Sunday, June 5, 2022

Cage of Light (1984).

Not long ago, I made first introductions to an obscure piece of media.  It was a long forgotten radio program, known simply as Nightfall.  One of those fly-by-night creative experiments of the early to mid-1980s.  Looking back now, I almost want to call it the last Golden Age of artistic achievement.  It was a time when there always seemed to be enough loose change lying around, with enough imagination left over to spare.  The result was this brief, yet vibrant span of time for the entertainment industry worldwide.  It was a window of opportunity where the basic rule of thumb was, if you can dream it, try and see if you can make it real.  As a result, part of the charm of the 80s was that it was something close to the last time anyone thought of trying to take a chance on the now rare, anthology show format.  That's the kind of show where there's no single cast of characters, or plot, and instead each episode of the show is dedicated to a simple, stand-alone story with a definitive beginning, middle, and end.  It's became a near endangered species in an age devoted to franchise tent-poles of higher budgets and lessening returns.

While the format is practically a collector's antique these days, it still remains one of my favorite types of programming.  I think part of the charm of the anthology format is that it's the one media style that comes closest to the experience of reading a story in its purest form.  By that I mean simply that the best thing about an anthology series is that it comes closest to the experience of picking up one book, living within its pages for a span of time, and then being lucky enough to find another story, just as good as the one that came before, just for different reasons.  There must have been some sort of mutual wavelength going on back then.  As the 1980s appears to have been something close to the last final bow for the genre anthology.  I think part of what explains this is that a lot of the people who grew up as young kinds watching shows like The Twilight Zone, or Alfred Hitchcock Presents came away inspired by what they saw, and now that they were established names in the industry, they wanted to revive the particular creative thrill each of them got out of  the efforts of format pioneers like Rod Serling.

It helped in no small part that the original Big Three TV networks who were responsible for giving us shows like The Outer Limits, and One Step Beyond, were now eager to try and see if each of these old war horses still had some life in them.  Could the old, gray mare still run with the input of some new blood, in other words?  By and large, the answer to that question seems to have been, pretty much, yes.  That's how we wound up with a slate of new and improved anthology shows, such as the first (and so far, the most successful) reboot of the Zone, along with new offerings such as Tales from the Darkside, or Steve Spielberg's Amazing Stories.  Even good ol' Uncle Freddy Krueger got his own Tales from the Crypt style series for a brief span of time.  In fact, however crazy that sounds, let it at least stand as a good example of just how the networks were willing to take risks on real, actual creative challenges.

This spurt of creativity didn't apply solely to the Idiot Box, however.  The format of dramatic radio, what some have referred to as the Theater of the Mind, was also able to get in on the act.  In addition to shows like The Ray Bradbury Theater, the full cast audio performance began to find the start of a new footing for itself, after a long span of dormancy, which started sometime in the early 60s.  By the time the 80s rolled around, the OTR format was beginning to show signs of stirring back to life.  It was a revival composed of many parents.  For the purposes of the article, the creator we have to focus in on is known as William Lane.  If the name has any familiarity to a few of you reading this, then it's because we've already covered his efforts once before.  Lane was the primary wunderkind behind the Nightfall radio dramas.  A good way to sum up his achievements there is to claim that Bill Lane might have been the man responsible for bringing the legitimate Gothic story of Horror and the Supernatural back to the airwaves.  It's the sort of achievement that no one ever talks about, and barely anyone remembers, all the while going on to leave ripple effects across the genre and various mediums for ages to come.

I suppose it's safe to claim that Nightfall remains Lane's chief claim to fame.  It was his baby, and he found the right way of raising and treating it that catapulted them both into a minor, yet genuine, form of the stratosphere.  Even if that's the case, it's still a mistake to treat him as the radio equivalent of a one-book-wonder.  In addition to Nightfall, Lane seems to have had one other long lasting endeavor to his name.  Much as he'd done for the Horror genre in his first big breakout series, he then went on to pay the same compliment to the related, literary strain known as Science Fiction.  The title for this new, spaced out anthology was The Vanishing Point. In many ways, this seems to have been a natural outgrowth of Lane's earlier efforts.  The Nightfall series ran from 1980 to 83.  By that time, Sci-Fi and Horror where reaching a height that they've never been able to achieve since.  Lane picked up on all this, and his successful effort in audio Tales of Terror must have left him eager for more of the similar.

