chamber so as to get used to one aspect of a solo lunar trip: enforced solitude.  The sergeant has cracked up by the end of it, though he recovers after being let out.

For me, the ending was a bit of a let down.  I thought our explanation was more interesting.  Moreover, I just don’t believe all this hype about the dangers of space travel.  I don’t think weightlessness will be a problem, or loneliness, or radiation, or meteors.  Lack of air, pressure, the cost of rockets, the ability to lift off and land safely, those are real issues.  These other factors are melodramatic boogeymen.

That said, I think the show has a lot of potential.  It’s smartly done and very atmospheric.  My daughter loved it and can’t wait to watch next week’s episode, apparently involving an aged salesman and a Mr. Death.  We’ll tune in, for certain.

We should all rejoice.  Science fiction has entered yet another medium.  Truly, the Golden Age endures.

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!

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