The SFFaudio Podcast #258 – Jesse, Seth, and Maissa discuss The Star Rover (aka The Jacket) by Jack London.
Talked about on today’s show:
titled The Jacket in the UK; astral projection; what about alien past lives; the primordial ooze; the book is a laundry list of Jack London’s interests; structure resembles television flashbacks; knuckle-rap Morse Code; The Count of Monte Cristo; Seth recounts his own past-life story; Jesse and Maissa debate plausibility of reincarnation; Plato and the Land of the Forms; “little death” means something else in French; Ragnar Lodbrok based on Norse Mythology; anachronism; Korean history and turtle ships; Jesse attempts to use the Napoleon Complex to debunk reincarnation; everyman (and everywoman); does reincarnation extend beyond humanity?; “there’s only one soul”; Lucretius, star dust, and the recovery of scrolls from Herculaneum; “souls are totally bogus”; past lives as a metaphor for reading widely; prevalence of the number 40; hallucination; Jack London on surfing; multilingual reference as an indicator of fame; prison reform; interrogation, torture, and Guantanamo Bay; loosely adapted in 2005 film The Jacket; the 1923 silent film adaptation is sadly lost; comparing and contrasting with The Iron Heel; T.C. Boyle’s The Relive Box in The New Yorker; Until the End of the World, a film about reliving dreams; on cultivating sleep; frame narrative; sexism; historical basis for character names; H.P. Lovecraft, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the creative power of dreams; confabulation; Total Recall; “faith in the lordship of my mind”; the odd importance of tobacco; The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells.
Posted by Jesse Willis
This UNABRIDGED AUDIOBOOK (10 hours 1 minute) comes to us courtesy of LibriVox.org. The Star Rover was first published in 1915.
The next SFFaudio Podcast will feature our discussion of it!
Posted by Jesse Willis
Jack London: An American Life
By Earle Labor; Read by Michael Prichard
16 hours 50 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Media
Themes: / biography / writing / politics / literature
As Earle Labor notes in his preface to this comprehensive biography, Jack London is a man who, nearly a century after his death, still looms large in the American imagination. Labor seeks to illuminate, or in some cases even dispel, some of the myths surrounding this literary genius (e.g. London was an alcoholic, London was a badass, London committed suicide). Labor also sets himself the task of reconciling London the rugged individualist with London the ardent socialist. With these lofty aims set forth, Jack London: An American Life might have become a programmatic attack, or defense, of London’s life and work. But this book is biography at its best: rich in its description and reliant on primary sources whenever possible not only to dole out facts but to lend an air of local color. The subtitle An American Life is thus appropriate, since the reader is treated to a glimpse into not just the life of Jack London, but into the America (parts of it, at any rate) of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Unlike some modern biographies that attempt literary flourishes by beginning in medias res and then backtracking, or otherwise play with chronology or other tropes to heighten the narrative power, Labor’s work doesn’t pull any punches. It is a biography from start to finish, and only delves beyond London’s birth in an effort to shed some light on his less-than-Rockwellian parentage and upbringing. The biography then marches chronologically right up until the days of London’s final illness and death–which at only age 40 came much too soon. While at points this made for tedious reading–I felt I was stuck in the South Sea doldrums right along with London and crew–it left me with a sense of completion lacking in shorter or less thorough biographies. I really feel like I know London’s story from cradle to grave. Though not written for a scholarly audience by any means, the tight focus on London’s immediate life and surrounding does mean the reader should have some knowledge of turn-of-the-century world events. Labor does not deviate from the story, for example, to explain the origins of the Russo-Japanese War or the Mexican Revolution, which both figure into London’s life as a reporter.
