Review of Edgar Allan Poe Collection, Volumes 9 and 10

June 25, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Horror Audiobook - Deus Et Machina by Edgar Allan PoeDeus Et Machina
By Edgar Allan Poe; Read by Christopher Aruffo
4 CDs – 4.5 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Acoustic Learning
Published: 2009
ISBN: 9780980058161
 
 
Horror Audiobook - The Pioneers by Edgar Allan PoeThe Pioneers
By Edgar Allan Poe; Read by Christopher Aruffo
6 CDs – 7.5 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Acoustic Learning
Published: 2009
ISBN: 9780980058154
 
 
Themes: / Horror / Science fiction / Travelogue / Angels / Space Travel / Hot Air Balloons / Alchemy /

We don’t know Poe. The mad success of his weird fiction, combined with the myth of his erratic lifestyle, supply more than 90% of what we think we know about Edgar Allan. But was he really erratic, obsessed and disturbed? And even if he was, is that the whole story?

The folks at poeaudio.com are attempting to tell something close to the whole story of Poe with a series called the Edgar Allan Poe Audiobook Collection. In multiple volumes, the greats of the Poe prose oeuvre—your Rue Morgues, your House of Ushers and your Masques of the Red Death—are read with histrionic flair by actor Christopher Aruffo. Here, however, we review volumes 9 (The Pioneers) and 10 (Deus et Machina) which contain lesser-known works.

These two volumes bring out into the fresh air some of the more musty trunks from the attics of Poe’s cobwebbed mind. They will be of thrilling interest to Poe fans and scholars with completest proclivities. For the rest of us, they are of mixed interest. I’ll let you know which tracks are worth a listen.

Vol. 9, The Pioneers gathers together writings about travel. Some pieces are journalistic descriptions of underappreciated natural scenery in the United States; these are of mild interest. “The Journal of Julius Rodman” purports to be the journal of an explorer who became the first white man to cross the Rocky Mountains; this hoax, written by Poe, is a rather dull read to anyone not fooled by its true origin. (And worse, it stands unfinished.)

“The Balloon-Hoax” does a better job of passing its truth-in-labeling test, and describes the crossing of the Atlantic by a famous aeronaut which never happened. (What’s with all these hoaxes? Orson Wells, eat your heart out.) Again, the lack of any suspense on the part of the present-day audience renders this story uncompelling. Better read the history of these two stories than the stories themselves.

The one really interesting work of volume 9 is “The Unparalleled Adventure of Hans Pfaal”, an novella about a balloon ride—no kidding—from the Earth to the Moon. What shocks me is Poe’s attempt here, before the genre had even been invented, to create a work of hard (yes, I mean it, hard) science fiction. He goes to some length to marshal scientific evidence for the possibility of at least some atmosphere in deep space, based on the existence of zodiacal light, the faint glow that Poe assumed was atmospheric haze, but is scattered by space dust in the ecliptic.

This, and other tech-y details, such as the description of the balloon flipping over when the moon’s gravity becomes predominant, reveals Poe’s endearingly quaint attempt at scientific rigor. He seems to understand that his scenario goes too far, however, because he ends with a plot device meant to give him deniability regarding the seriousness of the story. (It’s that hoax thing again!) “Hans Pfaal” is the one work of this volume I strongly recommend.

Vol. 10, Deus et Machina (that’s a pun in the title, not a typo) focuses on metaphysics and technological advances. This latter emphasis is a real eye-opener. It turns out Poe was a tech geek! I would have never guessed–it’s the one big revelation of the audiobook. If he were alive today, he’d be writing articles for Seed Magazine. Poe loves to report especially on the latest in printing techniques, and, oddly enough, street paving. These articles are short, and very revealing of Poe’s psyche. I recommend them.

His big hobby horse is the advantage of wooden streets, which he seems to prefer especially because they make the urban environment quieter. (Here, he is entirely consistent with our myth of him as the high-strung, hyper-sensitive genius.) Discussing the main objection to using wood as paving material—it rots—he takes seriously concerns about unhealthy “miasmas” rising from the decay, yet he reacts with eye-rolling prose to fears that mercury-based preservatives might have any health impact.

The two headliners of this volume, “The Facts in the case of M. Valdemar” and “Von Kempelen and His Discovery,” are diverting but not especially compelling. “Valdemar” is an exploration of mesmerism interacting with what I can only call the death process. It posits a state of suspended animation which was meant to creep us out, but falls flat. Dude: mesmerism is so over. “Von Kempelen” is less original, and no more plausible: a slight account of the discovery of the laboratory of a successful alchemist. Leave these stories to the serious Poe fans.

Least interesting of all are Poe’s metaphysical musings in the form of angelic dialogs. These are some of the most difficult audio narration I’ve ever heard. (Or tried to hear. Multiple listening left me asking myself: what the heck was that about? What did he just say?)

The one gem in this metaphysical manure pile is The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion. It’s is another angel dialog, but it explores a speculative concept that merges apocalypse (in the Biblical, as well as more modern, sense) with science fiction in a way that must have been very advanced in its time. The surprise ending really shocks, and gives a taste of that old Poe horror we know and love. This one has aged very gracefully and is highly recommended.

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