The Scarlet Plague
By Jack London; Read by Drew Ariana
Approx. 2 Hours 13 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Dreamscape Audio
Published: August 20, 2013
Themes: / Science Fiction / San Francisco / Plague / Post-Apocalypse / Disease / Philosophy / Politics / Class Conflict /
The year is 2013 and plague has struck. Not a wannabe killer like SARS or the Spanish flu, but a tsunami type devastation that swallows every living thing, check that, every person, in its path. Its nickname is the red death because at its arrival the first thing that happens to the infected person is they start sporting a red face – like a beacon for everyone else around them to – RUN. The next thing that happens is they die. Well a little more goes on in between, numb feet, numb hands, a heart so numb it stops. All within an hour, or a few hours if the person is lucky/unlucky enough to have it drag out that long. Then for fun what’s left of the numbed, red faced, ex-person, immediately starts decomposing, falling apart before the eyes of anyone still around to witness it, practically shooting decomposing germs into the air like a plant shooting its spores. There are two classes of people, the ultra rich and everyone else. As the ultra rich jump into their airships to get as far away as possible, they just carry death with them – first class. Everyone else simply falls down and dies where they are. The devastation’s full name is Scarlet Plague. Sixty years into the future when the very few last contenders of what was once the mighty human race hear tell about it, they can’t even decipher what scarlet means because language (like life) has degraded to the point of only holding on to what’s necessary. Scarlet is red. Counting only needs to go as high a ten. The squiggles on money and books are meaningless, but that’s of no consequence because neither books nor money are in use anyway. Apologies, I’m getting ahead of myself. About 160 years ahead.
The Scarlet Plague by Jack London, published in 1912 is about the plague that will strike 100 years from his time, told from a perspective 60 years hence by the last man alive who’s ever seen an airship or read a book. 2013, a hundred years into the future for Jack London, is today and yesterday, this week. Hearing this story now, is like what it was to read (or re-read) 1984 in 1984. Sort of surreal. Interestingly 1984 is a year that was mentioned in the story of the plague. Did George Orwell choose that year with a tip of his hat? Probably. I’ve heard George was a fan.
Back to Jack. What did he get right? What did he miss? Commercial airships? Instant wireless communication? Check, check. About 8 billion people planet wide? Check. The ultra rich and everyone else, hmmm, not that far off the mark, probably pretty close considering he was most likely exaggerating a little to make a point. The work didn’t actually feel like science fiction, it felt contemporary, the section that describes this part of the century anyway. Like his projection to 2073 started from here, not from a century ago. Because the today part of the story is so right, it makes the rest of the story worse.
Not worse as in it’s a bad story. It’s an excellent, superbly imagined, tangible story. Worse in regards to how Mr. London judged the human condition. 60 years from now, 160 years from when the book was written, James Howard Smith or Grandsir, is telling his three grandsons the story of the plague. A story that was in great demand 20 or 30 years before, is quickly becoming lost – now of passing interest to two of the boys, and of real interest to only one. For one thing Grandsir’s sentences are way too complicated, especially when he goes off into his memories and starts speaking as he used to do when he was professor of English literature at Stanford. Speech has become staccato and minimalist, the niceties of language having died off with everyone that had time for that sort of thing. The other problem is the things Grandsir talks about make no sense to the boys. Cities, cars travelling by air, exchanging things with money, wasting time with written markings, all of it is so outside of what the boys know it might as well be make believe. The ramblings of a deranged, lost, old mind. With an estimated world population of less than 500, life has become a question of survival. If you want to eat then you have to go out and kill yourself some dinner. Grandsir calls his grandsons savages. When he was a boy (one of his constant refrains) there were those who gathered food and those who ordered its gathering. His progeny has been reduced to food gatherers. Interestingly Grandsir’s still got them gathering food for him. Old habits die hard I guess.
So why was this professor of classical literature spared to help re-forge humanity? No reason. One in every few million just didn’t get red faced. Maybe death momentarily blinked as it passed them by or got distracted by the particularly amusing scene of the mountains of bodies piling up at its feet. A couple of feeble minded, the very richest most splendid woman in America, a violent, vile, wife beating chauffer who made himself her husband, our friend the professor – just a few random cards in the deck. Life’s like that. You build your magnificent cities, you spend your time creating art and pondering the great questions, and life responds by carelessly wiping itself out. Careless in that it doesn’t quite finish the job. But no matter, because life will make its way forward again.
