LibriVox: Doctor Ox’s Experiment by Jules Verne

SFFaudio Online Audio

LibriVoxHere’s a new audiobook from LibriVox that I am eager to hear. Eric S. Rabkin, who we had as a guest on the SFFaudio Podcast last year, had some fascinating insights about this story in his Teaching Company lecture series Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind: Literature’s Most Fantastic Works. The narrator for the LibriVox audiobook version is Alan Winterrowd. He’s a blogger and podcaster (he started the Penny Dreadful Podcasts in March 2009).

LIBRIVOX - Dr. Ox's Experiment by Jules VerneDoctor Ox’s Experiment
By Jules Verne; Read by Alan Winterrowd
5 Zipped MP3 Files or Podcast – Approx. 2 Hours 13 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: January 24, 2010
An early, light-hearted short story, published in 1872 by Jules Verne. It takes place in the Flemish town of Quiquendone, where life moves at an extraordinarily tranquil pace. Doctor Ox has offered to light the town with a new gas, but actually has other plans in place.

Podcast feed: http://librivox.org/rss/3562

iTunes 1-Click |SUBSCRIBE|

[Thanks also to Elli and David Lawrence]

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - The Invisible Man by H.G. WellsThe Invisible Man
By H.G. Wells; Read by James Adams
5 CDs – Approx. 5.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2009
ISBN: 9781433277528
Themes: / Science Fiction / Invisibility / Chemistry / Biology / Crime / 19th Century / Sussex / Morality / Personal Responsibility /

On a freezing February day, a stranger emerges from out of the gray to request a room at a local provincial inn. Who is this out-of-season traveler? More confounding is the thick mask of bandages obscuring his face. Why does he disguise himself in this manner and keep himself hidden away in his room? Aroused by trepidation and curiosity, the local villagers bring it upon themselves to find the answers. What they discover is a man trapped in a terror of his own creation, and a chilling reflection of the unsolvable mysteries of their own souls.

While nobody could really deny H.G. Wells was an amazing and talented Science Fiction author I think we can all agree that some of his fictions are superior to others. Among those that are not superior is The Invisible Man. This is not from any serious defect in the novel’s writing. Indeed, I cannot see anything that H.G. Wells has really done badly or that he could have done better. So, if it couldn’t have been done better then why isn’t it better? I think the problem stems from two interrelated factors: One is a serious technical gripe, something in the book and unavoidable, and the other being the smallness of that idea. Taken together they make it difficult to fully engage with. What holds back The Invisible Man from an utter perfection is at the weak premise at the very core of the novel, invisibility. Invisibility is both impossible and small. I’ve expanded on its impossibility in another essay. Its smallness is a problem I will tackle here.

Invisibility is a long standing meme in human culture: Plato describes invisibility in the legend of The Ring Of Gyges, Tolkien used a similarly endowed ring in The Lord Of The Rings, and even modern scientific versions of invisibility (the invisible-like camouflage in Predator) are still with us. The problem is invisibility isn’t a story, its barely a half of an idea in terms of ideas – its a place to take a story, but it isn’t a very fruitful one. I felt the same way when I read Richard Matheson’s The Incredible Shrinking Man |READ OUR REVIEW|READ OUR REVIEW|. I though: “A man shrinking, that’s new!” It was new and completely unfruitful. See the fallout from the idea of a man shirking inexorably towards nothingness is a feeling of emptiness. The man shrinks, the world gets bigger. A man shrinks, everyday objects become like mountains and house pets like dragons. Its interesting, to be sure, but it isn’t a story. Like invisibility, no amount of hand-waving can make the explanation scientifically plausible. Unlike, the The Incredible Shrinking Man however I can still recommend The Invisible Man – Wells is the master of Science Fiction. In The Invisible Man he takes a fatally flawed concept, invisibility, and writes the shit out of it. When Griffin, the scientist and anti-hero of the title goes about explaining his methodological reasoning in a Socratic dialogue, he is fully persuasive. Check this passage out:

“Phew!” said Kemp. “That’s odd! But still I don’t see quite … I can understand that thereby you could spoil a valuable stone, but personal invisibility is a far cry.”

