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Sunday

PodCastle 336: “Why I Bought Satan Two Cokes On the Day I Graduated High School,” by Nathaniel Lee

PodCastle 336: “Why I Bought Satan Two Cokes On the Day I Graduated High School,” by Nathaniel Lee 


Read by Dave Thompson


I like many podcasts, and PodCastle, the fantasy arm of EscapePod, is one of them. A few of my favourite stories come from there. This year, my contribution to our armory of things to listen to on our way to South Australia for Christmas, was “Why I Bought Satan Two Cokes On the Day I Graduated High School.”

It’s a long title, but when the story has finished, you need it as a clue as to what happened in the end, if you’re the sort of person to whom the final line seems ambiguous.

It’s a post-apocalypse story in which the angels have defeated Satan and are now on earth enforcing curfews and beating Satan up whenever they see him. The narrator, a high school misfit, has kind of made friends with him. They shoplift together. One of the narrator’s problems is that he has to choose an angel to align himself with when he graduates in a few days. He’s not keen on that whole thing.


It’s a fun story, sometimes sad, the kind of thing you’d expect from PodCastle.

Read it here

Thursday

Pleasant, chatty Science Fiction Podcasts


Renay and Anna chat exuberantly about their interests in SF. I discovered them through Galactic Suburbia. In a way, the two podcasts are similar, in that they are women discussing in each episode an SF topic that interests them. Fangirl Happy Hour tends to make me laugh, while my favourite episodes of Galactic Suburbia are really thoughtful. What I like about Galactic Suburbia is its unabashed intellectualism. They take their feminism and run with it. It’s strangely peaceful. My favourite episode of Galactic Surburbia would be episode 125 on James Tiptree Jr.


Tea and Jeopardy is another SF related podcast that I enjoy in which an author or illustrator is interviewed each episode. It’s a very calm, peaceful podcast despite the slight hint of jeopardy.

Sunday

WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE



Welcome to Night Vale is my new favorite thing. It’s nicely weird. It’s a fictional podcast that takes the form of a community radio announcer, Cecil, broadcasting information to the local community of Night Vale. Information includes the arrival of some scientists who have come to investigate the town. One of the scientists is Carlos, who has perfect hair, and teeth like military tombstones. Other characters include ‘the faceless lady who secretly lives in your house,’ a five headed dragon who is running for mayor, a cat who hovers in a fixed position four feet above the floor in the men’s bathroom. And so on. Despite the weirdness, there is enough continuity to make you wonder what is going to happen next. Little bit horror, little bit SF thriller, bit comedic, and very clever.

Find episodes at http://podbay.fm/show/53625817

Thursday

Audio: Brighton Rock BY GRAHAM GREENE

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene,
read by Samuel West

I listened to this and took it as a kind of thriller. From the first, we know who was killed, and by whom, and pretty much why. In fact, much of the book is a study of the murderer, Pinkie, who, at the ripe old age of sixteen, has taken over a small gang in Brighton after the original boss was killed in an earlier novel, Gun For Sale. Covering up the one murder leads to other murders. However, his thought about the young girl Rose, another potential witness, is not to murder her but to marry her so that she cannot be compelled to give evidence against him. He makes her believe he loves her. It helps that, as Catholics, and coming from impoverished backgrounds, they share a culture. They understand each other.

Against them is Ida Arnold. The victim, aware that he is being stalked, latches onto Ida in the hope that his pursuers will avoid making their move while there is a witness present. His death, when it comes, seems natural, but Ida becomes suspicious. Besides this, her own zest for life leads her to want to speak up for the dead.

When Ida is first introduced, she seems to be one of those female characters who are just there to decorate a scene and have no real function in the story. However, something about her made me wish that she was the main character, the detective. I was a bit surprised when it turned out that she was. On the other hand, is she really a hero, or just a careless do-gooder? For instance, in the end, she assumes that Rose will be comforted by her loving parents. The reader knows, though, that Rose’s parents are not loving: They pretty much sold her to Pinkie. Wondering about these things, I checked some reviews online. One suggested that Greene hated Ida, that for him she was the evil element in the story, as evidenced by the constant mention of the heaviness of her breasts. That surprised me; I’d interpreted these references to her breasts as matronly, a mother-of-the-world figure. It was also suggested that Greene preferred characters who would commit a mortal sin, eg murder, than those who didn’t take a side in the battle of Heaven and Hell. That sounds like a particularly sick notion when considered in the context of Pinkie’s comfort with committing murder but terror of sex, as against Ida’s ease with sex although it’s always a disappointment to her.


Although it’s possible that Ida has not saved the lives she thought she saved, I’d like to read more detective stories with an Ida-like character as the lead.

