By Marc Maron; Read by Marc Maron
Publisher: Random House Audio
5 hours, 34 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Themes: / memoir / comedy / humanity /
People make a mess.
Marc Maron was a parent-scarred, angst-filled, drug-dabbling, love-starved comedian who dreamed of a simple life: a wife, a home, a sitcom to call his own. But instead he woke up one day to find himself fired from his radio job, surrounded by feral cats, and emotionally and financially annihilated by a divorce from a woman he thought he loved. He tried to heal his broken heart through whatever means he could find—minor-league hoarding, Viagra addiction, accidental racial profiling, cat fancying, flying airplanes with his mind—but nothing seemed to work. It was only when he was stripped down to nothing that he found his way back.
Attempting Normal is Marc Maron’s journey through the wilderness of his own mind, a collection of explosively, painfully, addictively funny stories that add up to a moving tale of hope and hopelessness, of failing, flailing, and finding a way. From standup to television to his outrageously popular podcast, WTF with Marc Maron, Marc has always been a genuine original, a disarmingly honest, intensely smart, brutally open comic who finds wisdom in the strangest places. This is his story of the winding, potholed road from madness and obsession and failure to something like normal, the thrillingly comic journey of a sympathetic f***up who’s trying really hard to do better without making a bigger mess. Most of us will relate.
It seems like most people spend all their time cultivating various masks to hide behind, but Marc Maron has made a business out of taking his off, and getting professionals in artistic fields from comedy to film and music to do the same. His trick is to reveal his own flaws and past mistakes and make people feel OK about being human so they can relax and open up too. This is why his WTF podcast is so popular, and why he has such a loyal fan-base, and why his interviews are some of the most interesting out there.
In Attempting Normal, he says that one of the beliefs that shaped his life is that “People want to share but they usually don’t” – because they are afraid they will be judged, or seem weak, or out of fear that others won’t have the capacity to carry the burden of what they have to say. In his book, Maron says, “But all that stuff is what makes us human; more than that, it’s what makes being human interesting and funny. … We’re built to deal with shit. We’re built to deal with death, disease, failure, struggle, heartbreak, problems. … The way we each handle being human is where all the good stories, jokes, art, wisdom, revelations and bullshit come from.”
His book is a collection of autobiographical stories about how he has personally handled being a fallible human. He talks about his mistakes, drug problems, neurotic episodes and failed marriages, and he describes odd encounters with creatures such as hookers, stray cats, comedy road pirates, and Conan O’ Brian. What links all his stories together is that universal story plot: humans, who are really weird, get themselves into shit, deal with it, and climb back out. It’s a book about accepting the darkness and pain, struggling through, and keeping hope. It also has some profound wisdoms: “Bedtime is the worst time to start an argument because all the drama unfolds while you are wearing your underwear. Being angry in your underwear is a hard thing to pull off.”
It’s always awesome to hear people telling their own stories, but Maron’s narration is particularly good as he has beautiful timing and an open, free-flowing style thanks to years of working as a stand-up comic. He also has that hard-edged vulnerability that pro-comedians learn to do so well.
One of the things I appreciate about him, and which comes across heavily in this book, is that he loves the art of comedy not just as a form of entertainment but for its role in society: a way for people and for the culture to release tension. He says comedians are “like all artists, masters of the mathematics of relief.”
I also really dig his empathy for the human condition. He’s a dark character, but he has built up this amazing understanding of humanity that he uses to draw people out in interviews and to reflect on his own experiences. I learned from this book where it comes from: he has an insatiable curiosity for information about human psychology and philosophy, and even though he claims his obsessive collecting of books (from Plato and Spinoza to Hunter S.) is mostly pointless, I think it’s what gives him that ability to see the deeper truths in any situation.
“I can’t read anything with any distance. Every book is a self-help book to me. Just having them makes me feel better. I underline profusely, but I don’t retain much. Reading is like a drug. When I’m reading from these books it feels like I’m thinking what is being read, and that gives me a rush. That is enough. I glean what I can. I finish some of the unfinished thoughts lingering around in my head by adding the thoughts of geniuses, and I build from there.” (Mark Maron)
This isn’t a book about a huge celebrity or particular topic – it’s just an honest and humble conversation about how we’re kinda weird, kinda funny, and in the end only human.
Posted by Marissa van Uden
The SFFaudio Podcast #139 – The Pyramid Of Amirah by James Patrick Kelly, read by James Patrick Kelly. This is a complete and unabridged reading of the short story (16 Minutes) followed by a discussion of it (by Jesse, Tamahome, and James Patrick Kelly himself). Here’s the ETEXT.