“Precisely,” said Griffin. “But consider, visibility depends on the action of the visible bodies on light. Either a body absorbs light, or it reflects or refracts it, or does all these things. If it neither reflects nor refracts nor absorbs light, it cannot of itself be visible. You see an opaque red box, for instance, because the colour absorbs some of the light and reflects the rest, all the red part of the light, to you. If it did not absorb any particular part of the light, but reflected it all, then it would be a shining white box. Silver! A diamond box would neither absorb much of the light nor reflect much from the general surface, but just here and there where the surfaces were favourable the light would be reflected and refracted, so that you would get a brilliant appearance of flashing reflections and translucencies—a sort of skeleton of light. A glass box would not be so brilliant, not so clearly visible, as a diamond box, because there would be less refraction and reflection. See that? From certain points of view you would see quite clearly through it. Some kinds of glass would be more visible than others, a box of flint glass would be brighter than a box of ordinary window glass. A box of very thin common glass would be hard to see in a bad light, because it would absorb hardly any light and refract and reflect very little. And if you put a sheet of common white glass in water, still more if you put it in some denser liquid than water, it would vanish almost altogether, because light passing from water to glass is only slightly refracted or reflected or indeed affected in any way. It is almost as invisible as a jet of coal gas or hydrogen is in air. And for precisely the same reason!”

“Yes,” said Kemp, “that is pretty plain sailing.”

So, I’m of two minds on The Invisible Man. It derives its heart from a weak concept – and like the phlogiston theory of combustion it is discredited, and undeserving of serious consideration. Despite all this I still find myself willing to recommend you read the novella. The psychological rigor that Wells brings to the novel makes The Invisible Man quite possibly the first and last straight Science Fiction story worthy of our attentions.

Narrator James Adams is a capable reader, he reads the third person perspective text with what sounds like an authentic English accent. The clam-shell style case, for the library CD edition that I received, features a bit of fading text on the cover, a design inspired by the invisibility of the title. Unfortunately this makes the details hard to make out in anything other than a bright light environment. Blackstone Audio has four other formats available too: Cassette, MP3-CD, digital download (via Audible.com) and playaway (a kind of disposable MP3 player that can only play one book). Given the widespread availability of The Invisible Man by other audiobook publishers I’d like to have seen some value added materials, perhaps a specially commisioned introduction by Professor Eric Rabkin and or an afterward by Professor Michael D.C. Drout.

One thing I like about paperbooks that rarely (if ever) gets included in an audiobook is a map. Maps are fun and informative. One of the funnest paperback series ever was the old Dell Mapbacks. Here’s the Map from the back of Dell’s edition of The Invisible Man:

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells - A Dell Book (MAPBACK)

Posted by Jesse Willis

Naxos Audiobooks: The Fall Of The House Of Usher, The Pit And The Pendulum & Other Tales Of Mystery And Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe

SFFaudio Online Audio

In lecture #4 of The Teaching Company’s Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind: Literature’s Most Fantastic Works professor Eric S. Rabkin argues:

“The writing of Edgar Allan Poe has too often been dismissed for reasons that do not hold up under scrutiny. … The idea that he was an alcoholic is supported by the fact that he was found lying unconscious in an alley by a bar in his relatively young adulthood, in his 40s, and ultimately, a few days later died. In fact modern evidence that Richard Thompson at Purdue University has uncovered suggest that it is quite possible that Poe was allergic to alcohol, rather than an alcoholic. We have no evidence that he actually drank a lot. But even if he were an alcoholic claiming that his writing is nothing but the outpourings, as it were, of an alcoholic, is clearly foolish because if drinking alcohol made one a great and lasting writer the world would be full of them.

The idea that he was a pervert is based on the fact that he married his first cousin, who was only thirteen at the time, and that he never married again after her early death. It’s important to know that this first cousin, Virginia Clem, was of legal age when he married her, that marrying first cousins was not only legal but somewhat common at the time. His marriage was public, it was blessed by her mother. It was legal. It was devoted and it ended only with her death in 1847. They married in 1836, but in 1842, that is six years into the marriage, but five before her death, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. And so for half of his marriage he lived in fear, in the knowledge, that his bride would come to an early demise. This does not sound to me like a pervert, it sounds to me like a deeply saddened man.”

