The SFFaudio Podcast #334 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: The Birth-Mark by Nathaniel Hawthorne

September 14, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #334 – The Birth-Mark by Nathaniel Hawthorne; read by Fred Heimbaugh. This is an unabridged reading of the story (50 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse and Fred.

Talked about on today’s show:
The Pioneer, March 1843, a Hawthorne Poe fest, contemporaries, The Scarlet Letter, a quote by Poe about Hawthorne, the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, well known?, why this story Fred?, he’s obsessed with sin, sociopaths, trigger warnings, neurosis, shame, luck, shaped by sin, a mark upon the family, subconscious Freudian messages, Commentary Magazine, Why College Kids Are Avoiding the Study of Literature by Gary Saul Morson, textual density, vocab, Lovecraft poems, Fungi From Yuggoth poems, harbours, kids are now shuttled between school the home and the mall, ranting against Hawthorne, The House Of The Seven Gables, revolutions in 20th century literature, Ernest Hemingway, the show don’t tell revolution, Hawthorne is the telling-est teller who ever telled, the right attitude toward sin, the two facedness of people, Hawthorne is attacking late stage decadent Puritanism, a homosexual vibe, what is the lesson?, science reaches too far?, Gothic horror, the evil wizard or the mad scientist, science as the channel to unlimited power, elixirs, potions, not even futuristic, Georgiana, Aminadab?, where is this story set?, Aylmer’s castle, Aylmer’s wealth, a compartmentalized life, from the third person POV, the host narration, obsession, the left side, the sinister side, she’s been marked, in the dream, chemical means, pre-Darwin, “I’ve got these old books”, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a natural philosopher, science vs. alchemy vs. magic, Isaac Newton, almost as if he was Ben Franklin, electricity, many suitors, Aylmer’s wooing, is Aylmer gaslighting Georgiana?, she’s reading, a Medieval heroine, a character of of Greek mythology, is a sex-change story?, is this a boob-job story?, envy, the tips of two small fingers, she’s compared to a marble statue, small pox scars, Marilyn Monroe‘s beauty mark, does positioning matter?, Supernatural Horror And Literature by H.P. Lovecraft, a meditation on obsession, many uninteresting analysis, so little action, beyond the sexual interpretation, Hawthorne doesn’t seem all that prudish, how far can you go in purist of perfection in a fallen world, a mark of original sin, wanting knowledge (of good and evil?), the sin of disobedience, Frankenstein and Aylmer are reading the same books, the process of creating a man in Frankenstein, the lightning bolt, Luigi Galvani, grave-robbing, Paracelsus, the gold thing is your way of getting funding, when writing a grant…, this might lead to a cure for cancer(!), alchemy as a religion, The Cask Of Amontillado, Eric S. Rabkin, “the niter, it grows”, Montresor or Fortunato, niter, growing human shaped things inside of bottles, poisons, psychology and the occult, the difference between alchemy and science is openness, the Royal Society, Harry Potter’s school, there have to be muggles, magically oblivious, J.K. Rowling, natural greed, the ethic of sharing knowledge, France’s version of the Royal Society, like the obsession with “open source” or the “public domain”, The Oval Portrait by Edgar Allan Poe, sooo lifelike, sooo beautifully painted, Gothic horror, the evil mad scientist is destroyed by the power he unleashes, The Portrait Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, the ending, what is Hawthorne saying?, was Aylmer’s attempt doomed from the beginning?, Jesse’s mom, one of