The SFFaudio Podcast #383 – Jesse, Bryan Alexander, and Steen Hansen talk about The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton.
Talked about on today’s show:
1969, before the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, contemporary critics, SF critics vs. mainstream critics, the defense of the ghetto against interlopers, Ray Bradbury, Doris Lessing, a deep feeling, spoiling the book, showing what was wrong with it, getting the facts wrong, interpretation, Luke Burrage reviewing, Robert J. Sawyer, bad writing, had they done nothing … nothing would have happened, the mutation, the Wildfire facility, Star Trek, scientists out for the good of humanity, self-destruct sequences, MAD: Mutually Assured Destruction, every nuclear sub movie, film-like, The Ipcress File by Len Deighton, airport fiction tropes, hyper competent high level government high tech mcguffins, brain-washing, novel -> film, written for film?, ER, picky fiddly science and bureaucratic operation, killed or useless, trusted scientists to save the world, ruthlessly hard science, Hollywood couldn’t make this movie now, restrained, chilly, the gender swap, Robert Wise, Shirley Jackson, The Haunting Of Hill House, Alfred Bester, a document dump, classified material, overloading the reader with verisimilitude, Eaters Of The Dead by Michael Crichton, The Thirteenth Warrior, Vikings, Russians and Byzantium, completely bullshit, Mr. Bullshit, regular SF vs. techno-thriller, a yummy INFODUMP, nobody had a definition for life, black cloth, a watch, a piece of granite, pure Science Fiction, Bryan’s mind destroyed at age 8, binary numbers, lasers vs. darts, Larry Niven, 24, Colossus: The Forbin Project, Steen welcomes our robot overlord, high-scale AI, Iain M. Banks, humans as pets, humans as cogs, I Have No Mouth And I must Scream, Prof. Eric S. Rabkin, Dante Alighieri, lost race, the descent into Hell, from red to blue, the harrowing of Hell, a cold war story where the Russians aren’t the bad guys, The Bedford Incident, James Follett’s The Light Of A Thousand Suns, set in the recent past, the shotgun approach, Margaret Atwood, picking and choosing at the buffet table, dedicated to A.C.D., M.D. -> Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle -> Dr. Michael Crichton, “not a new story”, the glowing review in Life magazine, a retelling of The Blob, the Technovelgy, auto-doc, the suppressed cancer drug, Jensen Pharmaceuticals, gut flora, nudity and ass-grabbing, rectal suppository, astro-Tang, coffee, all that cleaning, they’re too holy, the five levels is a gimmick, the leveling, it’s bullshit!, we all know we have to wash our hands, the Wikipedia entry for the Airport Genre
Airport novel(s) represent a literary genre that is not so much defined by its plot or cast of stock characters, as much as it is by the social function it serves. An airport novel is typically a fairly long but fast-paced novel of intrigue or adventure that is stereotypically found in the reading fare offered by airport newsstands for travelers to read in the rounds of sitting and waiting that constitute air travel.
