Dangerous Visions

Review by Oliver Wake
May and June saw the return of BBC Radio 4’s annual Dangerous Visions season of dystopian science fiction, featuring both adaptations and original stories and dramas.
Joseph Wilde’s Produce was an effective but emotive drama about ‘designer babies’ and the danger of children being viewed as consumer products, with their attendant manufacturer liabilities. Equally intriguing but less dramatic was Your Perfect Summer, On Sale Here, by Ed Harris, which posited a world of addictive immersive videogames drawn from the memories of human subjects. Sarah Woods dramatised and updated William Morris’ socialistic 1890 novel News from Nowhere to present a future London as a bucolic post-capitalist utopia.
The centrepiece of the season was a new dramatisation (the BBC’s second) of The Kraken Wakes, John Wyndham’s 1953 tale of alien invasion of the oceans. Relocating the story to the present, crime writer Val McDermid’s script rarely put a foot wrong, but the production itself was hampered by the odd decision to record it with a live orchestra and audience. Although deliberately evoking B-movie music, the specially composed score was overly-melodramatic and intrusive, while the noises-off of the audience worked against the atmosphere of impending doom.
The season’s other major dramatisation was of Aldous Huxley’s seminal Brave New World, which benefited from a more traditional production. Jonathan Holloway’s script made minor updates to the story to reflect social changes since its publication, but this 1930s vision of a eugenics obsessed society remains, happily, an outdated prophesy. It, too, was on (at least) its second BBC dramatisation and it may now be time to rest this story.
The season’s readings included a serialisation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s disturbing 2005 novel Never Let Me Go, about a school for cloned children bred to be organ donors. Four original short stories also featured, under the banner ‘Dark Vignettes’. Julian Simpson’s Blackout painted a predictable picture of Britain falling into chaos as first communications technologies and then the power supply fails. The Fanglur and the Twoof, by Toby Litt, concerned a family undertaking a perilous trek across a desert comprised (unaccountably) of teeth. It was by far the most overtly-fantastical of the season and, lacking any relationship to the present, didn’t seem a good fit for its theme of contemporary visions of dystopian futures.
Conversely, the last two stories were perhaps the most astute of the ‘Dark Vignettes’, presenting worryingly plausible twists on recognisable situations. In Spine, by Anita Sullivan, a family aiming to emigrate from their (unnamed) oppressive nation struggle with the various technological and, crucially, human, obstacles to successfully pass through airport security. Melissa Lee-Houghton’s Inertia tackles the future of medicine and, particularly, the provisions of medical insurance, suggesting that those with complaints that can be deemed to be self-inflicted (liver disease in this case) may not be entitled to the level of care they had expected.
Overall, this year’s Dangerous Visions season has been a mixed bag, but its stories continue to disturb, intrigue and provoke thought – exactly as science fiction is supposed to.

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