This work might just as easily have been subtitled “American Lives”, since Jack London was not only a journalist but also an oyster pirate, a gold miner, a hobo, a convict, a captain, and a rancher, not to mention world-class writer. And Jack London is a prime specimen of the adage “write what you know.” After his time as a gold miner in the Great White North, he cranked out Klondike stories; after his stint reporting boxing matches, he tried his hand at writing a story about a prize match; and during his cruise in the Pacific, he wrote moving pieces about Hawaii and the South Sea, most notably Ko’olau the Leper. As a reader fascinated with wordcraft and the writing process, I found Labor’s observations on London’s writing life particularly insightful. Sadly (for me, at any rate), any sort of deeper criticism (in the scholarly sense of the word) of London’s writings or their far-reaching influence is beyond the scope of this biography. We do not learn whether Ernest Hemingway read London’s anti-bullfighting story The Madness of John Harned, for instance, nor do we discover whether his socialist writings had any impact during the Red Scare not long after his death. The lack of these literary insights isn’t so much a problem with the book as it is a casualty of its tight biographical focus. Most casual readers who don’t go in for literary trivia will probably actually be grateful for its absence.
What makes Jack London: An American Life such a joy to read is its frequent inclusion of source material, much of it written either by London himself or by his precocious and stalwart second wife Charmian. Labor weaves these glittering strands into the narrative’s tapestry so seamlessly that, at least to the audiobook listener, it’s occasionally difficult to ascertain where London’s words leave off and Labor’s prose picks up again. This is partly due to Labor’s own skill as a writer in his own right, and perhaps some of the literary prowess of his subject rubbed off on him as well. The strength of the biography’s prose easily buoys the text along through the book’s occasional slow spot. Michael Prichard’s narration complements the text well, and his accentuation and intonation of quoted text helps mitigate the aforementioned problem of distinguishing quoted material from Labor’s own pen. The few “mistakes” I noticed in the narration are more a matter of usage or stylistic debate than actual shortcomings. Overall, the audio presentation never detracted from, and in some ways added to, the power of the written work.
As I hinted earlier, the only real problem with Jack London: An American Life is that there isn’t enough of it. Earle Labor, curator of the Jack London Museum in Shreveport, Louisiana, clearly has a lot to say about London, and in fact has written other works about the literary giant. As with any great biography, this book is a springboard inviting readers to further exploration, which in this case means, above all, reading Jack London’s own work. Through his own powerful words, and through the able stewardship of scholars like Labor, Jack London continues to blaze a literary trail almost a hundred years after his passing.
An NPR piece on this new biography features not only snippets of an interview with Earle Labor, but also a wax cylinder recording of Jack London himself.
Posted by Seth Wilson
The SFFaudio Podcast #248 – Goliah by Jack London; read by Gregg Margarite. This is a complete and unabridged reading of the short story (57 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse, Bryan Alexander, Seth, and Maissa Bessada
Talked about on today’s show:
Colossus: The Forbin Project; title’s reference to biblical Goliath; story’s title a reference to the famous Pacific steam ship; colonial capitalism; the story’s Gilded Age context; child labor; Eugene Debs and American socialism; Karl Marx; Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan; the story’s fictional energon evocative of Transformers energon; Nikola Tesla; Goliah has a palantir; Goliah as Santa Claus; the story’s invented island Palgrave in the South Sea; parallels to London’s other speculative fiction including The Iron Heel; the story’s unreliable narrator; Asgard; origin stories and foundation myths; nineteenth-century racism rears its ugly head again; Übermenschen; contempt for military and militarism; The Unparalleled Invasion; Seth works too hard; the theoretical increase of productivity through automation; 1984; Twilight casting a sparkly shadow over modern culture; Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward as a possible influence; Karl Marx’s German Ideology; the importance of laughter; Herland; the story as a response to nihilism; similarities between Guy de Maupassant and Friedrich Nietzsche; The Scarlet Plague; Canticle for Leibowitz; the medieval investiture controversy; animal metaphors in Goliah; accurate predictions of World War I; structural similarity to the Book of Job; “you don’t get a lot of laughter in the Old Testament”; Arslan by M.J. Engh; The Bookman literary magazine; It’s a Good Life by Jerome Bixby; steampunk by tag cloud; we make a dismal attempt at discussing the Stock Market; the dark underbelly of Goliah’s utopia; the unrealistic perpetuation of a utopia; Autofac and Pay for the Printer by Philip K. Dick; With Folded Hands by Jack Williamson; Star Trek: The Next Generation; Lenin’s dying wish; Jules Verne; Goliah relinquishing power; Hot Fuzz; more on the palantir and the NSA; “grumblers grumble”; attitudes toward the criminally insane; “Goliah has spoken”; nukes not MOOCs; Cuban Missile Crisis; Douglas MacArthur biography American Caesar by William Manchester; Doctor Who episode “The Happiness Patrol”; Japanese Manga Death Note; the “bread and roses” U.S. labor strike contemporary with Jack London; the Pax Romana; The Better Angels of Our Nature by Stephen Pinker, a discourse on lethal violence; the Franco-Prussian War; Earle Labor’s Jack London: An American Life available in audio.
