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The War of the Worlds: The Untold Story part 2 of 3

Size: 8.5M Duration: 17:58

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Foley for War of the Worlds: The Untold StoryWe ended up performing The War of the Worlds: The Untold Story twice in 2013. The debut performance was, of course, Dragon Con, which is where this podcast performance came from.

But the second time was at the Marcus Jewish Community Center, and it was a blast. We cooked up a bit of new Foley since we weren’t going to have to work around convention crowds, and the MJCC sports a top-notch theatre space. We hope to get back there again some time!

In this photo, you can see Foley mixer Larrie Fisher (left), and Foley artists Anthony Fuller, Beth Braunstein, and Jason Boldt (left to right), plus cast member Clair W. Kiernan (downstage). Society has somehow come to the conclusion that the actors are the ones in a performance to be celebrated, but the fact is that without Foley, audio drama isn’t quite as magical and we spend a ton of time developing ours to be as good as we possibly can.

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The War of the Worlds: The Untold Story part 1 of 3

Size: 8.1M Duration: 17:23

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The War of the Worlds: The Untold StoryThis month we bring you The War of the Worlds: The Untold Story by Ron N. Butler, based on the original novel by H. G. Wells, performed live at Dragon Con, September 1, 2013.

Making the decision to commission Ron to write this adaptation wasn’t easy. We’d sworn for years that despite our many adaptations, including a bunch by H. G. Wells, that we would never do this one. It seemed too risky to try to follow in the footsteps of St. Orson Welles.

But in the end, the allure of commemorating the 75th anniversary of the most famous radio broadcast of all time proved too much for us, and so we went for it. We think the result was very much worth it. Be sure to let us know what YOU think!


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The Inaudible Man – Ron N. Butler

We continue our celebration of our 30th anniversary with a piece that Ron N. Butler wrote back in 1992 for the Myriad Amateur Press Alliance about his experiences with The Invisible Man. A few notes before we get to Ron’s own notes:

  1. We no longer have such a sweet deal with Dragon Con as Ron describes in his piece. So if you want to come join, feel free, but don’t count on getting everyone you know into the convention for free.
  2. At one very memorable show, Daniel Taylor did indeed fire off the starter pistol Ron mentions later in the piece. If only he’d warned us…and our audio engineer.
  3. We performed a few pieces live on PSPR (now Georgia Public Broadcasting) (although The Invisible Man wasn’t one of them). We’d love to be invited back sometime. Hint hint.

And now…without further ado, Ron N. Butler’s notes about his own piece, The Inaudible Man:


In 1986, Confederation — The Atlanta WorldCon — did something strange and unforgiveable in the eyes of SMOFdom: They had money left over after paying all the bills. Over the next couple of years, the rump Atlanta WorldCon committee parceled out the money as grants to a number of projects, among them ‘Electrical Eggs,’ one of the first (if not the first) organizations devoted to handicapped access at SF conventions. One of the other proposals was for a science fiction magazine on audiotape, pitched by a group calling themselves the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company. We funded that one, too. That’s how I met Thomas E. Fuller, ARTC’s head writer. And he remembered my name when ARTC needed someone to fill a gap in their cast for an adaptation of H.G. Wells’s The Invisible Man at DragonCon in 1992.

“The Inaudible Man” appeared in a somewhat different form as part of my personalzine “F451” in the MYRIAD APA. I have added some parenthetical notes but mainly left it as-is, for good or ill. This is how I met Thomas Fuller and how I joined ARTC. And that made a great difference in my life.



(July 5, 1992) It was Thomas Fuller on the other end of the line — playwright, poet, soon-to-be SF novelist, Atlanta Radio Theater mogul, giant dirigible enthusiast (That is, the dirigibles are giant, not — well, never mind.), and Berta’s husband.

“Ron!” he said, little realizing that I had just blown an entire paragraph on a smartass description of him. “ARTC is doing ‘The Invisible Man’ down at DragonCon this year — ”

Well, I thought, at least it’s not Lovecraft…

” — but Greg Nicoll has had to drop out because of work. Would you like to take over his part?”

Would I? Would I? Wells? Radio theater? Acting without having to memorize lines? I’d give at least an earlobe for this!

“Yeah, sure — if Lin [My wife. — RNB] says it’s OK.”

“Great. See you Wednesday at 7:30.” *click*

Errr — Where?

(July 8) At first, Berta had refused to tell me where the house was. But after I reminded her that if I didn’t show up, Thomas would just replace me — likely with someone even worse — she gave in. [This is pure, bumptious fantasy. Berta was perfectly gracious. — RNB]

I stayed at work an extra ninety minutes before heading north for Duluth. That was cutting it a bit too fine, as it turned out; I just had time to grab a sandwich and a Coke at Mrs. Winner’s in downtown Duluth (I think that was downtown Duluth) and race back to the Fullers’, arriving right at 7:30.

(I was dogged by a strange punctuality all through this production. No matter what I did, I seemed to show up where I was supposed to be right on time — not early, not late, just — there. Spooky.)

Berta and the boys were off riding hot-air balloons while Thomas and ARTC took over her dining room to rehearse. Half of the cast were already there.

Brad Strickland had brought along a huge boom box to record a rough tape of the read-through which would be passed on to the sound effects guy for his edification.

Daniel “Foley” Taylor was there to read off the sound effects cues.

I recognized Doug Kaye from a presentation he and Thomas had made for the Phoenix Society about another SF audio project — something to do with a time-travelling actor in a bunny suit… [“Dash Cardigan” — RNB]

Thomas introduced me to the female leads, Joyce and Lee [Millman] — and I promptly got them mixed up. (Maybe that had something to do with the way that Joyce’s full name is Joyce Leigh.)

A tall, happy-looking fella named Bill Jackson seemed oddly familiar.

The redoubtable Berl Boykin (whom I remembered from a previous ARTC/DragonCon production of “Shadow over Innsmouth”) would not be at that rehearsal — his car had burned down. (Or some such damn thing. The week previously his bedroom ceiling had fallen in on him.) Thomas would read Griffin, the Invisible Man.

Before we got started, Thomas and I had a penetrating and lengthy discussion of motivation and characterization:

“Can you do an English accent?”

“Well — ”

“Greg’s been playing ‘Fearenside’ as an older man with a deep, gruff voice.”

I looked at the script. Oh, what the hell — when in doubt, do “Blind Pew”. “Oi’ve been loadin’ and unloadin’ derries fur thirty yee-ars and — ”

“Great! Next!”

About forty-five minutes after our nominal starting time (i.e. about fifteen minutes earlier than a Mighty Rassilon Art Players rehearsal would have started), we gathered around Thomas’ dining room table, shoved the chips and dip and soft drinks into the center, and began reading. The rest of the cast had done this four or five times before, while I had had the script in my hands for under an hour. Mercifully, Thomas decided on a “cold” read-through for me before Brad Strickland’s boombox started recording.

It was a good script. (Thomas said later that this script was his first audio adaptation of Wells. He has a “Time Machine” script, but that began life as a stage play, produced in Hawaii.) It was surprising how many of the words were Wells’ own, considering that the audio production would run only about 35 minutes. For some reason, I had remembered Wells’ novel as being a short thing, almost a novella. When I dragged out my “Seven Science Fiction Novels of H.G. Wells” a few days before the rehearsal, I realized where I got that impression: It should have been a novella. In modern hands, that’s what it would have been. Under John W. Campbell’s blue pencil, it would have been a novelette. But Wells had written a leisurely Victorian novel, stuffed with late-19th-century social detail. Any audio script that isn’t to run four hours does well to catch the essentials of the story.

The first run-through went well. I stepped on a few lines, missed a few sound cues. For the second run-through, Brad Strickland set his boombox a-recording — and we got about 25 pages into the 34-page script before anyone noticed that the tape in the cassette wasn’t turning. Oh, my —

Another ten-minute break. I called Lin to let her know I’d be very late, and we went back to it. For being made on a boombox with a tiny condenser microphone, the resulting tape sounded surprisingly good — except me. I’d recognize that nasal, dweeby voice anywhere. Grg! Why did I get into this? Just to seize another chance to make an idiot of myself in front of friends and family?

Home around 11:30. Up at 5:15. *Urg!*

(July 31) There were two more rehearsals — one on Sunday and the last on the following Wednesday, the 15th. (I finally broke down at the last ‘un and asked Daniel Taylor where I knew Bill Jackson from. He confirmed my suspicions: the mundane Bill Jackson is “Sir William Colquitt” in the SCA, [Society for Creative Anachronism] one of the few SCA muckety-mucks I have never heard an ill word spoken of. Bill looked familiar because that was my sole acquaintance with him: seeing him. Generally from a distance of not less than ten feet.)

The last rehearsal was also videotaped. Berl Boykin (who did make the last two rehearsals) had/ has plans for a “Making of ‘The Invisible Man’” documentary of some sort, and brought in a camera crew to tape us all sitting around Thomas’ table.

(Of the four-person crew, three were black. And here I was, in my “Blind Pew” voice, bellowing out the suspicions of “Fearenside”, the late nineteenth century English bumpkin, concerning the bandaged stranger: “He’s bla-a-ack! …He’s a piebald, black here, white there. …He’s some sort of arf-breed, an’ he’s ashimed of hit.”