the most important powers of a teacher, she has “THE VOICE”, Muad’dib (Paul Atredies), Steve Jobs’ reality distortion field, a profound revelation, philosophy and critical thinking, vitamins are bullshit, fish oil woke Fred’s brain, North America has the world’s most expensive urine, religion wants you to take it on authority, bronze age holy texts, religion as book club where you only ever read one book (or just listen to a guy who did), cynicism or wisdom, loyalty to the organized religion of your family, inherited religions, fundamentalist belief systems, the narcissism of small differences, splintering, revolting revolutionaries, purity of doctrine, young earth creationists, Catholicism as an almost ethnicity (an identity), Hawthorne as a stopgap between H.G. Wells and Mary Shelley, the murky origins of Science Fiction, Dante, Lucifer frozen in the ice, a Gothic ghost story, Frankenstein’s obsession is with defeating death, too in love with science, Hawthorne’s message is like: “don’t drink too much”, Greek symposia, what really happened at a Greek symposium, “write drunk and edit sober”, The Odyssey, mixing water with wine, getting plastered is a sign on unmanning, the Greek obsession was with finding the moderation between too little and too much, what was Hephzibah’s sin?, her sin is being too worried about sin, “you will eat blood”, public shaming is a little much, be moderate with your casting of sin, John Wesley, a healthy functioning society, wealth corruption, falling into decadence, the protestant work ethic is kicking-in, Guggenheim, ransoming the grandchild, leaving it all to art, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Fred’s all time favourite Science Fiction novel: The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson, how do we raise the next generation?, a supercharged Kindle, matter compilers, Star Trek‘s replicator, eating green sludge, window panes made out of pure diamond, handmade hipsters, how you raise the next generation in a wealthy society, we are unimaginably wealthy, are Japan’s young people uninterested in sex?, Richard Dawkins on Twitter, The Last Question by Isaac Asimov, Gothic-y, Science-y, Microcosmic God by Theodore Sturgeon, a great inventor, Neoterics, he’s stealing their ideas, the ultimate mad scientist story, following in the tradition, somatoypes, ectomorph (Aylmer), mesomorph (Aminidab), endomorph (Jesse), it’s a scam!, Hillary Clinton, the Ronald Reagans of the world, this is astrology, people think that once you’ve got a word for something you understand it, wearing the mask long enough…, IQ tests, quantification, any time we think we understand the most complex thing in the universe…, there really is a subconscious, tweeting dreams, psychology, the book club with only one book in it, The Great Courses (The Teaching Company), Eric S. Rabkin, survey courses, kooky specializations, the best way to learn, the perennial student, taught not to learn, philosophy of art, credentialism, Jesse can guess the exact words in a student’s vocabulary, guess your weight or age, how Jesse gets work, gaming credentialism, no high school diploma, a contempt for institutionalized learning, a play-by-the-rules personality, grade inflation, what did Mussolini do?, intimidation vs. cultivation, give the students the experience of reading, reading as a meeting of minds, defending a dissertation, essays, we’re obsessed with essays (for the wrong reason), ohhh spoilers!, the big problem with almost any media, “I don’t want to spoil it for you.”, testing is easier, a kind of objectivity, don’t blame the actors for shitty Hollywood movies, status is society, education as the cultivation of minds, there aren’t enough people who are willing to rebel!

