This week for Throwback Thursday, ScienceFiction’s ongoing column dedicated to classic scifi, we are going to go back –way back– to the days of radio plays.
Well… I mean, when I say way back to the day of radio plays, what I really means is the 80s, so that far back. At some point, I may talk about things like ‘The War of the Worlds’, but let’s not get too ahead –or rather, behind– of ourselves. The show I want to pay homage to today, though, is ‘Ruby the Galactic Gumshoe’.
Now, some of you may remember the show from your local underground radio stations, and others of you may remember it from the tapes your dad made of it in the 80s when it was playing at WIBA at 1 in the morning which he then forced you to listen to years later on one of your many family roadtrips back to Wisconsin.
Alright, that last one is probably just me. What’s more likely is that very few of you remember this amazing radio play, which is a shame because ZBS puts out some of most brilliant and absorbing science fiction ever made.
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of radio plays. I spoke at great length in a previous article about how it could very well be the future of science fiction with the advent of podcasts. But Ruby, though it is from the past, is absolutely timeless.
While the series spans nine radio dramas, I will focus on the first in this article (entitled ‘Ruby 1′) as it is my favorite and a great way for you to get your feet wet in its complicated by emmersive world.
The plot of radio drama follows Ruby, a galactic gumshoe (“a good one”, she would note), and her varying exploits to answer her clients’ questions, most of which are existential in some way. Case in point, her first case was “Who is manipulating the media?”.
Frankly, even thirty years later, it’s a refreshingly delightful twist on typical noir story; instead of solving murders and adultery, the questions tend to land the audience somewhere in the middle of “what is the meaning of life?” and “are worldwide conspiracies illusions?”.
If the plot doesn’t sell you, the cast of over the top scifi characters certainly will.
The cast features Moliere, the leader of an ancient mole society that speaks in mole-related puns; OffOnOff and OnOffOn, two techno witches; The Android Sisters, two popular entertainers who attempt to answer questions like “Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep?” to varying esoteric results; The Tookah, an informant with four tentacles, three eyes, a thin blue mustache, and wearing a red fez; And/Or, a techie who is a part of the Digital Circus (a sort of cult dedicated to Tesla, who go around from place to place fighting robots against locals in order to learn their secrets); and Angel Lips, the android who causes all the trouble in the first episode due to her programmed free will.
Of course, we can’t forget the incredibly bad-ass Ruby, the detective so armed to the teeth that she is literally armed to the teeth. I mean it. She has blast capsules in her teeth. It took forty-five seconds to disarm her… in a radio play. She also has the ability to slow time, and narrate what’s happening to her even in the midst of battle with slimeys.
Oh, and her wit and commentary are fun, and always incisive.
The long and short of it is that I cannot recommend this series enough, even if you only listen to the first adventure. It plays on science fiction tropes in ways that have never done before, and still has never been done. It’s sexy, action-packed, thought-provoking, and funny. You really couldn’t ask for anything more of science fiction in any medium.
The radio plays, as indeed are all of the ZBS productions, are available at audible.com, and the albums on Amazon.