It's been difficult, if not impossible, to find a sufficient amount of background material to this anthology.  In that sense, Vanishing Point is very much in the same boat as its earlier, sister show.  Each of them is an unjustly neglected, under-documented aspect of real life history, and so we've let each of them slip way back in the corridors of memory.  This makes the critical historian's task a bit more difficult, though not always insurmountable.  The most reliable facts available are that "Vanishing Point was the CBC’s follow-up to Nightfall, which had instilled new life into its many regional drama centers.  Like that series, Vanishing Point drew from the CBC's entire coast to coast network, gathering together the CBC's finest production, engineering, writing, and acting talent to mount one of the better radio dramas in CBC history.  

"While primarily a science fiction series, the anthology presented a wide range of genres, including thriller, horror, detective, psychological drama, comedy and even the occasional musical.  A number of episodes were adaptations of short stories from famous authors like Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl or Evelyn Waugh, but many were original plays from Canada's top talent.  Bill Lane workshopped plays from the winners of various Canadian literary competitions as a way of "reaching the audience by developing the talents of new playwrights (web)". And that, believe it or not, is all the background information I can find on the whole thing.  The only other interesting piece of trivia I've been able to find was something dredged up by accident.  It was a brief promotional line for the show.  It's tagline was promoted as: "The point between reality and fantasy (web)".  One critic goes on to describe it in the following terms: "Don’t expect to make sense of -these- as you would any other show. These stories are taken from the dream state that you slide into at night, just out of grasp of your senses, completely surreal, but in the dream, it makes every bit of sense… The shows are designed to confuse and twist; they have small meanings that resonate only with the dreamer’s subconscious (ibid)".

What's interesting about this circumstance is the way it can have of creating a proper sense of mystery surrounding the whole production.  It's one of those neat little unsung endeavors that fly under the radar during its moment in history.  Then it re-emerges as a relic of time at some later date, leaving an interesting enigma for people to wonder about.  That seems to have been the legacy of Vanishing Point.  In order to get better acquainted with it, maybe the best way of making first introductions is by taking a look at one of the show's sample offerings.  It's a first contact yarn, known simply as, Cage of Light.

The Basic Setup.   

(Opening narration): "Tonight, we are going on a voyage of discovery.  Into deep space.  Exploration commander John Wilhelm Allen is unwittingly to be our guide.  We must not disturb him.  For it is actually a voyage of re-discovery.  We are to be stowaways on a return flight to a planet deep in Commander Allen's mind (web)".

From the Old Time Radio Plot Spot synopsis: "A first contact mission specialist is put on trial for genocide when the alien race he made contact with 'disappeared' shortly after his visit to their home world".

From the Wikipedia synopsis: "The year is 2116 and a mission to find intelligent life in the universe has gone awry when the sole survivor returns with no memory of his journey. Now a jury of scientists must go on their own mission: into his subconscious. Written by Bill Gray".

First Contact Stories.

I don't know for certain how many of them are out there in the genre itself.  I'm not even sure whether the kind of story I'm thinking of amounts to a legitimate sub-genre within Science Fiction itself.  All I can tell for certain is that this is not the first time I've read or listened to a story about the first contact between humankind and an alien species.  I haven't read much over the course of my reading life, however I've been around long enough to know that there is more out there than what I've seen.  The idea of the human race making, establishing, or accidentally initiating mankind's first interactions with an extra-terrestrial species appears to have been on of the hallmarks of Sci-Fi almost from the beginning.  In fact, you when stop and consider the nature of the genre, the eventual appearance of this particular type of narrative seems to have always been some kind of an inevitable given.  A few good examples of the First Contact story would be certain elements of Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, the Star Trek episode entitled "The Corbomite Maneuver", and James Blish's A Case of Conscience.  I'm familiar with the first two examples, while the third has been a piece of information in the back of my mind for some time now.  It's an old trope with a renewable and long lasting shelf life.

