The SFFaudio Podcast #564 – READALONG: VALIS by Philip K. Dick

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #525 – Jesse, Paul Weimer, Marissa Vu, Evan Lampe and Terence Blake talk about VALIS by Philip K. Dick

Talked about on today’s show:
1981, science fiction novel?, the long awaited masterwork, you didn’t like it, low expectations, the first half is the best part, it takes place in the head, after the film, the discussion of the film, the Wikipedia, Radio Free Albemuth‘s plot, parallel universe Nixon, state vs. society, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, movement cultures, fighting the Black Iron Prison, this is a political dead end novel, is it science fiction?, the opening, SickMyDuck.narod.ru, quasi-consciousness, gobbledygook,

VALIS (acronym of Vast Active Living Intelligence System, from an American film): A perturbation in the reality field in which a spontaneous self-monitoring negentropic vortex is formed, tending progressively to subsume and incorporate its environment into arrangements of information. Characterized by quasiconsciousness, purpose, intelligence, growth and an armillary coherence.

–Great Soviet Dictionary

Sixth Edition, 1992, used in many others, the copyright details about his other books, A Scanner Darkly, the schizophrenic break, good bits, the autobiographical details, fictionalizing his life, not anything like science, most people don’t have a grasp of what science is, a perturbation in the reality field, progressively subsumed?, a collection of words, he’s eating his own prole feed, he takes as fact, a refutation soon accommodated, this skepticism thing, the same plot as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Book Of The New Sun by Wolfe, the hero can reverse time, that’s there, so much better, weird quest, this 2 year old kid who may or may not be Jesus, more like meta-fiction, reintegrate his brain, Psi-Man heal me, he put’s his hand on Fat’s shoulder, self-hugging, he baptized him with chocolate and a hot dog bun, stuff he’s actually done, not fiction, bullshit people all the time, every now and then this should be science fiction, bullshit with his friends, a rough plot, exegesis, we should be upset, puttering about in a small land, so internal, his other half, Small Holywater, Black WanderingEarth, that’s why its a better novel, it has the satellite, in the beginning was the word,

#36. We should be able to hear this information, or rather narrative, as a neutral voice inside us. But something has gone wrong. All creation is a language and nothing but a language, which for some inexplicable reason we can’t read outside and can’t hear inside.

its important to see why people are attracted to this book, words are data as much as visual data, bear scratching against a tree, i present these words to you and they become reality, dope dope dope 500 times, the word loses its sound and its meaning, words on a page are reality, we have to contend with this, how do you know when this is, it’s tremendous, is that true, dreams, your critical faculties are not in full operation, religious people are presented with evidence, adopted accommodated or ignored, causing a crisis, telegraphed far before, we all have this capacity to generate data, distinguishing it from, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”, untethered to critical no no no no, Fat gained strength, self-criticism, Horselover Fat is the early 60s sociological type, Michel Serres, there’s something broken in his head, he’s a car engine and there’s a serious problem with the mechanics, “The Black Iron Prison”, “The Empire Never Ended”, proved, made up in medieval times, the Roman Empire fell in…, time is not what we think it is, K.W. Jeter, Tim Powers,

“You found your way into the upper realm,” Kevin declared. “Isn’t that how you put it in your journal?”

#48. Two realms there are, upper and lower. The upper, derived from hyperuniverse I or Yang, Form I of Parmeni-des, is sentient and volitional. The lower realm, or Yin, Form II of Parmenides, is mechanical, driven by blind, efficient cause, deterministic and without intelligence, since it emanates from a dead source. In ancient times it was termed “astral determinism.” We are trapped, by and large, in the lower realm, but are, through the sacraments, by means of the plasmate, extricated. Until astral determinism is broken, we are not even aware of it, so occluded are we. “The Empire never ended.”

A small, pretty, dark-haired girl walked silently past Fat and the huge old woman, carrying her shoes. At breakfast time she had tried to smash a window using her shoes and then, having failed, knocked down a six-foot-high black technician. Now the girl had about her the presence of absolute calm.

