Fear of disease is probably just as old as disease itself. But the modern fear, the fear that a single individual carrying a vial full of specific incurable pathogen – the fear that one crazed fanatic could decimate an entire city’s population by poisoning its water supply – that fear can probably be traced back to the late 19th century and perhaps even to the inventor of the first true Science Fiction short stories, Mr. H.G. Wells. Had the ending of The Stolen Bacillus been done in a slightly different way it may have spawned the whole zombie contagion phenomenon a century early.
The Stolen Bacillus
By H.G. Wells; Read by Dawn Keenan
1 |MP3| – Approx. 16 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Voices In The Dark
An anarchist, intent on wreaking ruin on a city, steals a phial from a bacteriologist. First published in the Pall Mall Budget’s June 21, 1894 issue.
Posted by Jesse Willis
The SFFaudio Podcast #089 – Jesse talks to James Campanella Ph.D. Jim is an associate professor in the department of Biology and Molecular Biology at Montclair State University in New Jersey. He’s also an audiobook narrator, and podcaster.
Talked about on today’s show:
J.J. Campanella watches very little TV, Lost, The Big Bang Theory, Antarctica, MSU, molecular biology, genetics, plant genetics, philology vs. phylogeny, the Science News Update podcast, “a funny Geordie sounding dude” (Tony C. Smith), duck penises, cloaca, sexing birds, African Grey parrots, ants, What Technology Wants, technology as an extension of evolution, “microscopic brains”, plant intelligence, tropism, phototropism vs. gravitropism, auxins, The Secret Life Of Plants, dowsing, plant signaling (with jasmonic acid), StarShip Sofa, The Merchant And The Alchemist’s Gate by Ted Chiang, knitting and cross-stitching, narrating skills, Uvula Audio, I, Libertine, The Call Of The Wild by Jack London, L. Frank Baum is seriously weird, violence vs. bloodless violence, the Tin Woodsman and his enchanted axe, goiing from cyborg to robot (via a Ship of Theseus metaphor), Sky Island, genocide in kids books, Doc Savage, The Avenger, Lester Dent, Hamlet And Eggs by J.J. Campanella, a comedic detective story, Georgia, 9/11, how to be always wrong, private detectives, The Code Of The Poodles by James Powell, what accent would a talking dog have?, The Friends Of Hector Jouvet by James Powell, Monaco, A Dirge For Clowntown by James Powell, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Divers Down by Hal Gordon, were kids in the ’70s were more respectful?, the Rick Brant series, Tom Swift, The Rocket’s Shadow (Rick Brant #1) by John Blaine, Jonny Quest, adventure, The Venture Bros., The Flintstones, Harold L. Goodwin, serial books, house names, The Bobbsey Twins, Edward Stratemeyer, “electronic adventures”, who read and bought those serial books?, the end of the pulp era, The Mystery Of The Stratemeyer Legacy, Nancy Drew, has paranormal romance replaced kids books?, the Twilight series, the Harry Potter series, Rick Riordan, The Wizard Of Oz, H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, the rich and amazing language of Lovecraft, Miskatonic University, Craig Nickerson, At The Mountains Of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft, Professor William Dyer, The Shadow Out Of Time by H.P. Lovecraft, Brazil, proper Portuguese pronunciation, “lethp listhping”, Doctor Who, Silurians, yithians, Horror vs. Science Fiction, Astounding Stories, time travel, “shoggoths etc.”, The Statement Of Randolph Carter, a really serious (and difficult) question: Are zombies Science Fiction or Fantasy?, Romero-style zombies, 28 Days Later, real zombies in nature (mostly in the insect world), Herbert West, Re-Animator, the source matters, if the zombie was dead then it is Fantasy, why are zombies so popular?, people like the idea of being able to kill without remorse, mummies vs. werewolves vs. vampires vs. zombies, Zombieland, Bill Murray, contemporary Fantasy, Neil Gaiman, comics, sword and sorcery, Elric, the Thomas Covenant series, Stephen R. Donaldson, Douglas Adams, American Gods |READ OUR REVIEW| vs. The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul, James Alan Gardner, Expendable is an “absolute masterpiece”, Star Trek, why are there no James Alan Gardner audiobooks?, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Man Of Bronze is terrible, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson |READ OUR REVIEW|, Jim Campanella describes it as “turgid”, Metropia, “photo-realistic Swedish anime”, baby eyes, Steamboat Willie, the evolution of Mickey Mouse’s appearance, infanticide, why do your big eyes prevent me from kill you?, saccharin, the sucralose story (is in the Dec. 2010 podcast of Science News Update).
