The Technicolor Time Machine
By Harry Harrison
1981 Radio Play by The British Broadcasting Company
In 1967 Harry Harrison wrote an imaginative and amusing tale of time travel, the details of which still have a certain ring of truth in many ways. We frequently think of scientists working in their labs (when not teaching classes) on their specialized projects, but unless you have either been such a scientist or had your eyes wide open and observant while in college, you may not have wondered who was paying for their research. The sad truth is that serious research is expensive and time consuming, which, in turn, adds the cost of living to the expense.
Many scientists work for corporations that cover the cost of research, and generally own whatever discoveries are made along the way, especially if the discovery is a new cleaning solution or perfume scent. A university-based scientist lives under the Prime Directive: Publish or Perish! Even this costs money. Sometimes the money comes from private institutions and sometimes from the government. The school encourages this because it gets to rake off its percentage before the first penny is spent.
There are very few private inventors who can afford to putter around in their basements on truly ground-breaking inventions and even so nearly all of them need financial backing. Where is the money to come from? Well, there are government grants, Not-for-profit educational organization grants and corporate grants, but if you are working on a time machine who can you trust?
Okay that is the part that rang true and perhaps turning over the use of your invention to a Hollywood production company might not be as bad as letting the government know about it. Then again…
So a failing production company sinks what’s left of their money onto this inventor’s time machine and then they get to use it to make a movie in the past and have it all finished in what seems, in the present, as almost no time at all, just in time to save the company. So, what sort of movie to make? Something historical, of course, they go back about a thousand years and kidnap a Viking and after managing to teach him modern English they get him to agree to help so long as they pay him in bottles of Jack Daniels.
There are a lot of jokes set in their misadventure as they film the movie called Viking Columbus as they have to deal with egotistical actors, an empty-headed sex-bomb bimbo of an actress, that Viking and a whole lot of others. The book is a lot of fun and still worth reading if you can find a copy.
The Radio Play:
I did not realize it was a radio play until I started listening to it and by then I felt I was committed. Happily, while many details had to be cut from the production, the story presented was faithful to the original novel, including when the bimbo actress who has a child with the Viking names her son “Snorey” like one of the seven dwarves.
In all it was fun to listen to with the full cast playing their parts to the hilt, in this case to the hilt of the Viking’s sword. So, it’s a fun book to read and if you can find of copy of this radio play, definitely give it a listen.