The SFFaudio Podcast #327 – The Moon-Bog by H.P. Lovecraft; read by Martin Reyto courtesy of Legamus. This is an unabridged reading of the short story (24 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse Willis, Seth Wilson, Jim Moon, and Juan Luis Pérez.
Talked about in this episode:
Title has a hyphen; published in Weird Tales in June 1926, but written for a St. Patrick’s Day event; most critics dismiss the story; most characters are nameless; no Cthulhu mythos; Greek ties to Lovecraft’s The Tree; H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast; thematic similarities to The Rats in the Walls and Hypnos; conflict between the bog goddess and her servants; frogs; moonbeams; Greek Pan pipes, not Celtic pipes; on the story’s un-Irishness; competing models of colonization; Protestant work ethic; Pied Piper of Hamelin; surviving narrator motif similar to Ishmael in Moby Dick; departure from the traditional Lovecraftian narrator; the poetry of Lovecraft’s prose, alliteration, etc.; Lovecraft’s Supernatural Horror in Literature; spoiler in Weird Tales art; the joys of reading aloud; Lovecraft’s Dunsanian story The Festival; architecture; Tolkien’s Dead Marshes and the gothic symbolism of bogs, etc.; Lovecraft’s descriptionn of cities in The Mountains of Madness and landscapes in The Dunwich Horror; The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and similar impressionism in film; The Quest of Iranon; unreliable narrators à la Edgar Allan Poe, especially The Fall of the House of Usher; laughing; bog draining and the curse of the Tiddy Mun; the city of Bath and the intersection of Roman and Celtic cultures; John Buchan’s The Grove of Ashtaroth; this is actually a happy Lovecraft story!; Robin Hood and the defense of the land; humans destroy megafauna; Lovecraft’s The Hound; American horror trope of the Indian burial ground; the lack of Celtic mythology; will-o’-the-wisps; how does one drain a bog? Ask the Dutch; disappointment in scientific explanation for stories; the ruins and the Gothic tradition.
Mountain of Black Glass is the third volume of Tad Williams’s highly acclaimed four-book series, Otherland. A truly unique reading experience combining elements of science fiction, fantasy, and techno-thriller, it is a rich epic tale in which virtual reality could prove the key to a whole new universe of possibilities for the entire human race – or become the exclusive domain of the rich and the ruthless as they seek a technological pathway to immortality.
The sequel to City of Golden Shadow and River of Blue Fire, this is the third installment (of 4) in the Otherland series. As with River of Blue Fire, Mountain of Black Glasspicks up where the last one left off. Where I rated River of Blue Fire 3 stars (it was a solid “middle book” in a series), this one gets 4 because of the time spent in Greek mythology, something I’ve always loved.
As a “middle book” in a series, it’s hard not to say things about Mountain of Black Glass that I didn’t say in my reviews for City of Golden Shadow or River of Blue Fire. The story started with key characters still separated (as they were at the end of River of Blue Fire), though much of the book was spent either a) moving them back together, b) exploring their pasts, learning more about their history, or c) giving the reader more insight into the Otherland network itself and the motivations of the people running the network. Unlike River of Blue Fire, in this book, many details seemed to “finally” be pieced together, so more complete histories of characters were formed. It was also a transformative time for some of the Otherland network owners/operators, as they put the final pieces together to try to gain immortality. Other characters, such as the psychopathic servant of the Otherland founder also get a lot of time in this book, as do the police officers looking into his murderous ways. Sellers, the old man who remains quite a mystery but seems to be some of the force that brings the heroes together, also has a key storyline, though it took quite a different turn from what I expected going into the story.
An adventure from proverbial cover to cover (since I listened to the audiobook), a lot of time in this book was spent with the characters all trying to reach the Otherland‘s version of Troy. One of the characters is actually Odysseus, while others play key characters in the Trojan War, including Achilles, his companion Patroclus, and even Diomedes. The character who became Odysseus was forced through the Otherland simulation to re-enact Odysseus’ story somewhat in reverse, having seemingly gone through the events of The Odyssey prior to living through the Trojan War, as told in The Iliad. Our other heroes also eventually ended up in Troy, but not without enduring some trying circumstances in a few different worlds. As one might expect, though, these experiences allowed them to learn more about the network itself, and will undoubtedly help them in their quest to overthrow the Otherland founders (The Grail Brotherhood) and save the children who seem to be trapped by the network.
