The SFFaudio Podcast #361 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: The Circular Ruins by Jorge Luis Borges

March 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment
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The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #361 – Jesse, Bryan Alexander, Mr Jim Moon, and Paul Weimer talk about The Circular Ruins by Jorge Luis Borges

Talked about on today’s show:
the dream of Bryan Alexander, the nightmare that is Paul, 1940, 1962, almost a disaster, this story hit them like ton of bricks, Frankenstein, disturbing, a simple plot, leading you in circles, rising action, the horrible Freytag pyramid, creating a person out of dreams, a Joseph Campbell plot, learning Spanish, listen to the negatives, no one was unaware that the silent man, the unanimous night, it claustrophobic cloaks, the beginning of Moby Dick, in The Garden Of Forking Path, Jeff Vandermeer’s Ambergris, the circularity of the text, there is no “collected works” of Borges, Broges’ translations, the language of doppelgangers, the father and son angle, a mediation on parenthood, a god of fire, if Eric Rabkin were here, Prometheus, realizing you’re a dream, a trapped figure in endless circularity, parenting, once the colour of fire and now that of ashes, a grey man under unknown leaves, tributaries of sleep, weaving a rope of sand, coining the faceless wind, a folkloric reference, a Cornish legend, The Lottery Of Babylon, the company knows all, a ruin of a religion that somehow comes true, the most difficult task a man could undertake, an infinite amount of time for the hairs on the arm, not the god of the bible, food and figs, a dream god, a hilarious line from Celephais, I’m a prodigious dreamer, a dream man who dreams a dream man into existence, a dream written down, meta accusations in the post modern school, a hero to post-modern thinkers, The Babylonian Lottery, where the Zend language, characteristics of a society, too much leprosy, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, the moonness was going above the river, the beautiful language of a dream, Voltaire’s Zadig, a fake Babylon, the book of Zend, The Library Of Babel, real world Greek, this river, bamboo canoe, other burned temples, H. Rider Haggard, double negative, Xenophon’s Anabasis, 10,000 mercenaries, epic adventure, populated or unpopulated, in the aftermath of disaster, Detroit, Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings, yet another abandoned village, The Warriors (1979), an optimistic version of New York, being a vegetarian, Frankenstein’s creature is a vegan, he’s got to dream some meat into being, this is Abel not Cain, where the story really gets cooking, his body is a temple, dialectic dreams, clouds of taciturn students, interpolate him into the real world, a man lecturing the clouds, The Boy Who Disappeared Clouds by Lawrence Block, seeing images in the clouds, people are like clouds in dreams, a two sided coin, the dialectics, dissection theater, in the Gnostic cosmogonies, a red Adam who cannot stand, the world was created by the demi-urge, Valis by Philip K. Dick, addendum to the creation story, Lilith, the red mercury story (a geopolitical urban legend), alchemical texts, a locked Wikipedia entry, the cold fusion of terrorism, a golem, a man made out of clay but without a soul, Adam of dust, Adam of dreams, the wizard is the dreamer, again Frankenstein, why would it have been better?, Edgar Allan Poe’s William Wilson, H.P. Lovecraft’s Hypnos, doppelganger fiction, mirrors, Borges’ philosophy of Poe’s Composition, the literary equivalent of Escher, more like Lovecraft than Dick, aristocratic families, grandparents who were big into books, loved suits, loved their hometowns, Buenos Aires, a love of reading, wrote about writing, letter writers, connected with their readers, strange visionary figures, gregarious men, authors confused (conflated) with his own characters, complex truth and curious parallels, beauty, meaning and the belief in the power of story, how we make sense of the universe and how we interpret knowledge, both seeking to blow minds, Borges read Lovecraft, There Are More Things by Jorge Luis Borges is dedicated to Lovecraft, arguing with Lovecraft, cosmic is the word (not eldritch) or dream, The Call of Cthulhu, interpolate connects us to Dick as well, a bit of sense data, we don’t see just by having the world come into our eyes, we also project, the story is not complete, filling in the steps between fire and grey, Dick, Borges, and Lovecraft are working the world in a different way showing us their dreams, what would a Borgesian city in Kadath (the Dreamlands) look like?, Inception is a Borgesian story, far more concreteized, a heist, the grey man kissed the mud, the blades which were lacerating his flesh, the brambles delacerated his flesh, where did the blades come from?, what is certain, there’s something on the bank injuring him (or the blades are in him already), the crown of thorns, the temple was crowned, from out of the south, almost biblical, interesting, the plaything of forces far greater than he can comprehend, mental terror, the incessant trees, obligation, inconsolable shriek, the birdless morning, the phoenix, the tiger is man, Tyger Tyger, horses as a symbol of force, power, dynamism, and nobility, horse or tiger, domesticated vs. wild, super enigmatic yet we know exactly what happened, the creation of the heart, the moon, fourteen lucid nights, from lucidity to obscurity?, meticulous love, to rectify it with a glance, invoking the name of a planet, Mars?, Venus?, Mercury?, it could be the penis, much more meticulous from, the innumerable hair was the most difficult task, full moon?, starting the cycle again, the circularity of the ruins, re circularity, a disc vs. an amphitheater, the geography of the Library of Babel, a torus, the bottom of an amphitheater, it’s a magic spell, Lovecraft fandom, Cthulhu prayer breakfast, Borges was the darling of the literary set when he was alive, the New American Library edition, Borges is still a god of modern literature, intertextuality, Borges’ made up quotes and citations, Ibid by H.P. Lovecraft, a parody of 19th century scholarship, the adventures of a man’s skull, groundhogs worshiping a skull as a deity, the sense of humour, S.T. Joshi, a classic schoolboy error, BBC Radio documentary, humour in Borges, loops and whorls, sophisticated humour, blades vs. brambles, Poe the prankster, Herman Melville, extraordinary sentences, puckish and wry, apotheosis.