Posted by Jesse Willis
The SFFaudio Podcast #247 – READALONG: On The Beach by Nevil Shute; read by Simon Prebble. Jesse fends off illness to lead us in an intriguing discussion about Nevil Shute’s apocalyptic novel. This podcast features Jesse, Jenny, Seth, and Paul.
Talked about on today’s show:
Reversed seasons in Southern Hemisphere; novel originally serialized in London weekly periodical The Sunday Graphic; “on the beach” as naval phrase meaning “retired from service”; the novel almost universally acclaimed by critics and readers alike; what is the ideal time frame for an end-of-the-world scenario?; On The Beach as bleak existential novel; the author’s avoidance of political or religious polemic; 1959 movie starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, and Anthony Perkins; Australia as a secular nation; Earth Abides by George R. Stewart; Endgame by Samuel Becket; the novel as a metaphor for terminal cancer patients; The Star by Arthur C. Clarke; abstract sterile end-of-world mechanics, a “cosy catastrophe“; 2008 BBC radio adaptation; 2000 TV movie starring Bryan Brown, modernized and featuring a much more optimistic tone; Roland Emmerich’s disaster flick 2012; could the novel’s characters done more to ensure the continued survival of humanity?; fallout shelters, “duck and cover!”; Chernobyl; rampant alcoholism; euthanasia; attitudes toward media–were newspapers responsible for the war?; regression of technology in the novel; The Waveries by Fredric Brown; we wish the Cosy Catastrophe genre would supplant Paranormal Romance; reflection of a pre-WWI era arms race; 1959 movie version tackles Cold War paranoia; U.S. government’s criticism of the novel; Five Years by David Bowie; faced with the end of the world, our panel would evidently read Marcel Proust; needless revisions in film adaptations; much action takes place “off the page” in the novel; lookism; The Scarlet Plague by Jack London; Simon Prebble’s excellent audio narration; George Orwell’s 1984; Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl and logotherapy; Jay Lake and his bout with cancer; Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, adapted by Alfred Hitchcock, and how we’re haunted by the people who are no longer with us; the novel’s three-dimensional characters; Nevil Shute employs typical British understatement; Lord of the Rings‘s Denethor and the idea of hopelessness; Egyptian tomb goods and attitudes towards death; Jesse plans his funeral rites.
Posted by Seth Wilson
The SFFaudio Podcast #241 – Jesse and Jenny discuss the 1913 novel Goslings: A World Of Women by J.D. Beresford and the 2013 audiobook from Dreamscape Audiobooks.