The Birth-Mark by Nathaniel Hawthorne - modified John Collier's "Laboratory", 1895

The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne - illustration by Lisa K. Weber

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #319 – READALONG: The Lord Of The Rings (Book 3 of 6) by J.R.R. Tolkien

June 1, 2015 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

TheSFFaudioPodcast600

The SFFaudio Podcast #319 – Jesse, Julie Davis, Seth, and Maissa continue their journey through The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien with a discussion of Book III “The Treason of Isengard” (aka the first half of The Two Towers).

Talked about on today’s show:
Lord of the Rings was published in three volumes instead of six volumes due to paper shortages; surprise, Jesse prefers shorter volumes; Ayn Rand’s thick books, and thin books like Anthem; pocket editions of The Hobbit; small books make us feel like giant Alice in Wonder characters; The Two Towers is the shortest volume, though Return of the King is bulked up by appendices; as a first-time reader, Maissa appreciated the quick pacing; Anthony Boucher’s review claims the volume makes “inordinate demands” on readers; overwhelming back history; the difference of reading review and reading for pleasure; reading at Shadowfax speed!; “hope is in speed”; the poetry of Tolkien’s prose; Anglo-Saxon influence on alliteration in Rohan speech; the beauty of Tolkien’s descriptions; Gimli’s descriptions of the caves; the illegitimate heirs of Tolkien can’t compete with Tolkien’s command of language; the Orcs as comic relief; three factions of Orcs set against the three races of runners; Legolas and Gimli working through their differences; evil by definition does not make alliances; Saruman’s cloak of many colors as a symbol of evil; the Orcs’ lack of coöperation; who is the wandering old man in the hat?; the contrast between the Orc draught and Ent draught, similar to Gandalf’s flask of Miruvor in Book II; the persistent symbolism of waters and drinking in this volume; similarities between Rohan and Anglo Saxon culture; linguistic parallels between the speech of the Rohirrim and Old English; “sister-daughter” and different familial relations in Rohan; the emerging importance of Éowyn; the underpopulation of Middle Earth; parallels between the Third Age of Middle Earth and Europe after the “fall” of Rome; Gondor = Rome to some Tolkien scholars; Dan Carlin’s Blueprint for Armageddon on World War I; the influence of World War I on Tolkien’s writing; flood and trench imagery of Orthanc recalls the devastation of World War I; Middle Earth (and the modern world) is in a time of transition; conversation with Éomer about the persistence of legends; “not we, but those who come after, will make the legends of our time”; people tend not to recognize they’re in a time of transition; Jesse deftly defines “Flotsam and Jetsam” for us and ties them into the book’s backward-looking and forward-looking symbolism; Tolkien’s love of etymology; action like the Ents’ storming of Isengard happens off-stage; Agatha Christie style foreshadowing with Longbottom Leaf; we don’t really care about Helm’s Deep; “Aragorn joined Éomer in the van”; horrible tree puns; Old Forest as the Fangorn of the West; we’re pretty sure the Entwives are hanging out there; the Elves are less interesting than Ents because the Elves are too perfect; the Elves talked the Ents into wakefulness; Shadowfax’s race of horses can understand the speech of men; the pre-speech age of human beings and Koko the gorilla; the Rangers are the detectives of Middle Earth; Voltaire’s Zadie and Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin from The Murders in the Rue Morgue; debate about existence of evidence for the Entwines–stay tuned to the next volume!; finding the Entwives = Mission Impossible (cue theme); the growth (in many ways) of Merry and Pippin; Gandalf’s foresight in allowing them to join the Fellowship; “they are the pebbles that began the avalanche of the Ents’ rising”; the three runners sped 220 kilometers in four days; it proved fortuitous that Pippin found the Palantir; the Palantir is FaceTime with Sauron; Merry and Pippin were key to Boromir’s redemption; return of the black swans–and the eagle!; Ariel in The Tempest by Shakespeare does all the work for Prospero, just like the eagles; Gandalf actually performs magic in “The Voice of Saruman” chapter; the voice in Dune; Gandalf takes over the council of wizards; the blue wizards aren’t present because they’re too “swear-y”; the recurring importance of choice; Tolkien is always on the side of free will; Aragorn’s decision not to follow Frodo; Palantir are the “seven stones” of Gondor’s flag; the Palantir is neither good nor evil; Palantir symbolizes communication of superpowers between the world wars, and the iconic red phone; The Victorian Internet by Tom Standee: the telegraph is the best thing since sliced bread; the lazy visual shortcuts that the movie takes with the Palantir and with Saruman’s influence on Théoden; The Man Who Never Was; meanwhile, Sam and Frodo are slogging through; the inevitable breaking of the Fellowship; the four elements in Gandalf’s death and resurrection; more Lovecraftian weirdness in the bowels of Middle Earth; Gandalf has changed; Norse worm gnawing at the roots of the World Tree; Treebeard as shepherd of the trees; “boom, boom, dahrar!; Net names tell the whole story of things; Freebeard’s bed isn’t for sleeping; Shakespeare’s disappointment at Shakespeare’s sleight-of-hand with the trees of Birnam Wood not actually coming to life in Macbeth; “fear not, till Birnam wood do come to Dunsinane” almost perfectly echoed in The Two Towers; nobody does Elves better than Tolkien; the joy Tolkien must have had writing about trees.

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“Aragorn and Legolas went now with Eomer in the van.”

AragornEomerVan

M.E.R.P. - Ents Of Fangorn
M.E.R.P. - Riders Of Rohan illustration by Angus McBride
Ballantine Books - The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien

By Seth Wilson

The SFFaudio Podcast #275 – READALONG: Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

July 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #275 – Jesse and Mr Jim Moon discuss Ivanhoe: A Romance by Sir Walter Scott