“The Empire never ended,” Fat quoted to himself. That one sentence appeared over and over again in his exegesis; it had become his tag line. Originally the sentence had been revealed to him in a great dream. In the dream he again was a child, searching dusty used-book stores for rare old science fiction magazines, in particular Astoundings. In the dream he had looked through countless tattered issues, stacks upon stacks, for the priceless serial entitled “The Empire Never Ended.” If he could find it and read it he would know everything; that had been the burden of the dream.

so many comic books, he’s obsessed in a way,

Prior to that, during the interval in which he had experienced the two-world superimposition, had seen not only California, U.S.A., of the year 1974 but also ancient Rome, he had discerned within the superimposition a Gestalt shared by both space-time continua, their common element: a Black Iron Prison. This is what the dream referred to as “the Empire.” He knew it because, upon seeing the Black Iron Prison, he had recognized it. Everyone dwelt in it without realizing it. The Black Iron Prison was their world.

Who had built the prison–and why–he could not say. But he could discern one good thing: the prison lay under attack. An organization of Christians, not regular Christians such as those who attended church every Sunday and prayed, but secret early Christians wearing light gray-colored robes, had started an assault on the prison, and with success. The secret, early Christians were filled with joy.

this is ho you make science fiction this is not science fiction, superimposing the present on the past, James Joyce, 1981 or 1982, Paris, one of the greatest philosopher’s of the 20th century Gilles Deleuze, cinema, a vertical time axis, Marie Louise Von Franz, Jungian theory, a second axis of time, Wolfgang Pauli, tied to a particular experience, a working out of it, dipping into it, this is basically what it is, not that revealing, nonsense, the big words that he’s using, essay writing as a game, write them first, the way Star Trek: The Next Generation technobabble, reverse the polarity of the neutron flow, a black iron prison, does the blackness refer to the iron, its just a phrase that popped into his head and he thinks, this is how religions are birthed, coming straight out of it, so sad, hilarious Philip K. Dick bits, a mental breakdown on the page, a slow decline into depression and isolation, A Scanner Darkly except real, new religious movements, subjective experiences, William James, is there anything not referenced in here, a trained philosopher, Dick doesn’t do any of that stuff, multidimensional, masterful from the beginning, the only sad thing Terence can see, male male male all along, one sided, The Exegesis a fake book, this is a novel, a metafiction novel, its not a fantasy, he perceived those perceptions, its most interesting to him, where it intersects with the stuff in his previous writings, from the beginning, The Cosmic Puppets, much more grounded, breaking himself off from himself, he gets stuck in this loop, I have become a mechanical function of my own idea, a rat trying to get on a rat-proof ship, something mechanically wrong in his brain, the rest of the engine was good, a terrible metaphor, he goes to the therapist and the therapist becomes part of the problem, going back to the themes of the institution vs. the individual, the police steal his stuff, this is not a political book, the society against the state, encouraging movements to do little things, the resistance is always there, in Valis we gotta find Jesus, his interpretation, The Divine Invasion, Shadow And Claw by Gene Wolfe, symbols invent us, the symbol took over his mind, The Transmigration Of Timothy Archer, a cathartic effect, juxtaposing is the problem, that’s the science fiction aspect, its a theory, its unfalsifiable,

9

Wordsworth’s “Ode” carries the sub-title: “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.” In Fat’s case, the “intimations of immortality” were based on recollections of a future life.

In addition, Fat could not write poetry worth shit, despite his best efforts. He loved Wordsworth’s “Ode,” and wished he could come up with its equal. He never did.