And now we come to the worst part of the story. It’s not the plague and what happens in the aftermath. The author makes it clear that ultimately, in the long run, humanity will rally back. They’ll rebuild and create again. The worst part is what Mr. Jack London sees after that.
Drew Ariana who read the story in this recording did a good job. My only issue was the character voice he assumed for Grandsir. I didn’t have a problem with the voice, the problem was, so much of the story was told using this voice it became a little distracting. Otherwise, an easy, pleasant listen.
By the end of the book, awash in dystopia, I was seeing a little red. Too delightful not to share, here’s a little red (or Scarlet) for you. “All man’s toil upon the planet was just so much foam. He domesticated the serviceable animals, destroyed the hostile ones, and cleared the land of its hostile vegetation and then he passed and the primordial flood of hostile life rolled back again, sweeping his handy work away.”
Posted by Maissa Bessada
MaddAddam (MaddAddam #3)
By Margaret Atwood; Read by Bernadette Dunne, Bob Walter and Robbie Daymond
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 3 September 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 13 hours, 23 minutes
Listen to an excerpt: | MP3 |
Themes: / post-apocalypse / survival / religion / genetic engineering / megalomania / mythology /
Months after the Waterless Flood pandemic has wiped out most of humanity, Toby and Ren have rescued their friend Amanda from the vicious Painballers. They return to the MaddAddamite cob house, newly fortified against man and giant pigoon alike. Accompanying them are the Crakers, the gentle, quasi-human species engineered by the brilliant but deceased Crake. Their reluctant prophet, Snowman-the-Jimmy, is recovering from a debilitating fever, so it’s left to Toby to preach the Craker theology, with Crake as Creator. She must also deal with cultural misunderstandings, terrible coffee, and her jealousy over her lover, Zeb.
Zeb has been searching for Adam One, founder of the God’s Gardeners, the pacifist green religion from which Zeb broke years ago to lead the MaddAddamites in active resistance against the destructive CorpSeCorps. But now, under threat of a Painballer attack, the MaddAddamites must fight back with the aid of their newfound allies, some of whom have four trotters. At the center of MaddAddam is the story of Zeb’s dark and twisted past, which contains a lost brother, a hidden murder, a bear, and a bizarre act of revenge.
“There’s the story, then there’s the real story, then there’s the story of how the story came to be told. Then there’s what you leave out of the story. Which is part of the story too.”
Preach, Mother Atwood. This past week has had me reimmersed into the MaddAddam trilogy, starting with a fifth re-read of Oryx and Crake since we discussed it for a readalong.
When you read all the books of a trilogy close together, and you already know the story having read each of them at least once before, it is a lot easier to fill in the gaps and see the intricate detail that Atwood has built into this world. It isn’t just the Waterless Flood causing the dilemmas the Crakers are born into, the world was going to hell for decades before that. This book tells more of that story. While Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood were parallel narratives, MaddAddam starts from where those books end, and then traces back around to tell the story of Zeb. His story is told largely by Toby, to the Crakers, in the form of myth-like bedtime stories. What is the power of myth? The minute someone tells it, it has a high likelihood to change, whether that is to protect the listeners or to make it easier on the storyteller. There is so much about story in this novel.
“People need such stories, Pilar said once, because however dark, a darkness with voices in it is better than a silent void.”
I scanned these books for questions I had from the first novel, and I won’t include my discoveries here, but there are definitely answers in this novel. And more questions.
The audiobook is a real treat – the three narrators do not share the job evenly, and by the time the third narrator comes along, there is a wonderful reason why he has waited so long. Highly recommended, but do start with Oryx and Crake!