Talked about on today’s show:
1820, the Tantor Media audiobook as read by Simon Prebble, 3 comic book adaptations!, the July 2014 BBC Radio 4 adaptation (1hr), General Mills Radio Adventure Theater, immensely important, Wamba and Gurth, looking at adaptations, refinement, Robin Hood (1973), the splitting of the arrow, a willow wand, daring-do fiction, archery, folktale, Will Scarlet splits the arrow in the Queen Katherine Ballad, the historical inaccuracies, Rob Roy, a plump text, King Richard and Friar Tuck, The Merchant Of Venice by William Shakespeare, a very Shakespearean novel, pithy and punchy, dialogue and banter, The Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, fully motivated characters, Athelstane, colour cloaks, where does Isaac stat at Ashby?, Chapter 2 Gurth is “this second Eumaeus”, Ivanhoe is a retelling of Odysseus’ return to Ithaca, the usurpation, the governance of Scotland, the Saxons as the Scots under the English yoke, Loxley, Prince John, King John, Magna Carta, robber barons, Brian de Bois-Guilbert (wants Rebecca), Reginald Front-de-Boeuf, “Front of Beef” (wants Isaac’s money), Maurice de Bracy (wants Rowena), war and God, the 1997 BBC TV adaptation of Ivanhoe, an Arthurian style obsession, the reconciliation, Athelstane is almost a Hobbit, Athelstane death is a comedic version of a Guy de Maupassant or Edgar Allan Poe premature burial story, The Fall Of The House Of Usher done as farce, Monty Python And the Holy Grail, surprisingly few deaths, “boys own adventure”, The A-Team, Ulrica’s death, the the Waverley Novels, almost a Fantasy, magic, The Prisoner Of Zenda, venison, the Douglas Fairbanks Robin Hood, the Black Knight – who could it be?, how easy would the disguises be seen through in 1820, bigger than Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, stage adaptations, Waverley places around the world, Abbotsford, British Columbia is named (in part) after Sir Walter Scott’s home, Ivanhoe’s popularity in the southern United States, invasion, slavery and chivalry, underselling the power of fiction (as compared with non-fiction), On The Origin Of Species by Charles Darwin, The Communist Manifesto, Tolkien, understanding fiction, the revelation of truth through fiction, novels were once quite novel, the need for novels, models of action, 1984 changes, helps and improves you, “what is honorable action?”, the power of oaths, rapacious acquisition vs. honorable service, the destruction of the Templars, banishment was a harsh punishment, an obsession with love, Rebecca is the female Ivanhoe, the role of the Jews in the book vs. the adaptations, banking, this is not an anti-Semitic book (shockingly), the coin counting scene, the roasting scene, Friar Tuck is super-anti-Semitic, Churchill’s background, why is it that English were not as anti-Semitic as most of Europe?, a zeitgeisty historical novel, looking at the present through a historical lens, puffy, the level of intellect is very high – the etymology of pig, Lincoln Green, the final battle, a powerfully intellectual book for a piece of fiction, mid-19th century fiction isn’t as punchy, wit and intelligence in peasant characters, J.K. Rowling must have read Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott’s was “the Wizard Of The North”, Cedric <-the name comes from this book, "freelance" <-lances for hire, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, Robin Hood (Ridley Scott), Robin Hood’s nom de guerre, ITV’s Robin Of Sherwood <- both Robin Hood mythologies are in it!, the "Dread Pirate Roberts", a good knight but a bad king, pagan gods, Herne the Hunter, Ivanhoe popularized the Middle Ages, Arthurian scholarship, folk customs, the ancient Egypt craze, A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain, a big powerful book, A Song Of Ice And Fire is kind of the anti-Ivanhoe, the Dunk And Egg stories, surprisingly modern, the symmetry of Ivanhoe, a tonic for gallstones, HBO should commission Ivanhoe, the 1952 version, the 1982 version, Ciarán Hinds, Mark Hamill, Kevin Costner vs. Alan Rickman, a noir ending averted.

Rebecca and Ivanhoe - illustration by C.E. Brock (1905)

Ivanhoe illustrated by Clarence Leonard Cole (1914)

Ivanhoe illustrated by Maurice Greiffenhagen

Ivanhoe illustrated by Maurice Greiffenhagen

Ivanhoe illustrated by Maurice Greiffenhagen

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens

September 23, 2012 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Reviews, SFFaudio essential 

SFFaudio Review

Hachette Audio - Arguably: Essays by Christopher HitchensArguably: Essays
By Christopher Hitchens; Read by Simon Prebble
24 CDs – Approx. 28.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Published: September 1, 2011
ISBN: 9781611139068
Themes: / Non-fiction / History / War / Biography / Science Fiction / Fantasy / Iran / Afghanistan / Germany / North Korea / France / Dystopia / Utopia / Religion / Tunisia / Piracy / Terrorism / Feminism / Pakistan /

The first new collection of essays by Christopher Hitchens since 2004, Arguably offers an indispensable key to understanding the passionate and skeptical spirit of one of our most dazzling writers, widely admired for the clarity of his style, a result of his disciplined and candid thinking. Topics range from ruminations on why Charles Dickens was among the best of writers and the worst of men to the haunting science fiction of J.G. Ballard; from the enduring legacies of Thomas Jefferson and George Orwell to the persistent agonies of anti-Semitism and jihad. Hitchens even looks at the recent financial crisis and argues for arthe enduring relevance of Karl Marx. The audio book forms a bridge between the two parallel enterprises of culture and politics. It reveals how politics justifies itself by culture, and how the latter prompts the former. In this fashion, Arguably burnishes Christopher Hitchens’ credentials as-to quote Christopher Buckley-our “greatest living essayist in the English language.”

Here’s a question I was thinking about while listening to Arguably.

What is fiction for?

One answer, the bad one, is that it’s for entertainment. That’s certainly where many readers are willing go, and the fiction writers who write it too. Maybe that’s precisely why so much fiction is just so very shitty.

To me, if you aren’t exploring ideas in your fiction, then you really aren’t serving a greater purpose. Idea fiction, fiction with ideas rather than just action and plot, is to my mind a kind of supplement to the wisdom found in writings on history, biography and science.

