Monday, August 18, 2008

Chicken Heart...or Why Read 40-year-old science essays?

One of my favorite science fiction radio pieces is "The Chicken Heart", from the radio show Lights Out. It was produced in the 1950s. (I've never been able to figure out if the version I've listened to is just half of it, and if more exists, or if it deliberately started in media res.

Anyway, you can read a transcription of "The Chicken Heart" here.

[And, having just gone to Wikipedia to see if its entry on Lights Out told what year "The Chicken Heart" was first made, I see that whoever wrote that entry *also* knew what I today have just discovered.

Here's the Wikipedia excerpt:

...Oboler made effective use of atmospheric sound effects, perhaps most memorably in his legendary "Chicken Heart", a script that debuted in 1937 and was rebroadcast in 1938 and 1942. It features the simple but effective "thump-thump" of an ever-growing, ever-beating chicken heart which, thanks to a scientific experiment gone wrong, threatens to engulf the entire world. Although the story bears similarities to an earlier Cooper episode (about an ever-growing amoeba that makes an ominous "Slurp! Slurp!" sound), Oboler's unique choice of monster was inspired by a Chicago Tribune article announcing that scientists had succeeded in keeping a chicken heart alive for a considerable period of time after its having been removed from the chicken. Whatever the inspiration, the script's climax is pure Oboler and it was fortunate that he recreated it for a 1962 record album because recordings of the original radio broadcasts are lost or unavailable. Part of the episode's notoriety stems from a popular stand-up routine by comedian Bill Cosby (on his 1966 album Wonderfulness), an account of his staying up late as a child to listen to scary radio shows against his parents' wishes and being terrified by the chicken heart.]

Anyway, what brought this to my mind was that I'm in the middle of reading Isaac Asimov's book of essays, Is Anyone There?, published in 1967 and comprising essays from various sources from 1956, 1957, and 1960-1967.

And in the article called "Constructing a Man" first published as "Conceived in the Love Bed of Science" in True, Feb 1966, Asimov says:

"Biologists can keep isolated organs, and even scraps of tissue, alive for considerable lengths of time. Before World War II the well-known surgeon, Alexis Carrell, managed to keep a scrap of embryonic chicken heart alive and growing (it had to be periodically trimmed) for over 32 years."

It's also in this article that Asimov talks about cloning (he calls it ectogenetics), genetic manipulation, and growing organs specifically to use as donor organs. All in 1966.

That's why it's fun, not to mention educational, to read science essays written decades ago. To see the beginnings of ideas that led to what's going on see that problems were discussed but ignored (or not even thought of as problems).. it's fascinating.

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