The SFFaudio Podcast #409 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: The Grove Of Ashtaroth by John Buchan

February 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
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Podcast

The Grove Of Ashtaroth by John Buchan
The SFFaudio PodcastThe 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)

The Grove Of Ashtaroth by John Buchan illustrated by Jesse

Astarte

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Last Call by Tim Powers

September 11, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Last Call by Tim PowersLast Call
By Tim Powers; Read by Bronson Pinchot
16 CDs – Approx. 19.1 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: December 2010
ISBN: 9781441757364
Themes: / Fantasy / Gambling / Immortality / Las Vegas / Poetry / Arthurian Legend / Greek Mythology / Egyptian Mythology

Scott Crane abandoned his career as a professional poker player twenty years ago and hasn’t returned to Las Vegas, or held a hand of cards, in ten years. But troubling nightmares about a strange poker game he once attended on a houseboat on Lake Mead are drawing him back to the magical city. For the mythic game he believed he won did not end that night in 1969—and the price of his winnings was his soul. Now, a pot far more strange and perilous than he ever could imagine depends on the turning of a card. Enchantingly dark and compellingly real, this World Fantasy Award–winning novel is a masterpiece of magic realism set in the gritty, dazzling underworld known as Las Vegas.

Tim Powers’ Last Call (1992 William Morrow and Co.; 2010 Blackstone Audio, Inc.) is studded with references to old myths, snatches of T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland,” the art of poker playing, and the unique culture and atmosphere of old and new Las Vegas. It contains numerous major and minor characters, overarching themes and subplots, and digressions into probability theory. In other words, it demands close reading and attention to detail. Listening to it in half-hour chunks as I did while driving to work was probably not the best idea, and may have affected my review of the book, but what follows is an honest appraisal.

There’s a lot to like in Last Call, and I lot I liked. At its heart it’s really about the vast, mysterious forces driving the universe and the ways in which they manifest in our lives. Why does tragedy pass over a criminal and take a good person instead? Why does a disease like cancer randomly strike a family man with a wife and children to support? Although life appears chaotic and meaningless, perhaps there are active, purposeful forces of fate at work as well, old gods that exist outside our typical suburban lives but can be sought out and appealed to, and even manipulated. In Last Call Powers breathes new life into ancient myths like the Arthurian Fisher King, the Greek god Dionysus, and the Egyptian goddess Isis, incorporating themes of resurrection and physical health tied to spiritual health. These ancient demigods reappear in the forms of unlikely modern-day characters, including broken-down ex-gambler Scott Crane and his estranged foster-sister Diana. Last Call also includes a cast of memorable bad guys, including a bloated fat hit man Trumbull who is convinced that eternal life can be had through the consumption of raw flesh, and the chief baddie Georges Leon, a mystic who achieves immortality through stealing and possessing the bodies of the living. Crane is the central figure in the story, a man who in 1969 played a portentous game of Assumption with a powerful set of tarot cards. Twenty years later Crane returns for a second game against Leon with nothing less than his soul on the line.

Last Call is ultimately a hopeful book, as it implies that there may be a purpose to our lives and a way to control one’s destiny, if you can read the cards and master the archetypes of the Tarot. In Powers’ hands playing cards are a metaphor for the mysteries of life and the skill and luck required to navigate its uncertain waters.

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods employs a similar conceit of old gods reincarnated in the modern world but I must say I enjoyed Gaiman’s take better. Powers is a talented writer and I enjoyed his descriptions of the seedy soul of Las Vegas, as well as some memorable set-pieces he creates, including an encounter with the ghost of the infamous gangster Bugsy Siegel beneath the waters of Lake Mead. But the slow pace of the narrative, the meandering plotline, the too-numerous characters and plotlines that drop in and out of the story without sufficient explanation and resolution (Crane’s wife Susan, for example), and tedious descriptions of card game after card game make Last Call a difficult listen and at times an outright chore, despite the fine narration by Bronson Pinchot.

Perhaps my lukewarm reaction to Last Call has something to do with the fact that I I’m not a fan of card playing; Vegas is a cool place to visit and I’ve tried my hand at a few slot machines, but sitting down at a table in the company of hardcore gamblers has zero appeal for me. If you read Last Call watch closely for the signs, the subtle flush of cheek or restless eyes that the best card players know how to detect and interpret. As for casual readers: Beware.

