Recent Arrivals: Justinian’s Flea: Plague, Empire, And The Birth Of Europe by William Rosen

April 27, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Recent Arrivals 

SFFaudio Recent Arrivals

William Rosen’s appearance on The Daily Show with John Stewart, a couple of years ago, prompted me to pick up his audiobook The Most Powerful Idea In The World. It’s a terrific book, and a very solid audiobook (with Michael Prichard narrating). It delivered a concise, impressively researched and argued, history of the industrial revolution’s engine and it’s causes. I highly recommend that book (also available from Tantor). But what I hadn’t realized was that Rosen had already penned a book on another fascinating historical period.

Sample |MP3|

Tantor Media - Justinian's Flea: The First Great Plague And The Fall Of The Roman Empire by William Rosen

Justinian’s Flea: Plague, Empire, And The Birth Of Europe
By William Rosen; Read by Barrett Whitener
MP3 Download – Approx. 11 Hours 51 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Media
Published: May 22, 2007
The Emperor Justinian reunified Rome’s fractured empire by defeating the Goths and Vandals who had separated Italy, Spain, and North Africa from imperial rule. At his capital in Constantinople, he built the world’s most beautiful building, married its most powerful empress, and wrote its most enduring legal code, seemingly restoring Rome’s fortunes for the next 500 years. Then, in the summer of 542, he encountered a flea. The ensuing outbreak of bubonic plague killed 5,000 people a day in Constantinople and nearly killed Justinian himself.Weaving together evolutionary microbiology, economics, military strategy, ecology, and ancient and modern medicine, William Rosen offers a sweeping narrative of one of the great hinge moments in history, one that will appeal to readers of John Kelly’s The Great Mortality, John Barry’s The Great Influenza, and Jared Diamond’s Collapse.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Spartacus on television and in history podcasts

February 26, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

Spartacus - Season 3

I’ve been enjoying, with a growing admiration, the New Zealand based Spartacus television series. I like it not least for the unique grammar the writers have developed. It’s a kind of a latinized English – mighty and subjectless sentences that are admirable.

The first episode nearly made me dismiss the show entirely. I didn’t like the 300-style effects, the slow motion blood, the constant bobbling of boobs nor the wall to wall green screening. But as the season went on I realized there was more to the show that the jeering mobs, the spectacle, and the nudity. By the final episode I was hooked. That was Spartacus: Blood and Sand. It gave us our hero’s origin story and his various reactions to slavery (denial, acceptance, pride, rebellion). And just as good were a pair of intensely (un)likeable villains, played by a pair of terrrific actors, showcased a cockeyed view of morality, Roman morality. Indeed, that first season began to tell the same story as the 1960 epic film staring Kirk Douglas (which itself was based on an book by Howard Fast). It did so at a slower pace, allowing for more of the historical detail to be played out.

Then there was the prequel series, Spartacus Gods Of The Arena, showing more of the background for the villains and supporting players. That season was supposed to be a stopgap, and it was, telling stories that were themselves only a background for the later seasons. But their own resonances resonated and proved themselves worthy. And now with the second (or third season depending on how you look at it) we have Spartacus: Vengeance, which outlines the beginnings of the bigger story, the latter half of the film version, and the massive slave rebellion that began in the Roman Republic.

the time, the first century BC, approximately 25% of all persons in Italy were slaves. And that’s where the heft of Spartacus comes from. It’s like Battlestar Galactica, but with a grounding in actual history. Spartacus was a real person. As were Crixus and Oenomaus. In these current episodes we see the foundations of the Third Servile War. It is history as drama, but it’s also the history of the opressed, not the rich, not popes, or kings, or robber barons. And this makes Spartacus unique among television programs currently airing.

Here are a couple of excellent old podcasts that made the show work all the better for me:

The History Of RomeMike Duncan’s excellent and long running The History Of Rome podcast covered the Spartacus story back in 2008. It’s still available and still fascinating!

|MP3|

Podcast feed: http://feeds.feedburner.com/TheHistoryOfRome


Military History PodcastAlso in 2008 George Hageman, who had a great podcast called the Military History Podcast, looked at the story of Spartacus from a more battles-based-perspective. Perhaps giving us a peek at the next season?

|MP3|

Podcast feed: http://geo47.libsyn.com/rss

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #132 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG – Home Is The Hunter by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore

October 31, 2011 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #132 – a complete and unabridged reading of Home Is The Hunter by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, read by Pat Bottino. The audiobook is followed by a discussion of the story. Participants include Scott, Jesse, and Tamahome.