(Thus do we progress: Now I don’t even need to get up in front of an audience to embarrass myself. I can embarrass myself in someone’s dining room.)

Berl did one thing, though, that made me feel very much more comfortable about my own performance: his accent. Where mine was bad, his was terrible. No offense and no disparagement of Berl’s talents meant, but that accent never got farther east than Nantucket. Thank you, Berl.

Every year, I intend to skip DragonCon. And every year, I seem to end up down there somehow. Last year, I was performing in a Mighty Rassilon Art Players’ production of “Two’s A Crowd” and we had to pay to get Lin in. At least Atlanta Radio Theater Company has a spiffy deal that gets its members’ spouses and significant others in free, too. It was $70 saved, especially as Lin and I would likely have gone to D’Con anyway — friends Ben and T Boyer were barnstorming through between Florida and Texas, alighting briefly in Atlanta, mostly down at the Hilton Towers. Getting into D’Con free is probably the biggest payoff I’ve gotten in my darkly checkered theatrical career.

Lin and I planned on making an evening of it. We hired Claudia, our daytime babysitter’s daughter, to look after the boys. Lin would get her set up over at the house about the time I was getting in a final rehearsal at the Hilton, then come on down, see the show, and we would party-hop or bar-sit afterwards with friends until the wild, ungodly hour of — oh, 10:30. Maybe even 11:00!

Enough persiflage. I gathered with the rest of the ARTC folks outside the ballroom at the Hilton at 6:00 on Saturday night for our setup and run-through, and waited. And waited. And waited…

There was to be a band, “Those Damned Johnstons” I believe, playing in the ballroom later that night and DragonCon had decided to let them set up before ARTC. Well, as bands will, they took forever for their sound checks and tweakery. Some of us tried hanging around inside, but TDJ being a modern band, the noise level soon drove us out again. I believe we got to take the stage about ten minutes before our scheduled start time. So much for mike checks and rehearsal. Oh, well… It’s not as if I needed any familiarization with mikes and procedures or such before my first audio production in my entire life. No. Not at all. I’ll be fine. (*grmf*)

There was considerable discussion between the sound effects man, Thomas, and Daniel “Foley” Taylor about six gunshots that have to be fired in mid-play (plus one more later). Daniel had come up with a seven-shot starter’s pistol — only to be told that if he fired it in the Hilton’s ballroom, Hotel Security would come charging in and shoot him dead. Sound effects had gunshots on CD — but the “cycle time” would be very slow. The method finally settled on was popping balloons inside empty oil drums. It sounded — adequate. (If you think this is bizarre, ask Daniel or Thomas how the sound of the hatch of a Martian space-cylinder was done for Orson Welles’ classic “War of the Worlds.”)

A few minutes after 8:00, we all lined up before the row of mikes on the stage, with the foley and sound- effects tables behind us or to the side. We’d never gotten a chance to do a proper sound check. Thomas and I ended up using the same mike — a bit awkward as Thomas is, of course, six feet nineteen-and-a-half inches tall while I shop for clothes in the “Stylish Dwarf” section of Penney’s.

Thirty-five minutes later, we were done — just like at rehearsal. I thanked everyone in line-of-sight for letting me play with them, then hopped down to look for wife and friends.

“How did it sound?” I asked Lin, and she answered, “Oh, it was just fine-” — in that way that your spouse can say things that make you instantly think of open flies and bits of spinach stuck between your front teeth.

“OK — give.”

Well, basically, while Thomas and I were not — exactly — sharing a dead mike, we were sharing a weak one. Now, Thomas would be audible reading clean limericks on a windy football field during band practice, but I was doing mime. Lin said I could be heard — if you were listening closely. Fortunately, Fearenside’s lines don’t seem to have been exactly crucial to the audiences’ following the continuity of the play. Still, it was a bit of a letdown. Thomas was the Invisible Man —

And I was the Inaudible Man.

One of the really nice things about audio, though, is that there are occasional opportunities for redemption in the editing booth. I got one on “Invisible Man.” The week after DragonCon, the cast and crew got together in the studios of Georgia Public TV to do the really, truly, finally last dangerous version of “IM” — the one that would be broadcast over Peach State Public Radio. (PSPR’s offices are in the basement of GPTV’s building, something I had never had an inkling of. Some wit has pulled one stick-on “L” off the sign on their door, reducing them to “Georgia Pubic Radio”. God knows, it would probably do wonders for their audience share if that were an accurate description.) And budgetary realities being what they are this year GPTV’s TV studios are seeing very little video production, leaving them wide open for underfunded audio/radio groups to use their equipment.

PSPR had sent an observer to the DragonCon production and must have been not entirely appalled by what he saw, as they were making noises about using “IM” and some other Atlanta Radio Theater Company material on their network of ten stations around the state. Of course, their “budgetary realities” may have something to do with that, too. As I recall the numbers, PSPR gets about $500,000 a year — $300,000 of which goes straight to National Public Radio. That leaves $20,000 to run each radio station in their network; not enough to pay for a fulltime janitor for each transmitter unless he provides his own cleaning supplies. PSPR’s interest in high-quality, low-cost, available programming thus becomes as intuitively obvious as those math lemmae in high school were supposed to be.

This recording session for “Invisible Man” was as relaxed as the DragonCon performance was tense (for me, anyway). The GPTV studio was quite bare — a high, gray room with lights and supporting trusswork hovering near the ceiling and a curving back wall that made it seem larger than it really was. Sound effects and foley equipment were again arranged on two tables on the sides of the studio, with a semicircle of microphones on stands at the far end from the glass-fronted control booth.

[Small historical note: This was the very studio from which ARTC did its one and only thirteen-week season of live radio drama broadcasts for the Atlanta market.]

All the mikes worked, this time. The point was also made that these were marvelously directional, so I found myself sighting down the length of the thing whenever I had lines to speak, like staring down the barrel of a shotgun. I was determined to be heard, this time…

The company went through a few warming-up exercises, like practicing getting rid of pages of script without making noises that would show up on the tape. Producer William Brown came on the PA and pronounced mine particularly crisp and clear. (*Flush*)

The first run-through was a “crossed fingers” exercise — you always hope the first take will be perfect, but it seldom is. We got about two-thirds of the way through before everyone’s flubs began coming in. The starter pistol we’d been unable to use at DragonCon turned out to have a small problem with getting off more than three rounds in a row. (So maybe the balloons weren’t so bad after all.) And I had to struggle not to laugh at the spectacle of Thomas and Bill Jackson simulating an entire pub full of people off-mike, just the two of ’em, with much arm-waving and back-slapping.

After wrapping up the first attempt, everyone wandered down to the basement and the GPTV snack area. (Why does food seem to figure so sharply in my memories of radio?) Mr. Brown announced that he’d had to turn my mike input down, which didn’t bother me a bit. After twenty minutes or so, we wandered back to the studio and did it again — one and a half times more, then called it a night. The production crew played back some of the tape over the PA while Daniel packed away his foley equipment. I liked the timber of my “Fearenside” voice better in the first run-through, but what the heck. The material we heard was missing a number of effects and music (chimes), but it was still hard for me to believe this little group of people using relatively modest equipment had produced such a nice-sounding product.

The night was warm and humid when we walked out into the parking lot about 10:00, and a heavy rain descended on us between my leaving the front door and getting to my car.

( September 9: Current plans are for Peach State Public Radio to play “The Invisible Man” on Halloween. Alas, it will not be played on any Atlanta public radio outlet.

(Other ARTC projects in one state or another of preparation include an adaptation of “The Time Machine,” Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness,” and possibly one or more of Kipling’s SF stories.)

Taking the babysitter home after DragonCon, I tried to answer her question about what we’d been doing that evening. Depressingly, I found that “We were doing a radio drama version of Wells’ ‘The Invisible Man’” would not cut it, as this really very bright twelve-year-old young lady lacked some key concepts. Like “radio drama”. Radio in the last decade of the twentieth century, after all, consists of 1) music, 2) news, or 3) telephone call-in shows. Maybe I’d have done better to describe it as “kind of like a book on tape”.

Ditto “The Invisible Man.” Claudia had never heard of it. Nor of H.G. Wells. *Sigh* Could be there’s something to be said for “Illustrated Classics” comic books after all.


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Comments on ‘The American Experience: The War of the Worlds Broadcast (10-29-13)’

By Ron N. Butler

Tonight (2013-10-30) is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the night St. Orson scared the Ovaltine out of America using only his voice, the Columbia Broadcasting System, and a mayonnaise jar.

Let me translate that for you: On the night of 30 October 1938, an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ ‘The War of the Worlds,’ presented on Orson Welles’s ‘Mercury Theatre’ radio program, resulted in widespread panic across America.  Somebody might have even killed himself.

That’s the story, anyway.

Practitioners of the semi-lost art of radio theater in early-twenty first century America (I’m one) love that story.  It is the ultimate high bar of achievement against which the effectiveness of any radio drama is measured.  “Reach Out and Touch Someone,” indeed!

