Gethen Glossary

The Left-Hand of DarknessReading Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness without a good lexicon is driving me stark raving bonkers.  I’m starting one here, in the hopes that it will be helpful to other readers.

Some of my sources include Rebecca Rass’s short glossary, Joanna Kieschnick’s LHD vocabulary, and another one from Lowell High School in San Francisco.

Continue reading “Gethen Glossary”

Dreaming of Fairyland

The Martian Chronicles, cover by Robert WatsonThe Week 8 reading assignment for my online class on Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World was Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.

I first read this book when the 1979 BBC-NBC mini-series came out.  I remember exactly where I was won over: in the second chapter, “Ylla”, I read the following:

“Here’s your scarf.” He handed her a phial. “We haven’t gone anywhere in months.” […]

From the phial a liquid poured, turned to blue mist, settled about her neck, quivering.

I absolutely loved the image of that ephemeral scarf wrapping itself around the Martian Ylla’s shoulders.

Here is my 300-word essay.  Continue reading “Dreaming of Fairyland”

Pop Culture Le Guin

Gethen

To go with my online class Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, I started a series of posts listing companion materials in pop culture, preferably ones that are a little forgotten, have not received the attention I think they deserve, or take an unusual angle.  All the better if they are available online, double-plus for free.

These are the ones I propose to accompany Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.  It’s more difficult to find pop culture resources — movies, television, comics, games, music, etc. — on The Left Hand of Darkness and other works by Le Guin than any other readings in this class because they are still covered by copyright but pre-date the Internet explosion.

Old kings and queens of the Erhenrang, by Steven Celiceo

Men are from Mars, Women are from Herland

Amazons

The Week 7 reading assignments for my online class on Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World were Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland.

Both books are ostensibly about discovering mythical civilizations, although Burroughs’ is a straight-up tale of action while Gilman’s uses the trappings of the genre and gentle irony to develop what reads more as a philosophical manifesto with a light sprinkling of adventure.  I am not a fan of Burroughs’ writing style, which I find pompous and awkward (though to be fair, this was his first published fiction), and Gilman’s book was too long with too much exposition.  All in all, not a great reading week.

Here is my 300-word essay.  Continue reading “Men are from Mars, Women are from Herland”

Pop Culture Bradbury

The Martian Chronicles (TV series)To go with my online class Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, I started a series of posts listing companion materials in pop culture, preferably ones that are a little forgotten, have not received the attention I think they deserve, or take an unusual angle.  All the better if they are available online, double-plus for free.

These are the ones I propose to accompany this week’s reading, The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.  Resources are more limited than on previous weeks because the works are still covered by copyright.

If you are in the UK, there is now a legal ebook version.  “Bradbury had long held firm against the encroachments of the internet. He believed that “there is no future for e-books, because they are not books. Ebooks smell like burned fuel”, and also dismissed the internet in an interview with the New York Times in 2009, calling it a “big distraction … It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere.””  Which is interesting, from an author who featured electronic books in his stories over sixty years ago!

You can read a large number of Bradbury’s stories online thanks to Unz.org.

Back in 1950 there was an abridged version of The Martian Chronicles as a radio play on the NBC radio program “Dimension X.”  You can download an MP3 version of the first episode from Old Time Radio Downloads (about 6 MB).  Plus, the original was sponsored by Wheaties!  What’s not to like?  Scroll down the list for more episodes.

In 1979, there was a three-part mini-series as a result of a BBC-NBC partnership that gave a somewhat more complete version, but much of the story was changed.  You can check it out on DiscloseTV, here is Part 1.  Sure, it was less than stellar (ha-ha), but the anticipation of it is what got me to read the original Bradbury stories as a kid.

The Stanley Myers soundtrack of that television series was not bad, though; it can be found on iTunes.

Leonard Nimoy reads the shorts stories “Usher II” and “There Will Come Soft Rains” from The Martian Chronicles.

As a classmate pointed out, a crater on the moon bears the name Dandelion Wine in honour of his renowned short story collection, and British pop singer Elton John based his song “Rocket Man” on the Bradbury story of the same name.  (Reference: NNDB.)

The site of the Curiosity rover’s landing on Mars was named Bradbury Landing by NASA in August 2012.

The Martian Chronicles illustration

Lost Worlds, Found Dangers

Cover, Amazing Stories, May 1949Since the readings themselves were not generating massive amounts of insight for me this week, I started musing about the sub-genre of Lost World tales.  Specifically, I was thinking on how it differs from and overlaps with other related sub-genres:

Since I’m a great big geek, I ended up making a chronological spreadsheet (Lost Worlds mini-bibliography) with landmark Lost World books and associated key terms.

To be fair, prolific authors like H. Ridder Haggard (who I actually quite like) and Edgar Rice Burroughs (whose writing I find pompous) would skew the results strongly if I let them, so I only used a couple of their best-known books each.  I found one correlation that interested me, especially in light of its subversion by Charlotte Perkins Gilman:

  • When the Lost World involves mostly primitive cultures (as perceived by these 1870-1920 Euro-centric authors and their narrators), there is usually very little space dedicated to female characters, and they fall primarily in the “evil old witch” and “innocent noble savage girl” categories.
  • When the Lost World involves  the Lost World involve ancient civilizations, there is almost always a princess, queen, or other woman of power who is both desirable and dangerous.  The inevitably white, male, brawny central protagonist is attracted to her but usually leaves her behind to return to his own world, with some wistfulness but much relief.