Boldness is not virtue, Spiders sail on strands, there was no path back, crouched in basement darkness, on and on, infinitude of time, Mind, now torn away, We humans have been told, We larger ones, What of us we lack the stamina, a summary of the book, cats, the key to decoding it, Phil’s Cat by K.W. Jeter, two of PKD’s cats: Mrs. Tubbs and Harvey (an “elegant but paranoid” black cat), lots of stuff from book, a fatalistic attitude, the thing one most loves can be fatal, “Listen, do you hear something.”, with an open can of catfood, two big yellow eyes, his small mind not comprehending the vertical dimension, his spatial coordinates had been right on target, March 1982, his self destructive urges had been transcended, methodically combing the isles, a little scrap of warmth, ludicrous hope, a faith that believed in faithlessness, in the light of the story, this is what the empathy thing he’s so known for is all about, very beautiful, a lot of empathy for cats, his weird relationship with women, weird resentments, retroactive blaming the women, his empathy for women is his bad side, Sherry with cancer, suffering something so horrible, is that his perception or is that the reality, did she know that she was doing that, how do you know that?, citing citations, does she know she’s doing that, that’s the main problem, confronted with both sense data and actual sentences and both are not subject to critical questioning, Jesse saw a ghost once, Jesse loves the idea of ghosts, part of a letter, Last Wave, Summer 1984, The Shadow Out Of Time, hypnagogic images, conversations with, John W. Campbell, ultimately always better, Gene Wolfe’s similar cosmogony, between Dick and Wolfe, a better thinker, he saw Dianetics was bullshit, it seized on him, religion as a kind of a mania, latching on to their stories, Bishop Pike, if Philip K. Dick had access to the internet, anamnesis, three meanings, obsessing over etymology, etymology is everything, he’s in improv, I’m a toaster, have you eaten your toast?, you always go with it, your sense data or your sentence in front of you Jabberwocky, brillig, his vorpal sword, runcible spoon (a grapefruit spoon), runcible to runciter, something animals don’t really do, its almost like we can fall down a well of only believing this one book from 4000 years ago, writing down experiences they never had with a guy they never met, and he’s wrong, a druid ceremony, not the only story even he’s caught up in it, a half hour of notes, Tractates Cryptica Scriptura, usually it takes whole cultures to make a cosmogony, the appendix is kind of useful, in Evan’s podcast episode on Valis, The Gospel According To Philip K. Dick,

50. The primordial source of all our religions lies with the ancestors of the Dogon tribe, who got their cosmogony and cosmology directly from the three-eyed invaders who visited long ago. The three-eyed invaders are mute and deaf and telepathic, could not breathe our atmosphere, had the elongated misshapen skull of Ikhnaton, and emanated from a planet in the star-system Sirius. Although they had no hands, but had, instead, pincer claws such as a crab has, they were great builders. They covertly influence our history toward a fruitful end.

Kilgore Trout, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, an endless hole, the discovery of planets doesn’t occur for quite a long time, an external place vs. another realm, his citation is it seems to me it must be true, horoscopes, there are no dis-confirming facts (until their is), a giant radical shift, its in the paper, if its published its true, the New York Times and The Washington Post, how we get offended by people’s words, you know I don’t REALLY believe this right, I know I’m nutty, the amount of time you spend on it, something is pulling their brain, a cool fact, bloodtype tells about your personality, you don’t know your blood type?, that’s very o positive, imagine saying that about someone’s race, we can’t conceive of that being a thing, this is destiny, this is how all the religious functions work, auspicious, looking good, Roman birds, suspicious, I don’t think we can trust this, trapped in a world of etymology, etymology as destiny, the fake etymology of embarrassed, Jesse doesn’t want to give it up, magic words, pickaninny, niggardly, the airplane was retarded by the braking process, the sound of it is not offensive, words are presentations of reality, the whole whale language thing, cobol, c++, I saw a ghost, I saw a red hat, red hats are not nice hats, words on a page, in your ear, on a sign, causing a dysfunction within us, that’s this book, that’s why this book has power, the revelation is surprising because almost nobody else ever talks about it, not a universal truth, how he described it to Anne, I’m writing an autobiography about BOTH of my personalities and I’m calling it VALIS, structure it as a self-conscious whatever, so much based on actual events, there is no VALIS film, he did call up somebody in Hollywood, he barely knew Gloria, a friend of his, Sic transit gloria mundi, pathology, sending up, funny bits pointing, making fun, he’s deflating the thing in real time, if he lived in our age, the pot showing up in the film, a fish symbol, the DNA molecule, how it connects to Galactic Pot-Healer, this pot did exist, oh yeah, of course, the jewelry in The Man In The High Castle, a photograph of him leaving the funeral early climbing into a Volkswagen, whose reaction is more authentic, if he were a girl, subject to criticism, ditzy, quite pathetic, pathos, Greek for feeling, how great he is at saying that experience of watching a film, applying the rules of filmwatching, Blade Runner, did they intend this to be the meaning, what about the eyes being lit up, different actors disagreeing, as a piece of fiction I’m allowed to spin up as many theories as I want, things outside of the film, where is the meaning?, the meaning goes out the window, macro-focused in the wrong direction, I didn’t see this the first time, adding Phil to the Skype call right now, at the time vs. now, almost guaranteed, everything in there is searchable, Reading, Short And Deep, looking at the text, breaking past the fourth wall into two different axis, no time is god, the boy can replace his wife who has died, its amazing, how seriously should we take this?, Parsifal,