WGBH - The War of the Worlds

 And that’s the story WGBH’s “The American Experience” segment set out to tell.  There was a little background on Orson Welles, on how Howard Koch came to write the adaptation, and on the production in the studio.  (All the stuff I’d like to hear more about.)  But the focus of the show was on how and why millions [sic] of Americans came to be hiding in their cellars breathing through wet towels, or (alternatively) legging it out for Canada.

That’s the story, anyway.

And “TAE” told it with interviews, archival photos / footage, and re-creations.  How well, the story was told —  That was a mixed bag.

The technique of having actors read excerpts from letters written by people who listened to the show as if they were those people being interviewed did not work for me.  People do not write the way they talk.  (OK, I know some people who write exactly the way they talk.  But public education was better back in the ‘30s.)  It was very stilted; I felt for the actors.  And why film them in black and white?  To make those segments feel more “authentic”?  My wife (who was not paying close attention) asked if these were actual interviews from 1938.  Not even close…

(I believe I recognized many of the “documentary’s” shots of people listening to the radio as being recycled from old movies and TV shows.  It would be an interesting trivia game to identify them.)

And it would have been a kindness to some of the interviewees to move the camera back.  At least six feet.  Into the next room for some.  Or assign them a makeup artist.

There was lots of exposition by one of the interviewees on the automatic processes of the human brain and memory, explaining that people’s little lizard-brains could not help but react fearfully and irrationally to Welles’s radio magic.  Unfortunately, he is a journalist, not a neuroscientist or psychologist, and was mostly talking through his hat.  (My expert opinion.  As an engineer.)

It was nice to see Orson Welles’s daughter, though she didn’t have much specific to add.

In recent years, there has been considerable revisionism among sociologists (or at least pop-culture historians) that the public panic caused by the Welles broadcast has been exaggerated.  It would have been interesting to have that issue addressed in this program.  It wasn’t.  Which makes this seventy-fifth anniversary program just another rehash.

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”  That’s not just in the Old West.  You can see it on WGBH, too.


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Writing “The War of the Worlds: The Untold Story”

The following was contributed by ARTC writer Ron N. Butler regarding his experience writing “The War of the Worlds: The Untold Story”. Beware: Here be spoilers.

Hear The War of the Worlds: The Untold Story for yourself LIVE on October 20 at the Marcus Jewish Community Center at 2:30pm and 7:30pm.

By Ron N. Butler

Somewhere in my library (I intend to alphabetize my books after I retire) I have a slim, fragile paperback titled Sherlock Holmes’s War of the Worlds, by Wade Wellman and Manley W. Wellman.  It is a briefer story even than the slenderness of the book indicates; halfway through, it becomes Professor Geo. E. Challenger vs. Mars, following the adventures of another of Conan Doyle’s creations through the Great Martian Invasion.

I’ve read it much more than once and enjoyed it every time. Still —  When you get down to it, neither Sherlock Holmes nor Professor Challenger actually does much to thwart the Martian invaders, to prevent humanity being pushed down a notch on the food chain.  That’s inherent, I think, in the approach the Wellmans took to the material, but still somewhat unsatisfying.

The Wellmans’ stories take their cue, too , from Wells’ original story.  Wells was making a point (something to do with the barbarous way “civilized” imperialists treated the “lesser breeds” in those days, I think), but to do it he made his countrymen rather, well — pushovers.  The British military forces are routed by one or two encounters with the Heat-Ray and the Black Smoke, and civilization disintegrates inside a week with the entire population fleeing pell-mall for Scotland or France.

Between that young writer and us however lies the Twentieth Century, the history of which  makes us skeptical of the simplicity of Wells’ narrative.  Less than twenty years after the serialization of The War of the Worlds, the armies of the First World War faced the Earthly version of “Black Smoke.” Contrary to the promises of its inventors, it did not sweep all before it and end the stalemate on the Western Front (though it did add to the slaughter).  The Second World War showed that almost nothing could drive a city’s inhabitants out of their digs, even if their “digs” were literally “dug” — basements and cellars under piles of rubble.  The web of civil society proved surprisingly tough, first in London and Coventry, eventually in Berlin and Tokyo.

Similarly, the Century of Technological Warfare abounds with Wonder-Weapons that did not live up to their billing: Poison gas (see above).  Bombing airplanes that did not “always get through,” and had a persistently hard time delivering explosive ordinance within miles of a target when they did.  “Land ironclads” that succumbed to a spiraling competition between the thickness (and weight) of their armor vs. the shaped-charge anti-tank weapon.  The seemingly simple process of moving troops from ships to shore took years and many millions of dollars to reduce to a routine.

These were the two notions in the back of my mind a couple of years ago when I considered writing a radio script along the lines of the Wellmans’ pastiche.  What with other projects, though, it just never happened.

After DragonCon 2012, however, Bill Ritch asked me if I would consider writing a War of the Worlds script for our 2013 show.  For one thing, 2013 would be the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Orson Welles Mercury Theatre panic broadcast.  We also had a possibility that one or more DragonCon guest-actors would like to perform with us.

“A new, straight-up adaptation of the Wells novel?” I asked.  (We don’t do re-creations, so a simple production of the Howard Koch script was not what Bill had in mind, I knew.)

“Whatever you want,” he answered.

Oh!  In that case, I have this idea…

Let’s get back to the “two notions.”

First, Earth is not Mars, even Wells-ian Mars.  England in June looks idyllic to us, but it would be an alien environment to a Martian.  All that water, for one thing.  Wells has his Martian fighting-machines wading confidently across rivers and into the sea.  But what do Martians know of muddy, boggy river bottoms vs. stony channels as footing for huge machine feet?  And what does saltwater do to the joints of a walking machine designed by engineers used to near-zero humidity and water confined to canals?  And I assure you that saltwater and aluminum (or “aluminium,” the principal structural material of the tripods, per Wells) do not play well together.

Ah, aluminum.  Wells describes at least one summer thunderstorm in the course of his tale.  Contemplate the surprises in store for the pilot of a hundred-foot-tall aluminum fighting machine standing taller than the trees in the middle of a thunderstorm…

Second, I wanted to write about someone who fought back.  By preference, someone from A. Conan Doyle’s universe.  It would have to be a man (or woman) of action.  Highly intelligent.  Broadly educated.  Possessed of accomplices, a support network and resources that would not run away at the approach of the Martians.  And, because the situation is truly desperate and the stakes are literally global, ruthless.

I think one name presents itself above all others.

I didn’t say he had to be a nice guy.

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Rory Rammer at Dragon*Con

(Over the past few years, ARTC has been fortunate enough to have a number of well-known actors — Jonathan Harris of “Lost in Space,” Robert Trebor, Alexandra Tydings, Claire Stansfield, and Ted Raimi of “Xena” and “Hercules” — participate in our DragonCon presentations. The vehicle for these performances has mostly been “Rory Rammer, Space Marshal.” ARTC spoke with Ron Butler, who writes “Rory” for the Company, about the series and its productions at DragonCon.)

ARTC: I don’t think those were the usual people at Blimpie’s. Maybe they were doing training.
RNB: I should hope so. I’m not used to being actively sneered at by someone who’s making minimum wage for slapping cold sandwiches together. I mean, this isn’t France.

ARTC: Anyway — We spent most of an hour earlier talking about Rory Rammer and never actually got around to talking about Rory Rammer at DragonCon. Can we correct that?
RNB: Really, I think you’re wanting to talk about the “celebrity” RR shows. ARTC was doing Rory at DragonCon before the stars showed up. Uh — just don’t ask me to remember which scripts or when we did them. Year before last, ARTC’s advertising poster promised “Another Rory Rammer.” I felt slighted by that at the time — I had come up with a title, after all — but I know the performances and the conventions can start to blur together.

ARTC: How does ARTC attract guest stars for DragonCon?
RNB: We don’t. Ed Kramer [Supreme Potentate and Reality-Master of DragonCon] comes up with these notions about guests appearing in ARTC shows. The point where the plans usually fell through in years past was that — apparently and from what I heard at the time — Ed never did tell the actual guests about these plans before they arrived in Atlanta. Bummer. We finally took the step of contacting prospective guest stars ourselves — after Ed told us who he had in mind — to see if they wanted to play. For quite a while there, we got responses like, “Huh?” and “Who are you people?” Disappointing, since there were a number of folks we’d have liked to work with, even some experienced people from elsewhere in the audio-drama field.

ARTC: Was Jonathan Harris [Dr. Smith from the TV series, Lost in Space] the first success?
RNB: Well, a halfway success. We were supposed to have both Mr. Harris and Ray Harryhausen [stop-motion special effects legend], but Mr. Harryhausen apparently thought “radio production” meant “in a radio studio,” not “in front of three thousand screaming people,” and decided to bow out.

ARTC: Did that cause problems?
RNB: We always have understudies. Have to, if only to have someone to read the lines during technical rehearsals. Hmm… I’ve made it sound like we cast department store mannequins as understudies, which we don’t. If nothing else, we’re well aware that any guest might have to cancel out at any time, for paying-work reasons if nothing else. So we cast understudies in the full knowledge that any or all of them may do the actual performance. Daniel Taylor stepped up for Mr. Harryhausen and did a great job.