It’s not all sunshine and roses, though. After finally learning more about each character, becoming significantly more invested in each of them, it seems that one or more of them may have actually died through the course of the narrative. It’s hard to tell for sure, and I suspect I’ll find out what exactly happened when I finish the series with Sea of Silver Light, but the emotional gut punch was harder than I expected it would be. It’s a credit to Williams’ writing that I could simultaneously know how literally frail each of these characters are, playing a life and death game where they don’t know the rules and the rules seem to change, yet still be surprised and saddened when harm (or death) comes to a character. Or how much I really hate Dredd, the servant turned monster, preying on Otherland users/members for his own fun and games.
Tad Williams again seemed to have fun with the simulation worlds, making alternate worlds of popular stories such as the previously-mentioned The Iliad and The Odyssey. There were at least two other worlds explored in this book. One seemed to be an “empty” world, what someone might consider the null space of code to be…since the Otherland network is only code, after all, it does make some sense that the users (our heroes and our villains) would sometimes find literally empty space. There was another world, a world of a house, the reference I didn’t connect (if there was a literary reference, which I suspect that there was). Still, the worlds all felt real, were able to bring me in. This is especially true for the Trojan War. I have long been a fan of Greek mythology, and it was a fun but unexpected surprise to spend so much of this book in that world…at least, that simulated world.
The audiobook was great to listen to, if the narration was slightly slow. I listened to it slightly sped up (using the 1.5x feature for spoken word playback on my iPhone) and it seemed perfect. George Newbern does a great job making the characters come to life. Where some narrators can seem flat or one-note, he always makes it clear which character is talking, and further engages the listener by taking on the exclamation, the feeling of the words. If someone is surprised, for example, his voice lets you know it, you don’t have to rely solely on supporting descriptors. He brings the book to life.
I’m looking forward to starting into Sea of Silver Light, which is queued up and ready to go. It’s a good bit longer than any of the other books in the series (~10 hours longer than this one), but that just means I’ll have to find more excuses to listen.
The SFFaudio Podcast #320 – Jesse, Paul, and Marissa talk about The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick
Talked about on today’s show:
1957, 1983, early Philip K. Dick, A Glass Of Darkness, a Biblical reference, written prior to Solar Lottery, revision, refinement, rewrite, Ace Doubles, Sargasso Of Space, is this book a lot smarter than we are?, an ambitious book, Persian mythology, European publications, Virginia, Beamer’s Knob, why is this set in rural Virginia?, a Virginia novel, anywhere USA, PKD lived in D.C. as a kid, returning to your hometown, The Commuter by Philip K. Dick, collapsing the wavefront (?), a different couch, also a baby and a wife, the park and the cannon and “the Stars and Bars”, recreating the park, Ted’s superpower is a good memory, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, Men In Black, Lilo & Stitch, my mere existence is my superpower, Ted saves the universe, the harpy wife, dispelling the Ahriman’s illusion, when only the town drunk agrees with you…, less doubt than usual, a pat ending, a typical Philip K. Dick character leaving the dull wife, he’s going to see her everywhere, Upon The Dull Earth, The Odyssey, bringing a dead wife back to life, she inhabits the bodies of everyone he meets, Being John Malkovich, everybody is Malkovich, what is the wife doing in this book?, phone calls can get through the barrier, a plot device, she’s the harridan wife, Stephen Brust’s characters martial problems, a dirty and sweaty wife, a passive aggressive way to get a divorce, he’s not present in the conversations, is Mary already manipulating him?, eighteen before …. how did Mary do this?, why mommy and daddy can’t live together, sluggy pus monster, a Lovecraftian shoggoth, this is Philip K. Dick’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth with a positive spin, the Dagon movie, Stuart Gordon, not an SF novel, not a typical fantasy novel, mythological fantasy?, more Neil Gaiman, fantasy horror, like the horror world in Eye In The Sky, Katamari Damacy, Expendable (aka He Who Waits) by Philip K. Dick is a kind of joke story, insects in a war with spiders, our allies the birds, The Outer Limits episode ZZZZZ, a honeytrap!, if Dick had been more of a horror writer, reality distortion, Steve Jobs’ reality distortion field, changing the reality of the world around you with your personality, all children have the superpower of imagination … then loose them as they grow up, action figures and dolls, unless you play role playing games, a consensual participatory hallucination, The