X Minus One – “Early Model” by Robert Sheckley

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X Minus One aired Robert Sheckley’s “Early Model” on July 11, 1957, as its 102nd episode of 130. Sheckley (1928-2005) saw “Early Model” published in the August 1956 issue of Galaxy. Honored as SFWA’s Author Emeritus in 2001, he was best known for his wit and humor, with many of his absurdist short SF stories appearing in Galaxy during the 1950s.

“Early Model” tells of an experimental force field invented to be worn by an explorer on an alien world, ostensibly for his safety, and the sometimes serious and sometimes comic complications arising due to the inventor not thinking a few unforeseen consequences through. When our explorer has landed, he meets with the indigenous natives, who are short, orange in color, and carry shields and spears. The aliens speak a language unknown to our explorer, so he quickly activates his translator. The translator was manufactured in England, so its inventors have used an upper-crust English accent to relay all alien tongues into English. As you will soon hear, this touch is hilarious as we now “hear” the aliens speaking in the voices of BBC announcers. But this is only half the fun. The bugs in the individual force field supply the other half of Sheckley’s wry observations and commentary on releasing new inventions before they are ready, and how our intrepid explorer manages to survive while wearing an “Early Model.”

The 1957 World Science Fiction Convention was held in London, England, the first time it was held outside of the North American continent.

SF films of 1957 ran the gamut from good to awful, as usual, with (among others) The Amazing Colossal Man, Attack of the Crab Monsters, The Black Scorpion, The Curse of Frankenstein, 20 Million Miles to Earth, and The Incredible Shrinking Man.

A few of the numerous notable novels and collections from 1957 (some in book form for the first time since their magazine serializations) include: Isaac Asimov’s The Naked Sun and Earth is Room Enough; The Hunger and Other Stories by Charles Beaumont; The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick; The Green Odyssey by Philip Jose Farmer; Star Born by Andre Norton; Pilgrimage to Earth by Robert Sheckley; On the Beach by Nevil Shute; Jack Vance’s wonderful Big Planet; and John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos.

Back in the mundane world of 1957, and to provide real world context outside the still growing SF community, television was more popular than ever with highly rated shows like Perry Mason, Leave it to Beaver, Wagon Train, Have Gun, Will Travel, and American Bandstand all debuting in 1957. Though the Cold War with the Soviet Union was on everyone’s minds (duck and cover), 1957 was otherwise a time of peace and relative calm; a welcome respite now a decade removed from WWII, where suburban expansion, a growing economy and a time of prosperity for America would soon receive a wake-up call when, on October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union would launch Sputnik I and the space race would begin…less than three months after X Minus One aired “Early Model.”

Play Time: 22:05

{Those among the neighborhood gang not playing baseball in the field at the end of the block on a sunny afternoon in July of 1957, gathered themselves and headed for the nearby drugstore for their ritual fix of SF magazines, several of which are shown below. Not only had they recently listened to the Sheckley story above, but now they could read a new one in the current issue of Galaxy pictured below. At this point in time, all three magazines showcased below were on a monthly schedule.}

[Left: Astounding SF, July 1957 – Center: Galaxy SF, July 1957 – Right: F&SF, July 1957]


To view the entire list of weekly Old Time Radio episodes at Tangent Online, click here.