Talked about on today’s show:
Call him Jim!, James Patrick Kelly’s FREE READS podcast, “a gift story”, PBS, Mayan temples, ancient Mayan empire, Copán (Honduras), “time passes”, “2,000 words of nothing happening and 200 words of everything changes”, is it Science Fiction or Fantasy?, David G. Hartwell, Katherine Cramer Year’s Best Fantasy 3, 3D TV, the Earstone is the iPod Nano’s successor, Catholicism, religion, it’s a Horror story, sacrificial victims who volunteer, is Amirah hallucinating?, David Hume on miracles, take a miracle and make it a recipe, Memphis (Egypt), is religion a fantasy?, what is slipstream?, proto-slipstream, “Kelly Link is a goddess”, Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel, cognitive dissonance, slipstream encourages cognitive dissonance, “for every religion there is an equal and opposite religion”, “making the familiar strange and the strange familiar”, horror, comedy, Fantasy, The Lord Of The Rings, Science Fiction, Nine Billion Names Of God by Arthur C. Clarke, The Crawling Chaos, James Patrick Kelly doesn’t fully understand The Pyramid Of Amirah, is the Dalai Lama happy?, stay in your god tombs, The Girl Detective, Karen Joy Fowler, Carol Emshwiller, Franz Kafka, readers are happier when they’re really really surprised, most readers don’t re-reread stories, slipstream is a balcony on the house of fiction, behind the push of science is the turbulence of religion and the fantastic, Bruce Sterling, Ted Chiang is slipstream?, J.R.R. Tolkien, some short stories are Rorschach tests, Bruce Coville’s Full Cast Audio, Robert A. Heinlein’s juvenile novels, the love hate relationship with Heinlein, Heinlein’s villains are all straw men, Starship Troopers, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, Heinlein’s sexy mother, Heinlein’s late career needed editing, Stranger In A Strange Land, stories in dialogue with other stories, Think Like A Dinosaur is in dialogue with The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin (and the controversy about it), The New York Review Of Science Fiction, not all problems are institutional problems (you are going to die), institutional facts vs. brute facts, John W. Campbell, was Campbell a terrible editor?, “all stories must have telepathy”, the story that must not be named (in Galaxy SF April 1975), Jim Baen, religious Science Fiction, Death Therapy by James Patrick Kelly, Terry Carr, The Best Science Fiction of the Year #8, collaborations, John Kessel, Jonathan Lethem, Robert Frazier, ISFDB, The Omega Egg, Mike Resnick, Kafkaesque: Stories Inspired by Franz Kafka, Tachyon Publications, The Secret History Of Science Fiction, The Drowned Giant by J.G. Ballard, The Lottery Of Babylon by Jorge Luis Borges, Max Brod, Joe Hill, Heart Shaped Box, You Will Hear The Locust Sing by Joe Hill, T.C. Boyle, Michael Chabon, Carter Scholz, Don DeLillo, Lucius Shepard, The Nine Billion Names Of God by Carter Scholz, A Recursion In Metastories by Arthur C. Clarke, post-cyberpunk stories, what is post-cyberpunk?, Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology, Cheap Truth, the way technology changes the way we are, Cory Doctorow, Charles Stross, a new cyberpunk anthology is in the works, is there pre-cyberpunk?, Blade Runner, Philip K. Dick isn’t really cyberpunky, steampunk has a vision, what is the ethos of a steampunk story?, alternate history, goggles and zeppelins vs. computer hacking and mirror-shades, Pavane by Keith Roberts, William Gibson, Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, Bernardo’s House is an iconically Jim Kelly short story, Isaac Asimov, robots, a post-cyberpunk character, a prim and proper sex doll, There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury, Mary Robinette Kowal, puppets, a stage adaptation of There Will Come Soft Rains.
Posted by Jesse Willis
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
By Douglas Adams; Read by Stephen Fry
6 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Themes: / Science Fiction / Comedy / Planetary Destruction / Depressed Robots / Books /
Humor is arguably the most difficult genre of writing to pull off. Hampered by the limitations of the print medium, humor writers must ply their craft without the benefit of a number of tools commonly used in live comedy and in film—visual gags, voice inflections, and so on. This inherent difficultly is why good comedy writers like Dave Barry are a scarce commodity, and worth reading when you can find them.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of those rare examples of written comedy that actually works. When I last read this book back in middle school (it seemed like every dorky, D&D and Atari-playing kid like me was toting it around at the time), I enjoyed it very much. But I was in for an even more pleasant surprise when I recently returned to this book via the audio format. This was actually the first comedy I’ve listened to on CD, and I now believe that this genre might benefit the most from audio treatment. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a first-rate example of what a talented narrator/actor can do with funny, well-written material. English actor/comedian Stephen Fry takes The Hitchhiker’s Guide to new comedic heights, and on a few occasions I found myself laughing out loud during my commute to work. Fry literally turns the text into a running Monty Python skit.
The plot of the book is as follows: Arthur Dent, a nondescript Englishman, is about to lose his house to a construction crew in the name of progress (an overpass is scheduled to run through Dent’s property). Simultaneously, an alien race called the Vogons has scheduled the vaporization of earth to clear the way for a hyperspatial express route. Dent is saved from destruction at the last second by his friend Ford Prefect, a roving alien researcher on the earth to complete an entry for a galactic encyclopedia called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Prefect and Dent later hook up with Zaphod Beeblebrox, Galactic President and rogue ship-thief, and his two crewmates (an annoying robot stricken with depression and ennui named Marvin, and Trillian, a female and earth’s only other survivor). Beeblebrox has stolen a cutting-edge spaceship called the Heart of Gold and is on a mission to find the lost planet of Magrathea, rumored to hold riches beyond imagining, as well as the answers to the mystery of life, the universe, and everything.