Talked about on today’s show:
The July 1953 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction, Henry Kuttner, C.L. Moore, the questionable authorship, Worlds Of Wonder: Exploring The Craft Of Science Fiction edited by Robert Silverberg (aka Science Fiction 101), this is a really really really Science Fiction story (soft SF), sociology, psychology, politics, Scott didn’t like it (at first), Robert Silverberg’s essay Home Is The Hunter: The Triumph Of Honest Roger Bellamy, Central Park in New York, an alien mindset, philosophy, “why do you want things?”, the accumulation of things, “the ultimate gathering of stuff”, glass vs. plastic, immortality, “the Bellamy within”, caring about posterity, “victory over self”, rejecting the premise, Hunters are trained from the age of six, television, “the most powerful man in New York”, boxing’s ranking system, being Honest Roger Bellamy is akin to being Brad Pitt, “incentives change constantly”, “not in this age of science”, populi, “a post scarcity society”, sometimes he wears a hare shirt, “women weaken knees”, fratricide, A.E. Housman’s Home Is The Sailor, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Requiem, home is death, compare it to Philip K. Dick, “plenty deep”, the loss of love (in favour of discipline and obedience), girls were turned out into the populi, ancient history, Ancient Rome, Sparta (had a Spartan lifestyle), the Agogae system, Crypteia (secret society/secret police), Helots, Frank Miller’s 300, is Roger Bellamy crazy?, why did the Spartan’s live as they did? the Peloponnese, the Persian Empire, their culture, the Protestant work ethic, “idle hands”, his self esteem is tied to the number of heads he holds, if you could have anything…, “I want a machine that can make me money”, after you collect everything you want what is left to want?, a “status” society, a trustworthy criminal in a world without material want, is Roger Bellamy happy? Has he triumphed?, happiness is “the exercise of vital powers, through lines of excellence, in a life affording them scope.”, workaholics, Steve Jobs, satisfaction vs. happiness, why the death of a young person is a tragedy, “I did not really want to kill”, brainwashing vs. culture, what makes you rich is the number of heads you hold, “I have more points than you”, “most kills badge”, turning the infinitely reproducible into scarcity (grinding), “there’s no deeper explanation”, gold farming, Cory Doctorow’s For The Win, Occupy Earth, hunting for friends on facebook, the ultimate in keeping up with the Joneses, the shrinking (but still comfortable) middle class, the great depression, the great machine is society, “we have all the high fructose corn syrup we need.”
Home Is The Hunter- illustration by Ashman from Galaxy July 1953

Posted by Jesse Willis

BBC Radio 4 Extra: The Eagle Of The Ninth RADIO DRAMA

October 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

Last weekend saw the re-broadcast of first episode (of four parts) of the 1996 BBC’s radio dramatisation of The Eagle Of The Ninth, that’s Rosemary Sutcliffe’s excellent YA novel. It was recently turned into a pretty good film (The Eagle). If you’re a fan of Henry Treece, as I am, you’ll probably also like Sutcliffe. The next three parts will air on subsequent weekends. I hope to collect them all over on RadioArchive.cc when it completes. Based on the first episode, listenable HERE, you may want to do the same. Sadly no unabridged version of the audiobook currently exists.

BBC Radio 4 ExtraThe Eagle Of The Ninth
Based on the novel by Rosemary Sutcliffe; Dramatised by Sean Damer; Performed by a full cast
4 (half-hour) Broadcasts – Approx. 2 Hours [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4 Extra
Broadcast: Sunday October 23, 2011 (and the subsequent three Sundays)
Can Marcus recover his father’s reputation and the lost Eagle from his legion in Rosemary Sutcliffe’s children’s adventure set during the Roman occupation of Britain?

Cast:
Tom Smith
Mark Coleman

Produced by Hamish Wilson

Here’s the trailer for the recent movie version:

Posted by Jesse Willis

Ancient Rome Refocused: Interview with Eric Shanower artist/author of the Age Of Bronze comics

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

Ancient Rome RefocusedI’m a big fan of Roman history, but over the last twenty-five years or so I’ve pretty much exhausted every source and story. I could probably tell you more about the Imperial family tree than my own. And that’s probably why I hadn’t subscribed to any new Roman history podcast recently. But, a recent visit to Age-Of-Bronze.com informed me that Eric Shanower, the artist/author of Age Of Bronze (an amazing comic book series detailing from beginning to end the entire epic story of The Trojan War), was a recent guest interviewee on a podcast called Ancient Rome Refocused.