Parsifal is one of those corkscrew artifacts of culture in which you get the subjective sense that you’ve learned something from it, something valuable or even priceless; but on closer inspection you suddenly begin to scratch your head and say, “Wait a minute. This makes no sense.” I can see Richard Wagner standing at the gates of heaven. “You have to let me in,” he says. “I wrote Parsifal. It has to do with the Grail, Christ, suffering, pity and healing. Right?” And they answered, “Well, we read it and it makes no sense.” SLAM.

which heaven do you go to?, the savior saved?, you’re the gods, the typical Nietzsche thing, glorified stupidity, a similar joke in episode 3 of Watchmen, the world being enduring suffering, Amfortas, three superheroes go to heaven, Nite Owl, did the comedian go to heaven?, how many people did you kill?, super moral, Ozymandias, Dr Manhattan, I’m already there, these things that seem to have great meaning, action set pieces, Harry Potter, ultimately its empty, Lord Of The Rings, the experience is not just a walk with Gandalf, finding meaning in existence, hiding in a secondary world, something deep there, its about the setups, kids go up and stuff happens, Tolkien would go to heaven, Wagner would go to hell, Rowling would go to hell, go to Valhalla for the Ring, you’re in the wrong heaven, sir, Valhalla ends at Ragnarok, a temporary heaven, done with VALIS, I wash my hands of it, where does it get us?, political or psychological, such an honest portrayal of having a psychosis and also be very aware of what’s happening, whatever philosophy he’s trying to get at, this is not a philosophy, pre-philosophy, gnostic beliefs, the Kult RPG, in the center of the city, a role playing game about trying to find reality, this module, the keeper or the dungeon master, exploring the reality, the players are in a Black Iron Prison.

On A Cat Which Fell Three Stories And Survived by Philip K. Dick from Last Wave, Summer 1984

Phil's Cat by K.W. Jeter from Last Wave, Summer 1984

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #337 – READALONG: The Lord Of The Rings (Book 5 of 6) by J.R.R. Tolkien

Podcast

TheSFFaudioPodcast600The SFFaudio Podcast #337 – Jesse, Julie Davis, Seth, and Maissa talk about The Lord of the Rings Book V (“The War Of The Ring”) by J.R.R. Tolkien (aka the first half of The Return Of The King).