Rudyard Kipling’s fiction was published as a railway magazine, the origin of pulp fiction, The Lion’s Game by Nelson DeMille, the opening to The Strain, having the reins of political power at your fingertips, in the 2008 miniseries remake, back stories/love stories, a muddy anti-science mess, pre-Apollo -> Watergate -> conspiracy theories, the technical glitch (paper between the bell and the striker), germ warfare?!, the remake of The Manchurian Cantidate, the films and adaptations reflect the times, the 2008 version is super-militarized, X-18, F-4 phantoms, Dracula, the long gothic tradition of found documents, Plan 9 From Outer Space, a cold war document, The Parallax View, Captain America: Winter Soldier, Crichton like Spielberg loves power, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, medical people as superheroes, uber-expert scientists, power fantasy fiction, scepticism of power, image Michael Crichton at a Science Fiction convention, the immune reaction, You are not of the body!, techno-thrillers, why Ian Fleming’s James Bond books became so popular, JFK, Ronald Reagan was a big fan of Tom Clancy, The Hunt For Red October, Reagan based foreign policy of Red Storm Rising, Jack Ryan was a wonk Navy -> CIA agent -> CIA Director -> President, Firefox, political fiction written for a jet-set audience, conservative Heinleinian, Andromeda Strain cosplay?, Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, SF writers save the world from alien invasion, science matters vs. science fiction, the first biology crisis, outflanking the ghetto, the 2006 Worldcon, Greg Benford, Greg Bear, David Brin, thinking up scenarios, if I was a terrorist how would I destroy the the United States, Wildfire, Cold War contingency planning, the Rand Corporation, the odd-man out element, his name was Hall but should have been Corridor, does this make sense?, the odd man is gay?, The Odd Couple, gay coding?, gay men are most likely to turn off nukes?, The Great Train Robbery, timing pacing planning tricking, that roller-coaster spark, opening observation, we are always observing, fun fiction for Henry Kissinger and the jet set, bureaucrats of a class, this function material is reflective, Science Fiction writers are poor, Robert Silverberg, Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake, Isaac Asimov, a biology book, Paul Di Filippo, bio-punk, Ribo-funk, The Bay (2012), The Hot Zone, the wet science, cloning, the neglected science, Coma, Protector by Larry Niven, how electron-microscopes work, crystallography, “it mutated”?!?!?, that was odd, it’s communicating with itself, block-chain virus, deep hurting, The Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski, medicine without silicon, the Patriarchy, The Highest Frontier, Blood Music by Greg Bear, a Halo novel, The Wind From A Burning Woman, a “wild” writing style, bio is hard to do, Pontypool, prions, the worst part of The Walking Dead, we’re all infected, a symbol for regular death, Titan by John Varley, a 100ft tall Marilyn Monroe monster, The Satan Bug by Alistair Maclean (1962), where does the techno-thriller begin, a precursor to techno-thriller, The Stolen Bacillus by H.G. Wells, a really obvious anarchist, Wells defused the whole genre for sixty years, The Food Of The Gods, a convincing linguistic maneuver, fawning of technology bureaucracy power and the function of government, a stack of Jane’s Fighting Ships, the Sputnik shock, British invasion novels, Tom Clancy as a zombie brand, special helicopter trip, massive government expenditure for the competent man, an empty jetliner, vicarious thrill, power fantasy, “he’s the most important person right now”, this is our bailiwick!, nice and short, Dean Koontz, Phantoms, A Game Of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, Ghost Fleet by August Cole and P.W. Singer, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child books, no CRISPR, China is no Soviet Union, futurism, education moves so slowly, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, an X-Box with Paranoid Linux, Reamde by Neal Stephenson, a Kurt Vonnegut vibe, a Welsh Muslim terrorist, like pornography you know a techno-thriller when you see it.
Posted by Jesse Willis
Talked about on today’s show:
a recent novel, Hugo Award, Nebula Award, a long novel, a genderless society, an absence of vocabulary, a politics-biology-language fusion, a light space opera, a murder mystery, a multi-body perspective, foreshadowing a sequel, confusing historical allusions, empire, imagination, personal story, dialogic, magnetic fiction in space, a puppet-like main character, mysterious actions, an unsatisfactory explanation, slave women, a fight for emancipation, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, auxiliaries, the story of Spartacus, Roman family bonding, Jane Austen, dystopia, slaves into servants, expected violence, Roman colonization, a distinct approach to human ethics, the Old Testament, old-fashioned faith, short stories, key words, views of reality, spiritual progress, omnipotent deities, reconstructed ancient religions, J.R.R Tolkien, Lieutenant Ahn, Hindu deities, tea, Jo Walton, coffee, Japanese morality, Shintoism, Horrible Histories, Scholastic books, Frank Herbert, religious engineering, Hellstrom’s Hive by Frank Herbert, government religion, Dune by Frank Herbert.
Posted by Jesse Willis
Fear of disease is probably just as old as disease itself. But the modern fear, the fear that a single individual carrying a vial full of specific incurable pathogen – the fear that one crazed fanatic could decimate an entire city’s population by poisoning its water supply – that fear can probably be traced back to the late 19th century and perhaps even to the inventor of the first true Science Fiction short stories, Mr. H.G. Wells. Had the ending of The Stolen Bacillus been done in a slightly different way it may have spawned the whole zombie contagion phenomenon a century early.
