The SFFaudio Podcast #409 – The Grove Of Ashtaroth by John Buchan, read by Mr Jim Moon. This is a complete and unabridged reading of the short story (1 hour 5 minutes) followed by a discussion of it (by Jesse, Mr Jim Moon, and Paul)
Talked about on today’s show:
1910, obsession, kinda gross, fundamentally based on racism, Jewishness, troublesome, H.P. Lovecraft, a racist filter, horror as fear of the other, the same intellectual climate, racial theory, a sensitivity alarm bell, scare not offend, on the cusp, an off note, Sax Rohmer, yellow peril, Fu Manchu is the hero, the Escape audio drama adaptation, Harlan Ellison, Red Hook territory, uncomfortably of its time, its about race, his friend’s changing disposition, the Saxon Mother vs. the “strong wine of the east”, that logic is still in force, 1/64th Cherokee, if this was set in the highlands…, natural peace, a benevolent supernatural force, white hat vs. black hat, the theme of colonialism vs. race and heredity, imperialism, two-fisted adventure vs. poetry and philosophy and pathos, the landscape, the skyline, the love that Lawson has is reflected by Buchan himself
At midday it cleared, and the afternoon was a pageant of pure colour. The wind sank to a low breeze; the sun lit the infinite green spaces, and kindled the wet forest to a jewelled coronal. Lawson gaspingly admired it all, as he cantered bareheaded up a bracken-clad slope. ‘God’s country,’ he said twenty times. ‘I’ve found it.’ Take a piece of Sussex downland; put a stream in every hollow and a patch of wood; and at the edge, where the cliffs at home would fall to the sea, put a cloak of forest muffling the scarp and dropping thousands of feet to the blue plains. Take the diamond air of the Gornergrat, and the riot of colour which you get by a West Highland lochside in late September. Put flowers everywhere, the things we grow in hothouses, geraniums like sun-shades and arums like trumpets. That will give you a notion of the countryside we were in. I began to see that after all it was out of the common.
beautiful writing, the sensual description of Lawson,
Being a fair man, he was gloriously tanned, and there was a clear line at his shirt-collar to mark the limits of his sunburn. I had first known him years ago, when he was a broker’s clerk working on half-commission. Then he had gone to South Africa, and soon I heard he was a partner in a mining house which was doing wonders with some gold areas in the North. The next step was his return to London as the new millionaire — young, good-looking, wholesome in mind and body, and much sought after by the mothers of marriageable girls. We played polo together, and hunted a little in the season, but there were signs that he did not propose to become a conventional English gentleman. He refused to buy a place in the country, though half the Homes of England were at his disposal. He was a very busy man, he declared, and had not time to be a squire.
a bromance at the least, homoeroticism, nudity or flannels, naked on the veldt, the gorgeousness of the writing, T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland, The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock, a miniseries on Cecil Rhodes, the empire builder, Rhodesia, like Rhodes Lawson made his money in mining, Buchan knew Rhodes, a giant country estate, Buchan is the name of the unnamed narrator in the audio drama adaptation, biographies, First World War Hidden History blog,, at the center of spying and propaganda, Lord Tweedsmuir, use in a role playing game, Kim Philby, the old boy network, the revolving door policy, no longer conspiracy, no longer tin-foil hat territory, rewarded with the Governorship of Canada, nobility by appointment, “gone to the wall”, with the riff-raff and the hoi-poloi, “gone to seed”, a pun, the fertile and lush garden, the flower of his youth, a railroad from South Africa to Egypt, nursemaided by Rhodes, illness,
Then we went to work to cut down the trees. The slim stems were an easy task to a good woodman, and one after another they toppled to the ground. And meantime, as I watched, I became conscious of a strange emotion.
It was as if some one were pleading with me. A gentle voice, not threatening, but pleading — something too fine for the sensual ear, but touching inner chords of the spirit. So tenuous it was and distant that I could think of no personality behind it. Rather it was the viewless, bodiless grace of this delectable vale, some old exquisite divinity of the groves. There was the heart of all sorrow in it, and the soul of all loveliness. It seemed a woman’s voice, some lost lady who had brought nothing but goodness unrepaid to the world. And what the voice told me was, that I was destroying her last shelter.
That was the pathos of it — the voice was homeless. As the axes flashed in the sunlight and the wood grew thin, that gentle spirit was pleading with me for mercy and a brief respite. It seemed to be telling of a world for centuries grown coarse and pitiless, of long sad wanderings, of hardly-won shelter, and a peace which was the little all she sought from men. There was nothing terrible in it. No thought of wrongdoing. The spell, which to Semitic blood held the mystery of evil, was to me, of a different race, only delicate and rare and beautiful.
poor spirit, parallel to an extinction, running away from the destruction of man, reading the story from Lawson’s point of view, what is he doing there?, an alabaster moon, blood sacrifice, depleting life force, a lonely deity, The Call Of Cthulhu role playing game, a temple ruin, an abandoned mine, a tiki-fetish, some ancient horrible power, maybe we’ve done wrong here,
And then my heartache returned, and I knew that I had driven something lovely and adorable from its last refuge on earth.
