Commentary: How I make a podcast

August 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commentary 

SFFaudio Commentary

The first step to putting together a podcast is the idea.

Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser - art by Keith Parkinson

I find that ideas are connected, and that by focusing on the connections ideas flow. For example, I just did some research on comics adaptations of the Fafhrd And The Grey Mouser stories. Looking at adaptations is one of several tricks I use for figuring out what might make for a good idea for a podcast. My logic is that if a story or a novel has been adapted to another medium then someone probably saw some merit in it other than the original writer and the original publisher. That isn’t to say that an adaptation means it will definitely work, or that stories or novels without adaptations (or even subsequent re-printings) won’t make for good shows – indeed, sometimes great works have just been neglected. This technique works.

Lankhmar - City Of Adventure

Coming off a recent discussion of a Gene Wolfe novella (recorded for a future SFFaudio Podcast), I got to thinking about the city of Lankhmar, that great fictional city that is the setting for so many of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd And The Grey Mouser stories.

My first stop in looking for adaptations is comics and here are the results of my researches.

DC Comics - Sword Of Sorcery, Issue 4

DC COMICS – SWORD OF SORCERY (1973):
1. The Price Of Pain Ease (an adaptation)
2. Thieves’ House (an adaptation)
3. Betrayal (an original)
4. The Cloud Of Hate (an adaptation and public domain) 14pgs from Fantastic, May 1963
5. The Sunken Land (an adaptation) / The Mouse Alone (an original)

EPIC COMICS - Fafhrd And The Grey Mouser

EPIC COMICS – FAFHRD AND THE GRAY MOUSER (1991):
1. Ill Met In Lankhmar (an adaptation)
2. The Circle Curse (an adaptation) / The Howling Tower (an adaptation)
3. The Price Of Pain Ease / Bazaar Of The Bizarre (an adaptation and public domain) 28pgs from Fantastic, August 1963
4. Lean Times In Lankhmar (an adaptation and public domain) 40pgs from Fantastic, November 1959 / When The Sea King’s Away (an adaptation and public domain) 27pgs from Fantastic, May 1960

So as you can see above there have been two Fafhrd And The Grey Mouser comics series, one in 1973, the other in 1991. Of all the adaptations only The Price Of Pain Ease was adapted twice. But that story isn’t public domain (I prefer PD stories because it means we can just make an audiobook without spending weeks, hours, and centuries of often fruitless labour trying to track down the copyright holder). Of those that are PD I’m leaning towards the last couple from issue 4 of the Epic Comics run, in part because I have a vague positive memory of both). But I’m willing to have my mind changed. The next step will be to ask some narrator friends about their interest in Fafhrd And The Grey Mouser – in recorded a story and in talking about it – I seem to recall that Oliver Wyman has a deep love of Mike Mignola (who did the adaptations for Epic Comics) – that might be a good approach, but maybe that Mark Turetsky who was the Mignola lover – heck, I could ask Wayne June or Mr Jim Moon. These guys are all into comics. I’ll probably just tweet them all, cast a wide net and employ a crappy fishing metaphor (a crappie is a kind of fish) I’ll just ask them all if they’re interested in Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser and just see who bites.

Hmm… now for some reason I’m leaning towards When The Sea King’s Away.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Commentary: Bill Hollweg, March 5, 1967 – April 1st, 2017

April 3, 2017 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Audio Drama, Commentary 

SFFaudio Commentary

Bill Hollweg

Jack Ward of the Sonic Society podcast has just informed me of some terrible news (read Jack’s tribute here). Humanity’s friend, Bill Hollweg, of Miles, Texas and BrokenSea Audio Productions, is dead.

I do not know the details of his death, I heard he’d taken his own life, but I do know that whatever he died of it must really have been that his heart was far too big.

To say that Bill was a generous man is to be uncharitable with words. Bill was a champion of that which is best in life, with a voice like a gravel pit and a pen like a sage.

I had far too few meetings with him, and he was a better friend to me than I deserved. I suspect I am not alone in this.

I first found Bill’s work on the web, about a decade ago, and as happens, we soon became, as he put it “amigos.”

His enthusiasm was contagious.

I last heard from in December in a brief comment consisting mostly of an oath to Crom that I “rock” – but the truth is it was Bill who rocked, and I swear it by Crom.

Bill well knew that there was no use in calling on the gods, for they care little for men. They merely laugh and send down dooms, if they even hear. But though Crom is grim and loveless, he gave one boon to Bill, at birth Crom breathed power to strive and create into Bill’s soul.