Talked about on today’s show:
Published 60 years ago; research is Jesse’s “security blanket”; The Black Stone by Robert E. Howard; stone of Erech has parallels to the Kaaba in Mecca; Moses’s ill-fated water-rock in Old Testament; the Stone of Scone; palantíri; War? What is it good for? We aren’t fans of all the battles; Éomer’s poetic “all is lost” moment; The Last Samurai and heroic fatalism; World War I; Faramir’s dislike of war; the movies’ over-reliance on spectacle; the power of words; the Lord of the Nazgûl; Éowyn’s badassery; Houses of Lamentation vs. Houses of Healing; the strength of the weakest; parallels between Merry and Pippin; the flaws of film versions of Éowyn–and Faramir; great deeds vs. duty; Éowyn as Old Norse valkyrie archetype; the twisting of the Nazgûl; debating the corporeality of Sauron; Sauron and Denethor use others for their dirty work; Ghân-buri-Ghân and other marginalized figures; woodwoses; no authorized Lord of the Rings fan fiction; Jesse wants public domain story following Gimil and Legolas on postwar adventures; Fifty Shades of Grey as Twilight fanfiction; Tolkien’s scholarly inside jokes; we don’t know our Greek numbers; on foils, parallels, and the integrity of Tolkien’s work; Théoden and Denethor; Gandalf’s healing power, “see the light”; Denethor’s false wisdom; Denethor passages have quality of a Greek tragedy; modern society, like Denethor, can’t see the whole picture; film portrayal of Gandalf whacking Denethor is not canon; Christ parallels and the resurrection of hope; the layering of symbolism; barrow wights and Théoden’s barrow; Korean harvest festival Chuseok; the aggression of the Tolkien estate; the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings animated movies of yore; “the hands of the king are the hands of a healer”; athelas (kings foil) to the rescue!; the king’s power to call the wounded back from the dead; the title of lore master; the last big distraction and self-sacrifice at the Black Gate; on the division of Lord of the Rings into books and volumes; on the pleasures of slow reading; more discourse on Denethor; Pippin and Merry are interchangeable (!?); even Sauron is just one evil power, parallels cyclical historical events in our world (cf. resurgence of Russia under Putin); no spoilers for Maissa!; the Mouth of Sauron’s terms, and what if Gandalf had surrendered?; Hitler, appeasement, and Alexander the Great; envisioning flamethrower guitarist from Mad Max: Fury Road at the Battle of the Black Gate;

Draggy The Dragon with THE RETURN OF THE KING by J.R.R. Tolkien

Eowyn And The Lord Of The Nazgul - illustration by Jim Reid

Ballantine Books - The Return Of The King by J.R.R. Tolkien

Methuen - The Return Of The King by J.R.R. Tolkien

UNICORN - The Return Of The King by J.R.R. Tolkien

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #280 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: Völsungasaga

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #280 – Völsungasaga translated by Eiríkr Magnússon and William Morris; read by Corpang (of LibriVox). This is an unabridged reading of the saga (4 hours) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse, Seth, and Mr Jim Moon.

Talked about on today’s show:
anonymous, 1000 AD, Beowulf, Germanic myth collection, Volsung Dynasty, quick character changes, irrational logic, biblical similarities, Sigurd, echoes of myths, family relationships in Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Tales of Dragons, a hodgepodge of influences, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, dramatic events, wolves, half-historical and half-saga storytelling, origin from Homeric Myths, odes, cyclical time, less Christian influences than other written sagas, a source or influences on stories and also influenced by earlier sagas, Vikings on History Channel, moral lessons to be awesome, unconsciousness of glorious kings with immoral actions, The Old Testament, hierarchy of power, jealousy of wealth and power, Medieval Japan, neighbor relationships, attitudes toward prophesy and fate, stoicism and acceptance, Odin Mythology, simple naming of characters, absence of fear of death, reincarnation, female equality, werewolves, Roman Mythology, frequent raiding, laws protecting wolves, wolves as outlaws, Caligula, power creates rules, Christian epics with Christian rule system, power of sacrifice, irrational idea of original sin, The New Testament subverting the idea of superiority, master morality and the slave morality, a lot of similarity to Beowulf, a source for education and entertainment, reason for being dramatic, 13th century literature, history in a very vague and incorrect way, more atrocity earlier in the saga, parallel between fantasy and real life, Story of Attila, transmission of knowledge, Haida Gwaii’s similarity to Vikings, We are really here for the gold!, names of dwarfs, broken names, obsession of money creates craziness, atrocity and craziness as history, story created before medieval nobility, morality as generosity, guest morality, Richard Wagner, being near Vikings is dangerous, endurance of pain as superior, no laughs and mild jokes in Volsunga saga, disrespect is bad, burial traditions create conflict, William Morris, the absence of slaves in Tolkien Fiction, free society.