the last doorway, the model for this tower, the Great Zimbabwe, where could I read up on that?, a country house with a mock temple: “the folly“, druid orders, cheese rolling, a week later, keeping a secret, dropsy or yellow fever, the revenge of the land, disease, looking down on the tropics, three years, scarfe, natural beauty, that library, the moon of alabaster, the bird statuettes, turtle doves, green doves, auk-like bird carvings, everything is going extinct, the sin at the story’s end, the two-fisted action, shotguns make short work, the birds on the pyre, salting the earth, the Punic wars, improve on Josiah, dynamiting a priceless ancient temple, a “land without history”, purpose of visit: colonialism, sad but true, ancient ruins of Africa, ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, the character names all end in “son”: Lawson, Isaacson, Jobson (the factor), the Hudson’s Bay Company, the East India Company, wagons, more money than the Queen, Ming pots, a night watchman, the natives won’t go to the temple, local folk, indemnification, Adamson, half-English, Biblical naming, The Skids, Richard Jobson, Travers, Lowson, H.P. Lovecraft’s Supernatural Horror In Literature, building or rebuilding an ancestral home, The Moon Bog, The Rats In The Walls, they have the exact same structure, illness, lifted up into the sky, Ashtaroth the Moon goddess, Captain Norris, Magna Mater, Exham Priory, “what on Earth is going on here man?”, Out Of The Earth by Christine Campbell Thomson (aka Flavia Richardson), standing stones, mummy fiction, atavism, reverting to ancestral type, seeing things backwards, the industries that allow you to work, an inversion, an environmental horror story, silver bark, a beautiful image, Ishtar -> Ashtaroth, male and female spelling, an interest in weird fiction, one of the big names, scant detail, The Golden Bough, To The Devil A Daughter (1976), Astarte, a punny title, if this is a true story…, the covenant, the “Call of Ashtaroth”, the blood ritual, body horror, a psychic impasse, a taste, is there more than one force at work?, Of Withered Apples by Philip K. Dick, an apple tree, a bad farm, eating a withered apple is a bad move, the call of nature, it wants you, its using you, the last portal through, not of this Earth, a moonbeam, She by H. Rider Haggard, elegiac and wistful, a pleasure to read, layers and layers, old school weird fiction, layers of questioning and ambiguity, homages and reinterpretations, Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Alan Moore, Michael Moorcock, no clear lines, ambiguity comes to the fore, vs. early 20th century polemic, it would be an amazing comic book, visually stunning, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the albatross of The Thirty-Nine Steps, literary highways and byways, The Moon Endureth, Christopher Hitchens essays,
“In a remarkable short story, ‘The Grove of Ashtaroth,’ the hero finds himself obliged to destroy the gorgeous little temple of a sensual cult, because he believes that by doing so he will salvage the health and sanity of a friend. But he simultaneously believes himself to be committing an unpardonable act of desecration, and the eerie voice that beseeches him to stay his hand is unmistakably feminine.”
-Christopher Hitchens (The Atlantic Monthly, March 2004)
Posted by Jesse Willis
The 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.
Posted by Jesse Willis
Birds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories
By Megan Mayhew Bergman; Read by Cassandra Campbell
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 7 hours, 28 minutes
Publication Date: November 2012
Themes: / birds / animals / relationships / parents / cancer / literary /
An “astonishing debut collection, by a writer reminiscent of such greats as Alice Munro, Elizabeth Strout, and even Chekhov” (Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants), focusing on women navigating relationships with humans, animals, and the natural world. Exploring the way our choices and relationships are shaped by the menace and beauty of the natural world, Megan Mayhew Bergman’s powerful and heartwarming collection captures the surprising moments when the pull of our biology becomes evident, when love or fear collides with good sense, or when our attachment to an animal or wild place can’t be denied.
This book came out in print in March 2012, and the audiobook was new in November.
The title is apropos – while the stories aren’t about birds exactly, most of them do seem to include animals in some way – many birds, but also ferrets, dogs, sheep, cats, even a chinchilla.
The author is at her strongest when she writes about relationships, particularly when they have failed because of issues the people can’t control – death, disease, savior complex, you name it. The most powerful story to me was the first one – Housewifely Arts – that tells the story of a woman and her young son, driving to visit her deceased mother’s bird, just to hear her voice one more time. Wow. I will remember it for a long time. It also takes place in a city that I know well on the coast of South Carolina, which also brought it to life.
Yesterday’s Whales demonstrates what happens when your life deters from your Values, while Every Vein a Tooth demonstrates what can happen when you stick to them. Both are heartbreaking and memorable. The Right Company, with the weird salve of the obese food writer, is one story with unique, super southern characters.
The Artificial Heart was probably my least favorite story, because the vision it attempts of a post-fish dystopic Florida was not quite as successful as the painful realities of the other stories.
Most of the stories are set in the south, which is where Bergman grew up, with one set in Vermont where she lives now. The stories are read by Cassandra Campbell, who does a great job with subtle changes in accents, vocal tone, and pacing. (I’ve heard her before, as one of the readers for the Cloud Atlas audiobook.)
Posted by Jenny Colvin
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