I, as just one of his chroniclers, do not have the complete picture, but I do know that to live life as Bill did is a goal worthy of any man.

As lovers of the works of Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs how could Bill and I not have become the fastest of friends?

But Bill could surprise me. In one of our last exchanges he told me that he was thinking he needed to “re-read Moby Dick for the zillionth time!” I had, at the time read it only twice.

But truly this is not a tragedy. In fact, it all makes a grim kind of sense. Bill had been a sailor, and like Steve Costigan a fighter. A true veteran, and then a steely warrior, laughing in the face of rent-seeking vampires of cultural suppression. And now, like John Carter, though his body is here, his spirit has left the Earth for more adventurous climes. Call him Ishmael.

Posted by Jesse Willis

The literary roots of Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986)

July 18, 2016 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commentary 

SFFaudio Commentary

Black Destroyer by A.E. van Vogt - Astounding Science Fiction, July 1939

“‘It was history, honorable Mr. Smith, our knowledge of history that defeated him,’ said the Japanese archaeologist, reverting to the ancient politeness of his race.”
-A.E. van Vogt’s Black Destroyer (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1939)

Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) takes inspiration from a number of sources. The oldest direct literary allusion is to Joseph Conrad’s 1904 novel Nostromo. Nostromo, beside being the book’s title, is also the name of the novel’s protagonist and the name of the ship in Alien. Conrad’s novel is set in a fictional South American nation of Costaguana and in it’s seaport town of Sulaco, the name of the ship in Aliens.

Nostromo by Joseph Conrad

In the novel Nostromo is an Italian seaman, a trusty capataz de los cargadores, a hyper-competent, but resentful, head longshoreman, and an employee of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company (perhaps hence forth to be named either “the company” or Weyland-Yutani). Having settled in the seaside town “Sulaco” he has established himself as an the indispensable man.

The crew of the Nostromo, in Alien, act much more like longshoremen than they do sailors – though I note that they are more commonly referred to as long haul trucker types*. But, given all the union shop talk, the bonuses, and all the loading and unloading equipment all over their ship (all those chains hanging down, remember?) and also Ripley’s later work with power loaders in the sequel, Aliens, the comparison to longshoremen is more apt. Moreover, the ship in Alien is named “Nostromo” and is a commercial mining ship.

Starship Solider by Robert A. Heinlein
Starship Solider by Robert A. Heinlein

James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) is mostly inspired by Alien (1979), having approximately the same recipe and relationship that Terminator 2 (1991) has to The Terminator (1984), yet Cameron still acknowledges the inspiration of Robert A. Heinlein’s novel, Starship Troopers (firrst published as “Starship Solider“). And, you can totally see it – what with the “combat drops” and the “bug hunts” and the power armor (powered exoskeletons).

Finally, and I posted about this back in 2012, there is a massive inspiration for the alien of Alien coming from a 1939 novelette by A.E. van Vogt, Black Destroyer. That story is told from the perspective of the intelligent alien animal. Here’s the art for it from the original publication:

A.E. van Vogt’s Black Destroyer - Astounding Science Fiction, July 1939
A.E. van Vogt’s Black Destroyer - Astounding Science Fiction, July 1939
A.E. van Vogt’s Black Destroyer - Astounding Science Fiction, July 1939

More on Black Destroyer can be found here:

Newest to me, and perhaps least known [thanks to Chris for the pointer], is the fact that A.E. van Vogt’s second story in Astounding (December 1939), also influenced Alien. The story is entitled, Discord In Scarlet.

Astounding Science Fiction, December 1939

Again the cover story, Discord In Scarlet featured another alien horror attacking a crew of humans, but this one doesn’t so much look like the alien from Aliens as it does act like it – specifically it has the ability to plant its eggs in men for reproductive purposes. I’ve highlighted a gruesome passage here:

Discord In Scarlet by A.E. van Vogt

Also evocative, is the interior art for the story, two of the illustrations use some colour (rather rare for Astounding):

Discord In Scarlet by A.E. van Vogt
Discord In Scarlet by A.E. van Vogt
Discord In Scarlet by A.E. van Vogt

Both Black Destroyer and Discord In Scarlet were incorporated, with some revisions, into van Vogt’s fix-up novel The Voyage Of The Space Beagle.