The Stolen Bacillus
By H.G. Wells; Read by Dawn Keenan
1 |MP3| – Approx. 16 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Voices In The Dark
An anarchist, intent on wreaking ruin on a city, steals a phial from a bacteriologist. First published in the Pall Mall Budget’s June 21, 1894 issue.
Posted by Jesse Willis
The SFFaudio Podcast #089 – Jesse talks to James Campanella Ph.D. Jim is an associate professor in the department of Biology and Molecular Biology at Montclair State University in New Jersey. He’s also an audiobook narrator, and podcaster.
Talked about on today’s show:
J.J. Campanella watches very little TV, Lost, The Big Bang Theory, Antarctica, MSU, molecular biology, genetics, plant genetics, philology vs. phylogeny, the Science News Update podcast, “a funny Geordie sounding dude” (Tony C. Smith), duck penises, cloaca, sexing birds, African Grey parrots, ants, What Technology Wants, technology as an extension of evolution, “microscopic brains”, plant intelligence, tropism, phototropism vs. gravitropism, auxins, The Secret Life Of Plants, dowsing, plant signaling (with jasmonic acid), StarShip Sofa, The Merchant And The Alchemist’s Gate by Ted Chiang, knitting and cross-stitching, narrating skills, Uvula Audio, I, Libertine, The Call Of The Wild by Jack London, L. Frank Baum is seriously weird, violence vs. bloodless violence, the Tin Woodsman and his enchanted axe, goiing from cyborg to robot (via a Ship of Theseus metaphor), Sky Island, genocide in kids books, Doc Savage, The Avenger, Lester Dent, Hamlet And Eggs by J.J. Campanella, a comedic detective story, Georgia, 9/11, how to be always wrong, private detectives, The Code Of The Poodles by James Powell, what accent would a talking dog have?, The Friends Of Hector Jouvet by James Powell, Monaco, A Dirge For Clowntown by James Powell, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Divers Down by Hal Gordon, were kids in the ’70s were more respectful?, the Rick Brant series, Tom Swift, The Rocket’s Shadow (Rick Brant #1) by John Blaine, Jonny Quest, adventure, The Venture Bros., The Flintstones, Harold L. Goodwin, serial books, house names, The Bobbsey Twins, Edward Stratemeyer, “electronic adventures”, who read and bought those serial books?, the end of the pulp era, The Mystery Of The Stratemeyer Legacy, Nancy Drew, has paranormal romance replaced kids books?, the Twilight series, the Harry Potter series, Rick Riordan, The Wizard Of Oz, H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, the rich and amazing language of Lovecraft, Miskatonic University, Craig Nickerson, At The Mountains Of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft, Professor William Dyer, The Shadow Out Of Time by H.P. Lovecraft, Brazil, proper Portuguese pronunciation, “lethp listhping”, Doctor Who, Silurians, yithians, Horror vs. Science Fiction, Astounding Stories, time travel, “shoggoths etc.”, The Statement Of Randolph Carter, a really serious (and difficult) question: Are zombies Science Fiction or Fantasy?, Romero-style zombies, 28 Days Later, real zombies in nature (mostly in the insect world), Herbert West, Re-Animator, the source matters, if the zombie was dead then it is Fantasy, why are zombies so popular?, people like the idea of being able to kill without remorse, mummies vs. werewolves vs. vampires vs. zombies, Zombieland, Bill Murray, contemporary Fantasy, Neil Gaiman, comics, sword and sorcery, Elric, the Thomas Covenant series, Stephen R. Donaldson, Douglas Adams, American Gods |READ OUR REVIEW| vs. The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul, James Alan Gardner, Expendable is an “absolute masterpiece”, Star Trek, why are there no James Alan Gardner audiobooks?, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Man Of Bronze is terrible, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson |READ OUR REVIEW|, Jim Campanella describes it as “turgid”, Metropia, “photo-realistic Swedish anime”, baby eyes, Steamboat Willie, the evolution of Mickey Mouse’s appearance, infanticide, why do your big eyes prevent me from kill you?, saccharin, the sucralose story (is in the Dec. 2010 podcast of Science News Update).