The Circular Ruins by Jorge Luis Borges - illustrated by Jesse

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Wild Magic (The Immortals, Book 1) by Tamora Pierce

October 12, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Fantasy Audiobooks - Wild Magic by Tamora PierceWild Magic (The Immortals, Book 1)
by Tamora Pierce, read by Full Cast Audio
8 CDs – 8 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Full Cast Audio
Published: 2005
ISBN: 1932076832
Themes: / Fantasy / Magic / Wizardry / Youth / Magical Creatures / Horses /

In Wild Magic’s Book One: The Immortals, Tamora Pierce has created a cast of strong women and made a world in which they fit naturally. The whole book takes place from the point of view of Diane (Carmen Viviano-Crafts), a young girl escaping from a dark secret in the highlands. Daine hires on with a horsetrader, Ouna (Raquel Starace) How delightful to meet a female horsetrader in a fantasy novel. Too often, such strong female characters overplay their roles but each of the characters in Wild Magic seems balanced and very real. So it troubles me that I felt like Ms. Pierce was playing games by withholding information that Daine surely knew, especially because she does such a delightful job at inviting me into Daine’s thoughts.

I do not mind the tension she tried to create by keeping Daine’s “dark secret” from me at the beginning, but after a time, it began to wear on me. I spent chapters hearing Daine’s thoughts about how she had to escape her past, without ever knowing what that past was. I finally discovered that she had gone mad and was afraid that it would happen again. Once I knew that, I was able to really worry with Daine. But poor Daine wouldn’t tell her friends what was bothering her. While I can understand her reluctance, as the book continued she was given no reason to continue hiding her secret and plenty of reasons to ask for help. When she finally does reveal her past in all its gory detail, Numair the Mage, basically says, “Oh, well I can fix that.” And does, in two sentences.

So, after all of that build up, Daine’s problem is solved with, almost literally, the wave of a magic wand.

In a similar vein, I listened to paragraphs of buildup as something was attacking the band of travellers over the water without having a clue about what it was. I knew everyone was preparing for an attack. I knew people were frightened, but I had no idea why. It turned out to be a gryphon that Daine was able to befriend.

With that said, the world of Wild Magic is fascinating. I am curious about which of the threads in this volume will carry over to the next books. Many of the scenes were resonant with emotion, I just wish I hadn’t had to guess what was happening in so many of the others.

Full Cast Audio does a fantastic job of bringing Ms. Pierce’s book to audio life. In particular, I need to note Daniel Bostick who played Numair the Mage. His voice built pictures in my head every time his character spoke.