ARTC: Did you fit Mr. Harris into an existing “Rory” script?
RNB: No, I wrote a script especially for him. [“The Cosmic Cycloplex”] In fact, it’s just about useless without Jonathan Harris. My biggest mistake was to name his character “Dr. Feynman,” a pre-existing character, but completely unlike himself in this incarnation. If I’d had my wits about me, I’d have changed that name. To “Professor Cronkite,” probably.

ARTC: After Walter Cronkite?
RNB: No, it’s a very old joke. “Krankheit” (can I spell or what?) is German for “sickness,” so the doctor in burlesque skits was often “Dr. Krankheit.”

ARTC: So Professor Feynman wasn’t himself that night?
RNB: No, he was Dr. Zachary Smith in all but name. “Cycloplex” is a shameless conglomerate of every Lost in Space reference and in-joke I could come up with. It was cheap, it was crass. I know DragonCon audiences, though — they howled at it. And I think Mr. Harris enjoyed doing it, too.

ARTC: How cheap was it?
RNB: Rory falls off a spaceship (don’t ask) into a black hole-like object called a “cycloplex.” (I lifted that concept, but not much of anything else, from a “Space Patrol” script.) At which Skip Sagan cries, “We’ve lost Rory! He’s lost! Lost in –” And Feynman growls, “Don’t even say it.” And the crowd goes wild…

ARTC: Sure they did. What was it like working with Mr. Harris?
RNB: I didn’t; you’ll have to ask the cast. I missed the single rehearsal, on Saturday afternoon, so I just huddled up at the front of the stage during the performance. And I was astounded.

ARTC: At what?
RNB: At Mr. Harris. I believe he was nearly eighty even then and obviously not in the best health. He got one rehearsal before performing — and he was letter-perfect. I mean, even at age twelve, I hadn’t been overwhelmed by the subtleties of his performance in Lost in Space, but he came through like a trouper. I’m ashamed to say that I suspect he was a much better actor than I’d ever thought.

ARTC: Did you get to talk with him?
RNB: I hopped up on stage after the applause died down and introduced myself. “Mr. Harris,” I said, “I’m Ron Butler. I wrote the script and I just wanted to say — I know how tough that dialogue was — but you did a marvelous job. I couldn’t have done it that well, I know, and I wrote that stuff.”

ARTC: And how did he react to that?
RNB: He stopped pulling on his shoes and growled, “Frankly, neither could I. I faked it.”

ARTC: Will that show up on a tape?
RNB: Very, very unlikely. It’s proven impossible to get a usable voice track from any of the live performances at DragonCon, so we’ve taken to recording separate voice tracks from the celebrities during rehearsals, for Henry [Howard] to meld in with other voice and sound effect tracks later. But we didn’t do that with Mr. Harris, and his health has — sadly — declined since then. “Cosmic Cycloplex” may have been one of his last public appearances of any sort. I like to think he had fun.

ARTC: Next year [1999] was Robert Trebor?
RNB: Yes, the first of our “Hercules / Xena” connections. The script was “The Phantom Menace.”

ARTC: I beg your pardon.
RNB: “Phantom Menace.” No, not that George Lucas thing. Our “Phantom Menace” actually opened, at a convention in Florida, a few days before the movie did. Maybe I should sue him…

ARTC: Why don’t you just take your life’s saving out of the bank, convert it into pennies and melt them into a puddle of cupro-zinc slag? It’d probably be faster and a lot less painful.
RNB: You’re probably right. Anyway — Say, did you realize “Trebor” is “Robert” spelled backwards?

ARTC: It’s a stage name.
RNB: You think so? I didn’t get to attend rehearsals that year — “Menace” has a slightly huge cast and rehearsals are traditionally held in Bill Ritch’s traditionally teeny hotel room — and sat halfway back in the auditorium for the performance. Mr. Trebor certainly seemed to enjoy himself. At the end, “Captain Cosmos,” the space pirate, is revealed to be Skip Sagan’s uncle. Skip was being played by Daniel Kiernan, with a high-pitched, nasal Brooklyn accent, and once Trebor got “Cosmos’s” breathing mask off, he spoke with the exact same accent. In fact, it was darn hard to tell them apart.

ARTC: Space pirates seem to show up a lot in Rory Rammer.
RNB: Probably because I think it’s such an idiotic idea. There’s just no way to make it pay. “Captain Cosmos” is a debt-ridden physicist with an invisibility device, which he uses to pursue a life of crime. But he can’t dispose of his loot and he’s on the point of starving when he captures Rory Rammer.

ARTC: You mean “when Rory Rammer captures him.”
RNB: I mean what I said.

ARTC: Is this one going to be on a tape?
RNB: Almost certainly. We have it penciled in. As I said, Mr. Trebor must have had a good experience, because this year [2000] we got enthusiastic acceptances from Ted Raimi (“Joxer”), Alexandra Tydings (“Aphrodite”) and Claire Stansfield (the shamaness “Alti”). Maybe he talked us up to his co-workers.

ARTC: Was this another specially-written script?
RNB: Yeah. Henry Howard [ARTC Head Technical Producer] called me one evening in May and asked if I could have a “Rory” script with two strong female leads written — or at least outlined — in ten days. If I could, we might be able to attract Alexandra Tydings and Claire Stansfield. I have to admit that female characters in “Rory” are pretty thin on the ground.

ARTC: I’d noticed. Why don’t you do something about that?
RNB: Hey, it’s Fifties science fiction. Women were about as abundant in that milieu as they were at the first meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club.

ARTC: That really sounds like sexist rationalization to me. Just because women were ignored then you have to ignore them now?
RNB: It wasn’t that women were ignored. They were present, here and there, but when they did show up they were treated in pretty set ways. For instance, I’ve had the suggestion made to me that there should be a female Space Marshals cadet written in as a love interest for Skip Sagan. A character like that would have been treated one of two ways: Comically, which gets us into a lot of stereotypical “teen” humor that would make my pancreas freeze up. Or the poor girl — by which I mean a pre-wommin — would be so put upon that she’d resign from the Space Marshals by the end of the first episode and go home to marry an insurance salesman and hatch babies. I don’t want to go either of those places.

ARTC: But you’ve had female authority figures. There are allusions to the President of the United States being female. The Undersecretary for Suprastratospheric Affairs is referred to as “Madam Undersecretary.” What’s the diff?
RNB: Those are distant female authority figures. They give a whiff of exotic modernity without actually having any day-to-day impact on the way things get done. And I have a precedent for it: In Robert Heinlein’s other sci-fi movie, Operation Moonbase, the POTUS is a woman. In fact, she sounded like Eleanor Roosevelt — which is a nasty thought.

ARTC: I think a man who quotes precedents to explain his dramatic choices is covering up like a cat on a linoleum floor.
RNB: And I just think I’m being as true as I can to the genre I’m parodying without getting completely fossilized. I also didn’t think I’d have to justify myself to an EEOC hearing. Do I get any credit for a couple of really nifty female villains? I like Sinead O’Chronos [Episode “Set Loose the Dogs of Time!”] if only for her name, and Dr. Renee Marceau [Episode “The Island of Dr. Marceau”] is just plain fun.

ARTC: You can only deal with strong women if you make them evil?
RNB: Make up your mind. Do you want women characters or not? The lead good guy spot is already filled. That leaves room for strong villains. Besides, it’s the snake who gets all the good lines.

ARTC: The Company has converted some roles from male to female. For instance, “The Green Man’s Burden” has probably had a “Princess Two Moons” more times than it’s had a “Chief Two Moons.” What’s wrong with that?
RNB: Two Moons’ sex-change was a logistical necessity: ARTC, like most theatrical companies of whatever stripe, has more actresses than actors. I didn’t think it worked particularly well and if I thought it was going to be permanent, it would force me to rewrite the script.

ARTC: Oh, come on! Why? Would “Two Moons, Princess of Mars” act that differently from “Chief Two Moons”?
RNB: Probably not, but “Bubba Beacham” would interact with “her” a lot differently, and Rory’s reactions wouldn’t be quite the same. I may be writing parody, but I’m trying not to be a hack.

ARTC: I think you just don’t like women, especially strong women.
RNB: I’ll refer you to my wife on that. But I’d advise you wear padding and to get your ego Sanforized before you do.

ARTC: So, do you think the roles you came up with for Tydings and Stansfield are “strong”?
RNB: One is an over-the-top businesswoman villain. And Ms. Stansfield’s character [“Michiko Sakai,” a female undercover operative for the Department of Justice, Extraterrestrial branch] is probably strong enough to spin another series from. Good enough?

ARTC: Are there references to the actresses’ roles on Xena / Hercules?
RNB: Not really. I confess, item one in my response to Henry’s followup e-mail was “Who are these people?” Ms. Tydings’ character is president and CEO of “Aphrodite Spacelines,” but that’s about the only reference.

ARTC: How did Ted Raimi [“Joxer”] get into this?
RNB: At the last minute. Otherwise, there would have been a character specially-written for him, too. As it was, I thought he’d make a really great Skip Sagan — but Skip didn’t have that many lines. Bill Ritch, I think, first had the idea of making him Rory. It was casting dead against type and not something I was enthusiastic about at first, but it worked out well. He can come back and do Rory for us as often as he wants.