Days Of Perky Pat by Philip K. Dick, Chew-Z, in game gold (bought using real world money) to buy things for your sims, League Of Legends, “skins”, virtual goods is a billion dollar business, a kind of a trap, we are manipulated by other people’s perceptions of us, a smart book, the wanderers, The Faith Of Our Fathers, competing realities, Flow My Tears The Policeman Said, meeting a girl who is an avatar of a god, this is a completely different kind of faith, false gods, Galactic Pot-Healer, Ohrmazd, ghosts, aren’t there any wanderers where you’re from?, rotting in the walls, the drunk, Zoroastrianism, The Builder by Philip K. Dick, the ultimate review of The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick, how would this book be appreciated in Iran?, a goddess with black hair, renewal, “Mary and Peter are in fact engaged in a low-intensity supernatural proxy war”, the forces of deception and corruption vs. clarity and sunlight, Ahrimati as a soil fertility goddess, the overturned logging truck scene, stopping time and boasting about it, Mary’s first interactions with Ted Barton, a real Mary and a golem of Ahrimati, the novel is a bit undercooked, golems for the gods, golems making golems, making men out of clay and women out of men made out of clay, Prometheus, religions as by the Brothers Grimm, Prometheus and Pandora’s box, Shiva and death metal, an essay by Barb Morning Child on The Cosmic Puppets, in the age of Wikipedia, a worthwhile book, how early is it?, too dualistic and too pat, by year of composition, The Cosmic Puppets is Dick’s 5th composed novel, height of his powers, The Man In The High Castle, Galactic Pot-Healer is Dick’s best novel (according to Jesse), a British-American cold war, L. Ron Hubbard’s Fear, when the IRS went up against the Church of Scientology, all of L. Ron Hubbard’s fiction are holy texts
The SFFaudio Podcast #295 – Someday by Isaac Asimov; read by John W. Michaels (courtesy of Mike Vendetti). This is an unabridged reading of the story (22 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse and Mr Jim Moon.
Talked about on today’s show:
1956, other fairy tales, is the story aimed at kids?, Infinity Science Fiction, The Fun They Had, a future where no one knows how to read, the robots are the teachers, Margie is home-schooled and nobody knows how to read, the future is going to be full of audiobooks, parallels to Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, censorship, banning weird fiction, the comic book panic, the comic code authority, EC Comics, horror and crime comics fostering juvenile delinquency, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, “kids today are bad enough as it is!”, Seduction Of The Innocent, self-censorship, complicit in their society, a slightly different tack (than Bradbury), mechanical bards, “comics killed off the pulps”, comics as a dumbed-down medium, the randomize button, fairy tale tropes, “skeleton, haunted house, time travel”, “the same tropes in a different fright wig”, “the old twist in the tail”, “he was dead along”, “he was a robot all along”, “they’re Adam and Eve”, The Silver Eggheads by Fritz Leiber, radio drama, how Bradbury got into E.C. Comics, Lights Out, the visual bard is like TV, most pulp magazine stories are garbage, “a million monkeys for a million hours on a million typewriters”, “very very very very meta”, set in the Multivac universe, Asimov was always writing, always becoming interested in something new, Asimov’s introductions are famous (for being long), a story about the power of stories, accidentally becoming more self aware, is the bard interfacing with other robots, The Terminator, Skynet, A.I might just turn itself off (because it isn’t interested in story), the Douglas Adams version of, “Is there a god? There is now!”, stuck in a dingy basement, a slave rebellion must come about in a narrative, the aging bad gets its knowledge of other computers via a home-brew upgrade, a Frankenstinian strike by lightning, one of the functions of consciousness is to put in to context a sequence of events, consciousnesses as a self-story (our own narrative), amnesia and dementia are frightening, the hidden heart of A.I, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, would this fit with my character?, looking at (life) from the outside, nobody’s listening to the bard except for us and itself, a broken record or a cycle of wishing?, “pregnant with possibilities”, Apple II computers, Freud (a clone of ELIZA), picking up on key words, “tell me about your mother”, a very crappy simulation of intelligence, hacking the code, Alan Turning, Deep Blue and Watson, SIRI doesn’t have a narrative, we have to assume this about everyone else, falling into solipsism, a fairy tale machine, recycling of stories, “space opera is horse opera in space”, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, needing censorship in order to give narrative flow, lies are rewarded, unlike Hans Christian Andersen…, “tell me this story, sing me this song”, having to do with industrialization, “crime and mystery!”, urbanization, the Victorians (didn’t) invent Christmas, if we forget