Review of The Poison Belt by Arthur Conan Doyle

December 21, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Poison BeltThe Poison Belt
By Arthur Conan Doyle; Read by Gildart Jackson
Publisher: Dreamscape Audiobooks
[UNABRIDGED] – 3 hours, 24 minutes

Themes: / apocalypse / poison / science fiction /

Publisher summary:

What would you do if you had discovered that the planet was about to be engulfed in a belt of poisonous “ether” from outer space? Professor Challenger invites a hand-picked crew of adventurers and scientists to his home outside London, which has been fortified with several hours’ worth of oxygen. Challenger & Co. assemble in front of a picture window to witness the end of all life on the planet. As birds plummet from the sky, trains crash, and men and women topple over before their horrified gaze, they debate everything from the possibilities of the universe to the “abysses that lie upon either side of our material existence.”

I like Sherlock Holmes but I am much fonder of Arthur Conan Doyle’s other fiction. He was a skilled teller of “weird tales” and I have heard he was proudest of his historical fiction which I really enjoy. The Poison Belt is the second in a series of fantasy and science fiction novels featuring the brilliant and overpowering Professor Challenger.  It functions very well as a stand alone novel.

Having assembled a newsman, big game huntsman, and another scientist to explore South America in their first adventure, The Lost World, it is only logical that Challenger would call upon the same group for this scientific emergency. Professor Challenger puzzles them when he asks each to bring along a cylinder of oxygen. They are well acquainted with Challenger’s eccentricities but little do they suspect that he anticipates an apocalyptic event.

I’d say more but I think reading the whole description would have ruined my astonishment and interest in the story as it unfolded in this superb audiobook. In fact, having grabbed this review book solely based on my enjoyment of The Lost World, I hadn’t read the description at all. I was stunned to find this was such an apocalyptic novel. It is really well written and thought through. I was frequently surprised as various events occurred because I simply hadn’t thought through the consequences of an apocalypse in 1913 England.

Part of the enjoyment of The Poison Belt comes from the adventurers’ interactions. Doyle is very good at inserting humor, often through the two scientists’ bickering over conclusions, and at other times in hunter Lord John’s casual comments as in this instance when Challenger has asked the group to look at an amoeba through a microscope.

Lord John was prepared to take him on trust.

“I’m not troublin’ my head whether he’s alive or dead,” said he. “We don’t so much as know each other by sight, so why should I take it to heart? I don’t suppose he’s worryin’ himself over the state of OUR health.”

I laughed at this, and Challenger looked in my direction with his coldest and most supercilious stare. It was a most petrifying experience.

“The flippancy of the half-educated is more obstructive to science than the obtuseness of the ignorant,” said he. “If Lord John Roxton would condescend—-”

“My dear George, don’t be so peppery,” said his wife, with her hand on the black mane that drooped over the microscope. “What can it matter whether the amoeba is alive or not?”

“It matters a great deal,” said Challenger gruffly.

“Well, let’s hear about it,” said Lord John with a good-humoured smile. “We may as well talk about that as anything else. If you think I’ve been too off-hand with the thing, or hurt its feelin’s in any way, I’ll apologize.”

Part of the humor comes across thanks to the excellent narration by actor Gildart Jackson. As is often the case with actors, his reading is rife with expressive accents, subtle nuances, and changes of pace. This isn’t a very long book and goes along at a rattling pace. I was hooked from the beginning.

I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed an audiobook more and I hope that Dreamscape is considering more of Arthur Conan Doyle’s fiction for the future.

Posted by Julie D.

The Seismograph Adventure by Arthur B. Reeve

December 17, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Aural Noir, Online Audio 

Aural Noir: Online Audio

The Seismograph Adventure - illustrated by Winter

Professor Craig Kennedy, a scientific detective similar to Sherlock Holmes, uses his knowledge of chemistry, psychoanalysis, and the scientific method to solve mysteries. In this adventure he foresees “potentialities and possibilities unrecognized by ordinary minds, and with his profound knowledge of applied sciences, is able to approach the enormous tasks confronting him from a new and scientific angle.”