I think the reasons for this are pretty obvious.  Even with NASA's Space Program in the rear-view mirror, the curiosity of whether we aren't alone in the universe doesn't appear to have gone anywhere.  On the contrary, if anything, our first few meager steps into the wider Solar System have merely acted as spurs to this specific train of thought.  It appears to have been the perfect spark needed to keep such a "What If" scenario alive in the imaginations of those both within and outside of the Science Fiction field.  If it's an origin point you're looking for, then there are plenty of candidates out there the choose from.  Wikipedia, for instance, cites H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds as their best choice for the first major story of interplanetary contact.  However, they also make the claim that "the theme had appeared earlier. Its roots lie in colonial narratives from the Age of Discovery onward (web)".  I'm left with the overall impression that this is a sub-genre made up of many fathers and mothers, if that makes an sense.

It's a kind of crazy quilt tapestry that has slowly been added to over the passage of years.  Each new story of interplanetary communications between humans and various, assorted, galactic "others" has amounted to yet another voice in one of the longest, ongoing conversations in the history of Science Fiction.  Right now, I think the best way to talk about this sub-genre is to take a close look at one of its actual, literary specimens.

Like many stories of its type, Cage of Light finds it wiser to choose a setting for itself in which humanity has managed to reach beyond the confines of Earth, and make a place for life amongst the stars.  It's a somewhat understandable choice, as these stories go.  By placing his narrative within the confines of an imaginative future, the story's author, William Gray, is able to take care of that pesky "Suspension of Disbelief" problem, and allows his readers to go along with a strictly "What-If" scenario.  In addition to this, one of the major purposes of "First Contact" stories is that it always serves as a good template that will allow the author the wade into whatever thematic subject is obsessing their mind at the moment.  In other words, even at its best, the sub-genre is a good excuse for the writer to work through their pre-occupations, or get a lot of the nasty out of the system every once and a while.  Gray's story appears to be aiming for the high notes in places, and he plays them well.

His basic setup is standard enough to almost be considered a cliche in itself.  You have a team of futuristic astronauts.  They land on an uncharted planet.  This imaginary, orbiting satellite is what's going to serve as the main setting.  The author makes sure that it's described in de-familiarized, exotic terms.  One of the astronaut's is sent out alone, because: genre cliches.  There the guy meets up with aliens.  Some kind of contact is made.  The rest of the story is about trying to puzzle out the meaning of the whole encounter.  It's all described in rich, evocative language which helps to paint a picture in your mind.  Rinse, recycle, repeat.  Actually, that next to last point is worth further consideration.

The same can be said for all the other plot elements just listed above, however, let's stick with Gray's main achievement, for the moment.  There's a great deal to be said for the quality of the dramatic audio drama.  This applies especially whenever you're in the hands of a good storyteller.  I've always felt that one of the best aspects of dramatic radio was the way it forces you to participate in the story as its being told.  It's a nice little riff on the standard storybook setup.  It's just you and the author, like always.  There's the extra addition of the cast, and yet they're really just there to perform the words, and nothing more.  The rest is entirely up to the listener.  You're the one who has to supply the casting, props, even the backgrounds, scenery, and setting for the whole story as nothing except the words are laid out in detail for you.  It's literally all the format leaves for you to work with, and there's something near perfect about it.  One of the great things about Old Time Radio is the way its able to neatly bypass all the regular Disbelief Suspension circuits and just go straight for the imagination.  I don't say that this kind of setup makes it the ideal storytelling format, yet it is one that deserves a great deal of respect.

