The SFFaudio Podcast #429 – READALONG: In The Mountains Of Madness by W. Scott Poole

July 10, 2017 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #429 – Jesse, Marissa, Mr Jim Moon and Wayne June talk about the Tantor Media audiobook In the Mountains of Madness: The Life, Death, And Extraordinary Afterlife Of H. P. Lovecraft by W. Scott Poole.

Talked about on today’s show:
a biography (not the novel), who would make that mistake, W. Scott Poole, The Extraordinary Afterlife Of H.P. Lovecraft, the writing style, some reservations, a very interesting book, S.T. Joshi, Michel Houellebecq, current thoughts about Lovecraft, have we all fallen into a trap?, there must be something wrong with him, first biography, I Am Providence, primary materials, letters to the editors, here’s Lovecraft’s vision, man, Lovecraft’s childhood, why do we care so much, a forerunner, his mom and his wife, everybody hears about Lovecraft’s mom: he’s hideous looking, the L. Sprague DeCamp biography, a strange man with an ugly lantern jaw, Stephen King, progressive and interesting, an open minded woman, his politics, cautiously taking issue, Lovecraft’s racism, history, a crock of bull, dismissing the man of his time argument, science, eugenics, racial theory, phrenology, condemns overly harshly, divorcing the work from the creator of it, celebrating his creativity without celebrating his politics, what if Rembrandt was a wife-beater, a conservative, his grandfather, a pedestal, we all get our politics from our parents and our family, unusual and extreme, not a happy fact, commonplace views, The Birth Of A Nation, bringing Lovecraft away, strange and creative, humanizing, they weren’t terrible mad women, playful, reading Shakespeare, annoying the neighbours, psychoanalysis, they must be psychopaths, a wax cylinder, Lovecraft’s singing was like a fox terrier being strangled, cats and ice-cream, good evidence, an admirable person, an only parent, every kind of toy, chemistry sets and magazine subscriptions, school as torture and punishment, she sounds awesome, expand your mind in different ways, he’s filling in gaps with a lot of speculation, really interesting new evidence, non-standard childhood behavior, starting a detective agency after you’re playing dungeons and dragons style wargames, .22 pistol, tailing suspicious looking characters all over Providence, an absurdly early age, Sarah Susan Lovecraft, conclusions, this book is so 2016/2017 with suppositions, hard to argue with facts, beyond precioucious, Mr Jim Moon’s rubbish detective agency, toddlers with automatic weapons, gun control, football, every male was given a badge that ranked them beta or delta, fuck you society!, ugly vs. striking, William Hope Hodgson, going with it and going against it, amateur journalism and reading pulp magazines, why my sympathy resonates with Lovecraft in his stories, he’s interested in school, Teddy Roosevelt, Kermit Roosevelt, war was masculine, WWI was a mistake, pulled some strings, a strange sickly twilight individual, a walker and rambler vs. mad recluse, go for a walk and read books, social anxiety and mild depression, most of the people Jim knows, the subtitle, becoming H.P. Lovecraft, the stories themselves, August Derleth and Cthulhu plushies, Hypnos, Hypnos tattoos, very funny, a sarcastic take on the hipsters, THE answer, the secret history of why today is the way it is today, Gary Gygax comic book biography, Little Wars by H.G. Wells, war-gaming, the great grandfather of modern gaming, he’s not really a fantasist in most cases, Wells’ stamp, Doctor Who could not exist without The Time Machine, Lovecraft’s marriage to Sonia Greene, she bank rolled amateur journalism (their version of blogging or podcasting), The United Amateur, she comes off pretty well as a wife, he comes off pretty badly, a raconteur, carousing, a dynamic person, the teenage daughter, Lovecraft’s stepdaughter, some beautiful poetry, I’m after him, completely unemployable, he’s a rich man who has come down in the world, Lovecraft’s main attempt to make money was to revise other people’s writing, Marissa can make a living, Wayne can make a living, one ad in Weird Tales, rewriting, 100,000 letters, Ted Chiang, unwilling to compromise, manual labour, his job-seeking letter, 17th furniture was the peak of furniture design, no normal customer, mattresses mattresses mattresses, extraordinarily striking, he can’t grant his wife a divorce, his own worst enemy, he didn’t want a job, 14-18 hours a day, get yourself a Sonia, never ate in a restaurant, alone in their cave, not the normal thing, was H.P. Lovecraft a gay man?, his only woman kisser, time spent, some gay friends, his first love was books and writing, M.R. James, there might might be some very racy letters we’ll never see, asexuality, an old flame, we shouldn’t go there, he’s like most people, relationships are difficult, completely open-minded, he had the opportunity with R.H. Barlow, dwelling, everybody was in love with Lovecraft, it’s great to spend time with a brilliant mind, a 14 year old fan, Jesse’s students, interesting ideas, talking about art or sports, really normal, spending time with heroes, letters back and