And according to Hugo Gernsback The Seismograph Adventure is “one of the finest, as well as scientific, of Arthur B. Reeve’s stories.”

LibriVoxThe Seismograph Adventure
By Arthur B. Reeve; Read by Elliott Miller
1 |MP3| – Approx. 50 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: 2010
“Can ghosts walk? And if they do, can their footsteps be recorded on a machine? And are the spirits of the phantom world subject to the same physical phenomena as our human bodies? These are tantalizing questions which arise during the thrilling and complex mystery into which Craig Kennedy and Jameson are plunged without warning.” First published in Cosmopolitan, April 1911.

And here’s a 10 page |PDF| made from its republication in Scientific Detective Monthly, March 1930.

Posted by Jesse Willis

The Dead Valley by Ralph Adams Cram

December 16, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

“In The Dead Valley the eminent architect and mediævalist Ralph Adams Cram achieves a memorably potent degree of vague regional horror through subtleties of atmosphere and description.”

-H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror In Literature

The story is chilling, and as performed with passion by my friend John Feaster, you’ll feel the eerie events surrounding The Dead Valley all the more.

The Dead Valley by Ralph Adams Cram

LibriVoxThe Dead Valley
By Ralph Adams Cram; Read by John Feaster
1 |MP3| – Approx. 21 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: 2010
Two boys walk overland through the Swedish mountains at night. There they encounter something inexplicably evil. First published in 1895.

And here’s an 18 page |PDF| version.

NECRONOMICON PRESS - The Dead Valley

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #243 – READALONG: Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

December 16, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #243 – Jesse, Jenny, Bryan Alexander, Terpkristin, and Maissa Bessada discuss the 1915 novel Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Talked about on today’s show: [Note: references to the novel are in bold, while references to the eponymous country are not.] “Lost utopian novel”; first appeared in book form in 1979 as part of an effort to rediscover works by female authors; was it suppressed by patriarchy?; the novel launches with action; features Heinlein-esque; the story feels very alien despite transpiring on Earth, takes place in an unnamed jungle region presumed to be either South America or Africa; Herland grouped as part of a trilogy along with an unrelated novel Moving the Mountain and the direct sequel With Her in Ourland; the book originally appeared in serialized form in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s own magazine; grounded in “utopian” and “lost race” tradition of the period which pick apart aspects of society; Heinlein’s and Gilman’s sexism compared and contrasted; “virgin impregnation” compared with conception of Christ; foundation of Herland as a Roman-style slave revolt; “what a world of slaves it was” Goslings quote echoed in Herland; utopian ecology (plants, animals); Jesse calls it “Mother Knows Best totalitarianism”; “intentional Darwinism”; eugenics foreshadowing World War II; Bryan brings up The King in Yellow again; protagonists give threefold approach to women; punishment in Herland more akin to child-rearing foregoing execution; Leviticus does advocate execution; both the male protagonists and the Herland women are archetypical; The Yellow Wallpaper; utopia or dystopia; unreliable narrator and narrative; Jesse argues that there’s “no drama in a perfect society” and the book has a terrible plot; eighteenth-century feminist utopia Millennium Hall; Jenny says the sequel’s plot is even worse; immortality and living in Heaven; no dogs in Herland, only cats; subservience of aesthetics to productivity; “their country was as neat as a Dutch kitchen”; childhood Jesse conflated cats and dogs; cats and dogs emblematic of gender relations in Herland; Herland is a baby-proof world; more about narrator bias in the novel; Gilman projecting her own views on mental disorder into the book; 1984 parallels; The Mysterious Doctor Fu Manchu; comparison to Goslings; why does Herland want to integrate men?; sexual dynamics in marriage; Castle Waiting by Linda Medley, a medieval utopia about bearded women; Y: The Last Man series by Brian K. Vaughan; female politicians behaving like men e.g. Margaret Thatcher; Barbara W. Tuchman and the “fallen tower” of World War I era society; utopian societies lack practical advice for the here-and-now; Origin of Species debated as source of eugenics; education in Finland; education as driving force in Herland; “only our best become teachers”; Montesori; No Child Left Behind; the perils of individualism in a utopia; “fashion and women go together” says Jesse; Jenny shares insights on potential contributions from women in the sequel; a debate on why Herland never took off; patriotism and its linguistic roots; more on the novel’s World War I context; Willa Cather’s WWI novel One of Ours; “trilogy” of novels packaged as e-book.