Posted by Jesse Willis
The Invisible Man
By H.G. Wells; Read by James Adams
5 CDs – Approx. 5.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Themes: / Science Fiction / Invisibility / Chemistry / Biology / Crime / 19th Century / Sussex / Morality / Personal Responsibility /
On a freezing February day, a stranger emerges from out of the gray to request a room at a local provincial inn. Who is this out-of-season traveler? More confounding is the thick mask of bandages obscuring his face. Why does he disguise himself in this manner and keep himself hidden away in his room? Aroused by trepidation and curiosity, the local villagers bring it upon themselves to find the answers. What they discover is a man trapped in a terror of his own creation, and a chilling reflection of the unsolvable mysteries of their own souls.
While nobody could really deny H.G. Wells was an amazing and talented Science Fiction author I think we can all agree that some of his fictions are superior to others. Among those that are not superior is The Invisible Man. This is not from any serious defect in the novel’s writing. Indeed, I cannot see anything that H.G. Wells has really done badly or that he could have done better. So, if it couldn’t have been done better then why isn’t it better? I think the problem stems from two interrelated factors: One is a serious technical gripe, something in the book and unavoidable, and the other being the smallness of that idea. Taken together they make it difficult to fully engage with. What holds back The Invisible Man from an utter perfection is at the weak premise at the very core of the novel, invisibility. Invisibility is both impossible and small. I’ve expanded on its impossibility in another essay. Its smallness is a problem I will tackle here.
Invisibility is a long standing meme in human culture: Plato describes invisibility in the legend of The Ring Of Gyges, Tolkien used a similarly endowed ring in The Lord Of The Rings, and even modern scientific versions of invisibility (the invisible-like camouflage in Predator) are still with us. The problem is invisibility isn’t a story, its barely a half of an idea in terms of ideas – its a place to take a story, but it isn’t a very fruitful one. I felt the same way when I read Richard Matheson’s The Incredible Shrinking Man |READ OUR REVIEW|READ OUR REVIEW|. I though: “A man shrinking, that’s new!” It was new and completely unfruitful. See the fallout from the idea of a man shirking inexorably towards nothingness is a feeling of emptiness. The man shrinks, the world gets bigger. A man shrinks, everyday objects become like mountains and house pets like dragons. Its interesting, to be sure, but it isn’t a story. Like invisibility, no amount of hand-waving can make the explanation scientifically plausible. Unlike, the The Incredible Shrinking Man however I can still recommend The Invisible Man – Wells is the master of Science Fiction. In The Invisible Man he takes a fatally flawed concept, invisibility, and writes the shit out of it. When Griffin, the scientist and anti-hero of the title goes about explaining his methodological reasoning in a Socratic dialogue, he is fully persuasive. Check this passage out:
“Phew!” said Kemp. “That’s odd! But still I don’t see quite … I can understand that thereby you could spoil a valuable stone, but personal invisibility is a far cry.”
“Precisely,” said Griffin. “But consider, visibility depends on the action of the visible bodies on light. Either a body absorbs light, or it reflects or refracts it, or does all these things. If it neither reflects nor refracts nor absorbs light, it cannot of itself be visible. You see an opaque red box, for instance, because the colour absorbs some of the light and reflects the rest, all the red part of the light, to you. If it did not absorb any particular part of the light, but reflected it all, then it would be a shining white box. Silver! A diamond box would neither absorb much of the light nor reflect much from the general surface, but just here and there where the surfaces were favourable the light would be reflected and refracted, so that you would get a brilliant appearance of flashing reflections and translucencies—a sort of skeleton of light. A glass box would not be so brilliant, not so clearly visible, as a diamond box, because there would be less refraction and reflection. See that? From certain points of view you would see quite clearly through it. Some kinds of glass would be more visible than others, a box of flint glass would be brighter than a box of ordinary window glass. A box of very thin common glass would be hard to see in a bad light, because it would absorb hardly any light and refract and reflect very little. And if you put a sheet of common white glass in water, still more if you put it in some denser liquid than water, it would vanish almost altogether, because light passing from water to glass is only slightly refracted or reflected or indeed affected in any way. It is almost as invisible as a jet of coal gas or hydrogen is in air. And for precisely the same reason!”
“Yes,” said Kemp, “that is pretty plain sailing.”
So, I’m of two minds on The Invisible Man. It derives its heart from a weak concept – and like the phlogiston theory of combustion it is discredited, and undeserving of serious consideration. Despite all this I still find myself willing to recommend you read the novella. The psychological rigor that Wells brings to the novel makes The Invisible Man quite possibly the first and last straight Science Fiction story worthy of our attentions.
Narrator James Adams is a capable reader, he reads the third person perspective text with what sounds like an authentic English accent. The clam-shell style case, for the library CD edition that I received, features a bit of fading text on the cover, a design inspired by the invisibility of the title. Unfortunately this makes the details hard to make out in anything other than a bright light environment. Blackstone Audio has four other formats available too: Cassette, MP3-CD, digital download (via Audible.com) and playaway (a kind of disposable MP3 player that can only play one book). Given the widespread availability of The Invisible Man by other audiobook publishers I’d like to have seen some value added materials, perhaps a specially commisioned introduction by Professor Eric Rabkin and or an afterward by Professor Michael D.C. Drout.