forth, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, kind of a leap, getting together in physical space, we think he’s fascinating, trying to explain the fascination, a name to conjure with, a funky coffee house, a bowler hat and a tattoo with Lovecraft’s face, why Lovecraft plays a huge role as a totemic symbol, buying books with his name on the side, sex toys, Savage Sword of Conan, the Lovecraft influenced stories of Robert E. Howard, how did Mr Jim Moon discover Lovecraft, The Hound, Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, Trail Of Cthulhu, the role playing game, hitting thew jackpot, battered old paperbacks, Wayne’s dad was an SF reader, a stationery store’s upstairs, a metaphor of some kind, half-way up the ladder, Cool Air, it gave me chills, becoming obsessed with Lovecraft, what was in the used bookstore, do you think his writing style sets you up for that?, one of those writers, a bigger thrill everytime, like Shakespeare, into the flow, richer and richer, At the Mountains Of Madness, a gift card for Chapters, filed in the biography section, Scott Danielson, damn it!, the audiobook is missing the back-matter, Necronomicon fake-lore, good essays about Lovecraft by Angela Carter and Colin Wilson, the Chaosium Necronomicon, related short stories, The Adder by Fred Chapel, corrupting neighbouring books, why “In” in the title, forgotten perfectly, Lovecraft’s dad: ‘the chamber maid has insulted me and strange men are raping my wife’, sanitarium, he was “noisy”, the treatment was enemas every second day, damaged genitals, Poole’s theory, syphilis, Guy de Maupassant, in the background of Lovecraft’s psychology, bringing the sexual horror to the surface, high on morphine, not a friendly way to go, talking insensibly, high on opioids, that’s fucked up, drugs, who knows?, lose yourself in some good comic books because life is fucking horrible, the core of Lovecraft’s philosophy, Lovecraft thought about suicide, so polite, he hasn’t learned enough about geology yet, not the coward’s way out, Howard’s suicide, a lot more depressive, powerful and beautiful, The Thing On The Roof, getting right into the action, the requisite ending, in touch with that horror, why worry about getting married when you’re worried about how mortal you are, a lot of sympathy, marriage instead of suicide, what’s missing, what was Lovecraft doing all those years when he wasn’t writing?, astronomy, running clubs, becoming something, the eighth biography?, there’s something going on, he’s pointed to a lot of things, some much at odds with the myth of Lovecraft, he’s maladjusted, he’s anti-social, seven weeks of blackberry picking, Winnie the Pooh, more to the man, off the hip astrology, the intentional fallacy, a secret autobiography, what makes a weird tale, a whole other side, chit chatting with friends, walks and get-togethers, a different picture emerges, did you come here to praise him or bury him, a hatchet job, sour grapes, de Camp, he finds other people’s writings, that’s not great, get a handle on a whole life, it feels like we get to know him, a person we can know, incredibly like having a friendship, where did this mythology come from?, The Conspiracy Against The Human Race by Thomas Ligotti, people don’t like them, you have to do that, death is waiting for each and every one of us, existence is horrible, taking a step-back from you, reputation and mythology, absolutely an athiest, a pessimist, an atheistic existentialist, they don’t like it, an academic, a course on Lovecraft, what was H.P. Lovecraft’s philosophy?, material, atheism, cosmicism, racism, Cthulhu plushie racist, a quick bit of googling, it’s everywhere, something you have to get passed, tentacles, I like coffee, Freudian symbolism, who have you been dating?, chimera, the irony is bigger, I Am Providence, now he’s dirt, the fortune he was heir to and then lost, made it’s money from whaling, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, compromise, working at a gas station, humiliating, his worldview, bemoaning the decline of the aristocracy, pledged allegiance to King George, an unrepentant Tory, The Rats In The Walls, why we’re so interested in the man, writing true, making hay out of trends, the flavour of the week, no skin of his nose, rejected, he could suffer any indignity, a beautiful tragedy, it could have been a lot worse, he was so generous, the lord dispensing wealth, he was giving out what he wished he had recieved, mentoring, Robert Bloch, a life-line in the amateur press, fan letter, highfalutin poetry, the marketing came after by his fans, my point for Wayne, I could make Wayne so much money, he needs a Patreon, Audio Realms is out of business, the complete H.P. Lovecraft one book a month, some sort of barrier, it’s like you can’t lower yourself to that, he’s just lazy, you’re still alive, you’re killing me, At The Mountains Of Madness is a big job, that book is an expedition, Poole makes an argument that Prometheus is a retelling of At The Mountains Of Madness, Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, a massive debt to Lovecraft, a link still unexplored, a thing podcast, thing it, them, they!, the mysterious pronouns in dark places.