ARTC: You got a little closer to this year’s production, I think.
RNB: I was able to attend the guests’ rehearsal. Yes, it was in Bill Ritch’s even-teenier-than-usual room in the Hyatt. And it was crammed with all of Bill’s audio equipment; he’d stored it there after Thursday night’s production of “All Hallow’s Moon,” so I ended up wedged between the side of a bed and the bathroom wall. Daniel and Clair Kiernan had the remainder of that side of the bed.

ARTC: Was this a tech rehearsal, too?
RNB: Not a chance! Henry had rigged microphones for the guests, though, so we could record clear voice tracks of their lines. If Henry has that, he can assemble voice tracks from the local ARTC-ians, music and sound effects into a complete program. Henry’s really excellent at that sort of thing.

ARTC: So, did this qualify as fun?
RNB: More like excruciating. Audio production involves take after take. I understand the only thing worse is video / film production. The guests seemed comfortable, though, and that’s what was important. Raimi, in particular, looked like he was having a hell of a time. I had to apologize to Daniel Kiernan, however.

ARTC: Why?
RNB: Daniel — who has played both Rory and Skip, by the way — is kind of ARTC’s King of Ad Libs. Which drives me — as a writer — up a wall. But Raimi was just as bad. In fact, he duplicated a number of Daniel’s ad libs from earlier rehearsals.

ARTC: Did that drive you up a wall?
RNB: Sid Jovi, non sid bovi.

ARTC: Huh?
RNB: Let’s just say that Ted Raimi can get away with some things Daniel can’t.

ARTC: Any problems?
RNB: Aside from the cramp in my calf? Well, the script does have one section where Michiko Sakai asks villainess Aphrodite DeHavilland where she found men corrupt and desperate enough to hijack spaceliners for her. And DeHavilland says, “Oh, I had them on the payroll already. Most of them are shop stewards with the Teamsters’ Union.”

ARTC: I think I see. Ms. Tydings is a member of SAG/AFTRA, right?
RNB: So Henry Howard warned me. I was ready to change her response to “Creative Talent Associates,” but with my luck they’d turn out to be her agents. The second fall-back position was “The William Morris Agency.” As things happened, she didn’t turn a hair.

ARTC: And that Ted Raimi story?
RNB: Oh, yeah! There’s a point in the script where Rory and Sakai strap themselves to the side of a disarmed space-to-space missile and launch it at the bad guys’ space yacht. They light the fuse and the missile takes off, Rory giving a cowboy yell and Sakai screaming in — fully justified, I think — terror. Mr. Raimi read that, paused, and said, “Kinda like that Colonel Kong in Dr. Strangelove, eh?”

ARTC: The scene where Slim Pickens rides an H-bomb down, waving his cowboy hat and yelling?
RNB: Exactly. And I sat there feeling like my mind had been read. I hadn’t intentionally used that imagery, but it was perfect. One way or another, almost all the actors we’ve used in DragonCon ARTC performances have surprised me.

ARTC: Were there any other guests working with ARTC this year?
RNB: Joshua Kane did all our narration and announcing for the Saturday night show. What a voice! And as a matter of fact, we also got Michael Sinelnikoff, from The Lost World TV series, at the very last minute. I think Bill had an idea he might want to play with us, because he [Bill] asked me before the convention about copies of an old script of mine, “The Most-Pierced Man in America.”

ARTC: The what?
RNB: Just what it sounds like. It’s one of an occasional series of faux daytime interview show pieces, hosted by women with names based on old British airplane manufacturing companies — Fiona Leonard as “Jane Handley-Page,” in this case. Mr. Sinelnikoff was “Oleg ‘Pincushion’ Penkovsky, the Most-Pierced Man” —

ARTC: ” — in America.” Any relation to the Soviet double agent?
RNB: Now there’s a character name I feel guilty about. No. The script is based on a segment on piercing I heard on NPR a number of years ago, during my afternoon commute. It was fascinating, but queasy-making. I squirmed quite a bit all the way home, but I didn’t turn it off. The object of the script is to make the audience squirm, too, and it’s been doing that successfully for years. We also traditionally give it to newbie actors at ARTC, just to see how they handle themselves under fire.

ARTC: Oh, fun…
RNB: For us, yes. Mr. Sinelnikoff handled it with perfect aplomb, I have to say.

ARTC: Could I ask what sort of —
RNB: Ear piercing —

ARTC: Big deal.
RNB: — nose rings, scalp rings, tongue studs, nipple rings —

ARTC: Ouch!
RNB: –a three-eighths inch diameter hex-head stainless steel bolt with a castellated nut and cotter pin through the wrist —

ARTC: Oh, my — !
RNB: — and something called a “Prince Albert” —

ARTC: I think we can stop right there!
RNB: That’s what Jane said.

ARTC: *Urg!* Plans for future DragonCons?
RNB: Yet another “Rory Rammer,” I’m sure. I believe the next installment in the “Heinlein Project” is supposed to be “Solution Unsatisfactory,” but you’ll have to ask Daniel Taylor about that. I haven’t yet managed to write anything over twenty-five minutes in length, but — who knows — maybe by next year… Say, isn’t it getting toward dinner time?

ARTC: I don’t have much of an appetite for some reason.
RNB: Pity…


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The Rory Rammer Universe

(Over the past few years, ARTC has been fortunate enough to have a number of well-known actors — Jonathan Harris of “Lost in Space,” Robert Trebor, Alexandra Tydings, Claire Stansfield, and Ted Raimi of “Xena” and “Hercules” — participate in our DragonCon presentations. The vehicle for these performances has mostly been “Rory Rammer, Space Marshal.” ARTC spoke with Ron Butler, who writes “Rory” for the Company, about the background of the series.)

ARTC: Why “Rory Rammer”? Like “rammers,” the Bussard ramscoop pilots in Larry Niven stories?
RNB: That’s probably in there somewhere; my subconscious sometimes throws up things even I don’t recognize. (Ted Raimi reminded me of that during the rehearsal for “Queen of the Spaceways,” and I’ll tell you about it later, if you’ll remind me.) But the name “Rory Rammer” — I grabbed “Rory” out of the air because I wanted a tough-guy name that might have come out of the Fifties, and thought of Rory Calhoun, the Western actor. “Rammer” was just alliteration. If I’d worked at it, I might have come up with something better, but Rory started out as just a throwaway name in a commercial.

ARTC: A real commercial?
RNB: A fake one. One of ARTC’s other series is “The Crimson Hawk,” a parody-of-slash- homage-to boys’ afternoon adventure radio serials of the Thirties. And some of the episodes include embedded commercials for “Whole Grain Flakes — the Breakfast of Americans!” They’re manufactured by the Cedar Springs Cereal Company, and I had an idea for a one- or two-minute piece about what’s happened to the company since then.

ARTC: And what has happened to them?
RNB: Well, they’re now “CSC International Comestibles, Inc.” and they make a breakfast food named “AdverCereal.” It has a sugar- and-testosterone frosting, and the spokesperson is a pit-bull plaintiff’s attorney, a sort of nightmare version of Alan Dershowitz.

ARTC: I don’t see where a Fifties space- adventure show fits in to this.
RNB: I’m getting there. The “AdverCereal” piece starts out with a letter from an old lady — whose name even I can’t recall — writing to ask about [Here Butler assumes a really terrible Monty-Pythonish old-lady voice] “Whatever happened to the swell folks at the Cedar Springs Cereal Company? You know, they used to sponsor ‘The Crimson Hawk,’ and ‘Rory Rammer, Space Marshal.’ ”

ARTC: Will you stop doing that voice? It’s annoying. And ageist, if not downright sexist.
RNB: Sorry.

ARTC: Okay, that gave you a name. A name isn’t a series. It’s not even an idea for a series. Well, maybe in Hollywood —
RNB: Oh, I’d say “Roseanne” tells me everything any sensible person needs to know —

ARTC: As may be. You had a lead character’s name, nothing to go with it, no supporting characters, no background information, and no plots.
RNB: Oh, those are easy. What I needed was a punch line.

ARTC: A punch line? Writing fiction starts with a punch line?
RNB: If you’re writing comedy. If you’re writing drama, you need some central image that the plot builds to and then develops from. C.S. Forester said his novel “Payment Deferred” started with the image of the main character in his bedroom with his wife’s dead body — and there’s a knock on the door.

ARTC: He must have been a hit at parties.
RNB: Is acting obtuse supposed to put me at ease? I said I was writing comedy. “Rory” would be part-homage, part-parody of Fifties radio space adventures, the same way “Crimson Hawk” bowed to boys’ radio adventure serials of the Thirties. Parodies need to be humorous, or they’re just imitations. And I find it easier to write comedy than drama.

ARTC: I thought “drama is easy, comedy is hard.”
RNB: Actually, I think that’s “Dying is easy…” It seems to be the reverse for me. Maybe it’s a matter of expectations. If you write bad comedy, people just don’t laugh at it. If you aim at drama or tragedy, and fail, people go, “Geez, that’s sentimentalist crap.” Or “mawkish.” Or —

ARTC: I get your point.
RNB: The punch line of the first “Rory Rammer” script [“Eye in the Sky”] was the Hubble Space Telescope.