Posted by Jesse Willis
The Invisible Man
By H.G. Wells; Read by James Adams
5 CDs – Approx. 5.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Themes: / Science Fiction / Invisibility / Chemistry / Biology / Crime / 19th Century / Sussex / Morality / Personal Responsibility /
On a freezing February day, a stranger emerges from out of the gray to request a room at a local provincial inn. Who is this out-of-season traveler? More confounding is the thick mask of bandages obscuring his face. Why does he disguise himself in this manner and keep himself hidden away in his room? Aroused by trepidation and curiosity, the local villagers bring it upon themselves to find the answers. What they discover is a man trapped in a terror of his own creation, and a chilling reflection of the unsolvable mysteries of their own souls.
While nobody could really deny H.G. Wells was an amazing and talented Science Fiction author I think we can all agree that some of his fictions are superior to others. Among those that are not superior is The Invisible Man. This is not from any serious defect in the novel’s writing. Indeed, I cannot see anything that H.G. Wells has really done badly or that he could have done better. So, if it couldn’t have been done better then why isn’t it better? I think the problem stems from two interrelated factors: One is a serious technical gripe, something in the book and unavoidable, and the other being the smallness of that idea. Taken together they make it difficult to fully engage with. What holds back The Invisible Man from an utter perfection is at the weak premise at the very core of the novel, invisibility. Invisibility is both impossible and small. I’ve expanded on its impossibility in another essay. Its smallness is a problem I will tackle here.
Invisibility is a long standing meme in human culture: Plato describes invisibility in the legend of The Ring Of Gyges, Tolkien used a similarly endowed ring in The Lord Of The Rings, and even modern scientific versions of invisibility (the invisible-like camouflage in Predator) are still with us. The problem is invisibility isn’t a story, its barely a half of an idea in terms of ideas – its a place to take a story, but it isn’t a very fruitful one. I felt the same way when I read Richard Matheson’s The Incredible Shrinking Man |READ OUR REVIEW|READ OUR REVIEW|. I though: “A man shrinking, that’s new!” It was new and completely unfruitful. See the fallout from the idea of a man shirking inexorably towards nothingness is a feeling of emptiness. The man shrinks, the world gets bigger. A man shrinks, everyday objects become like mountains and house pets like dragons. Its interesting, to be sure, but it isn’t a story. Like invisibility, no amount of hand-waving can make the explanation scientifically plausible. Unlike, the The Incredible Shrinking Man however I can still recommend The Invisible Man – Wells is the master of Science Fiction. In The Invisible Man he takes a fatally flawed concept, invisibility, and writes the shit out of it. When Griffin, the scientist and anti-hero of the title goes about explaining his methodological reasoning in a Socratic dialogue, he is fully persuasive. Check this passage out:
“Phew!” said Kemp. “That’s odd! But still I don’t see quite … I can understand that thereby you could spoil a valuable stone, but personal invisibility is a far cry.”
“Precisely,” said Griffin. “But consider, visibility depends on the action of the visible bodies on light. Either a body absorbs light, or it reflects or refracts it, or does all these things. If it neither reflects nor refracts nor absorbs light, it cannot of itself be visible. You see an opaque red box, for instance, because the colour absorbs some of the light and reflects the rest, all the red part of the light, to you. If it did not absorb any particular part of the light, but reflected it all, then it would be a shining white box. Silver! A diamond box would neither absorb much of the light nor reflect much from the general surface, but just here and there where the surfaces were favourable the light would be reflected and refracted, so that you would get a brilliant appearance of flashing reflections and translucencies—a sort of skeleton of light. A glass box would not be so brilliant, not so clearly visible, as a diamond box, because there would be less refraction and reflection. See that? From certain points of view you would see quite clearly through it. Some kinds of glass would be more visible than others, a box of flint glass would be brighter than a box of ordinary window glass. A box of very thin common glass would be hard to see in a bad light, because it would absorb hardly any light and refract and reflect very little. And if you put a sheet of common white glass in water, still more if you put it in some denser liquid than water, it would vanish almost altogether, because light passing from water to glass is only slightly refracted or reflected or indeed affected in any way. It is almost as invisible as a jet of coal gas or hydrogen is in air. And for precisely the same reason!”