In The Mountains Of MadnessTheExtraordinary Afterlife Of H.P. Lovecraft by W. Scott Poole

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Jack London: An American Life by Earle Labor

January 25, 2014 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Cover for Jack London: An American Life by Earle LaborJack London: An American Life
By Earle Labor; Read by Michael Prichard
16 hours 50 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Media
Published: 2013
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 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: Goliah by Jack London

January 20, 2014 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe 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; 1984Twilight 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 PlagueCanticle 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.

Colossus The Forbin Project

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister E. McGrath

January 2, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Cover of C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister E. McGrath

C.S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius and Reluctant Prophet
By Alister E. McGrath; Read by Robin Sachs
13 hours 56 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Oasis Audio
Published: 2013
Themes: / biography / religion / fantasy / medieval literature

Before setting out on this review, I must apologize for the liberal use of the first-person pronoun, which I normally use sparingly. This book intersects my personal and professional interests at several points, so I’m not even going to attempt an objective, impartial review, if such a thing is even possible. I am, as Lewis was, a student of medieval literature, though I can only dream of reaching his depth of knowledge and scope of imagination in this field. Furthermore, I undertook part of my studies at Oxford University, which was home to Lewis for much of his life. The City of Dreaming Spires, as Matthew Arnold called it, exerted a profound influence on Lewis’s life and work, and having walked its winding cobbled streets and ancient quadrangles it’s easy to understand why. Last, but certainly not least, Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia had a profound impact on my intellectual and imaginative development as a child. In this I suspect I’m not alone, and I hope this review will encourage readers to learn more about the life and mind behind one of the wellsprings of modern fantasy.

Before discussing the biography itself, I should say something of its author. Though currently Professor of Theology at King’s College, London, McGrath’s previous post was in Oxford, where I had heard his name spoken with a great deal of respect while I was there. The biography lists ever so slightly in the direction of Christianity, reflecting its author’s background in theology and apologetics, but on the whole it’s a balanced work firmly grounded in scholarly research of Lewis’s works and correspondence. The biography, of course, deals extensively with Lewis’s religious and spiritual development so central in his life and work, but the work by no means white-washes Lewis’s life or even his faith. This audio recording is preceded by an interview with McGrath, whose calm, measured voice assures us as listeners that we’re chosen a trustworthy guide down the path of Lewis’s life.

Like most biographers, McGrath takes a strictly chronological approach, with very few detours either to backtrack or to foreshadow. The narrative takes us through Lewis’s birth and childhood in Northern Ireland, through his lengthy tenure at Osxford University, to his final years as Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge. The biography strikes a delicate balance between Lewis’s rich inner life as reflected in his writings and his sometimes tumultuous outer. In the former case, McGrath devotes considerable space to Lewis’s conversion experience and subsequent development of his spirituality. As an academic, I was also pleased that Lewis’s scholarly works, notably on Edmund Spender’s Faerie Queene and Milton’s Paradise Lost, receive some attention. In regards to Lewis’s personal life, the biography charts Lewis’s many professional disappointments resulting from his popular religious work and the rift that formed between Lewis and other Oxford academics. Lewis’s relationships also receive some attention, in particular his long-running peculiar arrangement with the older Mrs. Moore and his controversial marriage to Joy Davidman. Of course, there is significant interplay between Lewis’s inner and outer lives, and McGrath expertly weaves these strands together to illustrate how one sometimes influenced the other. The book concludes by reflecting on the rise of Lewis’s reputation in various circles, religious and popular, after his death in 1963.

