BBC SF Radio Dramas – June 2013

Drowned World


Many years ago I was blown away by a bunch of short stories – edited by that amazing and unique talent Harlan Ellison – offering visions of the future that provoked, unsettled and disturbed. The book was called ‘Dangeorus Visions’. It made me see Science Fiction in a totally different way

Now, many years later, I’m privileged to be part of a ground-breaking BBC Radio 4 series of plays about the strange and the weird and the dystopic. It’s called, in homage to the great Harlan, ‘Dangeorus Visions’ and yes, that is kind of funny. Duh! It’s on the radio!

The season consists of one Saturday Drama, four Afternoon Dramas, a 15 minute Drama serial and two adaptations of novels by J.G. Ballard, ‘The Drowned World’ and ‘Concrete Island’. There are also some cool extras, including an audio version of a 1989 interview with Ballard himself. It starts – wait for it this Saturday 15th June, and continues on to Sunday 23rd June.

Ballard sets the tone for this week of dark mordant speculation; it is a Ballardian week. If you’re not sure what that means, then Jeremy Howe, the senior BBC commissioner who can claim a major part of the credit for this radical irruption of dystopia into the schedules, explains: ‘The adjective Ballardian refers to the writer J.G. Ballard’s fearful imaginings of what the near future might be like. Even though the master creator of dystopian futures died four years ago, his vision of what our future might become feels as relevant, satirical and as scary as ever. ‘

Who thinks Radio 4 is cosy???? It’s really not.

My particular episode is called ‘Invasion’ and it’s an unabashedly science fictional tale of a man called Kadian who is locked in a glass cage. If you want to know why, it’s broadcast on Tuesday 18th June. It was directed by the irrepressibly talented James Robinson in a studio in the home city of the Time Lord –  Cardiff.

The joy for me about this season is that it allowed a bunch of radio writers who normally never meet or collaborate to join together in a common enterprise of warped extrapolation. Jeremy took the unusual step of convening a brainstorming session with most of the writers of the season (myself, Nick Perry, Ed Harris, Michael Symmons Roberts and Michael Butt) so we could sit and discuss what the hell we think dystopia is.

(My contribution to the debate: dystopia is a world without chocolate. What can I say? I lack depth!)

No, seriously, it was a far-reaching and challenging discussion which ranged from Tarkovsky to the modern philosophy of John Gray to well, a bunch of other stuff, in which we all, as writers, got to pitch our stories to the other writers. Not to get the gig – which is what pitches normally involve – but just to share our visions.

This then is a Ballard season which honours the spirit of Ballard, rather than just doing all his stuff, bookended by versions of two of his most provoking and intriguing works. Running through the week like the word ‘Blackpool’ in a stick of rock is an adaptation of Jane Rogers’ unsettling and acclaimed novel ‘The Testament Of Jesse Lamb’, which is punched out in fifteen minute episodes each day from Monday to Friday.

If you’re looking for laughs , then I highly recommend The Big Bang Theory, which is on pretty much every minute of the day on my telly but if you’re looking for drama which takes risks, asks difficult questions and explores terrifying scenarios, do listen in next week.

This is the schedule.

And here’s some other stuff.

And oh, this is lovely; here’s an interview with poet and radio dramatist Michael Symmons Roberts.

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