Posted by Jenny Colvin
Talked about on today’s show:
Where’s Jesse?, Eric S. Rabkin, SPOILER TERRITORY, Jenny loves post-apocalyptic dystopian novels, it ends with more questions than answers, a man wandering on the shore, a back and forth structure, Earth Abides by George R. Stewart, big disease, a week, Jimmy’s story, the story of the apocalypse, pigoons and rakunks, The Year Of The Flood, corporate compounds, New New York, dystopia, a future world and then an apocalypse, Octavia Butler, religion, Parable Of The Sower, a parallel story with backstory and humor, a sermon and a hymn by God’s gardeners, the audiobook, a planned trilogy?, the Culture series by Iain M. Banks, extinctathon, Madadam, expert splicers, a hacker genius, the world’s best ever minds, the floor model crakers, war is misplaced sexual aggression, they could eat their own poop, it seems like Jimmy survived through the plague because he wasn’t entirely human, he doesn’t have the right smarts, creating a creation myth, the blood and roses game, nothing was a mystery anymore, yup and tick, Quicktime Osama, Civilization V, is Oryx really Oryx?, SPOILER, “I’m counting on you.”, “If only he’d paid attention to his fridge magnets.”, the way that Jimmy comes to conclusions is kinda different, “he knew why he picked Oryx”, the First Law series, Joe Abercrombie, the music at the end of the audiobook started way too early, narrator Campbell Scott, Jenny hates the convenience of canned and frozen food, wolvogs, any other complaints?, Luke really didn’t like reading about people getting off on child pornography, Jimmy is obsessed with having people tell them stuff while he’s having sex with them, Atwood’s larger point, nighty-night.com, satire, in other parts of their brains and gonads, a big turn off, do I really have to listen to this now?, why is Crake destroying humanity?, neuronormative, there will be no child abuse, random levels of technology, a good novel, good Science Fiction?, technology, DVDs, most SF writers know, Colossus: The Forbin Project,
“Although ‘MaddAddam’ is a work of fiction, it does not include any technologies that do not already exist, or bio-beings that do not already exist, are not under construction, or are not possible in theory.”
it didn’t feel intentional, it felt clunky and badly thought out, Margret Atwood doesn’t want to call it Science Fiction, she’s just not interested, a lot different in tone and feel than most SF, the Booker prize list, this is a book about humans, super-reductive, what does it tell us about humanity?, social Science Fiction, this is pretty bad Science Fiction (but a good novel), the Science Fiction falls out of Crake’s brain, J.G. Ballard, Jenny’s book club experience, boycotted, people refusing to read Oryx And Crake because it is SF, SF lumpers try to deny, Star Wars isn’t SF, a literature of ideas, “the fear of this battlestation”, a perfect description of SF, literary fiction that’s SF, Gravity’s Rainbow, Infinite Jest, Luke doesn’t like sub-genres, gmail has tags, assigning, where do you shelf it?, in the modern world a book can be shelved in many shelves, Goodreads, own-poetry-unread, STAR RATINGS!, the Force is a fantasy element, “oh, here’s another Death Star.”
Posted by Jesse Willis
Themes: / fantasy / apocalypse / post-apocalypse / eco-horror / mysterious figures /
It is the Black Dawn, a time of environmental apocalypse, the earth wracked and dying. It is the Bright Day, a time long generations hence, when a peace has descended across the world. In each era, a child shall be chosen. Their task is to find a dark messiah known only as the Crowman. But is he our saviour – or the final incarnation of evil?
Black Feathers is the first in the Black Dawn series by eco-horror writer Joseph d’Lacey. It follows two timelines, one about a present day boy Gordon Black whose birth marks the end of the world and one about Megan Maurice who lives in a post-apocolyptic future. They are connected in their search for the Crowman, a mysterious figure who will either save the world or destroy it. And if you were hoping to find that out, or anything else for that matter, you’ll have to wait for the next book.
This book sets up tone really well. It’s moody and dark and a little bit creepy without being cheap. And as great as the idea of the Crowman and the parallel timelines are it all falls apart in the lack of plot. After all, just because I will watch a movie with a shirtless Jude Law doesn’t mean I want to be forced to spend a day with him. And that was kind of how this was. After a while I was just waiting to see if anything would happen that would be more than a “previously on” could sum up. The answer is no. Not even in the last chapter. This is probably also because I had trouble connecting with Gordon and Megan. We are told that they are special and important without being shown. Why does Gordon’s coming mark the end of the world? Why do crows follow him around wherever he goes? Why was Megan chosen by the Crowman to receive visions when no girl has been chosen before her? It’s a mystery! But we know that all this has been foretold so that makes them special. Unfortunately, they are not special enough for me to want to stick around through Gordon wondering what to do when his family is taken away and meeting some random strangers in the woods. Or to see Megan wandering around a forest while her teacher whispers enigmatic things at her.