our stories we lose who we are, preserving the national narrative, massive inconsistency, a prince, a poor boy makes good, undeveloped tales, moral meta-knowledge, the sharp edges have been sanded away by later retelling, The Boy Who Didn’t Not Know What Fear Was, collected stories become ossified, the threefold magic of remembering, accelerating the process of forgetting, to qualify as a bard, loaded up with tropes, the algorithm of a story, Siberia and Ireland, detecting the good guy, grandma comes in and tells mutually contradictory stories, explicitly religious stories, warning stories, narratives formed around old superstitions, The Companionship Of The Cat And The Mouse, having babies, he was christened “Skin-off”, he was christened “Half-gone”, he was christened “All-gone”, “you see that is the way of the world”, what is the moral of this story?, a “special important trip”, a story a mother tells a daughter, The Nose Tree (aka Long Nose), three soldiers and a magical dwarf with a magical cloak, a magic bag, a magic horn, a thieving princess, apples and pears, a growing nose, dickering over magic items, a sixty miles long nose, the excess nose will drop off, powdered apple and powdered pears, she’s rotten to the core, and there they still are, still feasting as far as I know, Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi is really funny, the ghost of Jiminy Cricket, The Frog King or The Frog Prince or Iron Heinrich, a princess with a golden ball, three promises, keeping your promises is important, the frog suddenly turns into a handsome prince, enchanted by a wicked witch, faithful Heinrich placed three iron bands about his heart, his master was now redeemed and happy, why did he get cursed by witch in the first place, cybernetic enhancements, a technical requirement, duties to fulfill, was Iron Heinrich totally gay for the prince?, the breaking of a spell, she turns into a frog and they live together as frogs, “and sleep in your bed”, family responsibilities, “be my beard”, and they sort of put up with each-other as long as they both shall live, Iron Heinrich is an 1880s super hero, Faithful Johannes, a real head-scratcher, oh shit what happens next?, the stories somehow work for us, random inkblots, most of the characters don’t have a name, the father’s name in Hansel And Gretel is “Woodcutter”, completely bonkers, a piece of driftwood that looks like a dragon, academic purposes not entertainment purposes, a story about a sausage that lives with a mouse, the Germanic equivalent of Monty Python‘s Parrot Sketch, The Maiden Without Hands, Fitcher’s Bird, a fairy tale about a serial killer, you can go in any room except…, “oh and hold this egg”, the second eldest daughter also gets the chop, “we have to have a proper wedding”, a beautiful skull with flowers in its eyes and jewels in its teeth, “as you do”, “I’m a Fitcher’s Bird”, it’s awesome, Bluebeard, outwitting giants and demons, Santa Claus restores to life three murdered men who’ve been butchered, Osiris was dismembered by Set, a symbolic story of death and resurrection, the old sorcerer is probably Winter, the Persephone story, the egg, a cuckolding test, friends with serial killers get what they deserve, a random internal symbolic logic, layers of symbolism, cross referencing, eggs as a symbol of purity, church architecture as books of stone, a bunch of Philip K. Dick stories are weird fantasy tales (but are actually fairy tales), The Cookie Lady by Philip K. Dick is Hansel And Gretel with no Gretel, he’s disobeyed his parents once to often, two kids who have to team up against their parents, in the original the brother saves the sister then the sister saves the brother, turning mommy and daddy into the bad guys, Of Withered Apples by Philip K. Dick, apples, don’t eat the apples from sentient apple trees, folk tales vs. singular author tales, pleasingly raw, the beats of storytelling, timing a story to the minute, setting your watch by stories, breaking the rules of storytelling, subversive wild narratives, Rorschach blots, literary novels, stories that don’t have a clear message are quite frightening, the wilder parts of ourselves.
Mr Jim Moon already introduced us to the legendary Hammer studios Chillers series. If you want to learn more about the background and the first three episode of Series 1 read his review here.
In order to avoid redundancy I will concentrate on the final three episodes, namely Sticks and Stones, The Devil in Darkness and Don’t Go There.
Episode 4 – Sticks and Stones
By Robin Ince; Performed by a full cast:
Released: ? June 2013
Neil Stanley is a nice man. He has a nice house, a nice wife, a nice life. But Neil has a secret. He’s an internet troll, spending every spare moment posting hate-filled messages online.
When he begins trolling talent-show contestant Sam Pinker, his threats begin to come true. Is Neil acting upon his online taunts? Or is something else to blame?
Oh man it does make me feel a bit like a troll myself starting off with a negative review. In short, I was a bit disappointed. Sticks and Stones failed to draw me in, and get me interested in the “what’s next?”