On a happier note, Naxos Audiobooks, in cooperation with Audiofile magazine, are giving away an audiobook full of melancholy Poey goodness. It’s only available until midnight on October 31, 2009 (when the link will presumably turn into a 404 pumpkin) so get downloading!!

Naxos Audiobooks - The Fall Of The House Of Usher, The Pit And The Pendulum & Other Tales Of Mystery And Imagination by Edgar Allan PoeThe Fall Of The House Of Usher, The Pit And The Pendulum & Other Tales Of Mystery And Imagination
By Edgar Allan Poe; Read by William Roberts
45 Zipped MP3 Files – Approx. 4 Hours 52 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Naxos Audiobooks
Published: 2003
ISBN: 9789626342831
The horrors of the Spanish Inquisition, with its dungeon of death, and the overhanging gloom on the House of Usher demonstrate unforgettably the unique imagination of Edgar Allan Poe. Unerringly, he touches upon some of our greatest nightmares – premature burial, ghostly transformation and words from beyond the grave. Written in the 1840s, they have retained their power to shock and frighten even now.

Stories included:
The Pit and the Pendulum, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Masque of the Red Death, Ligeia, The Raven, The Cask of Amontillado, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Black Cat, The Premature Burial, The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar

Posted by Jesse Willis

Teaching Company Course – Science Fiction: The Literature of the Technological Imagination

SFFaudio News

Teaching Company - Science Fiction: The Literature of the Technological ImaginationTwo nice pieces of news from The Teaching Company, which publishes excellent college courses on audio and video.

First, their title Science Fiction: The Literature of the Technological Imagination can be purchased on cassette for only $15.95. Our earlier SFFaudio review of that course can be found here, and the direct link to purchase it is here.

Second, many of their courses are now available as MP3 download. Sweet!

Review of Science Fiction: The Literature of the Technological Imagination by Eric S. Rabkin

Audio Lectures Review

Non-fiction - Science Fiction: The Literature of the Technological Imagination by Eric RabkinScience Fiction: The Literature of the Technological Imagination
By Eric S. Rabkin; Read by Eric S. Rabkin
8 cassettes – 4 hours (8 half-hour lectures) [LECTURES]
Publisher: The Teaching Company
Published: 1999
Themes: / Non-Fiction / Science Fiction / Pulp / Hard SF / Cyberpunk / Utopia / Dystopia /

This one is a little different than our usual fiction reviews. Science Fiction: The Literature of the Technological Imagination is a non-fiction series of lectures about the origins, history, and influence of science fiction. Think of it as Science Fiction 101 and you’ll get the idea. As a course it fulfills the promise of its title, breaking down the origins and the meanings within in science fiction literature. Professor Rabkin is a talented lecturer. Though obviously scripted, his naturalistic lectures are thoroughly engaging. The lectures explore the history of science fiction back to its origins in Plato’s Republic, then steadily marches all the way to William Gibson’s Neuromancer. These lectures offer genuinely interesting insight, I learned something interesting in each and every lecture! Rabkin discusses the first science fiction novel, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, examines the pulp phenomena of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and gives examples of what makes hard SF “hard”. He looks at the social, technological, and literary forces that influenced the genre’s authors, and in doing so tells an entertaining story – the story of science fiction! In short, it’s a fascinating listen. I just wish that Rabkin would offer Science Fiction 201 next semester! Each half hour lecture could have easily been expanded into 2 hours.

The lectures are titled:

Lecture 1: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the Emergence of Science Fiction
Lecture 2: Jules Verne and the Popular Passion for Science
Lecture 3: H.G. Wells and Science Fiction Parables of Social Criticism
Lecture 4: Pulp Culture, World War II, and the Ascendancy of American Science Fiction
Lecture 5: And the Winner Is…Robert A. Heinlein
Lecture 6: Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. LeGuin, and the Expansion of Science Fiction
Lecture 7: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Modern Science Fiction Film
Lecture 8: New Wave, Cyberpunk, and Our Science Fiction World