“Yes,” said Kemp, “that is pretty plain sailing.”
So, I’m of two minds on The Invisible Man. It derives its heart from a weak concept – and like the phlogiston theory of combustion it is discredited, and undeserving of serious consideration. Despite all this I still find myself willing to recommend you read the novella. The psychological rigor that Wells brings to the novel makes The Invisible Man quite possibly the first and last straight Science Fiction story worthy of our attentions.
Narrator James Adams is a capable reader, he reads the third person perspective text with what sounds like an authentic English accent. The clam-shell style case, for the library CD edition that I received, features a bit of fading text on the cover, a design inspired by the invisibility of the title. Unfortunately this makes the details hard to make out in anything other than a bright light environment. Blackstone Audio has four other formats available too: Cassette, MP3-CD, digital download (via Audible.com) and playaway (a kind of disposable MP3 player that can only play one book). Given the widespread availability of The Invisible Man by other audiobook publishers I’d like to have seen some value added materials, perhaps a specially commisioned introduction by Professor Eric Rabkin and or an afterward by Professor Michael D.C. Drout.
One thing I like about paperbooks that rarely (if ever) gets included in an audiobook is a map. Maps are fun and informative. One of the funnest paperback series ever was the old Dell Mapbacks. Here’s the Map from the back of Dell’s edition of The Invisible Man:
And while we’re at it here’s the cover…
Posted by Jesse Willis
StarShipSofa’s Aural Delights podcast features terrific fiction, funny poems and fantastic scholarly research in nearly every episode. Once a month the podcast features a segment by James J. Campanella. Besides being an excellent audiobook narrator, he’s a university professor (of Biology and Molecular Biology) and a genuine Ph’D scientist. His segment is called “Science News Update.” In each episode Campanella talks about the latest research that’s hitting the journals, explains the cool implications of each, and he answers listeners questions. In a recent show, for example, Campanella discussed a cool experiment that demonstrates a previously unknown taste receptor – we can taste the flavour of carbonation! More on that later.
But, it’s something else in the most recent two segments (the October and November 2009 shows) that I really want to draw your attention to. See Jim answered one of my questions. I’d been wondering about the ‘BPA and plastics threat’ that I’d be hearing about (from my mom).
In his answer to my query Campanella discussed the endocrine disruptor Bisphenol A (BPA), and its distribution in the human ecosystem.
It seems that BPA does pose a threat, a kind of bodily pollution that threatens to ‘impurify our precious bodily fluids!’ Or as Jim put it in his email to me:
“This stuff just scares the hell out of me– all I can think of is that book and movie The Children Of Men.”
Yikes! Is it truly possible that in all the H1N1 hysteria that a more insidious threat can be found in the likes of household plastics and store receipts?
Campanella thinks so. He refers, in the November show, to some research conducted by Bruce Lanphear, a Health Sciences Professor at Simon Fraser University (my old school).
Because of this research Canada has banned plastics containing BPA from use in baby products. But there’s not yet been a ban imposed on BPA lined cash register receipts or number 7 (and some number 3) recyclable plastics. Other plastics, containing other non-Bishpenol A plastics may or may not pose a risk. But given the known leech-rate of glass containers (virtually nil) I’d be willing to stick with glass were it available for reasonable prices (which it mostly isn’t, damn it).
Campanella also reports that not only are some plastics embedded with this dangerous endocrine disruptor but that a larger threat may be looming in the form of the receipt I got when I bought all that plastic crap! Sez Campanella:
‘carbonless copy paper credit card and store receipts have a reported average of 50-100mg of free BPA. That is receipts using this bisphenol A technology have a loose coating of unbound BPA ready for uptake on the fingers or even possibly through direct skin absorption!’
So, mom, I guess you were right? Except that it’s not so much the plastics now that I’m worried about!
My solutions BTW:
-Avoid plastics (especially number 7 and number 3)
-And given the news about carbonation and plastics, I’ll try to be more like this guy…
Posted by Jesse Willis