Of the many lessons learned I in listening to the 107 essays in Arguably I was particularly struck by the wisdom Christopher Hitchens gleaned from his reading of fiction. Hitchens reviews many books in this collection, nearly half of the essays are book reviews. Books like 1984, Animal Farm, Flashman, The Complete Stories Of J.G. Ballard, Our Man In Havana, and even, surprisingly, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows all get fascinating, critical, and reverent reviews.

Yet Hitchens also takes the lessons with him into his writing about his travels. Hitchens writes about visits to such places as North Korea, Cyprus, Afghanistan, and Kurdish Iraq. When talking about his visit to Beirut we see what comes when Hitchens, a man of ideas, acts upon them. The essay, The Swastika and the Cedar sees the convictions of the commited anti-fascist Hitchens beaten and nearly kidnapped for an act of vandalism on a prominently displayed swastika. Writes Hitchens:

“Well, call me old-fashioned if you will, but I have always taken the view that swastika symbols exist for one purpose only—to be defaced.”

In a review of two books, Lolita and The Annotated Lolita, Hitchens applies the controversial subject in a real life look at the modern, and very non-fictional oppression and objectification of women. Indeed, the ideas he appreciated in fiction helped Hitchens to come to grips with the real world.

I think the worst essay in this collection is the one on the serving of wine and restaurants, Wine Drinkers Of The World, Unite. It was simply a waste of the talent, too light, too easy a target. And yet, even that essay, the worst essay in all 107 has a memorable anecdote: “Why,” asks Hitchens’ five year old son, “are they called waiters? It’s we who are doing all the waiting.”

As to the narration of the audiobook. I’m ashamed to admit that I was initially dismayed when I saw that Christopher Hitchens had not narrated this audiobook himself. I was wrong to worry. Incredibly, Simon Prebble seems to have have become Hitchens for this narration. Prebble perfectly captures the erudite words, so eloquently performs them, and with an accent so like that of Hitchens’ own so as to make me think that it was Hitchens who had actually read it.

I think the worst essay in this collection is the one on the serving of wine and restaurants, Wine Drinkers Of The World, Unite. It was simply a waste of the talent, too light, too easy a target. And yet, even that essay, the worst essay in all 107 has a memorable anecdote: “Why,” asks Hitchens’ five year old son, “are they called waiters? It’s we who are doing all the waiting.”

Here’s a list of the book’s contents, with links to the original etexts when available, along with my own notes on each:

ALL AMERICAN
Gods Of Our Fathers: The United States Of Enlightenment – a review of Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers by Brooke Allen

The Private Jefferson – a review of Jefferson’s Secrets: Death And Desire At Monticello by Andrew Burstein

Jefferson Vs. The Muslim Pirates – a review of Power, Faith, And Fantasy: America In The Middle East: 1776 To The Present by Michael B. Oren

Benjamin Franklin: Free And Easy – a review of Benjamin Franklin Unmasked: On the Unity of His Moral, Religious, And Political Thought by Jerry Weinberger

John Brown: The Man Who Ended Slavery – a review of John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked The Civil War, And Seeded Civil Rights by David S. Reynolds

Abraham Lincoln: Misery’s Child (aka Lincoln’s Emancipation) – a review of Abraham Lincoln: A Life by Michael Burlingame

Mark Twain: American Radical – a scathing review of The Singular Mark Twain: A Biography by Fred Kaplan

Upton Sinclair: A Capitalist Primer – a review of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

JFK: In Sickness And By Stealth – a review of An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963 by Robert Dallek

Saul Bellow: The Great Assimilator – review of six novels by Saul Bellow (The Dangling Man, The Victim, The Adventures Of Augie March, Seize The Day, Henderson The Rain King, and Herzog)

Vladimir Nabokov: Hurricane Lolita – reviews of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and The Annotated Lolita edited and annotated by Alfred Appel, Jr.

John Updike: No Way – a review of The Terrorist by John Updike (with reference to The Coup too)

John Updike: Mr. Geniality
– a critical review of the affable Due Considerations: Essays And Considerations by John Updike

Vidal Loco – Gore Vidal went crazier, more elitist and perhaps more racist as he got older (with attention and quips for Quentin Crisp and Oscar Wilde and Joyce Carol Oates)

America The Banana Republic – Hitchens on the “socialistic” bank bailout of 2008 (“socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the rest”)

An Anglosphere Future – a review of The History Of The English Speaking Peoples by Andrew Roberts (with reference to both Sherlock Holmes and The White Company by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as well as to Cecil Rhodes and Rudyard Kipling)

Political Animals – a review of Dominion: The Power Of Man, The Suffering Of Animals, And The Call To Mercy by Matthew Scully

Old Enough To Die – on capital punishment as applied to children

In Defense Of Foxhole Atheists
– a visit to the United States Air Force Academy and the tax funded proselytizing

In Search Of The Washington Novel – a search for some good fiction about Washington, D.C.