Posted by Brian Murphy

The SFFaudio Podcast #136 – READALONG: Neuromancer by William Gibson

November 28, 2011 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #136 – Jesse, Tamahome, Eric S. Rabkin, and Jenny talk about Neuromancer by William Gibson.

Talked about on today’s show:
What was really going on in 1984, the introduction to the audiobook, 3 MB of RAM, Commodore 64, Apple IIe, TI-99/4A, the 10 Year Anniversary Edition of Neuromancer, video arcade vs. arcade, Tank War Europa, Spy Hunter, Sinistar, BBC audio drama adaptation of Neuromancer, cyberpunk, Jenny couldn’t connect with Case the first time, Alfred Bester, the revolutionary effect of Neuromancer, “a very special book”, Mexico City, “an important novel”, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, The New Yorker’s parody of Neuromancer, the New Wave, “one great new idea per book”, Samuel “Chip” Delany, The Einstein Intersection, The Lovesong Of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot, “The sky above the port…”, Blade Runner, “time to murder and create”, Hesiod, “And he never saw Molly again.”, an untethered morality, the Rastafarian religion, WWI, virtual worlds, Second Life, Gibson’s intentions, Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, conspiracy, The Crying Of Lot 49, William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch, “the silent frequency of junk”, The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, Dorothy’s shoes, L. Frank Baum, “the face of evil is the face of total need”, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe, “slouching through the streets of Paris”, Case is a “man of decided inaction”, God was Adam’s employer, Dixie Flatline wants to die, Free Will, Eric felt for Case, 1980s, Watergate, a totemic fascination with color and material, branding, Pattern Recognition, the Sanyo spacesuit, Hosaka is a computer?, a dead channel would be blue (today), Ian Fleming, James Bond, Walther PPK, “elegance and cosmopolitanism”, John Brunner’s Stand On Zanzibar, Escape From New York, Johnny Mnemonic, the fear of what technology is going to bring, Case’s youth, detritus vs. kipple, Philip K. Dick, Martian Time-Slip, Galactic Pot-Healer, “you can’t prove that the United States exists” in Neuromancer, Case was a street-kid, Gibson has built something that has mythic power, the lame Braun robot, Molly -> Mother -> Mary, SSN vs. SIN, a Case study (pun), he has been assigned a SIN, Oedipus, they function as if they were physical, Case: “You know you repeat yourself man.” Dixie: “Yeah, it’s my nature.”, the Sprawl trilogy and “when it changed”, when is Neuromancer set?, “a rich kid’s hideout”, real kipple vs. fake kipple, “built by carpenters to look rustic”, 18th century fake ruins, Versailles (and the Hameau de la reine), the Tessier-Ashpool are fucked up, Mona Lisa Overdrive, cloning, Count Zero, “they dumped themselves into this matrix”, communication technologies begin with porn, A Chorus Line, SimStim gets short shrift in Neuromancer, Strange Days, Molly’s meat-puppet memories, 1-900 numbers, the lotus eaters, Circe, the Sirens song, The Lion of Comarre by Arthur C. Clarke, the heisters are motivated or moved by their A.I. puppet-master, Case’s motivation, Molly’s motivation, Corto/Armitage’s motivation, like Rabbit in Vernor Vinge’s Rainbow’s End, these characters want to believe in their own free will, Neuromancer‘s motivation, “who’s the bad guy in this book?”, “who isn’t?”, the shuriken is the only moral totem in the book, dystopia vs. dystopic, “the wavelength of amphetamine”, spit instead of cry, Jenny is kind of cheating (because she’s read the sequels), is Molly wrong for Case?, Eric questions the new pancreas, it’s Noir (because everyone smokes), Jo Walton’s review of Neuromancer (see the top and comment 59.), Jesse appreciates the world (and the great motivation of the plot), Eric likes Case (in part) because he’s the only one who doesn’t want to physically hurt anyone else, O’Neil colony, the fake French youths, Case is not Neo, The Matrix is a fairy tale with a prophecy whereas Neuromancer is Science Fiction, the Sprawl Trilogy vs. The Matrix Trilogy, Star Wars, “stuck in bullet time”, V: For Vendetta is a fantastic movie, Jenny thinks we should listen to the soundtrack to The Matrix, “the machine and the moment”, Tama thought the second half of Neuromancer dragged, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is also Necromancer‘s antecedent ,”what do we owe to what we create?”

Neuromancer

Julian Assange has a copy of Neuromancer by William Gibson

Posted by Jesse Willis