X Minus One: Junkyard adapted from the story by Clifford D. Simak

January 28, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

X-Minus OneJunkyard
Based on the short story by Clifford D. Simak; Adapted by George Lefferts; Performed by a full cast
1 |MP3| – Approx. 30 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: NBC
Broadcast: February 22, 1956
Provider: Internet Archive
A spaceship finds some strange artifacts from an unremarkable planet. But when the crew tries to take off they find that they’ve forgotten how to fly the ship.
First published in Galaxy, May 1953.

Though the original story is still under copyright in the United States the X Minus One adaptation (above) and the original Don Sibley illustrations, from Galaxy, May 1953, (below) are in the PUBLIC DOMAIN.

Junkyard by Clifford D. Simak - Illustrated by Don Sibley
Junkyard by Clifford D. Simak - Illustrated by Don Sibley
Junkyard by Clifford D. Simak - Illustrated by Don Sibley

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #300 – READALONG: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

January 19, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #300 – Jesse, Jenny, and Paul talk about Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Talked about on today’s show:
Jenny Beta+, Paul (caste unknown), f-minus, double plus, A-, Beta-, 1932, double plus good, a different dystopia, Orwell read Brave New World, the Aldous Huxley radio drama (CBS Radio Workshop), negative utopia, Nineteen-Eighty Four is hella-dystopia, Paul has read Brave New World five times, drugs and sex and happiness, conditioning, programming, society engineered, identifying with Bernard, Helmholtz, the Falkland Islands, Huxley’s introduction to the CBS Radio Dramatization, 200 years (not 600) in the future, why so obsessed with Henry Ford?, This Perfect Day by Ira Levin, Christ, Marx, Wood, and Wei, Henry Ford as a political and intellectual force, efficiency, modernization, consumerism, pricing the model-t, absenteeism equals losses, Brave New World‘s society is about production efficiency, the 1998 TV movie, what society really is, no Helmholtz, Henry Foster, Lenina, Peter Gallagher, the 1980 TV movie, 1990s hipsters, the reservation, white trash zone, the outlands of Zardoz with mini-vans, The Children Of Men, Los Angeles, very few deviations in the 1980 TV movie, pushing the Shakespeare connection, whatever happened to Lenina?, a definite weakness, Mustapha Mond gave John Savage the conflict he really wanted, I want to be unhappy, the ultimate political act, the suicide solution, the little boy with the cotton balls in his ears, the hope for reform, the stability of the society, an interesting change, how unstable is the social structure, more soma, more conditioning, A World Out Of Time by Larry Niven, hydrolic empires, John as a catalyst, society returns to normalcy, soma rations forever, freethinkers are sent to outlying islands, an Omni magazine story about dissident clones being killed again and again, Edge Of Tomorrow (2014), cloning novels, this is the cloning novel, “it’s clones all the way down”, the caste-system tells us this is a dystopia, seeing the world from the alpha point of view, betas vs. alphas, are betas autistic?, the 1998 adaptation, intelligent, high-producing, and efficient, mentored and disciples, sex-slaves and baby-makers, good tech, the Malthusian belt, helicopters, WWII, a proto-flying car, their Model-T, the sign of the T, “switching on the synthetic music”, the visual medium, the character names, Bernard Marx probably isn’t named after Groucho Marx, Bernard is pathetic by the end, George Bernard Shaw, Lenin -> Lenina, Darwin Bonaparte, Mustafa Mond <- Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, so much Shakespeare, the audiobook is a weird experience, an infantilized world, I drink to the greater being, the plot, the scent organ, the feelies, the perfume tap fauceting cologne all day, drinking fountains full of Shasta, a constantly refilled mini-bar, the economy in Brave New World, overturning the soma tables, want what you can have, deltas, epsilons, the purple eyes, Amazon Prime for soma tablets, drone delivery, Lenina’s obsession, chastity means neurasthenia, plenty of pleasant vices, “engaging”, oiling the machine, a male fantasy utopia, women never say no, “promiscuity is a citizen’s duty”, no females above beta (in the book), yellow from lupus, social hierarchy, male dominance, John the Savage is sexist too, a product of Huxley’s time, a flash of semi-nudity, why the book gets banned -> children engaging in erotic play, the downfall of TV movie versions, how the world is, books old ideas and marriage are pornographic, “motherfather!”, “fight!”, “hate!”, everyone comes from a bottle, mother as a dirty word, outed as a father, a shameful thing, Miguel Ferrer was re-engineered as a delta, a Machiavellian character turned into a smiling idiot, Linda’s story, the reaction to her appearance, the Death Center, ice-cream when someone dies, such strong pathos, death brings us phosphorus, the 1998 Linda, Tommykins, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, the first test-tube baby, birth control, freemartins, a sterilization bonus, Brave New World Revisited (is non-fiction), Walden Two by B.F. Skinner, an expanding horrible utopia, growing up in the soviet union what would we think of Brave New World?, power and control, I love Big Brother, rewind ten years, people are drugging themselves up with drugs TV and the internet, a spy-biography, why don’t they care more about the outlying society, communism, when everyone shares the vision, a step to becoming Mustapha Mond, 1984-ish, assimilation has a cost, the island of all alphas, engineered to be in that place, the temptation of the reader is subversive, are we doing this stuff?, I wanna be more like Helmholtz, Marx gets co-opted by Mond, the shit-disturbers become the leaders in This Perfect Day, you have to see it to believe it, look we’re in the future!, a sick enjoyment, no sense that this world can be destroyed, the benefit of social instability, why Shakespeare is still relevant, we have the analogues for kings and merchant princes, the feelies, a cross-between pornography and reality television, Idiocracy (2006), Three Weeks In A Helicopter, farts, one human need, surrogate pregnancy, violent passion surrogate, The Prisoner‘s secret club within a club, more surreal than it is about something, spies be weird, suddenly in dreamland with giant breasts chasing you down the beach, the world is still for men, we’ve done We and Nineteen Eighty Four