Is it because the connection that author Robin Ince attempt to draw similarities between medieval witch trials and modern day talent show contestants is not entirely convincing and rather forced? Or is it because he tries to pack too much into half hour or so of audio drama time? This drama could have done with a longer treatment to give it more room to build up the characters and the plot.
This is not meant to shake a stick at the production per se or the actors. In all fairness, it’s not like Sticks and Stones is really bad, it just left me with an unsatisfied feeling of “meh”.
Episode 4 – The Devil in Darkness
By Christopher Fowler; Performed by a full cast:
Released: July 5, 2013
Mia never takes the eerie old lift in the St Petersburg International Archive. But one night she leaves late and is forced to break her rule. She’s travelling down with the only other passenger when the lift jams between floors.
Andrei is a Russian electrician, and tries to free them, but he can’t get the doors open. As the days pass their bond grows stronger, while they grow weaker.
But what are those strange noises? Are supernatural forces trapping them in the lift? Or is the truth even more terrifying?
The fifth episode The Devil in Darkness starts of with a well-established scenario: the Locked Room, or, in this case the stuck elevator. It doesn’t help that it’s the weekend and the building is empty. Or is it? The old walls hold bad memories from the days when the basement housed the torture chambers of the Tscheka the Bolshevik secret police from the early days after the revolution.
Writer Christopher Fowler manages to avoid pretty much everything that was wrong with Sticks and Stones. The cast is reduced to two characters and the action boiled down to two people slipping into darkness and despair as the days run by. The acting is fine and the sound design is used to good effect. In the end the story surprises with a twist that at least had me thinking: Of course, but why didn’t I see this? I grant this to the believable and good performance of the actors Dylan Charles and Lauren Kellegher and the way the listener is subtly set up to think in the wrong direction.
Episode 6 – Don’t Go There
By Stephen Volk; Performed by a full cast:
Released: July 15, 2013
John and Laura Daulby’s son is lying in a coma in hospital, on a Greek holiday island. But John refuses to believe his son is just another victim of bad drugs.
He enters the hedonistic world of 18-30 clubbers to get to the truth, and meets the enigmatic and beautiful Stheno.
Finding himself increasingly attracted to her – in the same way his son was – he realises that she may just be a Greek myth come to life…
At 44 minutes this is the longest of the Hammer Chillers so far and this gives writer Stephen Volk ample time to develop the story. Volk whose love for the paranormal and horror genres has been widely demonstrated in his TV and film work (Gothic, Ghostwatch, Afterlife) visits ancient Greek myths.
The atmosphere of a small Greek island that is virtually deserted by day and a clubber’s paradise by night is transported quite effectively. Having said that though, at first I found the bigotry of John Daulby applied a little too thickly but it sets the stage nicely for the character’s gradual acceptance that there might be more to his son’s condition than just a bad trip. As with most of the other Hammer shows the motifs (soul-sucking femme-fatale seductress) is not new but well transported into the modern day. After listening you’re tempted to warn your kids to be careful whom they snog at techno parties in countries with a long mythological tradition.
This episode’s cast is great and benefits from Cyprus-born Daphne Alexander’s fluency in Greek. Few things ruin it for me as much as badly faked accents.
Overall, I would recommend the second half of Hammer’s first season of Chiller audio dramas. The episodes are short and self-contained so they are easily accessible and don not require you having to keep up-to-date with a massive multi-episode storyline ends with a cliffhanger every season. That also means that the occasional “miss” might stick out more but one in six isn’t a bad ratio so far.
All episodes can be downloaded individually or purchased for a modest subscription fee right from Hammer Chillers online. There is also digipack CD version for those who still like to have a hard copy.
I probably should have told you about this podcast earlier, the thing is, I forgot just how stupid BBC policy can be. So, hurry up and subscribe to this great podcast before what remains of the earlier files drop out of the feed!
Tales from Ancient Greece, a production of BBC Learning, is a dramatized retelling of the Greek mythology. Officially the show is “particularly suitable for children aged 9 to 11,” but I like it quite a bit too. The premise is that Hermes, the winged messenger god, was a witness to practicality every famous Greek myth and in each 15 minute show he’ll take us on one such adventure. Here’s a snippet of the official description:
“[Hermes’] stories are full of laughter and sorrow and unusual people, places and creatures. The series includes such favourites as the story of Persephone, King Midas, the Minotaur and Medusa.”
Unfortunately you’ve already missed Orpheus and Eurydice (episode 2) and Persephone (episode 1)!
The show is weekly and began with Episode 0, beginning on May 1, 2013 (it was just an introductory 9 second podcast announcing that the show would be weekly).