ECLECTIC AFFINITIES
Isaac Newton: Flaws Of Gravity – a stroll through the medieval streets of Cambridge with the scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers who worked there

The Men Who Made England: Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” – a review of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Edmund Burke: Reactionary Prophet – a review of Reflections On The Revolution In France by Edmund Burke

Samuel Johnson: Demons And Dictionaries
– a review of Samuel Johnson: A Biography by Peter Martin

Gustave Flaubert: I’m With Stupide – a review of Bouvard et Pécuchet by Gustave Flaubert translated by Mark Polizzotti

The Dark Side Of Dickens
– a review of Charles Dickens by Michael Slater a biography (Hitchens was a not uncritical admirer of the subject)

Marx’s Journalism: The Grub Street Years – a glowing review of Dispatches for the New York Tribune: Selected Journalism Of Karl Marx edited by James Ledbetter, foreword by Francis Wheen (Marx admired the United States, and other fascinating facts about the father of communism)

Rebecca West: Things Worth Fighting For – an introduction to Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia by Rebecca West

Ezra Pound: A Revolutionary Simpleton – a review of Ezra Pound, Poet: A Portrait Of The Man And His Work: Volume I: The Young Genius, 1885-1920 by A. David Moody (a biography of the fascist poet)

On “Animal Farm” – an introduction to Animal Farm

Jessica Mitford’s Poison Pen – a review of Decca: The Letters Of Jessica Mitford edited by Peter Y. Sussman

W. Somerset Maugham: Poor Old Willie – a review of W. Somerset Maugham: A Life by Jeffery Meyers

Evelyn Waugh: The Permanent Adolescent – a look at the enigmatic life, writing, religion, and sexuality of Evelyn Waugh

P.G. Wodehouse: The Honorable Schoolboy – a review of Wodehouse: A Life by Robert McCrum

Anthony Powell: An Omnivorous Curiosity – a review of To Keep The Ball Rolling: The Memoirs Of Anthony Powell

John Buchan: Spy Thriller’s Father – a review of John Buchan The Presbyterian Cavalier by David R. Godine (with discussion of The 39 Steps and a fantasy novelette The Grove Of Ashtaroth)

Graham Greene: I’ll Be Damned – a review of The Life Of Graham Green: Volume II: 1939-1955 by Norman Sherry

Death From A Salesman: Graham Greene’s Bottle Ontology – an introduction to Our Man In Havana by Graham Greene

Loving Philip Larkin (aka Philip Larkin, the Impossible Man) – a review of Philip Larkin: Letters To Monica edited by Anthony Thwaite

Stephen Spender: A Nice Bloody Fool – a review of Stephen Spender: The Authorized Biography by John Sutherland

Edward Upward: The Captive Mind – a look at the British novelist and short story Edward Upward

C.L.R. James: Mid Off, Not Right On – a review of Cricket, The Caribbean, And World Revolution by Farrukh Dhondy

J.G. Ballard: The Catastrophist – a review of The Complete Stories Of J.G. Ballard

Fraser’s Flashman: Scoundrel Time – a look at the George MacDonald Fraser series of Flashman books and the connection with The Adventure Of The Empty House

Fleet Street’s Finest: From Waugh To Frayn – an essay on the dubious romance of journalism

Saki: Where The Wild Things Are – a review of The Unbearable Saki: The Work of H.H. Munro by Sandie Byrne

Harry Potter: The Boy Who Lived – a review of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

AMUSEMENTS, ANNOYANCES, AND DISAPPOINTMENTS
Why Women Aren’t Funny – a controversial essay on why more comedians are male and why women laugh at them the way they do

Stieg Larsson: The Author Who Played With Fire – a look at the phenomenon of the bestselling author of The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo

As American As Apple Pie – a literary and chronological history of the blowjob, with reference to Valdamir Nobokov’s Lolita

So Many Men’s Rooms, So Little Time – a fascinatingly insightful argument on what’s was going on with the Larry Craig bathroom airport scandal and related phenomena

The New Commandments – deconstructing the Ten Commandments

In Your Face – are bans on burqas and veils actually bans, or are they liberation?

Wine Drinkers Of The World, Unite – ill mannered waiters are ruining the business of wine drinking

Charles, Prince Of Piffle – a damning look at the prince who shouldn’t be king

OFFSHORE ACCOUNTS
Afghanistan’s Dangerous Bet – a visit to Afghanistan, it’s all about the women

First, Silence The Whistle-Blower – is there any hope for democracy in Afghanistan?