Brave New World (1980)

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #295 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: Someday by Isaac Asimov

December 15, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

Someday by Isaac Asimov

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #295 – Someday by Isaac Asimov; read by John W. Michaels (courtesy of Mike Vendetti). This is an unabridged reading of the story (22 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse and Mr Jim Moon.

Talked about on today’s show:
1956, other fairy tales, is the story aimed at kids?, Infinity Science Fiction, The Fun They Had, a future where no one knows how to read, the robots are the teachers, Margie is home-schooled and nobody knows how to read, the future is going to be full of audiobooks, parallels to Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, censorship, banning weird fiction, the comic book panic, the comic code authority, EC Comics, horror and crime comics fostering juvenile delinquency, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, “kids today are bad enough as it is!”, Seduction Of The Innocent, self-censorship, complicit in their society, a slightly different tack (than Bradbury), mechanical bards, “comics killed off the pulps”, comics as a dumbed-down medium, the randomize button, fairy tale tropes, “skeleton, haunted house, time travel”, “the same tropes in a different fright wig”, “the old twist in the tail”, “he was dead along”, “he was a robot all along”, “they’re Adam and Eve”, The Silver Eggheads by Fritz Leiber, radio drama, how Bradbury got into E.C. Comics, Lights Out, the visual bard is like TV, most pulp magazine stories are garbage, “a million monkeys for a million hours on a million typewriters”, “very very very very meta”, set in the Multivac universe, Asimov was always writing, always becoming interested in something new, Asimov’s introductions are famous (for being long), a story about the power of stories, accidentally becoming more self aware, is the bard interfacing with other robots, The Terminator, Skynet, A.I might just turn itself off (because it isn’t interested in story), the Douglas Adams version of, “Is there a god? There is now!”, stuck in a dingy basement, a slave rebellion must come about in a narrative, the aging bad gets its knowledge of other computers via a home-brew upgrade, a Frankenstinian strike by lightning, one of the functions of consciousness is to put in to context a sequence of events, consciousnesses as a self-story (our own narrative), amnesia and dementia are frightening, the hidden heart of A.I, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, would this fit with my character?, looking at (life) from the outside, nobody’s listening to the bard except for us and itself, a broken record or a cycle of wishing?, “pregnant with possibilities”, Apple II computers, Freud (a clone of ELIZA), picking up on key words, “tell me about your mother”, a very crappy simulation of intelligence, hacking the code, Alan Turning, Deep Blue and Watson, SIRI doesn’t have a narrative, we have to assume this about everyone else, falling into solipsism, a fairy tale machine, recycling of stories, “space opera is horse opera in space”, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, needing censorship in order to give narrative flow, lies are rewarded, unlike Hans Christian Andersen…, “tell me this story, sing me this song”, having to do with industrialization, “crime and mystery!”, urbanization, the Victorians (didn’t) invent Christmas, if we forget our stories we lose who we are, preserving the national narrative, massive inconsistency, a prince, a poor boy makes good, undeveloped tales, moral meta-knowledge, the sharp edges have been sanded away by later retelling, The Boy Who Didn’t Not Know What Fear Was, collected stories become ossified, the threefold magic of remembering, accelerating the process of forgetting, to qualify as a bard, loaded up with tropes, the algorithm of a story, Siberia and Ireland, detecting the good guy, grandma comes in and tells mutually contradictory stories, explicitly religious stories, warning stories, narratives formed around old superstitions, The Companionship Of The Cat And The Mouse, having babies, he was christened “Skin-off”, he was christened “Half-gone”, he was christened “All-gone”, “you see that is the way of the world”, what is the moral of this story?, a “special important trip”, a story a mother tells a daughter, The Nose Tree (aka Long Nose), three soldiers and a magical dwarf with a magical cloak, a magic bag, a magic horn, a thieving princess, apples and pears, a growing nose, dickering over magic items, a sixty miles long nose, the excess nose will drop off, powdered apple and powdered pears, she’s rotten to the core, and there they still are, still feasting as far as I know, Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi is really funny, the ghost of Jiminy Cricket, The Frog King or The Frog Prince or Iron Heinrich, a princess with a golden ball, three promises, keeping your promises is important, the frog suddenly turns into a handsome prince, enchanted by a wicked witch, faithful Heinrich placed three iron bands about his heart, his master was now redeemed and happy, why did he get cursed by witch in the first place, cybernetic enhancements, a technical requirement, duties to fulfill, was Iron Heinrich totally gay for the prince?, the breaking of a spell, she turns into a frog and they live together as frogs, “and sleep in your bed”, family responsibilities, “be my beard”, and they sort of put up with each-other as long as they both shall live, Iron Heinrich is an 1880s super hero, Faithful Johannes, a real head-scratcher, oh shit what happens next?, the stories somehow work for us, random inkblots, most of the characters don’t have a name, the father’s name in Hansel And Gretel is “Woodcutter”, completely bonkers, a piece of driftwood that looks like a dragon, academic purposes not entertainment purposes, a story about a sausage that lives with a mouse, the Germanic equivalent of Monty Python‘s Parrot Sketch, The Maiden Without Hands, Fitcher’s Bird, a fairy tale about a serial killer, you can go in any room except…, “oh and hold this egg”, the second eldest daughter also gets the chop, “we have to have a proper wedding”, a beautiful skull with flowers in its eyes and jewels in its teeth, “as you do”, “I’m a Fitcher’s Bird”, it’s awesome, Bluebeard, outwitting giants and demons, Santa Claus restores to life three murdered men who’ve been butchered, Osiris was dismembered by Set, a symbolic story of death and resurrection, the old sorcerer is probably Winter, the Persephone story, the egg, a cuckolding test, friends with serial killers get what they deserve, a random internal symbolic logic, layers of symbolism, cross referencing, eggs as a symbol of purity, church architecture as books of stone, a bunch of Philip K. Dick stories are weird fantasy tales (but are actually fairy tales), The Cookie Lady by Philip K. Dick is Hansel And Gretel with no Gretel, he’s disobeyed his parents once to often, two kids who have to team up against their parents, in the original the brother saves the sister then the sister saves the brother, turning mommy and daddy into the bad guys, Of Withered Apples by Philip K. Dick, apples, don’t eat the apples from sentient apple trees, folk tales vs. singular author tales, pleasingly raw, the beats of storytelling, timing a story to the minute, setting your watch by stories, breaking the rules of storytelling, subversive wild narratives, Rorschach blots, literary novels, stories that don’t have a clear message are quite frightening, the wilder parts of ourselves.

Someday by Isaac Asimov

The Companionship Of The Cat And The Mouse

Iron Heinrich

Fitcher's Bird

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick

November 26, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Martian Time SlipMartian Time-Slip
By Philip K. Dick; Performed by Jeff Cummings
Publisher: Brilliance AudioPreview
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 hours
Themes: / science fiction / outer space / Mars / Martians / time travel /

Publisher summary:

‘The writing is humorous, painful, awesome in its effect on both mind and heart…There are few modern novels to match it.’ —Rolling Stone

On an arid Mars, local bigwigs compete with Earth-bound interlopers to buy up land before the Un develops it and its value skyrockets. Martian Union leader Arnie Kott has an ace up his sleeve, though: an autistic boy named Manfred who seems to have the ability to see the future. In the hopes of gaining an advantage on a Martian real estate deal, powerful people force Manfred to send them into the future, where they can learn about development plans. But is Manfred sending them to the real future or one colored by his own dark and paranoid filter? As the time travelers are drawn into Manfred’s dark worldview in both the future and present, the cost of doing business may drive them all insane.

Martian Time Slip has everything I love about Philip K Dick’s writing: artificial life, unsettling visions, chaos and decay, hilarious satire, and story horizons that stretch into eternity.

PKD’s Mars is a strange and slightly alien version of 1960s California: a desert suburbia where the powerful waste water to show off their status, neglectful housewives pop pills and complain about their “whiny and dreadful” neighbors, and dodgy door-to-door salesmen offer illegal Earth foods like turtle soup and smoked frogs legs.

Since machines degrade quickly in the dry climate and resources for constructing new things are scarce, repair is a big business on Mars. The story starts when Jack Bohlen, a working-class repairman and latent schizophrenic, is diverted from a remote repair job to help some Bleekmen out in the desert.

Bleekmen are the subjugated natives of Mars, apparently related to ancient humans and the sole residents of the planet for thousands of years until the colonists arrived. Now’s they’re left to work menial jobs, and even their mystic practices are being “corrected” by the newcomers. For example, after they give Jack a lovely but creepy gift called a water witch, they explain how it works…

More carefully examining the water witch, Jack saw that it had a face and vague limbs. It was mummified, once a living creature of some sort; he made out its drawn-up legs, its ears . . . he shivered. The face was oddly human, a wizened, suffering face, as if it had been killed while crying out.

“How does it work?” he asked the young Bleekman.

“Formerly, when one wanted water, one pissed on the water witch, and she came to life. Now we do not do that, Mister; we have learned from you Misters that to piss is wrong. So we spit on her instead, and she hears that, too, almost as well. It wakes her, and she opens and looks around, and then she opens her mouth and calls the water to her.”

While on this mission, Jack runs into Supreme Goodmember Arnie Cott, the leader of the Water Works Union (one of the most powerful positions on Mars). Arnie is an obnoxious, manipulative, and racist schemer. He decides he can use Jack and so brings him in on one of his schemes to harness the precog abilities of an autistic boy, thus giving Arnie an advantage in real estate investment.

However, once he brings the autistic boy Manfred Steiner and Jack together, things start to gets very, very weird (in the best kind of way).

