Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Crossroads by L. Ron Hubbard (unabridged audio book performed by a full cast)

These days, the name of L. Ron Hubbard is largely connected with Scientology and the antics of some of its more "outspoken" members, overshadowing the fact that the man really knew how to tell an entertaining story and did so professionally for many years. All 150 of the short stories and novels Hubbard wrote for the pulp magazines of the 1930s and '40s are being rereleased in paperback and audiobook under the evocative title Stories from the Golden Age.

I'm focusing on the audiobooks. They are a professionally produced combination of traditional narration (deftly handled primarily by R.F. Daley) and old-time radio, with skilled actors playing the characters (often multiple roles) and genre-specific music and sound effects rounding out the experience.

The Crossroads contains three novellas. In the title story (originally published in the February 1941 issue of Unknown), Farmer Eben Smith is paid by the government for not growing crops during the "acute economic situation." But he's not paid enough, so he decides to take a load of vegetables to the city (where he's read people are starving, despite the official cries of "surplus") to see what he can get in trade.

With little idea where to go except "south," he packs up his horse Lucy's wagon and heads off, leaving wife Maria to mind the home. As night overtakes Eben and Lucy, they come to a crossroads with no clue which road to take. One road is concrete, one is full of boulders, one is shiny metal, and one simply continues the dirt road that they came on.

Perplexed by the choices, and by the fact that the sun is suddenly overhead (which he blames on the government), Eben settles down to eat lunch, take a nap, and wait for someone else to come along. And, boy, do they!

Corey Burton excels in his performance as Eben, and director Jim Meskimen once again shows the breadth of his talent by tackling five very distinct supporting roles, none of which are recognizable as the same actor. "The Crossroads" is also quite funny as Eben uses his shrewd business tactics to read each visitor and get the best deal ... for a while, anyway. Even a head for business doesn't do much against a break in the space-time continuum.

In "Borrowed Glory" (which originally appeared in the October 1941 issue of Unknown Worlds), Tuffaron the mad genie hates humans; Georgie the angel loves them. Among the angel's powers are her ability to give everything someone wants for 48 hours, after which it is all taken back except the memory of it. She believes that this is enough to impart lasting happiness, while the genie scoffs that is will only make for more misery.

They, of course, make a wager, and Georgie soon visits Meredith Smith, and aging spinster with nothing to show for her years -- no good or bad memories, just years of work and loneliness. The next 48 hours are like a fairy tale with riches, luxury, and everlasting love ... just not the way you think.

Director Tait Ruppert tackles the role of Tuffaron and four other supporting roles, while Jennifer Darling has the daunting task of having a conversation with herself as both Georgie and Meredith. R.F. Daley narrates, and Edoardo Ballerini makes for an appealing love interest as Thomas Crandall.

The final story is "Devil's Rescue." Bucko mate Edward Lanson (who was captain for 5 days after the rest of the crew died) has been floating on the open seas for 21 days. Having barely overtaken the urge toward cannibalism, he's beginning to wonder if continuing life is the right decision.

Then he is rescued by a ship that is strangely unmodern. Its captain, Vanderbeck, shows nothing but admiration for his survival skills, and Lanson is about to finally relax when a mysterious stranger comes on board, there to claim Lanson for his own.

Hubbard combines the sea adventure with the ghost story (and shades of The Seventh Seal years before that movie was released) to produce quite a ripping yarn in "The Devil's Rescue," though the ending is a bit anticlimactic. The audio is terrific, with realistic (and unobtrusive) sound effects and solid acting from the whole cast.

Narrator R.F. Daley carries the first half by getting into Lanson's head. Martin Yurchak delivers Lanson's dialogue unremarkably, but that is right for an everyman character like this. Director Jim Meskimen uses his skill with accents as Vanderbeck and two others, and Enn Reitel is suitably intimidating as the character referred to in the text only as He. His voice is an excellent combination of the debonair quality of Stephen Fry and the resonance of Christopher Lee, making Him very easy to visualize ... and fear.

All in all, The Crossroads is another fine collection of audio adaptations from the Stories from the Golden Age collection. Fans of pulp fiction and/or old-time radio will find this a highly diverting listen.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails