Hear Radio Dramas of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy & 7 Classic Asimov Stories


Paint­ing of Asi­mov on his throne by Rowe­na Morill, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Isaac Asi­mov’s huge­ly influ­en­tial sci­ence fic­tion clas­sic The Foun­da­tion Tril­o­gy will soon, it seems, become an HBO series, reach­ing the same audi­ences who were won over by the Game of Thrones adap­ta­tions. We can expect favorite char­ac­ter arcs to emerge, per­haps dis­tort­ing the orig­i­nal nar­ra­tive; we can expect plen­ty of inter­net memes and new rip­ples of influ­ence through suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions. In fact, if the series becomes a real­i­ty, and catch­es on the way most HBO shows do—either with a mass audi­ence or a lat­er devot­ed cult following—I think we can expect much renewed inter­est in the field of “psy­chohis­to­ry,” the futur­is­tic sci­ence prac­ticed by the nov­els’ hero Hari Sel­don.

This is no small thing. Foun­da­tion has inspired a great many sci­ence fic­tion writ­ers, from Dou­glas Adams to George Lucas. But it has also guid­ed the careers of peo­ple whose work has more imme­di­ate real-world con­se­quences, like econ­o­mist Paul Krug­man and fer­vent advo­cate of pos­i­tive psy­chol­o­gy Mar­tin Selig­man. “The tril­o­gy real­ly is a unique mas­ter­piece,” writes Krug­man,” there has nev­er been any­thing quite like it.” The fic­tion­al sci­ence of psy­chohis­to­ry inspired the exper­i­men­tal pre­dic­tive tech­niques Selig­man devel­oped and described in his book Learned Opti­mism:

In his impos­si­ble-to-put-down Foun­da­tion Trilogy—I read it in one thir­ty-hour burst of ado­les­cent excitement—Asimov invents a great hero for pim­ply, intel­lec­tu­al kids…. “Wow!” thought this impres­sion­able ado­les­cent…. That “Wow!” has stayed with me all my life.

If you’re think­ing that the epic scale of Asi­mov’s sprawl­ing trilogy—one he explic­it­ly mod­eled after Edward Gib­bon’s mul­ti-vol­ume His­to­ry of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire—will prove impos­si­ble to real­ize on the screen, you may be right. On the oth­er hand, Asi­mov’s prose has lent itself par­tic­u­lar­ly well to an old­er dra­mat­ic medi­um: the radio play. As we not­ed in an ear­li­er post on a pop­u­lar 1973 BBC adap­ta­tion of the tril­o­gy, Ender’s Game author Orson Scott Card once described the books as “all talk, no action.” This may sound like a dis­par­age­ment, except, Card went on to say, “Asi­mov’s talk is action.”

Today, we bring you sev­er­al dif­fer­ent radio adap­ta­tions of Asi­mov’s fic­tion, and you can hear the many ways his fas­ci­nat­ing con­cepts, trans­lat­ed into equal­ly fas­ci­nat­ing, and yes, talky, fic­tion, have inspired writ­ers, sci­en­tists, film­mak­ers, and “pim­ply, intel­lec­tu­al kids” alike for decades. At the top of the post, hear the entire, eight-hour BBC adap­ta­tion of Foun­da­tion from start to fin­ish. You can also stream and down­load indi­vid­ual episodes on Spo­ti­fy and at Youtube and the Inter­net Archive. Below it, we have clas­sic sci-fi radio dra­ma series Dimen­sion X’s drama­ti­za­tions of “Peb­ble in the Sky” and “Night­fall,” both from 1951.

Also hear two Asi­mov’s sto­ries “The ‘C’ Chute” and “Hostess”—both pro­duced by Dimen­sion X suc­ces­sor X Minus One. These series, wrote Col­in Mar­shall in a pre­vi­ous post, “show­case Amer­i­can cul­ture at its mid-20th-cen­tu­ry finest: for­ward-look­ing, tem­pera­men­tal­ly bold, tech­no­log­i­cal­ly adept, and sat­u­rat­ed with earnest­ness but for the occa­sion­al sur­pris­ing­ly know­ing irony or bleak edge of dark­ness.”

Not to be out­done by these two pro­grams, Mutu­al Broad­cast­ing Sys­tem cre­at­ed Explor­ing Tomor­row, a “sci­ence fic­tion show of sci­ence-fic­tion­eers, by sci­ence-fic­tion­eers and for sci­ence-fic­tion­eers” that ran briefly from 1957 to 1958. Below, they adapt Asi­mov’s sto­ry “The Liar.”

These old-time radio dra­mas will cer­tain­ly appeal to the nos­tal­gia of peo­ple who were alive to hear them when they first aired. But while their pro­duc­tion val­ues will nev­er come close to match­ing those of HBO, they offer some­thing for younger lis­ten­ers as well—an oppor­tu­ni­ty to get lost in Asi­mov’s com­plex ideas, and to engage the imag­i­na­tion in ways tele­vi­sion does­n’t allow. Whether or not Foun­da­tion ever suc­cess­ful­ly makes it to the small screen, I would love to see Asi­mov’s fiction—in print, on the radio, on screen, or on the internet—continue to inspire new sci­en­tif­ic and social vision­ar­ies for gen­er­a­tions to come.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Isaac Asimov’s Favorite Sto­ry “The Last Ques­tion” Read by Isaac Asi­mov— and by Leonard Nimoy

Isaac Asimov’s Foun­da­tion Tril­o­gy: Hear the 1973 Radio Drama­ti­za­tion

Dimen­sion X: The 1950s Sci­Fi Radio Show That Dra­ma­tized Sto­ries by Asi­mov, Brad­bury, Von­negut & More

X Minus One: More Clas­sic 1950s Sci-Fi Radio from Asi­mov, Hein­lein, Brad­bury & Dick

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (3)
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  • Michael says:

    As it hap­pens, I lis­tened to “Night­fall” just last week and it still holds up well. On the oth­er hand, a movie many years lat­er was so bad that Asi­mov had to make an announce­ment that the movie script was noth­ing to do with him.

    Radio 1, Hol­ly­wood zero.

  • Branislav Blazevski says:

    Bon new age, hap­py new year,
    ple­asse sele­ci me best or most pop­u­lar­i­ty from mp3, thank you.

  • Peter says:

    Those inter­est­ed should read “Bill The Galac­tic Hero” by Har­ry Har­ri­son, who based his work on Asi­mov’s Tran­tor.

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