One thing I like about paperbooks that rarely (if ever) gets included in an audiobook is a map. Maps are fun and informative. One of the funnest paperback series ever was the old Dell Mapbacks. Here’s the Map from the back of Dell’s edition of The Invisible Man:
And while we’re at it here’s the cover…
Posted by Jesse Willis
StarShipSofa’s Aural Delights podcast features terrific fiction, funny poems and fantastic scholarly research in nearly every episode. Once a month the podcast features a segment by James J. Campanella. Besides being an excellent audiobook narrator, he’s a university professor (of Biology and Molecular Biology) and a genuine Ph’D scientist. His segment is called “Science News Update.” In each episode Campanella talks about the latest research that’s hitting the journals, explains the cool implications of each, and he answers listeners questions. In a recent show, for example, Campanella discussed a cool experiment that demonstrates a previously unknown taste receptor – we can taste the flavour of carbonation! More on that later.
But, it’s something else in the most recent two segments (the October and November 2009 shows) that I really want to draw your attention to. See Jim answered one of my questions. I’d been wondering about the ‘BPA and plastics threat’ that I’d be hearing about (from my mom).
In his answer to my query Campanella discussed the endocrine disruptor Bisphenol A (BPA), and its distribution in the human ecosystem.
It seems that BPA does pose a threat, a kind of bodily pollution that threatens to ‘impurify our precious bodily fluids!’ Or as Jim put it in his email to me:
“This stuff just scares the hell out of me– all I can think of is that book and movie The Children Of Men.”
Yikes! Is it truly possible that in all the H1N1 hysteria that a more insidious threat can be found in the likes of household plastics and store receipts?
Campanella thinks so. He refers, in the November show, to some research conducted by Bruce Lanphear, a Health Sciences Professor at Simon Fraser University (my old school).
Because of this research Canada has banned plastics containing BPA from use in baby products. But there’s not yet been a ban imposed on BPA lined cash register receipts or number 7 (and some number 3) recyclable plastics. Other plastics, containing other non-Bishpenol A plastics may or may not pose a risk. But given the known leech-rate of glass containers (virtually nil) I’d be willing to stick with glass were it available for reasonable prices (which it mostly isn’t, damn it).
Campanella also reports that not only are some plastics embedded with this dangerous endocrine disruptor but that a larger threat may be looming in the form of the receipt I got when I bought all that plastic crap! Sez Campanella:
‘carbonless copy paper credit card and store receipts have a reported average of 50-100mg of free BPA. That is receipts using this bisphenol A technology have a loose coating of unbound BPA ready for uptake on the fingers or even possibly through direct skin absorption!’
So, mom, I guess you were right? Except that it’s not so much the plastics now that I’m worried about!
My solutions BTW:
-Avoid plastics (especially number 7 and number 3)
-And given the news about carbonation and plastics, I’ll try to be more like this guy…
Posted by Jesse Willis
The August 20th 2009 episode of Hi-Sci-Fi (a podcast radio show out of CJSF 90.1FM in Burnaby, British Columbia) features a very interesting interview with the author of The Unselfish Gene Sez host Irma Arkus:
“This week we have one of my new favorite authors, Robert Burns, who not only has the touch for the undead, but writes most beautiful adventure sci-fi pulp I’ve read in a long, long time. And together with Burns, we bring you his new novel, The Unselfish Gene.
The premise of the novel is genuinely un-boring: colonists on moon are the last of humans as we know it, because the rest of the Earth’s populous has been affected by a Zombie virus.
But that is only where the fun starts, as moon colonists seem to suffer from endless complications and health issues of their own: they are not the best choice for human propagation due to long-term radiation exposure, and mental illnesses, including clinical depression, are quite common.
Worst of all, they are the only and best candidates for survival of humanity, because they have the runaway vehicle: Anita, an Orion-like ship, propelled by nuclear-bombs, is a way out, as Earth also faces a run-in with a comet.
The premise of the novel simply spells disaster, which is AWESOME.”
In the interview Irma gushes over the cool illustrations.