ARTC: Is that funny? I have a calendar in my office of Hubble photographs. They look great.
RNB: This is the year 2000. We’re living in the future now.

ARTC: Huh?
RNB: Never mind. Literary allusion. Remember, this [the first script] was being written in the early Nineties. The Hubble had been launched with faulty optics, and it took a couple of Shuttle missions to set it right. Cost billions of dollars. So the punch line of the script — the only joke in it, really — was Rory saying, “Who would believe the Department of Science would launch a space telescope costing millions of dollars without checking the optics first? Sheesh! What sort of idiots do you think we are?”

RNB: Look, it took me a couple of hours to write, ran four minutes, and got a big laugh around Bill [Ritch’s] pool table. I know my audience, and that’s all I expected from it.

ARTC: So why didn’t it die there, as the in- joke it was?
RNB: I guess because it had so much potential for better — or at least lengthier — things, the same way that “Crimson Hawk” and Daniel Taylor’s “Bumper’s Crossroads” grew out of little throwaway scraps in Thomas Fuller’s “Don’t Touch That Dial!” proposal. They all tapped into radio genres that we knew well enough to play with and loved well enough to joke about. And a sufficiently robust series framework can also take present-day references without breaking down, so it’s not just all backwards-looking nostalgia.

ARTC: What genre was “Rory”?
RNB: Shows like “Rocky Jones, Space Ranger.” “Space Patrol.”

ARTC: Buck Rogers —
RNB: No. Definitely not.

ARTC: What’s the difference?
RNB: “Buck Rogers” and “Flash Gordon” are from the Thirties, same as “Crimson Hawk.” “Rocky Jones” and “Space Patrol” are late Forties-to-mid Fifties.

ARTC: Like I said: What stands between them?
RNB: The Second World War.

ARTC: I guess I’m missing your point here. Not that you’re being real clear.
RNB: The war was a technological and a social revolution, and it showed in the entertainment products of the two eras. Let me get the nuts-and-bolts technical part of that out of the way first —

ARTC: I’d expect that. You’re an engineer.
RNB: Harrumph. I hope my profession only adds another dimension to my writing, of a sort not to be found in the work of people with – – say — a degree in medieval French poetry. Anyway, what does a spaceship in a “Buck Rogers” serial look like?

ARTC: A little model on strings.
RNB: Which it was. To me, they’ve always looked like silver-painted shoes with fins. My point is that nobody knew what a spaceship should look like. Their best guess was based on Thirties airplanes, which is why you see fixed landing gear and tailwheels on some of them. They were vague about space, too. Fly into space and you might go to Mars — you might go to “Mongo.” Who knew? Space was fantasyland, and they projected the usual sort of adventure stories into it.

ARTC: This was different after the war?
RNB: Rockets turned real, in an awful sort of way. Air forces were still flying open- cockpit biplanes when it started. By the last year of the war, Germany was firing ballistic missiles from the continent of Europe through the fringes of space, to land in downtown London. After that, if you wanted to show a spaceship in your science fiction movie, you inserted some scratchy footage of a V-2 rocket launch. It was a real thing.

ARTC: Science fiction had turned real.
RNB: In a lot of ways. Rockets — spaceships. Radar — seeing things far away, in the dark. Penicillin — magic cures for disease. And the atom bomb. This isn’t my insight. Robert Heinlein, Willy Ley, a lot of others made the same point at the time.

ARTC: Okay, let’s move on to the “social” side of it.
RNB: Sure. Who launched Flash Gordon to the planet Mongo? NASA?

ARTC: I thought it was Dr. Zarkov.
RNB: Two points! A lone inventor-cum-mad scientist building an interplanetary spaceship in his garage, and paying for it out of petty cash.

ARTC: All right, that sounds silly now.
RNB: But that was the popular stereotype of technical innovation in America, pre-World War 2. Henry Ford. The Wright brothers working out of their bicycle shop. Thomas Edison — not that he was really a “lone inventor.” That was public relations. But that’s how people thought about these things. And nobody was going to spend government money on wildeyed space-rocket schemes.

ARTC: Things were different after the war?
RNB: During the war, the government essentially took over the economy of the country, spent everyone into the poorhouse, and did big, big projects. Building an army from scratch in eighteen months. Manufacturing hundreds of thousands of tanks and airplanes. The invasion of Europe. Setting up a global air transportation system, whether they were delivering packages or bombs. Inventing radar and sonar. Jet airplanes —

ARTC: And the atomic bomb.
RNB: Yes. The Manhattan Project was the new archetype for technological progress: Government funding, run by university scientists, and always with an eye to military applications. It’s only with the rise of the personal computer and the Internet that the paradigm has shifted.

ARTC: Para– ?
RNB: Call it twenty cents. Before the war, space travel was wild adventure in homebuilt rocketships. After the war, it was bureaucrats and the military and —

ARTC: Cops
RNB: The Space Patrol. Or the “Space Marshals,” in my case. I tried “Space Sheriff,” but it was hard to say without spitting.

ARTC: Okay, scratch out Buck Rogers. So your background was all pre-fabricated?
RNB: The bare bones, anyway. I had most of my fun during the writing of that first episode with the names.

ARTC: “Skip Sagan,” boy wonder?
RNB: Carl Sagan was still alive and well then. It may look like a cruel joke now, but I’m kind of stuck with the name. And it suggests intelligence, which I want from Rory’s sidekick.

ARTC: Intelligence? Skip? You’re kidding.
RNB: — coupled with incredible naiveté. Okay, maybe the intelligence doesn’t show through too well, but I’ve been trying to avoid the Wesley Crusher-ization of Skip. He gets used a lot as a fireplug for Rory to explain things to.

ARTC: “Professor Irwin Feynman?”
RNB: Is there to explain things to Rory. There is a scientific point to be made in a lot of episodes, you know, and that’s Feynman’s job. His last name is from Richard Feynman, the inventor of quantum electrodynamics — who has also since died. The first name is from Irwin Corey, a professor of a completely different sort.

ARTC: “Kryssa Feynman,” his daughter?
RNB: The maiden-in-distress-to-be-rescued in that first episode. I had intended her to be a sort of Tess Trueheart figure to Rory’s Dudley Do-Right, but it hasn’t worked out. Kryssa’s damn smart and far less impressed with Rory than he is with her. Plus he acts like a perfect jackass whenever he gets near her. It’s hormones. I think. I won’t talk about her name. That part might be actionable, to a sufficiently aggressive attorney.

ARTC: “Rex Gorbachev,” space pirate?
RNB: Please to say “privateer.”

ARTC: Was that supposed to be a Russian accent?
RNB: It was trying to be.

ARTC: “Gorbachev?” Have you no respect for anything?
RNB: Certainly not for things that don’t deserve respect. Mikhail Gorbachev is the Homer Simpson of late-Cold War geopolitics. The man who tried to put duct tape all over the Soviet Union and ended up breaking it. I’d make fun of him even if he was dead!

ARTC: Uh-huh. If Gorbachev is Homer Simpson, does that make Ronald Reagan Mr. Burns?
RNB: Matt Groening would doubtless agree with you, but I refuse to push the metaphor that far.

ARTC: Buck-buck-ba-caw! “Space Station J. Edgar Hoover?”
RNB: It was 1985. Who knew? Nobody is going to name anything after Hoover nowadays without raising a snicker, but back then — and in Rory’s world — what better name for a space station used by a federal law enforcement agency?

ARTC: I’ve been meaning to ask about that. The announcer’s introduction says: “…the far- off future days of 1985 A.D. After men have landed on the Moon!” Why 1985?
RNB: Well, it’s obviously not our 1985, the real 1985 —

ARTC: Aren’t history and reality social constructs?
RNB: Go walk through a wall. This is 1985 as seen from about 1950 or 1955. Think about it this way: thirty-five years before 1950 was 1915. The United States hadn’t yet gotten into the First World War. Nobody had yet flown the Atlantic. Radio was brand- new. Take the rate of technological advance over those thirty-five years, and tack it onto the state of things in 1950, and you get Rory Rammer’s 1985 A.D. Cities on the Moon, colonies on Mars —

ARTC: Hasn’t turned out that way, has it?
RNB: Let’s just say I’m severely disappointed in certain parts of the last thirty years. On the other hand, we managed to get rid of the Soviet Union without going through the Presto War.

ARTC: Wait a minute! The Presto War? Where’s that?
RNB: Well, it’s not in that first script. But it’s in Rex Gorbachev’s character sketch in the “Rory Rammer Bible.” Rex was the Communist Party General Secretary in Sverdlovsk until the Soviet Union collapsed after the Presto War.

ARTC: There’s a scriptwriter’s guide for this? You sat down and made up all these details?
RNB: Yep. It was fun.

ARTC: Out of your head?
RNB: Yes.

ARTC: You must be. Doesn’t a “bible” cramp your freedom to write stories however you want?
RNB: I find it actually stimulates my thinking and suggests new plots, so on the whole it’s an asset. Plus it helps me keep things straight. I keep trying to call Rex Gorbachev “Max,” and I’ve spelled “Kryssa” at least three different ways in different scripts. And I’m not going to hand you any more straight lines like that last one.