Believe Me, It’s Torture – a report on what it’s like to be water-boarded

Iran’s Waiting Game – a visit to Iran and a meeting with Hussein Khomeini the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini

Long Live Democratic Seismology – on democracy, Chile, Iran, and earthquakes

Benazir Bhutto: Daughter Of Destiny – a personal remembrance of the brave liar, Benazir Bhutto

From Abbottabad To Worse – an explanation for the existence of Pakistan as the U.S.A.’s worst best friend

The Perils Of Partition – on what dividing a country does to it (it’s like a man with a broken leg – he can think of nothing else)

Algeria: A French Quarrel – a review of A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 by Alistair Horne

The Case Of Orientalism (aka East Is East) – a review of Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and Its Discontents by Robert Irwin

Edward Said: Where The Twain Should Have Met – a review of Orientalism by Edward Said

The Swastika And The Cedar – a visit to “the Arab street”

Holiday In Iraq – Hitchens on holiday in Kurdish Iraq: it’s lovely

Tunisia: At The desert’s Edge – a lavish and lengthy visit to Africa’s gentlest country

What Happened To The Suicide Bombers Of Jerusalem? – why is no one writing about the dog that didn’t bark?

Childhood’s End: An African Nightmare – on Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army

The Vietnam Syndrome – on the horrific effects of Agent Orange and the legacies of dioxin

Once Upon A Time In Germany – a review of the movie The Baader Meinhof Complex, it explores the origins of The Red Army Faction

Worse Than “Nineteen Eighty-Four” – North Korea is a slave state seemingly modeled on 1984

North Korea: A Nation of Racist Dwarfs – a visit to North Korea

The Eighteenth Brumaire Of The Castro Dynasty – a look at the Castro regime’s familial coup

Hugo Boss – a visit to Venezuela with Sean Penn and a meeting with Hugo Chávez – he’s nuts

Is The Euro Doomed? – what will be the fate of Europe’s common currency?

Overstating Jewish Power – In the Israeli American relationship who’s pulling who’s strings?

The Case For Humanitarian Intervention – a review of Freedom’s Battle: The Origins Of Humanitarian Intervention by Gary J. Bass

LEGACIES OF TOTALITARIANISM
Victor Serge: Pictures From An Inquisition – reviews of The Case Of Comrade Tulayev and Memoirs Of A Revolutionary by Victor Serge

André Malraux: One Man’s Fate – a review of Malraux: A Life by Olivier Todd, translated by Joseph West

Arthur Koestler: The Zealot – a review of Koestler: The Literary And Political Odyssey Of A Twentieth-Century Skeptic by Michael Scammell

Isabel Allende: Chile Redux – an introduction to The House Of The Spirits by Isabel Allende

The Persian Version – a review of Strange Times, My Dear: The PEN Anthology Of Contemporary Iranian Literature edited by Nahid Mozaffari

Martin Amis: Lightness At Midnight – a review of Koba The Dread: Laughter And The Twenty Million by Martin Amis

Imagining Hitler – the problem of evil, and Hitler, with reference to Explaining Hitler by Ron Rosenbaum and Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris by Ian Kershaw

Victor Klemperer: Survivor

A War Worth Fighting – a persuasively systematic review of Churchill, Hitler And The Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost Its Empire And The West Lost The World by Pat Buchanan

Just Give Peace A Chance? – a critical review of Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker

W.G. Sebald: Requiem For Germany – a review of On The Natural History Of Destruction by W.G. Sebald

WORDS’ WORTH
When The King Saved God – for the love of the King James version

Let Them Eat Pork Rinds – Berthold Brecht, Charles Dickens and various other sources inform Hitch’s view of the Hurricane Katrina relief disaster

Stand Up For Denmark! – a still timely plea for preferring free speech to religious tolerance

Eschew The Taboo – on the banning of words, particularly the word “nigger”

She’s No Fundamentalist – a spirited defense of Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Burned Out – the verb “fuel” is fueled by journalistic sloppiness

Easter Charade – on life and death and Terri Schiavo

Don’t Mince Words – the disenfranchisement of south Asians in Britain isn’t the cause of bombings, hatred of women is.

History And Mystery – al-Qaeda in Iraq, jihadists, or “insurgents”? Do words matter? Of course they bloody well do.

Words Matter – political slogans make of “every adult in the country” an “illiterate jerk who would rather feel than think”

This Was Not Looting – how can a government “loot” it’s own weapons manufacturing facility? The government of Iraq managed it according to The New York Times.

The “Other” L-Word – a lighthearted piece on the prominence of the word “like” and it’s use

The You Decade – what’s wrong with you (marketing to the selfish)

Suck It Up – the Virginia Tech shootings prompted the wrong response from the world (namely that it prompted one)

A Very, Very Dirty Word – the English empire, in centuries to come, may only be remembered for soccer and the phrase “fuck off”

Prisoner Of Shelves – on the indispensability of books

Posted by Jesse Willis

LibriVox: The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe

August 4, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

LibriVoxIn my reading about The Frozen Pirate, back in 2010, I discovered that Edgar Allan Poe’s The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar was possibly the first account of suspended animation.