Posted by Jesse Willis

*there is a D-grade movie called Space Truckers

Commentary: Copyright laws are increasingly for the protection of monopolies, not for the protection of artists

December 10, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commentary 

SFFaudio Commentary

In a recent appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert Sylvester Stallone recounted how he would, to help him learn the craft of writing, record the audio from movies in movie theaters.

Here’s the clip (the confession begins at 6 minutes 16 seconds):

Today, under Canadian Law (section 432 of the Criminal Code) this action would see Stallone sentenced to “a term of not more than two years” in prison.

Now you have to understand, this is not for the purposes of sale – that would get Stallone “not more than five years” in prison.

Learning the craft of writing scripts, like Stallone did, from the soundtracks of movies would make him a criminal today.

Artists who go to museums in Canada to sketch great works of art are still safe. It is only scriptwriters who go to films and record dialogue that are criminals.

The copyright laws that have been creeping into Canada from the USA are for the protection of existing copyright monopolies, and not for the protection of artists.

[Canadian Criminal code section 432]

Posted by Jesse Willis

The WEIRD FICTION roots of TRUE DETECTIVE, season 2, Frank’s story

August 17, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commentary 

SFFaudio Commentary

True Detective

Frank Semyon, the criminal businessman from season 2 of True Detective, has a fantastic character arc.

And, like season 1 of True Detective, season 2 is also connected to a weird fiction story by Ambrose Bierce.

For season 1 it was An Inhabitant Of Carcosa (read my post on it HERE).

In season 2 it was An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge (we’ve done a podcast about this one).

So, do you remember the story that Frank (played by Vince Vaughn) tells his wife, Jordan, at the beginning of season 2’s second episode?

Here’s the scene:

Frank and Jordan are lying next to each other in bed.

FRANK: How’d a water stain get there?

Camera cuts up to two brown stains on the ceiling above Frank.

FRANK: It rained maybe twice this last year. It’s like everything’s papier-mache.

JORDAN: Stop thinking.

FRANK: I don’t like being on a ledge.

FRANK: My old man back in Chicago, when I was a kid… (laughs) he used to lock me in the basement when he’d go on a bender. Usually last the night. Let me out the next day. Thought he was keeping me safe, I guess. This one time, I was six – he puts me down there. I wake up and it’s locked. It had happened before. Anyways, so I guess he ended up arrested, I guess.

JORDAN: God, baby.

FRANK: Well, by the second morning I was out of food. The third day the light bulb burnt out. Pitch black in there. That’s when the rats started coming out. I dozed off and I felt a thing nibbling my finger. I woke up, it was, you know, chewing my finger.

JORDAN: What did you do?

FRANK: I grabbed it in the dark with my hands, I started smashing. And I just kept smashing it until it was nothing but goo in my hands. Two more days I was in there. In the dark. ‘Til my dad comes home.

JORDAN: Sometimes I wonder how many things you have like that. That I don’t know about.

FRANK: Ever since, I wondered: what if he never comes home? What if I’m still in that basement in the dark? What if I died there? That’s what that reminds me of.

JORDAN: What?

FRANK: The water stain. Something’s trying to tell me that it’s all papier-mache. Something’s telling me to wake up, like… like I’m not real. Like I’m only dreaming.

True Detective - Season 2, Episode2

Then in the final episode of season 2, episode 8, in his last scene, Frank hears Jordan’s voice, then sees her standing there, in that white dress – the one he had her promise she would wear – and him, standing before her, wearing a white shirt soaked in blood (like the “red rose” he had promised her that he would wear).

And the lines:

[FRANK IS BLEEDING, LIMPING THROUGH THE DESERT]

JORDAN: Hey there handsome.

FRANK: You made it! You okay?

JORDAN: Did. Fine. I’m safe.

FRANK: I’m coming, hold up.

JORDAN: Whats a guy like you doing in a place like this?

FRANK: [WALKING EASIER NOW] Just making my way baby. I told ya, Id make it.

FRANK: You did. You made it. You can rest now.

FRANK: No rest. Never stop moving.

JORDAN: Babe, oh babe – you stopped moving way back there.

True Detective - Season 2, Episode 8

Earlier in episode eight, do you remember where Frank said he’d meet Jordan?

Yeah. And though we never see them meet there Frank was very specific, saying they’d meet in a park called “Obelisco” in “Barquisimeto” (Venezuela).

Here’s what “Obelisco” in Barquisimeto looks like:

Obelisco de Barquisimeto

Frank’s story is the story of An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge!