Along those same lines, this book also commits the cardinal sin of being worthless on its on. Without a sequel, this book does not have a complete story. There is not a single resolved plot element or character arc which makes the whole thing an overly long set up for the next book.
As a side note, d’Lacey takes the eco part of his chosen genre seriously. There are times when it gets a bit preachy about how we have destroyed the earth and we are horrible, irresponsible creatures. This actually gives it a bit of a Happening feel. Anyway, if you enjoy composting on your days off, this is the book for you.
The audiobook is narrated by Simon Vance who was amazing and perfect for this book. He loans it an almost storybook quality that enhanced the overall tone and emphasized the youthfulness of the protagonists. Even if the book is mediocre, I could listen to him for hours. Which is, in fact, exactly what I did.
Posted by Rose D.
Themes: / good versus evil / super-flu / post-apocalypse /
Stephen King’s apocalyptic vision of a world blasted by plague and tangled in an elemental struggle between good and evil remains as riveting and eerily plausible as when it was first published. A patient escapes from a biological testing facility, unknowingly carrying a deadly weapon: a mutated strain of -flu that will wipe out 99 percent of the world’s population within a few weeks. Those who remain are scared, bewildered, and in need of a leader. Two emerge—Mother Abagail, the benevolent 108-year-old woman who urges them to build a peaceful community in Boulder, Colorado; and Randall Flagg, the nefarious “Dark Man,” who delights in chaos and violence. As the dark man and the peaceful woman gather power, the survivors will have to choose between them—and ultimately decide the fate of all humanity.
I know, I just listened to Stephen King’s Carrie and now The Stand. I’ve found that reading one King book begets more just about every time. There’s something to these tragic characters that you need more and more of.
Now, I have to tell a quick story on this one and I promise this will (probably not) be the last time I tell it to intro a review for a Stephen King novel. This is THE novel I hated so I figure it has to be told here if anywhere.
A number of years ago, I was in Borders and that tells you it was a least a couple years ago. I hadn’t read Stephen King before this time, but you can’t help being an avid reader and reading King, it’s bound to happen at some point, he’s way too prolific. I was looking through his section and I decided I would either buy The Stand or The Talisman as I’d heard very good things about both. There happened to be a guy in the same section and I asked him to make the call. He enthusiastically pointed to The Stand and thus it was purchased. I was in the middle of a huge fantasy binge at the time, making up for lost time I guess since I was never a huge reader growing up. I had read The Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia and a number of other fantasy books, but it was always sporadic at best and this was a HUGE binge I’m telling you.
I had just finished The Riftwar Saga and loved it immensely. I had The First Law sitting on my shelf and waiting to be read, calling to me even. But I was determined to read this book everyone was talking about – The Stand by Stephen King. I started reading and it was compelling enough. The super-flu, or Captain Trips was interesting and it was obviously creating this world change, but the characters were almost too real. I didn’t really like any of them, maybe Nick Andros (and how do you not like him?) and it seemed to drone on and on without anything really happening. Yes, there were the coughs in the theater, the slow spread of the flu is documented ad nauseum, but at 300 pages in, I still felt like nothing was ever going to happen.
I figured, if I’m not enjoying myself at 300 pages, then when am I ever going to enjoy this book? So I stopped. This was no easy decision, let me tell you. After all the praise, I don’t even think I’ve ever heard one poor word said about this book, I had to keep pushing and 300 pages in is really a lot since I can drop a book now after 50 to 100 pages without any qualms whatsoever.
Somehow, a couple years later I was drawn into Stephen King’s world again. This time it was The Dark Tower series with the good folks at Goodreads. Everyone seemed to be reading this series a couple years back and so I jumped in. I didn’t love the first book, but it has some great moments. The second book made me rethink my whole opinion on King because it blew my mind in so many ways. The third and fourth are two of my top ten books I’ve ever read, so you know I got to thinking about my problems with The Stand and how this fantasy fan couldn’t get into it.
