“ Listening Length: 24 minutes / Publisher: Renaissance E Books / Release Date: 27 May 2009 „
People Are Alike All Over is an audio version of a science fiction story by Paul W Fairman called Brothers Beyond the Void. It was first published in 1952 in the magazine Fantastic Adventures and owes its fame almost entirely to the fact it formed the basis of a relatively memorable 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone (obviously with the new title People Are Alike All Over) adapted by Rod Serling. Serling payed the then not inconsiderable sum of $2500 to acquire the rights to Fairman's story, attracted more than anything by the twist ending. Twist endings were something of a Twilight Zone tradition and this story certainly has a decent one. Fairman was an editor at magazines like Amazing Stories and If (where he published work by future Twilight Zone stalwart Charles Beaumont) and a prolific author himself with countless short stories and novels about aliens and space travel. While much of his work has been largely forgotten, Brothers Beyond the Void at least provided him with some sort of immortality through the Twilight Zone connection. The original story is slightly different from the Twilight Zone incarnation but not hugely so. It concerns the first manned space mission to Mars in the most advanced rocket ship ever created. Man is about to take the highway into space, unshackling himself and sending his tiny, groping fingers up into the unknown, as Rod Serling might say.
As the blast-off day looms, nervous astronauts/scientists Mark Marcusson and Sam Conrad ponder what might be awaiting humanity on the Red Planet and wonder if people are truly alike all over - even in the context of the universe. Any intelligent life on Mars must share our sense of compassion and so it can't be dangerous even if the planet does turn out to be inhabited? That's the theory anyway. Are they just whistling in the dark? Marcusson makes the journey to Mars alone and after a bumpy landing is astonished to finally venture outside and find Martians who seem very human and even speak his language. The Martians promise to repair his ship and look after him during his stay. A great relief that they seem to have turned out to be wise and friendly. They take him to their main city where they have even (for they seem to have some telepathic abilities and have used them to research Earth) built a replica of what a typical house on Earth looks like to make him feel at home. So Marcusson, should he choose, can even live in a facsimile of what his house on Earth might resemble. Watching Diagnosis Murder and eating crisps on the Red Planet. Or something. This Martian jaunt all seems rather too good to be true. What's the catch?
This is only 24 minutes long and narrated by someone called Bob Mills (not the portly British comedian and presenter) in agreeable fashion. The only major difference as far as I can make out from the original story and the Twilight Zone adaptation is that in the Serling version both Marcusson and Conrad travel to Mars and Conrad becomes the main character whereas here it's just Marcusson alone on this space mission. I think in some ways the Serling version had an advantage in giving us two human characters for the start of the story. It allowed for some confrontational dialogue and musings on the indifferent (or otherwise) nature of the universe. Marcusson is quite well fleshed out though and a decent character to experience this strange adventure through. One can see why this appealed to Serling though. It presents an optimistic view of humanity but then flips this on its head through the medium of science fiction. I think the cynicism of the story is very Rod Serling. That theme of humanity becoming too big for its boots and inflating its own importance in the universe. "You're looking at a species of flimsy little two-legged animal with extremely small heads whose name is man..."
The core of the story remains and develops no small degree of tension when the Mars landing takes place. The fact that this was written in the 1950s gives it an extra sheen of genre fun too. The Red Planet was even more of a mystery then than it is now. Maybe there could be human looking Martians with green hair or something. The story has some advantages in its pure form too. The Twilight Zone had to depict the Martians (they made them look rather like extras in Up Pompeii with robes and curly barnets) and at least suggest the Martian city (no easy task in 1960 with a limited budget). Here one can picture the Martians and the landscape as something with more scope. The story reminded me a little of Planet of the Apes in its lone spaceman in strange world construction (and ironically it was future Planet of the Apes icon Roddy McDowall who took the lead role in the television adaptation) and is a neat little twist in the tale genre piece that only really suffers because it functions almost entirely to build the twist ending and so isn't something you could see yourself returning to too much in the future.
One other latent function of the story for those familiar with The Twilight Zone is the fascinating window it allows us into the process of adapting stories for television. One can study how Serling tinkered with the structure of the story and changed little key things to make it more suitable for a film screenplay. If you are a fan of Serling and interested in his work then this is a nice bonus indeed. People Are Alike All Over is somewhat hamstrung by its reliance on the big twist but it's a good little story and worth at least one listen. Shame it wasn't a little longer though. At the time of writing you can download People Are Alike All Over for £1.40.