The Worm Fafnir illustrated by Lancelot Speed

Sigmunds Schwert illustration by Johannes Gehrts

Ramsund Carving

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister E. McGrath

SFFaudio Review

Cover of C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister E. McGrath

C.S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius and Reluctant Prophet
By Alister E. McGrath; Read by Robin Sachs
13 hours 56 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Oasis Audio
Published: 2013
Themes: / biography / religion / fantasy / medieval literature

Before setting out on this review, I must apologize for the liberal use of the first-person pronoun, which I normally use sparingly. This book intersects my personal and professional interests at several points, so I’m not even going to attempt an objective, impartial review, if such a thing is even possible. I am, as Lewis was, a student of medieval literature, though I can only dream of reaching his depth of knowledge and scope of imagination in this field. Furthermore, I undertook part of my studies at Oxford University, which was home to Lewis for much of his life. The City of Dreaming Spires, as Matthew Arnold called it, exerted a profound influence on Lewis’s life and work, and having walked its winding cobbled streets and ancient quadrangles it’s easy to understand why. Last, but certainly not least, Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia had a profound impact on my intellectual and imaginative development as a child. In this I suspect I’m not alone, and I hope this review will encourage readers to learn more about the life and mind behind one of the wellsprings of modern fantasy.

Before discussing the biography itself, I should say something of its author. Though currently Professor of Theology at King’s College, London, McGrath’s previous post was in Oxford, where I had heard his name spoken with a great deal of respect while I was there. The biography lists ever so slightly in the direction of Christianity, reflecting its author’s background in theology and apologetics, but on the whole it’s a balanced work firmly grounded in scholarly research of Lewis’s works and correspondence. The biography, of course, deals extensively with Lewis’s religious and spiritual development so central in his life and work, but the work by no means white-washes Lewis’s life or even his faith. This audio recording is preceded by an interview with McGrath, whose calm, measured voice assures us as listeners that we’re chosen a trustworthy guide down the path of Lewis’s life.

Like most biographers, McGrath takes a strictly chronological approach, with very few detours either to backtrack or to foreshadow. The narrative takes us through Lewis’s birth and childhood in Northern Ireland, through his lengthy tenure at Osxford University, to his final years as Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge. The biography strikes a delicate balance between Lewis’s rich inner life as reflected in his writings and his sometimes tumultuous outer. In the former case, McGrath devotes considerable space to Lewis’s conversion experience and subsequent development of his spirituality. As an academic, I was also pleased that Lewis’s scholarly works, notably on Edmund Spender’s Faerie Queene and Milton’s Paradise Lost, receive some attention. In regards to Lewis’s personal life, the biography charts Lewis’s many professional disappointments resulting from his popular religious work and the rift that formed between Lewis and other Oxford academics. Lewis’s relationships also receive some attention, in particular his long-running peculiar arrangement with the older Mrs. Moore and his controversial marriage to Joy Davidman. Of course, there is significant interplay between Lewis’s inner and outer lives, and McGrath expertly weaves these strands together to illustrate how one sometimes influenced the other. The book concludes by reflecting on the rise of Lewis’s reputation in various circles, religious and popular, after his death in 1963.

Two whole chapters are dedicated to Lewis’s development of The Chronicles of Narnia. McGrath packs a lot of material into these relatively few pages, from Narnia’s inception in Lewis’s mind, to the debate over the proper reading order of the books (Lewis’s ordering, order of publication, or internal chronology), to the works’ modern reception, especially Philip Pullman’s criticism. This section also manages to delve a little deeper, too, highlighting the philosophical and theological underpinnings of this imaginative, not imaginary, world. McGrath deals with the question of whether Narnia is an allegory, and also links the work to Plato’s Republic and the allegory of shadows in the cave. Obviously this is a lot of topics to cram into so little space, and I would have liked a more thorough treatment, but to be fair this is a biography, not a work of literary criticism. McGrath has promised a fuller, more scholarly edition of this book in the near future, which will likely feature copious footnotes providing a wonderful paper trail for the Narnia enthusiast eager to learn more. SFFaudio readers should also note that Lewis’s lesser-known Space Trilogy also receives brief treatment in this biography.