Wednesday

Magic realist, graphic nove review: The Cigar That Fell In Love With A Pipe

The Cigar That Fell In Love With A Pipe, a graphic novel, words by David Camus, pictures by Nick Abadzis

When you see a title like The Cigar That Fell In Love With A Pipe you know you're going to read it sooner or later. Then, when you do, you find it was such an easy, flowing and short read you wonder why you hesitated.

The story takes place in the mansion of Orson Welles, who is about to break up with Rita Hayworth although he doesn't know it yet. He has just finished making a film and is sent a box of cigars as a thank you present. He loves cigars. His first impulse is to smoke his way through them. The next morning, when there are only three left, he begins to realise just how special these particular cigars are. They have been rollled by a very famous cigar roller, Conchita Marquez. Cigars rolled by her are the most prized of all the cigars in the world.

From there, we are taken into the story of Conchita, how she met a sailor, and from there to the story of the sailor, and so finally back to Orson Welles in his mansion.

It's a sweet, sad, quirky story and I can recommend it.

Cheers

Monday

A Science Fiction Graphic Novel, the Astro Boy spinoff "Pluto"

Pluto is a manga series by  Naoki Urasawa, set in the Astro Boy universe, with the permission of Osamu Tezuka, the Astro Boy creator. It's not like the cheerful TV series I remember. Instead, it's a suspenseful, possibly even a psychological thriller, as the robot Gesicht tries to find out who is killing the great robots of the world, and why.

First thing to learn when reading manga: start at the back, and read right to left, but top to bottom. Fortunately, this is one of those comics that are laid out well enough that, once you've got the hang of it, the sequences are easy to follow.

Astro Boy turns up in this story as one of the world's great robots, but his name here is Atom. Apparently most people who are familiar with Astro Boy already know this. 

There are eight books in the series. I've only read seven of them because that was all the library had, Maybe another day that eighth one will be there.

Once I figured out how to read Pluto I quite enjoyed it. Some of the sequences are actually beautiful. Mixed in with these episodes is the growing question of what is going on with Gesicht, Is something missing from his memory? Is there a problem with his program?

I can't give you spoilers because I won't know the answers myself until I find the eighth book, but I do recommend this series just because some of the sections are beautiful little short stories by themselves.

Friday

Historical Fiction Review: Bring Up The Bones by Hilary Mantel



Bring Up The Bones is a sequel to Wolf Hall and continues the story of Thomas Cromwell, adviser to Henry VIII. Henry is married to Anne Boleyn, but she only gives him a daughter. Then she has a miscarriage. Henry is getting desperate for a male heir and Jane Seymour is looking better every day. This being so, Cromwell gets the job of getting rid of Anne.

Cromwell has his own agenda. His mentor and father figure, Cardinal Wolsey, had been cast off years earlier, in Wolf Hall, and treated disrespectfully. Now Cromwell can take revenge under the guise of carrying out the king's wishes.

Mantel's writing has a beautiful texture. Curiously, then, I found my attention often wandered. What I wondered was how much of what she'd written was drawn from her research? Had Cromwell left lots of letters and diaries behind? Were the thoughts she attributed to him actually written by him somewhere? Then she had a scene describing how paper was rare and valuable, and therefore used and reused over again. So how could anything be left?

It helped when I came across this interview with Mantel on Radio Australia for the Perth Writers Festival. Hearing her brisk voice and the way she talked about things helped me see how her Cromwell might be a very practical man,  not a bad man, but a man who could do well in the times he lived in, and surrounded by people whose vision was not as far reaching as his. In one section, Cromwell considers the need for better roads together with the fact that parts of the population need more work, but he can't get the nobility to listen. Listening to the interview I began to see how Mantel's Cromwell might have evolved from her mind.

I have a couple of caveats with these books. One is that you need to know the history already in order to follow the story. The second is that the third person subjective narration isn't quite mastered. That's odd in a Booker prize winner. Reading Wolf Hall, I had to get used to 'he' usually referring to Cromwell even when the subject still appeared to be someone else, eg Henry. In Bring Up The Bones the 'he' sometimes gets followed with 'Cromwell', sometimes when it's already quite clear that it's Cromwell we're talking about. Why not just say 'Cromwell'? Well, presumably, just saying 'he' keeps the reader in that beautiful, warm-bath immersion that is the writing's great strength. On the other hand, I noticed in another present tense, third person subjective story I read, that use of the protagonist's name did not jar me out it. So why is 'Cromwell' different? Maybe someone with better editing skills than I have could answer. Maybe when I get around to reading it again I won't even notice a problem. (It happens.)

Cheers