The Cave of Night — James Gunn

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2007 SFWA Grand Master James Gunn’s (1923-    ) story “The Cave of Night” was published in the February, 1955 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction, and aired on X Minus One February 1, 1956. It deals with an astronaut on his way to Mars who has become stranded en route with no hope of rescue.

Though the Apollo 13 astronauts escaped such tragedy, the world was riveted as their tense drama unfolded and was relayed to planet Earth’s several billion inhabitants. Recall as well the heart-wrenching Challenger disaster years later and the world-wide attention it drew, not to mention the national questions it raised about the sacrifice, purpose, and even continuation of the manned space program. “The Cave of Night,” more than two years before even the USSR would launch its tiny Sputnik satellite on October 4, 1957 ushering in the Dawn of the Space Age, fourteen years before the U.S. safely landed a man on the moon on July 20, 1969, more than thirty years before the Challenger accident in 1987, and now just a year shy of fifty-five years since it was written, deals with much more than an “astronaut-in-trouble” scenario. It reveals keen insight into the nature of the forces, or events, that mobilize human interest on a grand scale–and more importantly how to manipulate them, even for a worthy cause (do the ends justify the means?)–as the shocking denouement of “The Cave of Night” shows. While an excellent adaptation of the original story, the radio play switches the narrator from the stranded astronaut to that of a planet-bound radio announcer, with little or no loss of meaning or ultimate impact.

While such a moving story as “The Cave of Night” would be read in 1955 and enjoyed by many on radio in 1956, it more or less slipped under the radar for many years until chosen for inclusion in Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories: 17 (1955), edited by Isaac Asimov & Martin H. Greenberg (DAW, January, 1988). But a few other things did grab the attention of SF fans in 1956, notably the first issues of three magazines:  Satellite Science Fiction, Science Fiction Adventures, and Super Science Fiction

Herewith, James Gunn’s insightful, thought-provoking “The Cave of Night.” We air this particular episode on July 19, 2009, as our small way of celebrating Man’s first successful moon-landing, July 20, 1969, forty years ago tomorrow. Conspiracy theorists (those who believe to this day that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin never set foot on the Moon on July 20, 1969 and then returned safely to Earth–that it was all a hoax) take heart. This one’s for you.

Play Time:  27:58