To appreciate The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy you must like Monty Python (author Douglas Adams has writing credits in an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and appeared in two others, and his British comedy influences are plain). Here’s an example of the type of humor you’ll find:
Vogon poetry is of course the third worst in the Universe. The second worst is that of the Azgoths of Kria. During a recitation by their Poet Master Grunthos the Flatulent of his poem “Ode to a Small Lump of Green Putty I Found in My Armpit One Midsummer Morning” four of his audience died of internal hemorrhaging, and the President of the Mid-Galactic Arts Nobbling Council survived by gnawing one of his own legs off. Grunthos is reported to have been “disappointed” by the poem’s reception, and was about to embark on a reading of his twelve-book epic entitled My Favorite Bathtime Gurgles when his own major intestine, in a desperate attempt to save life and civilization, leaped straight up through his neck and throttled his brain.
The very worst poetry of all perished along with its creator, Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Greenbridge, Essex, England, in the destruction of the planet Earth.
Although The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is ostensibly mere over-the-top comedy, part of the reason (I believe) for its enduring appeal are its pithy insights about the nature of humanity and the universe and mankind’s raison d’etre. Overall it’s well worth reading and/or listening to.
Posted by Brian Murphy
There’s an upcoming six part comedic Fantasy radio drama starting on BBC Radio 4 next week. So get ready to tune your radios, queue up your BBC iPlayer or turn on your Radio Downloader subscription to catch it starting on Wednesday 29th April.
By Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto; Performed by a full cast
Six (1/2 hour) Parts – Approx. 3 Hours [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4
Broadcast: Begins Wednesday 29th April @ 18:30-19:00
“Fantasy writer Sam has been coerced into joining a band of intrepid heroes as they battle the dread forces of evil in search of the legendary Sword Of Asnagar. Comedy set in Lower Earth by Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto”.
Posted by Jesse Willis
It was a thousand years ago. The Earth: in ruins, a nuclear wasteland. Humanity had written its final chapter. It took only a matter of minutes to destroy what took centuries to build. Greed, materialism… an overall sense of things being off… they would all spell society’s downfall. What few survivors remained were in a state of complete mental chaos. But all was not lost. One man, one hero, one legend, would bring civilization to the uncivilized.
This man… was Steve.
Steve, the First begins with the miraculous birth of Steve, the savior of all mankind, from a pile of rocks. Steve is not impressed with the post-apocalyptic world he sees, nor is he happy with the exploding dogs. The first people he meets are two kids who spend their time collecting dead people, and the hilarious conversation they have sets the tone for the rest of this dark comic radio drama, which was originally broadcast on CBC Radio One in 2005.
Matt Watts, who is Canadian, not that there’s anything wrong with that, wrote the series and also stars as the uninspired Steve. I’ve written about Matt Watts before, but this drama and the one that follows (aptly titled Steve, the Second) were written and broadcast before Canadia: 2056 seasons 1 and 2. That series and this one share some of the same actors, which is a great thing because this crew is wonderful.
The Colleen (Holly Lewis) is perfectly neurotic. My first clue? Her parents. Tim the Melty (Don McKellar) is positively unforgettable – a post apocalyptic Yes Man. And then there’s Steve’s nemesis, Phil Green (Mark McKinney) who still, despite the lack of a good number of people, yearns for political power.
I urge you to give this a listen – you’ll nestle it in your mind somewhere between Red Dwarf and Galaxy Quest in your pantheon of science fiction comedy. Funny, FUNNY, stuff!
Posted by Scott D. Danielson
Part one of series three of The Scarifyers, For King and Country, will be aired on February 22 at 6PM and 12AM GMT on BBC 7, continuing on consecutive Sundays in four parts. Each episode is available for six days after broadcast. Stars Terry Molloy and Nicholas Courtney.
‘Sir’ Harry Price, self-proclaimed ghost detective, has built a machine. His previous experiment – to turn a goat into a man – may have ended ignominiously, but now Harry plans to capture the spirits of the dead with his Price Ghost Captivator™. If he can make it work, that is.
Meanwhile, Londoners are being killed, in especially gruesome fashion, with their own electrical appliances. But most puzzling of all is the Faraday Murderer’s habit of leaving cryptic messages in 17th century English at the scene – cryptic messages that mention a certain Harry Price…
Age-old forces are stirring… The dead will rise… The Crown will fall. Can Lionheart and Dunning save King and Country?
UPDATE: Okay, it’s up and streaming. Listen to part one of For King and Country here –right now!
Posted by RC of Radio Tales of the Strange & Fantastic