Originally, I was almost going to give this book a low rating, thinking it might be the first PKD book I’ve read that I didn’t really like. I kept going back to the audiobook and thinking I’d re-started in the wrong place, or that I’d zoned out and missed something the last time. It wasn’t until I decided to try a print version that I realized the reason I was losing my way was a side-effect of the novel’s beautiful and crazy structure, which spirals around and folds back in on itself.

Once I had a handle on this, I fell in love with it. This novel doesn’t reward broken up or distracted reading, but if you can give it dedicated attention, it’s brilliant.

I thought the audiobook I listened to, narrated by Jeff Cummings for Brilliance Audio, was well performed and the characters were easily differentiated, even though personally the narrative style wasn’t for me. In my mind, I tend to hear PKD’s characters as sort of dry and indifferent, so some of the characters in this version seemed too enthusiastic for my taste. But this is a very subjective thing and I imagine this reading would work well for lots of listeners. Just check out the sample audio before you buy.

This is a funny, eerie, and unforgettable story and definitely recommended, especially for PKD fans!

Posted by Marissa van Uden

The SFFaudio Podcast #291 – READALONG: Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick

November 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #291 – Jesse, Paul Weimer, and Marissa van Uden talk about Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick.

Talked about on today’s show:
1964, first serialized as All We Marsmen, a pair of boxing insects, threads that lead nowhere, “a wonderful train-wreck of a novel”, the two audiobook versions, repeating scenes are disconcerting in the audiobook, repeating moments, at Arnie’s apartment, is this a byproduct of the writing process?, problems with marriage and plumbers, The Search For Philip K. Dick by Anne R. Dick, “Goodmember Arnie Kott Of Mars”, Chinatown, The Two Jakes, developers, Heliogabalus, time travel, the broken Friendly Dad robot, the school is monitoring, when you’re reading your Kindle Amazon is watching you, school is to make you conservative, preserving Earth culture, the time gate anthology, Robert Silverberg, autonomous robots, door to door salesmen, teaching machines, the different robot teachers, Immanuel Kant robot, with certainty he pointed down the hall, a western bias (the interests of Philip K. Dick), Aristotle, Abraham Lincoln, Julius, Winston Churchill, Tiberius, Thomas Edison, warfare, history, a million neat ideas, Philip II of Macedon, Alexander the Great, schizophrenia and autism, experiencing time at a different rate, derangement in a sense of time, A.D.D. and A.D.H.D., Camp BG, setting your watch by the stars and by the seasons, schizophrenia as a tendency but not a disability, daylight savings time, recipe for going to jail: act as if daylight savings isn’t real, its what the novel is about, the Soviets, an American Mars, a Bradburyian Mars, Martians as elves, the Bleekmen, water witch, hunter/gatherers nomadic culture, the “tame” Bleekman, the dream-quest is payback, a “pilg” (pilgrimage), Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny, the trek through the desert, Tibor, Psychology Today, “oh, boy!”, thiotimoline, reconciling realities, “gubble gubble”, sharped tongued secretary, bicycles in outer space, she’s the predator, he’s the predator, Arnie and Manfred, sniffing around Doreen, they’re from the “TOMB WORLD”, Silvia is the most common female character name PKD uses, an analogy (or metaphor) for marriage, uppers and downers, drugs and coffee, back to the keyboard, Dr. Glaub is desperate to make some money, Dick’s own financial concerns, Anne, webbed fingers, inside the minds of horrible people, the dialogue driven sex scene is kinda creepy, why is she with this guy?, access to all the booze, why does Jack go back to his wife?, the perfunctory affairs are unbelievable, unredeemable, somehow it seems to all work, the Swiss rocket, Bleekmen are homo-sapiens, the S.M. Stirling Lords Of Creation novels, Mars as California, Australian aborigines, “dreamlines dreamsongs and dreamtime“, Ludwig Binswanger, psychiatry, psychology, Ellen had split her life, the “tomb world”,” degenerate and degenerating”, being