PUBLIC DOMAIN |ETEXT|
Talked about on today’s show:
Dreamscape Audiobooks, narrator Matthew Brenher, English dialects (and accents), a casual apocalypse, running out of water, “he’s going to beat his family”, “and we’re very English and we’re moving on”, a world of women,
A global plague has decimated England’s male population and the once-predictable Gosling family is now free to fulfill its long-frustrated desires. When Mr. Gosling leaves his family to peruse his sexual vices, the Gosling daughters, who lack experience and self-independence, find shelter in a matriarchal commune. However their new life is threatened by the community elders’ views on free love.
that’s not what it feels like, what do the women want?, Thrail and his perspective, the Gosling’s perspective, Thrail’s journal, an implicit trust in the British authorities, fathoming an empty world, what is Mother Gosling’s ultimate fate?, a very gentle book, the cruelest moment in this book is the confrontation at the tobacconist’s, “you stupid slut”, a gentle apocalypse, 70% of the population dies, The Stand by Stephen King, exploding heads, Earth Abides, the war of all against all, almost all the men die, the harem, Thrail is asexual, a dalliance with a coquette, Jenny blames Father Gosling, the proximal cause, “we’re wasting the potential of women”, Eileen (aka Lady Eileen), marriage never really protected women, a world of slaves, men can be feminists too, why does it take a man to write a book about a world of women?, J.D. Beresford modeled Thrail on H.G. Wells, Jack London, the 1910s, the Bolshevik revolution, Mastering The Art Of Soviet Cooking, Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya Von Bremzen, an anti-disestablishment bill, the Anglican Church, church and state, the fundamentalist religious people in this book, so many critiques, a very thoughtful book, intellectualism, “you don’t want books, keep your eyes open and think”, Thrail worked on every continent, Thrail is needed for his manly skills (not just his sperm), “the Jewess”, is this casual racism?, this is a weird book because its about fashion, a Science Fiction novel about FASHION!, the clothing, pants, work clothing, Thrail is the Beresford mouthpiece, Thrail’s Dr. Watson, “you’re so mighty!”, women want to attract mates but their worried about what other women think, and men are into fashion too, a vigorous bike ride, “get out of the city”, the suppressed lech, “I saw the god in the father”, a transition back to nature, Sterling, the ending, what’s going on in America, this story would never work now, Goslings is completely of its time, a really well written book, Beresford wrote a book about H.G. Wells, Neil Gaiman, the neat ending undercuts the book, a new way to be, why do we like these downer books, Jenny likes to see what happens when things get torn apart, a farm commune, the thieving, the religious group, class distinctions, fashion and class, Louis Vuitton, a signifier of class, men are not the oppressors, people are oppressing themselves, we weren’t even slaves to intelligence and efficiency, a strong educated woman, a funny utopian book, utopia/dystopia, compared to the end of Earth Abides, the war bride phenomena, think of the children, Virus (1980) aka Day of Resurrection (PUBLIC DOMAIN), an inversion of the situation in Goslings, rape is not okay, how do we rebuild the world with only eight women and eight hundred men?, The Best Of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord, On The Beach by Nevil Shute, Gooses?, Ganders?, goslings grow up, growing up, Blanche is the elder daughter, Millie becomes a harem girl, beautiful hair, “if you stop I’m gone”, Thrail doesn’t want to suffer the fools, sex in that bush, the women are jealous, “history is a series of stories about the worst fucking people in the world”, bastard after bastard, asshole after asshole, “slut” is the insult word for women, etymology of swear words, bitch, bastard, a term of unworthiness, men worry about bastard children, women are worried about having sluts near their husbands, the terms don’t apply anymore, religious sects that don’t sexually reproduce, the Shakers, the rapture, J.D. Beresford was agnostic and then a theosophist, Paris intellectuals, Madame Blavatsky, the universal over-soul, séances, the cause, the 19th century, “newspapers newspapers newspapers”, disposable income, social negotiations, the girls could push their dad’s buttons, when the hard truth comes…, Jean Claude Van Damme, Jenny plows her own fields, “more beets, less kale”, the prepper phenomenon, a seed bank, all the planting zones are shifting, growing beets and kale in Antarctica, there are only two flowering plants in Antarctica.
Posted by Jesse Willis