Here’s the interview: |MP3|

There’s also a transcript of the interview HERE.

Podcast feed: http://rob33.hipcast.com/rss/ancient_rome_refocused.xml

And, if you’re looking for a massively longer interview, check out SFFaudio Podcast #080, which is my own two hour talk with Shanower from last fall.

Posted by Jesse Willis

BBCR4X + RA.cc: Topkapi by Eric Ambler

June 1, 2011 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Aural Noir, Online Audio 

Aural Noir: Online Audio

BBC Radio 4 ExtraRadioArchives.ccAccording to the Wikipedia entry, BBC Radio 7 was renamed BBC Radio 4 Extra back in April. I’m not much for re-branding – it’s a grubby little idea that makes me think of scientific management, focus groups and meetings … endless … unproductive … meetings. The more I think about meetings the less I want to think.

Hopefully the new name will last a few years, and then perhaps BBC management can go ahead and arrange to have a meeting about considering the update of their antiquated delivery methods – perhaps they’ve already started as I hear they’ve finally dropped RealAudio (the web’s first big audio technology).

Speaking of delivery methods, I discovered my first interesting BBC Radio 4 Extra offering over on RadioArchive.cc. RA.cc is my favourite site for public radio, its chock full of great taxpayer funded programming. The site is extremely well organized and make even people who are wary of the word “torrent” comfortable with the technology. Files are, naturally, in the MP3 format, and when well seeded, a program the size of Topkapi will take only about TEN minutes to download. That’s service folks!

Topkapi, aka The Light Of Day, is a 1962 novel Eric Ambler. I’d heard about it – but until it showed up on RadioArchive.cc I never even thought to investigate it. Well, after investigating it turns out that The Light Of Day was an Edgar Award winning novel, 1964, and has a fair cachet in espionage and crime fiction circles. The name change, for this reading, was likely done to remind BBC listeners of the movie – Topkapi is pretty famous, the Ottoman Sultans used it as their personal residence as well as an “impregnable fortress” that housed its famous seraglio/harem.

the Topkapi Palace by night

The Wikipedia entry for Ambler has this gem:

“A recurring theme in Ambler’s books is the amateur who finds himself unwillingly in the company of hardened criminals or spies. Typically, the protagonist is out of his depth and often seems for much of the book a bumbling anti-hero, yet eventually manages to surprise himself as well as the professionals by a decisive action that outwits his far more experienced opponents.”

That certainly fits Topkapi.

I can’t say how much of the novel was excised for this abridgement, but I can say the novel definitely works as a quick listen. There are some unnecessary sound effects added, but when they show up they don’t overwhelm the text. The story is told in first person, by the clever, but unlucky anti-hero. David Westhead, the reader, is truly excellent in performing the lead character. He’s got a wonderfully subdued humor, and the voice and accent work he provides for the man supporting characters adds a lot of color.

Topkapi by Eric AmblerTopkapi (aka The Light Of Day)
By Eric Ambler; Read by David Westhead
Six 30 minute episodes – Approx. 3 Hours [ABRIDGED]
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4 Extra
Broadcast: May 2011
Source: RadioArchive.cc
Small time operator Arthur Abdel Simpson is an illegitimate stateless half British half Egyptian pimp and pornographer. He makes his living fleecing tourists in Athens, Greece. When he picks up a likely looking pigeon at the airport he soon discovers that he’s the one in trouble. He’s then blackmailed into driving a car to Istanbul.

1/6. Minor crook Arthur Abdel Simpson spots a likely mark at Athens airport
2/6. Arthur Simpson is interrogated by Turkish security for unintentional arms smuggling.
3/6. Arthur is now seconded to Turkish security. He also has to work at the suspect’s villa.
4/6. Unwilling agent Simpson watches a group of ‘tourists’, while he works as their driver.
5/6. Arthur Simpson witnesses a vicious knife fight and waits for news of Fischer.
6/6. Arthur Simpson is still on the roof. He has just reluctantly robbed the Treasury.

Here’s the trailer for the film version:

I’ll try to find a copy of the film itself, and maybe see if its anything like the audiobook.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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