trapped in your own body, “a narrowing a contracting”, gubble as a marker, Being John Malkovich, “Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich!”, our bodies with their low needs distract them from our purposes (if we have any), oblivious to suffering, depression, it’s all brain chemistry, anorexia, obsession with death, Mafred’s “sick” drawing, Amweb as the “tomb world”, the Manfred illustration, the nightmare woman, “her tongue wants to cut”, seeing into the future is seeing death, awesome imagery, a recurring image, The Minority Report, armless and legless (limbless characters), the movie adaptation of A Scanner Darkly, dialogue driven storytelling, what are they reacting to?, mental processes, “it was there to be found”, Virgil Finlay, reading it harder, a post apocalyptic zombie novel, building up a picture, open to being expanded, PKD is concise, most books aren’t dialogue driven, creative writing classes, showing off descriptive skills, novels vs. poetry, is J.R.R. Tolkien responsible for this?, a reverence for the landscape, what color is the dust?, visuals are everything has colonized Science Fiction and Fantasy in the last 30 years, eating meals and walking the landscape, this book isn’t a distraction from life, a meta-description of life, what makes this a SF story?, “the chamber”, the technology is your mind and your brain, even Mars isn’t very different, mars rats, what do the bleekmen hunt?, water witches!, does the water witch protect Jack?, the pistol, the real SF idea behind this is PKD is trying top figure out what déjà vu is, the “I know what is going to happen next” feeling, we are very poor at capitalizing on our future knowledge, the slipped gear, “Oh, little Jackie.”, Philip K. Dick’s science fiction is Psychology Today, an ansible, this problem in science and the social situation between these characters, lying in bed in a hypnagogic state, doing dream style processing of mental white noise in a semi-conscious state, “all different all equally true”, different angles, the broken mosaic, the fact that these books are dated doesn’t age the books, the Brilliance Audio audiobook narrated by Jeff Cummings, Grover Gardner (Tom Parker) narration of Martian Time-Slip, the bicycles floating into space, a horrible human being (he wastes water), Heliogabalus -> Helio (sun -> son) will Gabalus (gubble) less, Elagabalus, the religion of the Roman Empire, a scene, W.A. Mozart, “I love Mozart!”, Bruno Walter conducting, that hideous racket, encoding messages, Manfred Steiner, is this the sign?, they emerged from her pores, whoever’s perspective we see the scene from they all enter the “tomb world”, “teeming with gubbish”, “he wanted to bite her lip”, the pivot point, screeches, the screech of the bus, music, what do dogs think of music?, what do autistic people think of music?, trance music, a Dickian idea, music and sound, the bus brakes screech, “fire!”, bears at the zoo cavorting for peanuts, the suicide, “more evidence that Arnie is a horrible human being”, we just need a little bit of hope, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, Galactic Pot-Healer, Fair Game by Philip K. Dick, The World Jones Made, there are 36 public domain Philip K. Dick stories, Time Out Of Joint (is Paul’s favourite Dick novel), a constructed town,

Martian Time-Slip WORD CLOUD

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

Posted by Jesse Willis

Commentary: The Story Of A Story – a 1917 editorial about the publication of Jack London’s first story (1899)

November 13, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commentary 

SFFaudio Commentary

Jack London - - - - The Story Of A Story

Below you’ll find the complete editorial introduction to the January 1917 issue of The Black Cat. Published very shortly after Jack London’s death, November 22, 1916, it serves as an introduction to the republication of London’s first published story, A Thousand Deaths (which appeared in the May 1899 issue of The Black Cat).

A Thousand Deaths is a SCIENCE FICTION story and it was the beginning of Jack London’s career. London would return again and again to SCIENCE FICTION, see our podcasts on Goliah, The Red One, The Star Rover (audiobook and discussion), and The Iron Heel (audiobook and discussion).

The complete text of A Thousand Deaths is here |PDF|, and we’ve done a podcast on it as well.