Two whole chapters are dedicated to Lewis’s development of The Chronicles of Narnia. McGrath packs a lot of material into these relatively few pages, from Narnia’s inception in Lewis’s mind, to the debate over the proper reading order of the books (Lewis’s ordering, order of publication, or internal chronology), to the works’ modern reception, especially Philip Pullman’s criticism. This section also manages to delve a little deeper, too, highlighting the philosophical and theological underpinnings of this imaginative, not imaginary, world. McGrath deals with the question of whether Narnia is an allegory, and also links the work to Plato’s Republic and the allegory of shadows in the cave. Obviously this is a lot of topics to cram into so little space, and I would have liked a more thorough treatment, but to be fair this is a biography, not a work of literary criticism. McGrath has promised a fuller, more scholarly edition of this book in the near future, which will likely feature copious footnotes providing a wonderful paper trail for the Narnia enthusiast eager to learn more. SFFaudio readers should also note that Lewis’s lesser-known Space Trilogy also receives brief treatment in this biography.

Though built on academic bedrock, C.S. Lewis: A Life is written in a lively, accessible style. McGrath uses Lewis’s own words, or the words of his associates, when possible, which imbues the book with a sense of immediacy and authenticity to the work. I sometimes felt as though I were in the room with Lewis, Tolkien, and the other Inklings as they discussed important religious, mythological, and literary matters. Like Lewis himself, McGrath also has a way of explaining complex intellectual and theological matters in a way that an average reader like me can understand. This is, in my view, the hallmark of any solid intellectual or literary biography. My only criticism of the book, and it’s a trifling one, is that McGrath hardly even alludes to any sexual relations between Lewis and Mrs. Moore, or later between Lewis and Joy Davidman, even though it’s obvious there was some sort of sexual element to these relationships. Perhaps McGrath found this matter distasteful, or thought the book’s Christian readers would. In any case, this omission is to me the one glaring lacuna in an otherwise thorough life story.

Robin Sachs’s stately narration lends the perfect air of British respectability to the audio edition. His pronunciation of some of the book’s more arcane linguistic and literary terms are, for the most part, spot on. As mentioned earlier, the inclusion of an interview with Alister McGrath, is a welcome addition, and provides additional insights into an already insightful work. Another minor quibble: I feel the interview should have been included at the end of the audiobook, rather than the beginning. I prefer to go into a book unbiased by the author’s later thoughts on the book. Again, though, this quibble is very minor. What does conclude the audiobook, however, is an amazing recording of Lewis at his deep-timbres lecturing finest.

There are certainly many other windows into the lives of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the other Inklings. Despite the influence of these authors on my own life, I have to admit I have not read most of these other works. So I’m very glad that one of the first I’ve read has proved to be such an enlightening and entertaining journey, (mostly) free from the partisanship and polarity that plague some biographies of relatively recent figures. I can’t think of many readers who wouldn’t benefit from or at least be entertained by Alister McGrath’s C.S. Lewis: A Life.

Posted by Seth Wilson

Recent Arrivals: Random House Audio – Thomas Jefferson: The Art Of Power by Jon Meacham

November 20, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Recent Arrivals 

SFFaudio Recent Arrivals

After Jon Meacham’s terrific mini-interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart I was very pleased that Random House Audio sent us Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. Read by Edward Herrmann, who is an excellent narrator, this audiobook runs almost 19 hours.

I look forward to it.

Random House Audio - Thomas Jefferson: The Art Of Power by Jon Meacham


Posted by Jesse Willis

Recent Arrivals: Penguin Audio

October 28, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Aural Noir, Recent Arrivals 

SFFaudio Recent Arrivals

Posted by Jenny Colvin

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