This is something that Bill Gray grasps on an almost instinctive level, and he puts it to remarkably good use over the course of the episode's runtime.  Because he doesn't have an on-screen camera budget to work with, the writer is able to let his script take flight in a way that I don't think would be possible with even the highest Star Trek level budget.  The whole crux of any First Contact story lies in the actual meeting between the Human and the Extra-Terrestrial, along with whatever fallout can occur in such an imaginary circumstance.  Whether or not Gray's own approach to this genre trope can be considered unique, in any way.  There's no other word you can use to describe his treatment of familiar material, except to call it creative.  Sooner or later, the actor dressed in the rubber alien mask has to be brought on stage, and then all the writer can do is hope no one sees the zipper running down the back of the costume.  It's an age old problem that Gray doesn't have to worry about as much, due to the creative freedoms of his chosen format.  This allows him to reveal his aliens to us in an effective, step-by-step, slow burn way that manages to grab our curiosity, and leave us wanting to know more.

The first we (or rather the main character) can see of the martians is vague and opaque, at first.  Like a series Aurora Borealis lights emerging from the barren, sand-like wastes of the planet itself.  In my mind's eye, I think I tend to see what might be called the stock company version of a Sci-Fi, alien world.  It's a mix-mash of the various popular conceptions we've had over the years about Venus and Mars before satellite imagery took away our playtime box of paints.  It's a combination of rock desert made up of red and yellow hues.  This is followed by a series of quick, darting blotches of color appearing somewhere near the corner of the eye.  These colors begin to grow in size with such a speed that you're not sure if they've emerged out of the ground, or else just appeared out of thin air.  As the astronaut keeps watching, Lane begins to build and mold these at first indefinable colors into something resembling familiar, geometric shapes.  Soon the shapes begin to take on the forms of familiar objects, like birds or kites.  Then the shapes begin to morph into pictures, or images that seem to pass before the bewildered interplanetary traveler's mind.  Some are grotesque, while others come off as sublime

The whole thing leaves the astronaut shaken.  That's when Gray decides to let his imagination run wild, and pretty soon the dialogue between intergalactic species begins.  Gray goes about telling this most crucial part of the story in a clever, roundabout way.  The whole episode is told in media res, with the astronaut on trial not long after his encounter with those alien colors.  It's implied that some kind of genocide might have taken place, and he could have been the one responsible for it.  This in itself raises all kinds of interesting creative, and ethical questions.  For instance, what if a species is met whose nature is such that first Contact is a near impossibility?  What if the barriers in the way of understanding are such that either meaningful contact is problematic or next to impossible?  The original Star Trek posited one example of this by introducing viewers a race that was benign, yet whose appearance was so eldritch abominational that close communication couldn't be made without most species going mad from the encounter.  Lane appears to be playing with a riff on this basic setup.

I'm not sure that it's right to describe his extra-terrestrials as eldritch in any real form, even if the picture painted above sounds in any way Lovecraftian.  My main reason for saying that's still not the case is because the author is not content to leave things at that level.  Instead, Gray moves past such cliches, and takes both reader and main character a step further into actual contact.  This all comes out during the trial for the astronaut's life.  Gray may be accused of resorting to gimmickry here, however none of it comes off as cheating to me.  Nor is any criticism of the use of a convenient "gadget" to solve a problem in a Science Fiction story.  The claim that it is creatively illegal to use a gimmick in a genre originally built on the use of gimmicks is to mistake the nature of Sci-Fi, and apply creative rules or limitations which the genre itself was never meant to support, or was always designed to circumnavigate and overcome.  That a story of this sort must resort to a "device" in order to resolve its plot is no more of a cheat than including a rocket ship along with it.  As it turns out, Gray is able to put this literary "device" to good use, in that it helps bring the story to is ultimate closure, and resolution.