Though built on academic bedrock, C.S. Lewis: A Life is written in a lively, accessible style. McGrath uses Lewis’s own words, or the words of his associates, when possible, which imbues the book with a sense of immediacy and authenticity to the work. I sometimes felt as though I were in the room with Lewis, Tolkien, and the other Inklings as they discussed important religious, mythological, and literary matters. Like Lewis himself, McGrath also has a way of explaining complex intellectual and theological matters in a way that an average reader like me can understand. This is, in my view, the hallmark of any solid intellectual or literary biography. My only criticism of the book, and it’s a trifling one, is that McGrath hardly even alludes to any sexual relations between Lewis and Mrs. Moore, or later between Lewis and Joy Davidman, even though it’s obvious there was some sort of sexual element to these relationships. Perhaps McGrath found this matter distasteful, or thought the book’s Christian readers would. In any case, this omission is to me the one glaring lacuna in an otherwise thorough life story.

Robin Sachs’s stately narration lends the perfect air of British respectability to the audio edition. His pronunciation of some of the book’s more arcane linguistic and literary terms are, for the most part, spot on. As mentioned earlier, the inclusion of an interview with Alister McGrath, is a welcome addition, and provides additional insights into an already insightful work. Another minor quibble: I feel the interview should have been included at the end of the audiobook, rather than the beginning. I prefer to go into a book unbiased by the author’s later thoughts on the book. Again, though, this quibble is very minor. What does conclude the audiobook, however, is an amazing recording of Lewis at his deep-timbres lecturing finest.

There are certainly many other windows into the lives of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the other Inklings. Despite the influence of these authors on my own life, I have to admit I have not read most of these other works. So I’m very glad that one of the first I’ve read has proved to be such an enlightening and entertaining journey, (mostly) free from the partisanship and polarity that plague some biographies of relatively recent figures. I can’t think of many readers who wouldn’t benefit from or at least be entertained by Alister McGrath’s C.S. Lewis: A Life.

Posted by Seth Wilson

Review of Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith

SFFaudio Review

Fantasy Audiobook - Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-SmithUnholy Night
By Seth Grahame-Smith; Read by Peter Nerkot
10 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Published: 2012
Themes: / Fantasy / Mythology / Occult / Christianity / Bible /

“Joseph? Mary? My name is Balthazar. This is Gaspar . . . this is Melchyor. We don’t want to hurt you . . . we’re just looking for a place to rest. But, Joseph? if you don’t put that pitchfork down, I’m going to take it from you and stab you to death in front of your wife and child. Do you understand?”

Wanted thieves Balthazar, Melchyor, and Gaspar, disguised as wise men, show up at a little manger in Bethlehem with a huge star blazing overhead, looking for a hideout from the law. But when Herod’s soldiers begin slaughtering the babies in Bethlehem, Balthazar takes the safety of the Holy Family into his own hands. As fugitives on the run to Egypt, they must escape not only Roman soldiers but creatures of mythology and the occult. Everyone’s either gunning for the Antioch Ghost with a price on his head or the innocent newborn who has such an unearthly effect on those around him.

Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) finally stops inserting his words into other people’s writing and writes a book in his own words. And a fine job he does of it too. For a violent, gore-filled, action-thriller there are a surprising number of very human characters, many of whom we are meant to recognize.

Pontius Pilate appears as an ambitious young officer ambivalent about truth. Mary and Joseph struggle with how to reconcile the truth of Jesus as God with the reality of a baby who must be fed, loved, and parented. Above all, this is Balthazar’s story, who has a complex story-line driving his actions and attitudes. We learn how he became the cynical Antioch Ghost and we wonder if he will find a more worthy goal than vengeance.