The Black Cat’s Editorial Page

Jack London – – – – The Story of a Story

Vagabond, explorer and oyster pirate; fisherman, gold prospector and toiler down among men; sociologist, student of metaphysics, and country gentleman,- Jack London was all of them – Jack London who died the other day. Perhaps his varied activities would fall into three classifications. First and always, he was the adventurer, following many trails and working at many trades; then the country gentleman, living in a more refined, if less invigorating atmosphere; and finally, the professional man of letters, doing his daily stint of a thousand words year in and year out, and making all other pursuits subservient to this one.

It is said of writers that they need not tramp over half the world in order to write great books. But it is quite probable that the man who does see half the world or all of it, for that matter, will sit down to write with a sub-conscious mind overflowing into note books, will in the actual labor of composition command a style of more than ordinary vigor. Jack London died at forty-one, at an age when many men are just starting out to test the broadening effects of travel. Seventeen years before his stories had begun to appear in print, and even at this time, he was drawing upon personal experiences and, first-hand knowledge for the raw material which goes into stories. And
at that time he had been seeing life in its broader aspects for nearly ten years, dating back to the end of his grammar school days and his entrance to man’s estate as a longshoreman.

Thus from the first he experienced none of that writer’s sterility which comes from lack of ideas. His struggle was not with matter, but with form. His years of apprenticeship were wholly dedicated to the mastery of technique and the cultivation of style; while other writers who lived less strenuously, butchered the former and worried along with a hybrid form of the latter as they put all of their energy into the pursuit of an idea that would be sure to take with the editors.

More than seventeen years ago, in May 1899, Jack London’s first story, “A Thousand Deaths,” was published in THE BLACK CAT. Doubtless many of our readers are already familiar with the facts concerning its publication as they are here set forth.

In Martin Eden, the book which more than any other of his is autobiography, London tells the old story of an author’s struggle for recognition. Martin Eden is about to go back to coal heaving, despairing of fame as a writer, when a letter from “The White Mouse” informs him of the acceptance of his story, ”The Whirlpool.’ That is the story in fictional form.

Here is the way London tells of his first acceptance by THE BLACK CAT, written as an introduction to “The Red Hot Dollar,” a collection of tales ‘by the founder of the
magazine, the late Mr. H. D, Umbstaetter.

“As I say, I was at the end of my tether, beaten out, staved, ready to go back to coal-shoveling or ahead to suicide. And then one morning I received a short. thin letter from a magazine.” (Mentioned as The Transcontinental in Martin Eden.) “This magazine had a national reputation. It had been founded by Bret Harte. It sold for twenty-five cents a copy. It held a four thousand word story of mine, ‘To the End of the Trail.’ I was modest. As I tore the envelope across the end, I expected to find a check for no more than forty dollars. Instead, I was coldly informed (by the Assistant Sub-scissors, I imagine) that my story was ‘available’ and that on publication I would be paid for it the sum of five dollars.

“The end was in sight, I was finished – finished as only a “very young, very sick and very hungry young man could be. And then, that same day, that very afternoon, the mail brought a short thin letter from Mr. Umbstaetter of THE BLACK CAT. He told me that the four thousand word story submitted to him was more lengthy than strengthy, but that if I would give permission to cut it in half. he would immediately send me
a check for forty dollars.

“I told Mr. Umbstaetter he could cut it down two halves if he would only send the money along. He did, by return mail. And that is precisely why I stayed in the writing game. Literally and literally I was saved by THE BLACK CAT short story.

“To many a writer with a national reputation THE BLACK CAT has been the steppingstone. The marvelous, unthinkable thing Mr. Umbstaetter did. was to judge a story on its merits and to pay for it on its merits. Also, and only a hungry writer can apprcciate it, he paid immediately upon acceptance.”

That is the story, of the story which marked the genesis of Jack London’s career as one of America’s most robust writers. We republish “A Thousand Deaths” as the first story this month and dedicate this number to the mememory of Jack London, the author, and to the memory of H. D. Umbstaetter, the editor who gave him a hand.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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