All it does is allow the scenes to move along, or backwards in time to that initial, all-important moment of contact.  There we see that an actual exchange of information has occurred between humans and aliens.  The way it shapes up is that the martians make it clear that part of the reason for their difficulty in communicating with the astronaut is something to do with the fact that the non-terrestrials have no spoken language to speak of, thought they do have some graspable form of conceptual thought.  The problem is that they could be accused of thinking at a higher rate than human minds, if that makes any sense.  What it means in practice is that the astronaut can only follow their thinking on the level of symbolic pictures, while the martians are forced to grapple with a mind that hasn't evolved to their level yet, if at all.  Like I've said, I'm not sure how original any of this turns out to be.  Nor do I think it's what matters the most, here.  The key question is whether Lane is able to make any of this entertaining?

Conclusion: Not Too Bad of a Start.

My own conclusion is that he more or less succeeds.  Part of the reason why is because there is a certain amount of open-endedness to the First Contact story.  Provided that the basic underlying premise (Man meets Martian) is kept intact, then the general rule of thumb seems to be that there is no potential end to the riffs or variations that can be spun off of the idea.  In the Vanishing Point episode's case, this amounts to a more or less well-constructed slow burn buildup.  Gray is able to take all the usual tropes associated with the sub-genre, and give them a respectable presentation that hinges on the dramatist's skill for creating and maintaining a certain level of suspense.  It may have something in common with the kind of dramatic tension present in the Horror story, yet it can be said the the dictates of the Sci-Fi genre indicate that in most cases (by no means all) the payoff has to evolve somewhere beyond the emotions of simple Terror, and somewhere further up and into the regions of awe, and wonder at the mysteries of the universe.  It sounds cliche now, and apparently is still just as true as it was back then.

If there is anything that might be criticized about Gray's story, then I suppose it could be the ending?  I don't know, this is the one story choice that raises second thoughts in my mind.  However, I'm also not too sure if it amounts to much.  It all hinges on the fallout that occurs after the truth of the first contact between the main character and the aliens is made known.  The martians tell the astronaut (through the common and respectable genre trope of telepathy, what else?) that the gulf, or gap between his mind and theirs is such that they believe any or all advanced forms of communication, as they know or are used to, amounts to an intrinsic impossibility.  The aliens understand the astronaut's thoughts, they're just not sure if he or his own kind will ever be able to grasp theirs.  In some way's this is a neat and effective little dramatic touch.  Gray has gone, or found the extra mile needed to make his extra-terrestrials truly alien, or "other".  It makes for a nice note of dislocation, without ever veering off into Lovecraftian territory, or outright parody.  The First Contact creatures in Cage of Light might be truly alien in the complete sense of the word, and yet they are never made out to be abominations for it.

It's a character note of rare skill and delicacy, and Gray is to be congratulated for carrying off such a crucial task.  Without it, his story might have been nothing to write home about.  That's not the same as claiming that each non-human species has to be handled with the same care as they are here.  Sometimes (in fact, most of the time) all that's needed is little more than a human wearing a rubber space gray mask, and that can, for the most part, suffice.  The reason its easy to say this is because the Sci-Fi extra-terrestrial is and remains one of the most durable of modern myths.  Much like the Monster or Ghost of the Horror genre, the Space Alien has this inherent malleability to it.  It's a contemporary archetype with endless dramatic potential to it.  They can be good, bad, supporting, or main characters.  All that matters in the end is that you make the story tied around them work.  As I've said, Gray goes for the full-on alien as other approach, and does it well.  What gives me pause is the resolution he gives us at the end.