Above all, I was surprised to find myself eventually thinking of Unholy Night as modern midrash. Midrash is a traditional Jewish way of trying to understand the underlying spirit of scripture, sometimes connecting it to modern life, by creating parables. This allows for some imaginative storytelling as rabbis look for interpretations with are not immediately obvious but are nevertheless held within the original text.

Grahame-Smith lives up to the midrash ideal by both being respectful to his source material and also using his vivid imagination on a Biblical event that is wide-open to interpretation, Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt with the Christ child. Among other things, the author is very good at opening new views on familiar subjects, such as just how horrible King Herod was. It brings to life the terrible things he did very much as I have read them in history books. One also gets a deeper understanding of the locals’ simmering, resentful hatred of the Roman empire.

Narrator Peter Berkrot is a reader I haven’t come across before but will be seeking out in the future. He conveys just the right amount of cynicism as Balthazar, menace and insanity as Herod, and innocence as Mary. I am not sure how this book comes across in print but I’d listen to it again in a heartbeat thanks to Berkrot’s narration.

Grahame-Smith has delivered a story of Biblical proportions in Unholy Night: zombies, swarms of locusts, epic sword fights, outlaws, obsessed rulers, vengeance, redemption, and more are in this entertaining action tale. That he did it all while staying true to original material that can be unpopular reading these days makes him a writer I am going to seek out in the future. Highly recommended.

Posted by Julie D.

Aural Noir Review of Dimiter by William Peter Blatty

Aural Noir: Review

Audiobook - Dimiter by William Peter BlattyDimiter
By William Peter Blatty; Read by William Peter Blatty
8 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Published: 2010
Themes: / Thriller / Religion / Christianity / Espionage /

In 1973 a nameless prisoner is being tortured in an Albanian prison, where “grace and hope had never touched.” Colonel Vlora, known as “The Interrogator,” is frustrated and mystified by a man they have come to call The Prisoner because they cannot even make him speak. Is he an American spy, Paul Dimiter, known as the “agent from hell?” The solution to this stalemate while expected on one level is a complete surprise on another. This turns out to be emblematic of William Blatty’s book. Part 1 is an appropriate foretaste of this complex, suspenseful, and fast paced thriller.

The scene shifts to Jerusalem where we meet Moses Mayo, a neurologist, who is investigating a series of seemingly natural deaths that are nevertheless linked. He also is plagued by a gruesome murder, reports of apparitions and mysterious miraculous healings. We also meet Mayo’s life-long friend, Peter Meral, an Arab Christian, who is a police detective. Among other things, Meral is investigating a strange car explosion and the mysterious disappearance of the men involved, a CIA cover-up, and a body found at the Tomb of Christ.

The body count climbs and complications arise from the interweaving of all the events. This sounds somewhat like a standard thriller, however, it is anything but. We know the deaths are real but what about the reported miracles? Is everything really connected and, if so, what could possibly be the logical link? The solution is not only surprising but also provides an extremely moving moment of redemption.

Dimiter‘s suspense keeps the listener fascinated while also raising it above the ordinary by not being afraid to have characters who care about spiritual searching, loss, redemption, and love. The spiritual element will make this work especially interesting to those who are drawn to themes that investigate good versus evil. This is not an element that should surprise those who remember that Blatty is the author of the justly famous horror novel The Exorcist. Although this novel is strictly in the thriller vein, I must admit that I did find the torture scenes rather horrific and did fast forward through a few of them.

The author narrates his work and does such an effective job that I often forgot I was not listening to a professional voice talent. The only downfall was that during fast-paced scenes with more than two male characters, such as CIA interrogations, there was not enough differentiation between all the voices to make it easy to tell when dialogue shifted from one person to another. This was not a huge problem but it did require me to back up a couple of times until I figured out the tempo. Otherwise, William Blatty’s reading was a sheer pleasure, especially in voicing his more eccentric characters who he brought to life in a most vivid fashion.

Highly recommended.

Posted by Julie D.