The ForeRunner by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane

December 13, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Savage Tales of Solomon KaneThe Savage Tales of Solomon Kane
By Robert E. Howard; Narrated by Paul Boehmer
Publisher: Tantor Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours, 30 minutesThemes: / pulp / fantasy / hero / short stories / Publisher summary:

With Conan the Cimmerian, Robert E. Howard created more than the greatest action hero of the twentieth century—he also launched a genre that came to be known as sword and sorcery. But Conan was not the first archetypal adventurer to spring from Howard’s fertile imagination.

He was…a strange blending of Puritan and Cavalier, with a touch of the ancient philosopher, and more than a touch of the pagan…. A hunger in his soul drove him on and on, an urge to right all wrongs, protect all weaker things…. Wayward and restless as the wind, he was consistent in only one respect—he was true to his ideals of justice and right. Such was Solomon Kane.

Collected in this volume are all of the stories that make up the thrilling saga of the dour and deadly Puritan: “Skulls in the Stars,” “The Right Hand of Doom,” “Red Shadows,” “Rattle of Bones,” “The Castle of the Devil,” “Death’s Black Riders,” “The Moon of Skulls,” “The One Black Stain,” “The Blue Flame of Vengeance,” “The Hills of the Dead,” “Hawk of Basti,” “The Return of Sir Richard Grenville,” “Wings in the Night,” “The Footfalls Within,” “The Children of Asshur,” and “Solomon Kane’s Homecoming.”

I don’t normally seem to enjoy older works of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and unfortunately, things were no different here. I was never a Conan fan growing, so I’d never read any of Mr. Howard before. The audiobook collection stars with an obituary or memorium written by H.P. Lovecraft with whom Mr. Howard apparently corresponded.

Mr. Howard is probably best known for his character Conan, but Solomon Kane is often credited as the first “Sword & Sorcery” character.

In this collection of stories Solomon Kane fights Pirates, Ghosts, Vampires, Sorcerors, Harpies and more. Solomon Kane wields daggers, pistols a sword, and in later stories, a magical staff. Sounds like it would be great! Unfortunately I was mostly bored. The best story of the bunch for me was The Children of Asshur, which was only a fragment and therefore ends somewhat abruptly. I would have liked to see where Mr. Howard intended to go with that story.

There are certainly things to like here. The writing isn’t bad and the adventures are certainly varied enough, but it just seemed like not much really happens most of the time. And then there is the racism. You can pull out the usual excuses, when the book what written, or the fact that the racism portrayed is probably accurate to the characters themselves. That doesn’t change the fact for me that it kept pulling me out of the stories.  It’s not in every story, but is present in most, especially those where Solomon Kane travels to Africa. Many times it seemed like an unnecessary aside, rather than an important plot point for or character motivation.

All in all, as I believe these stories are in public domain you might be better off picking one or two to check out rather than the whole collection. I think the best complete story was The Hills of the Dead, where Kane first gets his magic staff and fights a horde of vampires.

Review by Rob Zak.

The SFFaudio Podcast #242 – AUDIOBOOK: Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

December 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #242 – Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, read by William Dufris.

First published serially from January to December 1915 in The ForeRunner, this UNABRIDGED AUDIOBOOK (7 Hours 2 Minutes) comes to us courtesy of Tantor Media and their collection of “Unabridged Classics”.

Thanks Tantor!

Three American young men discover a country inhabited solely by women.

Come back for our next episode (SFFaudio Podcast #243) to hear our discussion of Herland.

TANTOR MEDIA - Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Posted by Jesse Willis

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