The way it happens is the astronaut is cleared of any wrong-doing, and is instead promoted up the chain of command, a bit.  It's the best possible outcome, and yet the main character believes he's been shunted aside, and is restless.  The best comparison I can make here is to that of Richard Dreyfuss from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Like Roy Neary, the astronaut is written as this average individual who has had something extraordinary happen to him, and like Spielberg's sandcastle building everyman, he's obsessed with trying to understand and come to some form of terms with it.  The astronaut's contact and encounter is a lot more blunt, and to the point than that of Dreyfuss, yet the overall result bears a somewhat ironic similarity.  Seeing as how Spielberg's film was released in 1977, and Gray's script was written and produced just seven years later, it is possible to take the easy route and claim that Gray is borrowing, unconsciously or otherwise, from the Dreyfuss concept.  I'm not real sure how true that is, one way or another, and it really can't be said to matter to me all that much.  I will note, however, that if this is the case, then Gray has found a much more ironic, even ghoulish resolution to the original idea.

It's this choice of resolution that gives me the most pause, and at first I wasn't quite sure why.  Nor am I at all certain that my concerns here are valid.  I've since arrived at a possible reason for my misgivings, and even formulated a constructive criticism to help address them.  With that said, all this is very tentative, and it could be that I'm just mentally stuck on a minor molehill that looks like a mountain, even when it really isn't.  It's just that I can't tell if the ending comes off as too harsh, or too inconclusive, like there should have been more added in that would help tie things up more neatly.  The way things stand, I'm wondering if Gray didn't make a mistake in leaving his listeners hanging by closing up his script with a simple, slightly grotesque shock effect.  Granted, Gray also made scripts for Nightfall, and this could be an example of the writer's gothic talents coming to the fore.  If that's the case, however, then I'm still left with the nagging idea that something more was needed.

It took a while for me to figure out what that something more could have been, and yet after a bit of mulling things over, a flare went up from the basement levels of my mind, the place where the Imagination sets up shop in a permanent office space.  I realized that the sort of payoff Gray establishes for his setup is the kind that would not have been out of place within the yellowed, fading pages of the old EC Comics lineup.  These were the Usual Gang of Idiots responsible for Mad Magazine and Tales from the Crypt.  In the latter publication, writers like "Ghastly" Graham Engels, or Will Elder achieved the impressive feat of managing to translate the literary "O. Henry Twist" into the comics panel format with a level of skill and success which is still leaving an impact to this day.  The EC Comics specialized in these ironic turns of cosmic fate, where the actions of the main characters would often come back to skewer them with their own hubris, often by giving them no more or less than what they asked for.

I think that William Gray is writing somewhere within that same wheelhouse.  He just doesn't drive the point home as much as he probably should have.  What might have given the episode an even better payoff is if we are shown (or listen in on) one extra final scene between the astronaut and the aliens.  He could return to them after making some modifications to his five senses, and proudly declare that he's now made it so that he's able to understand them without the need of voice or sight.  That's when the martians could have dropped the final irony bomb on him.  They'll signal to him through telepathy that this news leaves them crestfallen, and when the astronaut asks why, the aliens should explain that this is something they were worried about, yet had no way of knowing how to prevent it happening. 

This would grant a logically worried edge to the astronaut's thoughts, and it won't help when the extra-terrestrials give their bombshell explanation.  The communications barrier between the two species worked both ways, instead of being just one-sided, like the astronaut thought.  He had difficulty understanding them, while it was all they could do to grasp, not so much his thoughts, but rather the language used to carry them out.  The only reason they used telepathy to communicate with him in the first place is because they didn't know how to form the words he used in order to conduct the daily necessities of his own life.  It was all Greek to them, and they didn't believe it was possible to learn anything about it.  However, since he went away, they plied themselves to learning all they could about human language, and the astronaut's visit gave them just enough material to work with to the point that by his next visit, they have a working knowledge and use of human English.  The one thing that left them worried was that the meaning of their initial contact would be misconstrued, and that has turned out to be just what has happened.  Therefore, the astronaut has cut out his throat and eyes for nothing.