Thus, the reread or more like “retry.” This time, things were completely different. I loved it from just about the first page. The way the super-flu spreads is genius – one accident leads to the cough that’s heard around the world. Then we have the characters. The first time, I could hardly stand any of them. But this time, I absolutely loved them. It was simply genius to put them in situations that seemed monumental to them at the time and you just know it’s about to become the smallest thing in the world. The girl who has to tell her parents she’s pregnant, the guy who’s just had his first hit on the radio and blows all his money, the guy who works at a failing factory, the kid who just got beat up and robbed. Simply genius.
Then there’s the “bad guys” who aren’t even all that bad, who in fact have plenty of redeeming qualities, but who happen to be on the other side. Again, genius. I can’t stop using that word.
And for some reason none of this clicked the first time I attempted reading The Stand. I do have some theories, so indulge me if you would.
- I don’t think I was read for King and all his King-ness. You’d think after having read George R.R. Martin I could take brutal reality, but that was more an exception at the time from all my other non-realistic heroes and villains reading that I just wasn’t ready for this kind of reality.
- I didn’t really get the fantasy part of the book. I KNOW! The fantasy fan doesn’t get the fantasy! What is the world coming too? But I didn’t get it at all. We had this very realistic situation with very real people and then all of a sudden there’s this “walking dude” who embodies pure evil and even sparks some supernatural events. It just didn’t gel for me at the time and started to pull me out of the story. I knew this was considered a fantasy novel, but that wasn’t the kind of fantasy I was remotely comfortable with so it didn’t work for me at the time.
- The characters. I don’t know if I’ve grown a lot as a person since then (I like to think I have), but the first time I thought Frannie was just being a brat and Larry was completely dumb. Now, I can’t even believe I thought those things of some of my favorite characters. Frannie’s giggling in awkward situations alone should have made me love her! But how else would you deal with such a situation? It was so great, I didn’t even realize it.
M-O-O-N. That spells didn’t even realize it.
Needless to say, I’m very happy I gave The Stand a second try. This is one amazing book that’s constantly compelling, especially witnessing the birth of a new civilization and the interactions of some of the greatest characters I’ve ever read. Really the only problem I had was that it felt a little too long and drawn out and that’s got to be the expanded version. For me, if there’s ever the choice between more editing and less, you should really go with less. I feel like a great book was made a little less great by adding back in what was cut in the first place. But then again … money!
I know that was the longest way in the history of anything to say, wow, what a good book. From the rise of the super-flu to the dawning of a new civilization and the ever-overshadowing and always looming confrontation, this was one epic read. Not for the faint of heart (or even close – The Kid, just think of The Kid!), but definitely an experience not to be rivaled.
Grover Gardner is just about the perfect narrator for this story. He has just the right amount of twang to his voice for the multiple southern accents and it’s gruff enough for the subject matter as well. There are plenty of characters in The Stand and he nailed every one of them.
4.5 out of 5 Stars (very highly recommended!)
Posted by Bryce L.
Though Edgar Allan Poe’s The Valley Of Unrest predates most post-apocalyptic ideas, this beautiful poem, about an empty valley, seems to me about exactly that.
Let me plant a seed for you, that may grow as you read it:
What are the azure towers if not skyscrapers?
The Valley Of Unrest by Edgar Allan Poe
Once it smiled a silent dell
Where the people did not dwell;
They had gone unto the wars,
Trusting to the mild-eyed stars,
Nightly, from their azure towers,
To keep watch above the flowers,
In the midst of which all day
The red sunlight lazily lay.
Now each visitor shall confess
The sad valley’s restlessness.
Nothing there is motionless —
Nothing save the airs that brood
Over the magic solitude.
Ah, by no wind are stirred those trees
That palpitate like the chill seas
Around the misty Hebrides!
Ah, by no wind those clouds are driven
That rustle through the unquiet Heaven
Uneasily, from morn till even,
Over the violets there that lie
In myriad types of the human eye —
Over the lilies there that wave
And weep above a nameless grave!
They wave:— from out their fragrant tops
Eternal dews come down in drops.
They weep:— from off their delicate stems
Perennial tears descend in gems.
First published in 1831, as “The Valley Of Nis” The Valley Of Unrest would take its final form in the April 1845 issue of the American Review:
Posted by Jesse Willis