A year before he became the 2nd Doctor, Patrick Troughton did a BBC Radio production of George Orwell’s 1984. He wasn’t the first actor to give voice to Winston Smith, because that was David Niven in 1949, within a year of the books original publication. He was the first actor to ever play Robin Hood on TV in 1953, and I can’t help but wish at least one complete episode of that show still exists in some format so I could watch it. Video Curios posted his 1984 online a few years ago, and Open Culture posted the heads up, so here you go; enjoy.
BBC Radio 4 is airing the first ever dramatization of Ursula Le Guin’s award winning and groundbreaking The Left Hand of Darkness beginning today at 15:00 UT. That’s right around 11AM EST, or 8AM Pacific, and besides airing in real time it will be available in their Listen Again mode for the next week or three. The one hour program is the first part of two, so make sure to catch them both so you can enjoy the whole story. It won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards as 1969’s best novel (one voted on by fans, one voted on by authors), and I can’t wait to hear it as a radio play. Another of her works is being aired beginning on the 27th of this month on BBC Radio 4Extra; Earthsea will be airing at 18:00 UT, and is a series of 6 episodes, 30 minutes long each. I’m not even going to try to tell you how many awards it won.
Archive Dot Org has a great assortment of X-1 episodes which you can listen to online, or download for your own collection. The show was one of the better presentations of science fiction radio plays, built from stories that appeared in Galaxy magazine, written by some of the best authors of the era. This program has been in the public domain for quite a while now, which kind of surprises me, as I would have thought they would want to hold on to it. Here are a few episodes to get you started; there are quite a few more available.
Junkyard was a short story written by Clifford D. Simak and published in Galaxy Magazine in 1953. NBC converted it into a Radio Drama in 1956 for the program X-Minus One. That show is now in the public domain and available to anyone who wants to listen to it or download it for their own collection. They dramatized some of the best classic science fiction short stories from Galaxy Magazine by an amazing array of authors, including L. Sprague de Camp, Fritz Leiber, and Philip K. Dick, to name just a few more. These particular examples of the show are courtesy of the good folks at SFF Audio, who are an excellent source of such programs.
Most of these are classics, meaning more than 50 years old, although some are noticeably more recent; but there are so many excellent books included here that pretty much everyone will find goodies for their ears and brain. The collection of links is from Openculture’s Free Audiobooks Archive, and it includes the works of Issac Asimov, JG Ballard, Frank L. Baum, Jorge Luis Borges, Ray Bradbury, William S. Burroughs, Lewis Carroll, G.K. Chesterton, Arthur C. Clarke, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Philip K. Dick… and that only takes us through a few of my favorites out of the first four letters of the alphabet. You can stream these in realtime or download them to load into your favorite media player or burn them to disc if you still have a CD player in your vehicle. There are a ton of free radio drama/audio book resources available online, and this one is a great way to get started.
I know that lots of sites are doing April Fools gags today, but I would rather talk about Terry Pratchett’s wonderful creation Discworld which overall is funnier than most of the pranks going on. In all it comes to about 40 books these days, with hopefully at least a few more waiting to make it into our hands. From the first story The Color Of Magic to the most recent release Raising Steam, they are every one of them poking fun at all aspects of small mindedness, bureaucracy, prejudice, and superstition. There are a large number of wonderful recurring characters that you will find yourself relating to, often because they make up the limited number of sane people (and sane not-people) to be found in a given tale. They tend to come in groups, like the City Watch, the Witches, Ahnk-Morpork, the Wizards, and Death (yes, Death is both an individual and a group; see Soul Music, or perhaps The Death Of Rats).
The Discworld universe is in a steampunk/fantasy branch of the Multiverse, where wizards and engineers have an equal hand in creating the future, and humans share the land with a full range of other races, including Golems, Vampires, Dwarves, and Igors (the last very handy if you are suddenly in need of transplanted organs and limbs). Figuring out which order you should read the books in can be difficult, I recommend using the group approach. Go to the Novels chart on Wikipedia to find the earliest story instance of each group. Read each one of them, and I feel confident one of them will become an instant favorite, even if you don’t particularly care for the others. Then read through all of the novels in that group; by the time you finish that set, you will have met enough of the characters and picked up enough of the background for the other groups that you will know which one you want to read next. You can also read them in story-line chronological order for each group, either method will do nicely.
Sooner or later you will have read everything he has written about Discworld, but do not despair! He has written other stuff, including an excellent collaboration with Neil Gaiman. And there are four Discworld TV miniseries released on DVD, 15 stage plays have been published, two feature length animations have been created, a number of fan productions from around the world have been released into the wild, and a ton of radio plays of the stories have been recorded by the BBC and others for you to enjoy as well. There are several projects in production, including a 13 episode TV series about The Watch, a miniseries of Unseen Academicals, and the fan production of Troll Bridge. Once upon a time Sam Raimi was going to do a feature film from The Wee Free Men for Sony, but that fell through. All is not lost though, because Rhianna Pratchett announced she was going to pick up the project instead.