That would be the actual note I would have left things on.  It's the sort of Faustian twist that EC/Tales from the Crypt were famous for.  In this case, however, I don't think Gray's story is right for the likes of everyone's favorite Uncle Crypty.  The better place for a story like this belongs firmly within EC's Weird Science publication run.  Far from limiting itself to just Horror, or Humor, the Gang of Idiots also found they had a pretty good knack in finding a voice for their ongoing explorations of irony and hubris within the confines of Sci-Fi.  It's what makes the suggested edits above fit right in with their own brand of interplanetary satire.  It's the kind of final punch to the gut that the staff writers of EC Comics were able to accomplish with a brilliant sense of often dark, sardonic skill.  All this theorizing into the void amounts to just my two cents on the one area of the script that I think might have benefited from maybe an extra add-on or possibly a minor re-write or two.  Beyond that, I have no complaints.

On the contrary, on the whole, I'd have to say that Gray has managed to create a fine specimen of what the genre used to be like, back in the days it when it still had wings.  Part of the gratification of a story like this is that it helps serve as a reminder, to me at least, that even though Sci-Fi appears to be in a kind of fallow period at the moment, there's no intrinsic reason why it has to stay there.  All that's needed is for artists or practitioners in the field to start learning how to really tap into their imaginations, in order to pull off the kind of impressive feats that Gray was able to accomplish here.  It belongs, in retrospect, as a part of what might now be considered the last great Golden Age of the Popular Fantastic genres.  Taken in all, it's a time period that spans from the release of the original Star Wars, all the way to the premier of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, each picture being made by the same filmmaker, bear in mind.  The first film seems to have acted as some sort of catalyst that was needed in order to give artists everywhere at the time permission to just kick open the doors of the imagination, and then to just follow wherever it lead..  Gray appears to have been caught up in this late stage renaissance.

And stories like Cage of Light are the result of such artistic processes.  On the whole, it gets an easy recommendation from me.  It's a good demonstration of Sci-Fi playing to all its strengths, with maybe just the minorest of hiccups somewhere near the end.  Yet the whole thing holds up remarkably well.  One final reason for bringing up this story at all, before we bring things to a close for the week, is because of the opportunity it affords to help spread the word about an undiscovered gem.  Gray's story, as I've said, was part of a then ongoing anthology series.  It's the radio show itself that needs a final shout-out before drawing the curtain.  All of which is to say that if you decide to take a chance, try and hunt down a copy of any audio broadcast episodes of Vanishing Point.  It's not some sort of well known brand name, or anything like that.  However, my own experience has been that if you play your cards right, you might just be able to introduce the budding genre fan to a good outlet for works of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, with sometimes just the occasional dash of Horror.  It's what happened to me way back when, a whole childhood and another world ago.  My first exposure to Vanishing Point came when my dad picked up a copy of this single cassette tape from what's probably now a defunct, single brick-and-mortar chain seller, the Audio Store.  It was kind of a cool place, from what I can recall.

It was like this specialty store which was dedicated to selling nothing but audiobooks and the occasional copy of computer games with titles such as Alone in the Dark.  My memory keeps insisting this is the most likeliest place where I first encountered the Vanishing Point radio show.  Either that or it might have been at an equally obsolete chain outlet known as Book Stop.  The more I think it over, the reasonable that the latter option is the correct bit of recall.  Whether Audio Store or Book Stop, the result was the same.  My dad handed me over this cassette with some janky, 80s looking cover art on it.  Think an early example of New Retro Vapor Wave, and you've got the cover of that audio collection.  Anyway, it made reference to the show being in the vein of The Twilight Zone, and that was enough to get me interested.  It was an audio tape box holding two cartridges, and two, maybe three of them stand out to this day.  In turn, each of them served as my introduction to Raymond Carver, Jorge Luis Borges, and Ray Bradbury.  At least two of them are worth articles of their own, and that's something to keep in mind.  For the time being, the important thing to note is this was my introduction to The Vanishing Point.  It was part of a growing awareness of the magic of Old Time Radio.  And I chose to review Williams Gray's Cage of Light, because I thought it a good entry point.  It just sounds like the kind of story that makes a good introduction to future fans with an interest in the Theater of the Mind.    

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