ARTC: Any possibility of putting the guide online?
RNB: I don’t have any problem with that. Why don’t you look and see if there’s a link around here somewhere…

ARTC: We still haven’t talked about the DragonCon performances.
RNB: And it’s getting close to noon. Why don’t we take a break and start back after lunch?

ARTC: Fine. There’s a Blimpie’s down the street.
RNB: I prefer Subway, actually, but if you’re buying —

ARTC: I’m not buying you lunch.
RNB: What? I’m doing this big-deal interview and the Company won’t even spring for lunch? What a bunch of cheap —


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A Guide for Writers for Rory Rammer, Space Marshal

by Ron Butler
“Rory Rammer, Space Marshal” is the radio equivalent of “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet” or “Rocky Jones, Space Ranger.” It is post-Buck Rogers, but pre-Star Trek, produced sometime between the end of the Second World War but before the beginning of the actual Space Age. As a boys’ afternoon radio serial of the Eisenhower Era, we find it a little conformist in mindset (at least on the surface), pro-military, and stereotypical. This should not be played for obvious camp; any irony should seem to be the natural result of the passage of forty years and changes in public attitudes. (In reality, I’m well aware that we’re writing in the ’00s for a ’00s audience. This is just my way of telling prospective writers to avoid the cheapest laughs.)

“1985.” Like the year “1964” in On the Beach (Don’t you remember — when World War 3 killed everybody on Earth?) this is 1985 as imagined from 1952. It is postulated that travel into space is common and that the Moon is well-settled; Mars, Venus, and the Asteroid Belt have been colonized but only thinly; and Jupiter and Saturn are the sites of scientific outposts.

Anywhere in the Solar System, especially the inner Solar System. I have avoided writing anything set below Low Earth Orbit because I don’t want to specify very closely what Earth is like in “1985.” (Classic Trek did the same for similar reasons.) At this stage of the exploration of space, Jupiter and Saturn are at the outer edges of things (though Pluto can be considered if you have a specific story in mind that needs it). Interstellar travel is out for technology reasons. This leaves you with “only”: Space between the Earth and Moon, the Moon, Venus, Mercury, Mars, the Asteroid Belt, Jupiter, Saturn, and various comets, etc. Oh, yeah — the Sun, too.


  • Earth:

The Soviet Union having fallen, the United States is the premier power on Earth, possesses the most colonies on the other planets, essentially owns the Moon, and throws its weight around pretty much as it pleases everywhere else. Nonetheless, there are British, French, German, Japanese and Brazilian colonies on various planets, moons, and asteroids. The space between the edge of Earth’s atmosphere and the orbit of the Moon has become thick with space stations, observation platforms, radio / TV relay satellites, and specialty manufacturing facilities. Due to the economics of moving from the Earth’s surface into Earth orbit (see “Technology” below) the U.S. Space Marshals are headquartered at “Space Station J. Edgar Hoover,” in a geostationary orbit over the equator at a point due south of Washington, D.C.

  • Moon:

Main source of materials and metals for the burgeoning orbital industrial zone around Earth, the Moon is getting a tad crowded and civilized but still has lots of holdovers from its days as a roughneck company mining town. (See episode “Luna Shall Be Dry!”)

  • Mars:

Mars has natives (see “The Green Man’s Burden) analogous to the North American Indians. Militarily and technologically, the “Green Indians” are overshadowed by the earthly newcomers, but a match for them (at the least) in intelligence, determined to defend their culture — while glomming onto anything interesting human civilization offers and adept at making a buck on the side, too.
The human settlements on Mars are the oldest (after those on the Moon) and tend to be heavily bureaucratic, stuffy, even puritanical since government authorities in charge of the colonization were determined to “do it right this time,” after letting capitalists, prospectors, saloon-keepers, madams, and all sorts of other ‘unsuitable’ people overrun the Moon. (See “The Martian Mafia”) The existence of the Martian natives gave the bureaucrats the excuse they needed to do things their way, so as to ‘protect’ the indigenees. The indigenees put up with it.
Environmentwise, this is a late-1940’s Mars, with thin but breathable air, savagely cold nights, and abundant flora / fauna.

  • Venus:

The other life-bearing planet, is the home of a really decadent alien civilization. Not specified to this point, think of it as the ultimate banana republic. The Venusians are eight feet tall, languidly elongated, yellow-skinned and stylish. (Think: elves. Snotty ones.) A government bureaucracy exists here, too, to protect the natives. The natives view it mainly as an impediment to smuggling exotic drugs off-planet, and selling their neighbors’ lands, mineral rights, and nubile young females to gullible humans.
Environmentwise, this is also a late-1940’s Venus — permanent cloud cover, hot and humid, jungles and swamps, but survivable by humans.

  • Asteroid Belt:

Where all those ‘unsuitable’ people went when the Moon got too crowded for them and the authorities wouldn’t let them settle on Mars. Abounds in two types of folks: Miners and social / political / religious utopians. Hard to tell which sort is crazier.

  • Jupiter & Saturn:

Gas giants, they cannot be landed on because there’s no ‘land’ (i.e., solid surface) there. There is a balloon-supported scientific research base in Jupiter’s atmosphere, and the various world-sized moons around the two planets offer plenty of playing room. None of the moons have been colonized yet but various nations sporadically engage in attempts to ‘claim’ them.


  • Space Travel:

The toughest trip to make in the Civilized Solar System (Say that three times fast without spitting!) is that between the surface of the Earth and Low Earth Orbit. Earth’s gravity well is deep and environmental restrictions do not allow the use of atomic power within Earth’s atmosphere. So any journey to or from Earth has two parts: 1) From the surface to one of three Orbital Transfer Stations (“Hartsfield,” “O’Hare,” or “Lacks”) on a chemical-fueled Orbit Freighter, then 2) on to anywhere else.
Large spacecraft which do not operate to Earth’s surface are generally atomic-powered, using water or ammonia as “working fluid,” to be heated by the atomic reactor and exhausted out the rear.
Small spacecraft — ‘runabouts’ — are powered by any of a variety of chemical fuels.
Unmanned freighters may use ion drives, which are extremely economical but have such low thrust that trip times may be weeks or months, even between Earth Orbit and Moon.
Typical trip times for passenger and military vessels are as given below:

Earth surface – Earth orbit
1.5 hrs.
Earth orbit – Moon
2.5 days
Earth orbit – Mars or Venus
3 weeks
Earth orbit – Asteroid Belt
5 weeks
Earth orbit – Jupiter
3 months
Earth orbit – Saturn
6 months

I have tried to keep at least a superficial gloss of plausibility on space flight in the “Rory Rammer” scripts. Just keep in mind: 1) It takes time to get anywhere in space, and 2) You *can* run out of fuel.

  • The ‘Silver Star’:

Marshal Rammer’s usual spacecraft, the ‘Silver Star’ is atomic-powered, but streamlined and with wings, to be used for glide-landings on Mars or Venus. Approximately 120 feet long and weighing about 1.5 million pounds fully fueled. Blazoned across the body is “Rocket Ship ‘Silver Star’ — U.S. Space Marshals — Homeport: Space Station ‘J. Edgar Hoover’ — R. Rammer, Commanding.” (See “Rory Rammer and the Martian Mafia”)

  • Weapons:

Standard energy weapon is the ‘blaster,’ from a sidearm to something the size of a battleship’s 16-inch artillery piece. Blasters fire ‘pulses’ of energy instead of a steady beam.
Projectile weapons persist, however, especially in situations where it is not desirable to melt a hole in the hull with a missed shot. Space Marine weapons include carbines (firing flechette rounds) and shotguns.
Not encouraged: Lasers. (Not invented in 1952.) “Phasers.” (This is not Star Trek.) “Light sabers.” (Nor Star Wars.)

  • Science and not:

I’ve been trying to stick to what was known / supposed about science, space travel, and the planets around 1950 – 1955. Please avoid doubletalk, inventions that would change the assumptions of the series radically, psychic powers (in general), and gratuitous one-time-only aliens. (Unless the script is really funny and then we’ll talk about it.)


  • U.S. Space Marshals:

Extraterrestrial branch of U.S. Dept. of Justice — meaning they’re run by the same people who gave you the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. The U.S. Space Marshals are headquartered at “Space Station J. Edgar Hoover,” in a geostationary orbit over the equator at a point due south of Washington, D.C.

  • Bureau of Martian Affairs / Bureau of Venusian Affairs:
    • Like “Bureau of Indian Affairs,” but “looking after” the natives of Mars and Venus.
  • U.S. Space Force and U.S. Space Marines:
    • Relevant U.S. military forces. No other nations are allowed military forces in space. Space Marines can be called on for extra ‘muscle,’ like the U.S. Cavalry in an old “Lone Ranger” episode.
    • Space Force is ultimate Big Stick, when someone just has to be threatened with nuclear annihilation. It is USSF doctrine to shoot first and let the radioisotopes sort themselves out later. Space Force cruisers are large, fast, and named after archangels (“Michael,” and “Gabriel.”)
  • Dept. of Health Education, Enhancement, and Enforcement Proctors — Federal Mars Colony (The “Dee-Hees”)
  • De facto police force of the human colonies on Mars. Essentially unlimited powers, as they administer not laws but regulations. Enforce the draconian regs against tobacco, alcohol, high-cholesterol foods, fragrances and other harmful substances forbidden in the Federal colonies.