I normally mention The Case Of M. Valdemar as part of a set lecture I give, explaining to my students why root words are important. I start by asking them if they’ve read any Harry Potter. They usually have, and that’s when I point out that they know, just from the sound of his name, that Voledemort is a bad guy. I point out that J.K. Rowling chose this name carefully, even pointing out that “Voldemort is pronounced with a silent ‘t’ at the end, as is common in French.” I point out that Draco Malfoy’s name too, is just as connotatively powerful. Then I point out that J.K. Rowling didn’t invent these names in a vacuum. I point to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar.

Hypnosis itself is a somewhat mysterious psychological phenomenon. It arose from the proto-psychological work of the 18th century physician Franz Mesmer. For those in the know “mesmerism” and “animal magnetism” had, by the time of Poe, lost most of their occult mystique. But for the general public, even today, there is a left-over supernatural feel – to the phenomenon – owing in part to the the strangeness of the phenomenon itself, and in part to Poe’s stories about it.

Etymologically the word itself, “hypnosis”, takes its name from Greek – “Hypnos” meaning “sleep” and the suffix “-osis” meaning “disorder” or “abnormal state”.

LIBRIVOX - The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan PoeThe Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar
By Edgar Allan Poe; Read by Gregg Margarite
1 |MP3| – Approx. 22 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: August 12, 2009
In an attempt to halt rumors surrounding a widely publicized incident, the author gives the facts about a grisly experiment in mesmerism that he recently conducted. First published in the December 20, 1845, issue of the Broadway Journal.

Here’s a |PDF| version of the story as taken from the April 1926 issue of Amazing Stories (the very first issue).

The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar - illustration by Irv Docktor

The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar - illustrated by Harry Clarke

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Hounded by Kevin Hearne

December 6, 2011 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

YA Fantasy Audiobook - Hounded by Hounded: The Iron Druid Chronicles
By Kevin Hearne; Read by Luke Daniels
8 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: 2011
Themes: / Fantasy / YA / Druids / Occult / Werewolves / Vampires /

This is the first of a hugely popular YA series, highly recommended by a friend and, luckily for me, available as a review book from SFFaudio.

Here’s the brief summary for those who, like me, hadn’t heard of this book:

Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old — when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer. Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down…

The book begins with verve as Atticus is a charming narrator who introduces us to his friends, who are mainly from the supernatural world. We meet Druid gods, local werewolves, a Viking vampire, the local coven of witches, and Atticus’s Irish wolfhound, Oberon, with whom Atticus can carry on mental conversations. There are few genuine humans in Atticus’s life and none are developed beyond a paltry few amusing characteristics, such as the Irish widow who likes to get drunk before going to Mass and forgives murder on her lawn if she is told the victims were British. The most likable character in the group is the dog Oberon who is charmingly focused on doggish things and has just enough understanding of Atticus’s world to offer his own solutions from time to time.

My initial attraction to the story soon ground to a halt. The problem with this book, and it is a large problem, is that Atticus is a perpetual Peter Pan character. His emotional development seems to be frozen at several years younger than his outward 21 years since a heaving bosom is all it takes to permanently distract him from whatever he’s doing. Pity. One would have hoped that 2,100 years of living would result in a certain amount of experience leading to wisdom. Instead, Atticus spends more time in a practical joke on an ambulance attendant than in thinking through how much he should have healed himself from a bullet wound to make it seem convincing to local law enforcement. That’s ok though because Atticus has friends and allies who unfailingly show up to give an easy solution without readers ever feeling that Atticus himself is too worries about the outcome. This leads to a permanent lack of dramatic tension.

It’s a pity there isn’t a “Wendy” to accompany Atticus’s “Peter Pan.” That would give Hounded the necessary depth and contrast. Now we can see how wise J.M. Barrie was in the construction of his tale. Without a truly human element who lacks control of the situation, all the adventures are one boring episode after another with nary a worry about how Atticus will escape.

The one good thing about this book is the narrator, Luke Daniels. I haven’t come across him before but will keep an eye out for him in the future. His talents kept me listening long past the point where I would have given up. His voicing of Oberon has found its way into my head whenever we “speak” for what our dogs in our household.

Sadly, Daniels’ talents aren’t enough to make this shallow story worth your time. There are many wonderful YA stories out there that are worth reading and rereading: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman, White Cat by Holly Black, and Assam and Darjeeling by T.M. Camp are just a few.

For that matter, try Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. You’ll see what Hounded could have been with proper attention given to the storytelling.

Posted by Julie D.

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