A Pail of Air — Fritz Leiber

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The incomparable Fritz Leiber’s (1910-1992) “A Pail of Air” was first published in the December, 1951 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. This post-apocalyptic story takes place after a black star (a dead sun) arrives near our solar system and, in a battle of gravitational forces with our own sun, rips Earth from its orbit. Earth now circles the dead sun (our moon having gone into orbit around our old sun while Earth, in the grip of the black star, hurtles into the dark and frigid void of interstellar space), and the tale takes place a decade later, as we follow one lone family as they cope with the unthinkable.

This dramatization aired on X Minus One, February 28, 1956. X Minus One (1955-1958) was the direct descendant of the earlier SF series Dimension X (1950-1951). Its first 15 episodes were remakes of some of the old Dimension X shows (culled from Astounding Science Fiction), but thereafter all new material was used from top-shelf stories originally appearing (with rare exception) in Galaxy.

While America listened to this bleak tale on the radio in the warmth of their homes, SF fans in the winter of 1956 were reading SF magazines and warming to stories such as the underrated Mark Clifton’s “Clerical Error” (Astounding Science Fiction, February), Damon Knight’s unforgettable “The Country of the Kind” (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, February), and “Exploration Team” (Astounding Science Fiction, March; Hugo-winner, novelette) by the innovative and highly talented Murray Leinster (Will F. Jenkins). Notable books from 1956 include The Man Who Japed  by Philip K. Dick, To Live Forever by Jack Vance, The Green Odyssey by Philip Jose Farmer, Agent of the Unknown by Margaret St. Clair, and The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson, and last but not least was Robert A. Heinlein’s Hugo winning Double Star (first serialized in ASF from Feb.-Apr.)

Play Time: 28:21