Posted by Mary Robinette Kowal

Review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

September 30, 2005 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Fantasy Audiobooks - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood PrinceHarry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
By J.K. Rowling; Read by Jim Dale
17 CDs – 19 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Listening Library
Published: 2005
ISBN: 0307283658
Themes: / Fantasy / Magic / Wizardry / Youth / Magical Creatures / School /

At this point, the Harry Potter universe has become so entrenched in our culture that it’s impossible to approach the newest installment of the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, with anything like objectivity. Most readers already care so much about Harry and his associates that the reading experience has become less like enjoying a good novel and more like continuing the biography of a good friend or beloved celebrity. Which isn’t to say that The Half-Blood Prince isn’t a good novel; on the contrary, it ranks right up there with The Prisoner and Azkaban and The Goblet of Fire, and is a damn sight better than 2003’s gloomy and ultimately disappointing The Order of the Phoenix. For those of us who feel better when things are given in Star Wars terms, The Half-Blood Prince is most similar to The Empire Strikes Back; it advances and complicates our views about the series and its characters, while apparently moving backward from the hero’s inevitable triumph over the villain.

In The Half-Blood Prince, author J.K. Rowling maintains her own tradition of opening the novel without the titular hero in sight. In this case, the muggle Prime Minister of England is anxiously awaiting a visit from the Minister of Magic and reminiscing about their previous, mostly unpleasant, meetings. When Cornelius Fudge arrives, he brings news that the wizarding world is in an uproar; Lord Voldemort is apparently growing more and more powerful, Voldemort’s followers, the Death-Eaters are becoming more brazen in their attacks, and wizards, witches, and muggles are all at increasing risk of severe harm or death.

While Rowling never mentions real-world events in the books, the tone and situations of the two novels published since 9-11 indicate that the world inside her head is not completely insulated from the world outside. It’s telling of Rowling’s own views that the Ministry of Magic is, at best, ineffectual in dealing with these threats, and is often outright dangerous; in The Half-Blood Prince, the Ministry of Magic detains individuals it knows to be innocent, in order to give the appearance of making some progress against the enemy.

The initial expository scene, combined with a tantalizingly ambiguous revelation about one of the Hogwart’s professors, makes for such a dark opening that it’s an almost tangible relief when Harry finally makes an appearance. The likeable young wizard is now 16 years old, and Rowling has again taken pains to ensure that the novel has matured along with Harry. Passages dealing with the magical comeuppance of the Dursleys, the pointless ins and outs of Quidditch matches (why bother with anything but the snitch?), and the minutiae of wizard candy are fleeting and widely spaced, while more chapters are devoted to fairly violent magical battles (a faithful movie adaptation could very well garner an “R” rating), career counseling, and “snogging,” (making out, for those of us on the Yankee side of the pond).

Once the novel starts in earnest, Rowling doesn’t stray from Harry’s point of view, but she cheats somewhat by using the “pensive,” a magical device that allows Harry to explore the memories of others. The pensive is put to good use in the book, as its main function is to investigate the background of “He-who-must-not-be-named.” Readers who are hoping for a complicated, even sympathetic, take on Lord Voldemort (ala Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon) will be disappointed. It turns out that Voldemort is just plain bad, always has been, and apparently, always will be. More psychopath than sadist, Voldemort never hurts or kills just for enjoyment, his villainies are always means to an end. Voldemort’s particular brand of evil means that the guilt that might be expected to accompany these activities just isn’t there.

Other magical items are used less effectively in the story. An episode involving a bottle of “liquid luck”, called “felix felicis,” (the letters of which do not rearrange to spell deus ex machina) feels so contrived, requires a such a lengthy and complicated set-up, and requires Harry, Ron, and Hermione to act so outside their characters, that it’s one of the few times the book feels like something that somebody made up, rather than a description of actual events.

All told, however, the sixth installment in the Harry Potter series is excellent, and the unabridged recording of the novel makes for a very enjoyable listen. The folks at Listening Library made an inspired choice when they chose Jim Dale to read The Sorcerer’s Stone, and, five books, two Audie Awards, five Headphone Awards, three Grammy nominations and one actual Grammy later, his performance of The Half-Blood Prince is, to borrow a word from Harry, brilliant. Even without sound effects, music, or multiple actors, The Half-Blood Prince plays like a good BBC radio drama. Dale lends nuance and individuality to each of the characters, while his “normal,” narration voice is dignified, yet accessible. Dale also has an uncanny knack for interpreting speech adverbs; where Rowling writes “reprovingly,” or “reminiscently”, Dale puts reproach or reminiscence into the dialogue, so much so that very often the listener will be able to predict Rowling’s choice of adverb before Dale reads it. Maybe the highest compliment that can be paid to the audio book is that at no point is the reader reminded of the sub-par (but increasingly better) film adaptations of the books. While listeners who desire an experience closer to reading, with more neutral performances that allow for more personal interpretation, might resent having Dale’s vigorous interpretation thrust upon them, most listeners, particularly younger ones, will enjoy all 19 hours of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.