Posted by Jesse Willis

“Spoilers” spoil my life

August 15, 2015 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Commentary 

SFFaudio Commentary

Spoilers…. this post will point out how fucking stupid spoilers are.

See that yellow line at the end? That’s the spoilers I’m talking about. That’s the one I don’t give a shit about – and that’s the one that seems to have infected the minds of practically every conversation about books in the last 10 years. It’s pretty fucking sad to me that the only place one can really go to find out anything about a book is Wikipedia. Wikipedia, the one place that has a rule about not allowing argument about a book, the only place I can seemingly go to find out whether I’ll want to read a book.

Spoilers

So this is a pretty hard topic to research. Those colours, on the “use over time” above, are mine. I’m guessing with them, going with my sense of the predominate usage of “spoiler” – I think I once read that Spider Robinson coined the modern genre usage back in the late 1970s, in a column or something. Roger Ebert seems to be attributed it for movies. But what I’m certainly not talking about third party political candidate phenomenon (the idea is that they ruin elections), nor am I talking about the wings mounted on the backs of sports cars (which reduce aerodynamic lift) – I’m talking about the “spoilers” that dominate and limit book talk today – the ‘who dies at the end’ of a movie or TV show kind of “spoiler!” [said with glee], the ‘who’s whose secret sister to whom’ – or some such inane detail that someone thinks is crucial to appreciate something.

That person, actually, its you – its you – you are the person who uses the term “spoilers” – you’re well, you’re just really really wrong.

I understand, these trendy terms and turns-of-phrase are inevitable, unstoppable. One may as well fight against the tide as fight against them.

If you look to the past, as I am always doing, you will see how oblivious to the stupidity people are – check out this list of ridiculous 1980s phrases and euphemisms and you’ll see just how stupid people were in the 1980s were.

I know it is pointless to fight but I’m going to anyway, I’ve staked my claim on the beach, anchored myself to the bedrock beneath the shifting sand, and I’m beating against the endless wash of “spoilers” as hard as I can – my lone and lonely voice against “spoilers” is a valiant fight, and it is a fight I’ve long been losing – but that’s the point I’m trying to make – we all lose, whenever a conversation about any book somebody is discussing is truncated because they think some fact could “spoil” a book.

Even the word is stupid. “Spoilers” even if they have an effect won’t utterly ruin anything that is truly good” – but I understand, hyperbole is effective, the words “enjoyment lessener” or “surprise reducer” and thus would be unsurprisingly less enjoyable to use.

I really think it all just boils down to one point. I know it is doomed to failure, but I just have to say it – if you could just grasp it – if you could only grok it, deep down in your bones, in your genes – you’d stop having that word come out of your mouth when it comes to books.

I can almost understand it when it comes to a very narrow subset of movies, like The Crying Game, or Chinatown, or The Sixth Sense (the only thing The Sixth Sense has is the twist/surprise/point of the whole 1 hour and 47 minute exercise).

But books aren’t like that. And honestly, if you think about it, TV shows aren’t either.

Spartacus dies, I knew that going in, the fact enhanced my pleasure.

Whether Walter White gets away with his crimes or not isn’t the point of me watching Breaking Bad. I enjoyed the journey (except for that one episode where nothing happens).

In terms of TV shows it all comes down to this, do the people who make the show know where they‘re going? Do they know how it ends? If they do, great. If not, you’re fucking LOST.

Now books are a completely different deal, and here’s why. Books are long, and they are many. Being long and being many means we can’t read all of them, not even all the ones we want. And ultimately I think this explains why the term “spoiler” crops up in practically every conversation about book these days. If you don’t understand this one point, a small matter you think you know (but don’t really accept) if you just could accept this concept, really take it on board, namely that we are all going to fucking die, your saying “spoilers!” would rapidly diminish.

You who say “spoilers” act as if we had an infinite amount of time to read all the books.

This is stupid.

There are now more books published every year than we could read in all our lifetimes. So if you tell me that some point or other “spoils” a book then what you’re essentially saying is that you think I’d be less inclined to read the book if I knew some fact about the book. But this misses the point, I’M NOT GOING TO READ THAT FUCKING BOOK.

So, to sum up, please stop the self-censoring. I’m not going to read that book you don’t want to spoil for me, not unless you tell me something about it, something interesting.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Update: here’s a Google N-gram for the phrase “spoiler alert”

Next Page »