  • Rory Rammer:

From “Who’s Who Above the Tropopause [1997 ed.]”: Rammer, Alan Roarke. b. 8-16-52, Hope, Arkansas. Education: BS, Ga. Inst. of Technology, 1974. MS, Reno U. (U.S. Fed gov’t.), 1976. Brevet U.S. Space Marshal Div., 1976. First posting: Luna City SM Office. [See “Luna Shall Be Dry!”]
(Daniel Kiernan asked me at one point if Rory Rammer was like Roger Ramjet. No. RR is usually quite competent, even steely. Humor arises from his stuffy over-devotion to duty. If you *want* him to act like a buffoon, put Miss Feynman nearby [see below].)

  • ‘Skip’ Sagan:

Obligatory sidekick, Skip seems to be about seventeen years old. (Now if his voice would just change.) Hugely enthusiastic, his intelligence is matched only by his naivete. Described as a “Space Marshal Cadet,” he seems to be attached to R. Rammer so Rammer will have someone to explain things to.

  • Prof. Irwin Feynman:

Director of “Science Station Galileo,” a science research laboratory in Earth orbit Resident know-it-all scientist, good guy variety, mostly seems to be there to explain things to R. Rammer. (If you want a Mad Scientist, make up one of your own.) Widower, one daughter (see below).

  • Kryssa Feynman:

Prof. Feynman’s daughter, 25 years old. No, she doesn’t have a PhD in astrophysics, but she could probably keep up in a graduate seminar, just from listening to her father talk over the dinner table. Basically a nice, normal young woman — with a slight tendency to scream. Not as taken with Rory Rammer as he is with her, and sometimes downright unimpressed with him (See “Runaway Rockets”) and not above manipulating the marshal / her father / any other males in line of sight to get what she wants.

  • ‘Rex’ Gorbachev:

Former General Secretary of the local Communist Party at Severomorsk before the Presto War and the Collapse, currently a ‘foreign-currency entrepreneur’–which means about the same thing to the Ministry of External Affairs of the Russian Republic that ‘privateer’ did to Queen Elizabeth I when speaking of Sir Francis Drake. Often apprehended by Marshal Rammer and extradited back to the Russian Republic — which slaps his wrist and sends him out into the world again. So far, Rammer has resisted the urge to just shoot Gorbachev and get it over with.

  • Chief Two Moons:

“Green Indian” chief in the Solis Lacus [“Lake of the Sun” — lots of schoolboy-Latin place names on Mars] region of Mars. Regularly runs mental rings around local Bureau of Martian Affairs agents. President / CEO / Chairman of the Board of “Barsoom Corp. (Pty.),” the legal entity of his “tribe.” Addicted to the BBC Interplanetary Service, but somewhat naive about certain aspects of life on Earth. (Thinks the British royal family are sitcom characters.) Speaks perfect English with a posh British accent. Appearance: E.R. Burroughs four-armed Martian.

  • Sinead O’Chronos

Brilliant but unbalanced Irish physicist. Invented and attempted to test an experimental time machine in “Set Loose the Dogs of Time!” but was thwarted by an omnipotent superbeing that guards the integrity of the time stream. Last seen headed for her lab carrying a consolation prize from the superbeing: a live Archeopteryx.

  • Renee Marceau

Unbalanced but brilliant French geneticist. Was hounded off Earth to Venus after her genetically-engineered squid-snail hybrid grew to enormous size and wrecked the city of Marseilles, France before being destroyed. Hatched a plot to cover the swampy surface of Venus with a living carpet of mutant squid / snail / grass but was thwarted by R. Rammer. Probably dead; last seen being gulped down by the carnivorous “lawn” of her island while attempting to escape.

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A Rory Rammer Episode Guide

So far, there are twenty stirring adventures featuring the dynamic Marshal, his eager young Cadet, and his ever-expanding supporting cast, many of which have been featured at Dragon*Con and NecronomiCon. In approximate chronological order, they are:

Eye in the Sky
One-joke spoof on the Hubble Space Telescope’s problems. (I’ll do the really cheap jokes around here, thank you. — RNB) Introduces R. Rammer, S. Sagan, Prof. Feynman, daughter Kryssa, and archvillain Rex Gorbachev.
Runaway Rockets
Rory gets his chance to earn Miss Feynman’s eternal gratitude by rescuing her when her father’s rocket scooter runs away with her. Instead, he sets them on a collision course with the Sun.
The Green Man’s Burden
Rory looks on while Bureau of Martian Affairs field agent “Bubba” Beacham matches wits with canny “Green Indian” chief Two Moons — with predictable results.
The Martian Mafia
Attempting to capture a cholesterol smuggler on the Martian moon of Phobos, Rory uses a practical knowledge of orbital mechanics to save the day.
Luna Shall Be Dry!
In flashback, young Marshal Rammer gets his first posting, to the rough mining town of Luna City, just as a female temperance activist crashes the robot freighter carrying L-City’s monthly shipment of liquor. Rammer must take her into protective custody before the outraged miners capture her and do God-knows-what with her.
The Last Vampire
Recovering an object plunging in from deep space, Rory and Skip, with Prof. Feynman and his daughter, find it is the last survivor of a race of alien vampires.
The Island of Doctor Marceau
Investigating a terrorist extortion plot on Venus, Rory and Skip are kidnapped and brought before the shadowy figure behind the scheme: mad geneticist Renée Marceau.
Set Loose the Dogs of Time
Sent by the Science Council to shut down physicist Sinead O’Chronos’s experimental time machine, Rory and Skip are captured, trussed up, and must watch as O’Chronos cranks up her device — with possibly catastrophic effects on the very fabric of Reality.
The Asteroid of Love
Rory and Skip accompany the “Android Sisters” on a special USO tour to a Space Marines base on the asteroid 1011 Amor.
The Cosmic Cycloplex
While rescuing Prof. Feynman from a black hole-like phenomenon — a “cosmic cycloplex” — Rory falls in.
The Phantom Menace
Captain Cosmos, Space Pirate, is waylaying spaceships all over the inner Solar System in his sinister, invisible battlecruiser. But is that any way to make a living?
Enemy of the People
Crashed in the Martian desert with smuggler Rex Gorbachev, Rory must decide who is worse: Gorbachev or the Martian police, who are determined to execute him for smuggling in eggs, bacon, and Ho-hos.
The Planetoid of Doom
Rory and Skip, with the help of a robotic deputy, must stop an asteroid miner who wants to cut out the “mining” step of getting his ore to Earth — by nudging the whole asteroid towards Earth with a hydrogen bomb!
Queen of the Spaceways
Rory, Skip and undercover operative Michiko Sakai investigate a series of puzzling spaceliner hijackings between Earth and the Moon.
The Lance of Justice
Rory and Skip are assigned by the Undersecretary for Stratospheric Affairs to act as technical advisers for a new TV show: “Lance Thruster, Rocket Ranger!”
The Colour of the Shadow of the Outsider Over the Mountain of Madness Out of Space
The Dunwich Disposal Corporation uses power generated by consuming garbage to recharge depleted power storage units. But their energy output is far more than can be accounted for by the amount of raw materials used. Does Dunwich have an unlicensed atomic pile? Or is their power source… something else?  
The Meteor Surfers
Rory and Skip must stop a gang of “meteor surfers” — teenagers who “surf” down from Earth orbit using flimsy, one-man heat shields and parachutes, endangering themselves and any air traffic below. A gang of surfers hijack an orbit freighter for a mass drop — but Rory delivers them into the arms of Justice.  (Or at least improved parental supervision.)
Murder by Meteor
Rory and Skip, with robot police officer DARIL T-8, investigate a freak accident at a science station in the Asteroid Belt: A scientist struck in the chest by a meteorite. But was it an accident? Was it a meteorite?
A Visit from Saint Rex
(The infamous Christmas episode.)  He wears a red suit.  He has a beard.  That’s a sack of toys on his back.  But he’s not Santa Claus, he’s space pirate Rex Gorbachev.  So the toys are stolen and the visions dancing in his head have to do with the black market price of a “Pickle Me Nemo” doll, not sugarplums.
Slaves of the Zombie-Tron
Rory battles his own mind-controlled cadet in order to defeat the plans of rogue scientist Richard Icthyopolos.
The Angel of Destruction
When the State Dept. accidentally leaves the Saturnian moon of Iapetus off the list of U.S.-claimed astronomical bodies, three nations launch expeditions to take possession. Rory and Skip try to defuse the situation before it leads to a three-cornered war back on Earth.
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Rory Rammer, Space Marshal: The Murder of Skip Sagan

Size: 8.9M Duration: 18:57

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This month we bring you Rory Rammer, Space Marshal: The Murder of Skip Sagan, performed live at LibertyCon, July 21, 2012