The interview proper starts at about 22 minutes in |MP3|.
iTunes 1-Click |SUBSCRIBE|
[via the Science Fiction In Biology blog]
Posted by Jesse Willis
By Lincoln Child; Read by Scott Brick
9 CDs – Approx. 10 Hours 30 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: February 2009
Themes: / Horror / Thriller / Techno-thriller / Science / Biology / Evolution / Paleoecology / Alaska / Ice / Ice Road Trucking /
Four hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle lies Alaska’s Federal Wilderness Zone, one of the most remote places on Earth. But for paleoecologist Evan Marshall and a small group of fellow scientists, an expedition to the Zone represents the opportunity of a lifetime to study the effects of global warming. The expedition changes suddenly, however, with an astonishing find. On a routine exploration of a glacial ice cave, the group discovers an enormous ancient animal encased in solid ice. The media conglomerate sponsoring their research immediately intervenes and arranges the ultimate spectacle—the animal will be cut from the ice, thawed, and revealed live on television. Despite dire warnings of a local Native American village, and the scientific concerns of Marshall and his team, the “docudrama” plows ahead—until the scientists make one more horrifying discovery. The beast is no regular specimen…it may be an ancient killing machine. And they may be wrong in presuming it dead.
Lincoln child begins Terminal Freeze by quoting all but the last couple sentences of THIS. It’s not exactly a scholarly article, more of a “fun science facts” story. But like Child there are plenty of other folks willing to proffer their own answers to this “mystery.” AboveTopSecret.com (a forum devoted to “conspiracies, UFO’s, paranormal, secret societies, political scandals, new world order, terrorism”) and AnswersInGenesis.org (a site about Young Earth creationism and a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis) both have explanations for the seemingly flash frozen mammoth that fit into other “theories.” If Child’s solution to the mystery, this novel, wasn’t presented as fiction it’d be just as ridiculous.
So, this isn’t really a Science Fiction novel. At first I had a hard time figuring out what it was. I clued in about the time I started hearing the scientists protags talking about something called “the Callisto Effect” – it sounded like utter bunk – so I looked it up. Yup it is bunk, it’s a fictional theory first invented for the Lincon Child/Douglas Preston novel The Relic (which got turned into a pretty good horror movie). The Callisto Effect is a Child/Preston invention, a kind of a fictional spin-off of the saltation hypothesis. As one other reviewer of this book noted the Callisto Effect can be summed up like this:
“…when a species becomes too numerous or starts to lose evolutionary vigor a monstrous superpredator suddenly appears and kills until it can kill no more.”
So ya, like I was saying, there are scientists in Terminal Freeze, and they talk about pseudo-scientific ideas, but this is just window dressing for the plot of a monster hunt.
We might think of the “techno-thriller” as a kind of a modern gothic novel. Even as far back as the 19th century, Edgar Allan Poe and Jules Verne, were setting their “fantastic tales in the remaining unexplored regions of the world. By the early 20th the likes of H.P. Lovecraft, and John W. Campbell only had one unexplored continent: Antarctica. The same would be true for a modern audience but now that even Antarctica has been laregly de-mystified we’re having to place our monster horror stories in inaccessible caves and hidden military bases (at least that’s the route Terminal Freeze takes).
The story is rather drawn out, with a number of blandish stock characters brought in seemingly only to be picked off one by one (which surpringly both does and doesn’t happen). The scientists, none of whom are particularly interesting, end up working with a local native, who was also co-incidentally a former soldier at Fear Base, and also a former junior scientist there, and also a co-discoverer of the original monster (back in the 1950s). Given those credentials you’d think then that he’d be absolutely instrumental in solving the mystery of what the frozen monster is and how it escaped. But no, he just gives a highly ineffectual and unrealistically cryptic warning (at the beginning of the novel) is promptly ignored – shuffles off the stage only to be brought back later, like Chekhov’s gun, jumbling around a bag of religious artifacts – which do nothing. Apparently the gun on the mantle was just a prop. Child added in an absolutely unnecessary batch of TV documentary people. The only reason I can think they’re there for is that it’d make for some good visuals should they make a movie of this novel. They’re all there when the monster in the ice escapes from the mysteriously melted ice. And of course their there when people start dying grizzly deaths as they wander off alone. But they don’t do much with those cameras and they end up leaving before the end.
After finishing the novel I was kind of interested in finding out if any of the locations in this novel were real. In the book there is a mountain called “Mount Fear,” a glacier called “Fear Glacier,” and a “Fear Base” (a D.E.W. Line style military facility). It turns out that they all don’t really exist, they are all made up.
One thing I did like about the novel was the discussion about the different types of ice. When the scientist are sitting around trying to explain how the creature in the ice escaped they briefly discuss different ways water crystallizes into ice, how these different types of ice are formed, and their differing properties. This briefly re-invigorates the mystery – but it is ultimately thrown away – discarded and replaced with a less than satisfactory explanation.
Scott Brick, who probably reads more books than any other audiobook narrator working today, does his best with what he’s given. The baddies come off badish, the heroes come off goodish, the monster comes off monsterish. The most interesting portion of the novel is actually a bit, almost completely tangential to the monster plot when an “ice road trucker” has to drive the survivors to safety. Brick works hard to make the cracking of the ice and the freezing cold compelling. And that’s the part of the novel is more believable.
Posted by Jesse Willis