Also, the four stock locations for a Lost World are:

  • Legendary islands
  • Remote continental interior (South America, Central Asia, Africa or Antarctica)
  • The Hollow Earth
  • Other planets.

As we run out of unexplored places on Earth, Lost Worlds migrate through the Solar System, then out to other star systems.

Now if I could only fold this into a 320-words essay, and have space for some reflections…

Without an Eye in the Sky

The Island of Doctor Moreau - coverThe Week 6 reading assignments for my online class on Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World were H. G. Wells‘ novels The Island of Doctor Moreau and The Invisible Man, and the short stories “The Country of the Blind” and “The Star” from his collection The Country of the Blind and Other Stories.

It was a lot of reading, but it was also a treat; in the first five weeks, we had not had anything I think truly belongs in the science fiction category.  Even Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Poe’s more pseudo-scientific tales like “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” do not actually spend more than a short description on anything science-like; more importantly, they do not bring anything from the realm of science as more than trappings in a few scenes, whereas Wells uses its ideas and methods in constructing the structure of the novels.

I also enjoy Wells’ ability to use very different tones and styles from book to book — for example, The Island of Doctor Moreau is adventure and horror, The Invisible Man has a little bit of scariness in it but mostly humour.  In fact, I nominate The Invisible Man as a precursor in the British tradition now exemplified by the long-running Doctor Who, of mixing fear, adventure, and humour.

Here is my 300-word essay — not all that insightful, but sometimes you just have to phone one in.  Continue reading “Without an Eye in the Sky”

Pop Culture Mars and Herland

To go with my online class Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, I started a series of posts listing companion materials in pop culture, preferably ones that are a little forgotten, have not received the attention I think they deserve, or take an unusual angle.  All the better if they are available online, double-plus for free.

These are the ones I propose to accompany Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland.

A Princess of Mars

The book is available in audio format from LibriVox, from Candlelight Stories, from The Fantastic Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and from The Audio Archive’s YouTube channel.

John Carter (Disney 2012)You’ve heard of the 2012 Disney movie, John Carter.  You may have even heard that it was a stinker; it wasn’t.  For apparently fiscal reasons, Disney decided to write this movie off before it even came out.  I was rather reminded of the way Fox Entertainment treated a number of good television shows, most notably Firefly.  The truth is, John Carter was actually quite well done, pretty faithful to the feel and excitement of the original material while managing to tone down a lot of its racism and sexism.  On the down side, it did meld the elements from several of Burroughs books rather than following a single one.  Most importantly for the genre, it was entertaining.  I liked it better than the Star Wars prequels, the Star Trek reboot, or Avatar, if only because it was unpretentious.

Mars cover (Adamant Entertainment)Then there is the role-playing game from Adamant Entertainment, Mars, published in two versions for both the Savage Worlds and d20 systems.  Although they had to file off the serial numbers to accommodate the heirs of Burroughs copyrights, the inspiration is acknowledged and very clear.  I enjoyed the game in its SW version.

The theme of “planetary romance”, also known as “sword and planet” and especially as exemplified by Burroughs, has inspired other role-playing games including Douglas Easterly’s Savage Swords of Athanor, also using the Savage Worlds system and available as a free PDF.  The author offers a lot of interesting musings on his blog on running this type of game.

In comic books and graphic novels, Burroughs’ Martians make short but interesting appearances (along with H.G. Wells’ Martians) in Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II.

Herland

Here is the audiobook version of Herland from LibriVox; and two short radio episodes of Gilman’s writing, “California Colors” and “Matriatism” from the California Legacy Project.

In addition, here are the two other books in the Herland trilogy: Moving the Mountain, a sort of post-prequel; and the direct sequel, With Her in Ourland.

Unz.org gathered a nice collection of Gilman’s writings online.

Let’s face it, the expository section of Herland is not as exciting as Burroughs’ florid but action-laden prose, using gentle humour to make its point; but it managed to leave its mark in a few places.

For context, one needs to learn a bit about late 19th century and early 20th century social reform movements; I highly recommend Susan Jacoby’s book Freethinkers because it is concise, also provides the historical context before and since, and gives a wider picture of those inter-linked movements rather than looking only at one, for example feminism or racial equality.

Wonder Women coverThe central theme of Herland is of course the feminist utopia concept, or as TV Tropes calls it, Lady Land.  It is found in a lot of very academic works, but also on Wonder Woman’s island of Themyscira.

Speaking of which, a side look at Lillian S. Robinson’s Wonder Women: Feminisms and Superheroes is interesting, short and punchy — as befits the topic.  In only briefly mentions Herland but it does discuss the topic of feminist utopias.

Feminist utopias and dystopias: “The Women’s Millennium” by Charles Heber Clark, writing under the pseudonym of “John Quill”, 1867.

Gilman’s legacy directly or indirectly influenced other science fiction writers like Ursula LeGuin, Margaret Atwood, Marge Piercy, James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Bradley Sheldon), and Doris Lessing.

Squee: Wells with Platypus

I was looking for scholarly comments on race and colour in H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau, which is one of my SF/F class reading this week.  I found this thesis by Bill Hutchison, and I found this photo of Wells with a platypus.  And there was much squeeeeeeing.

H.G. Wells with platypus. Australia, 1939.
H.G. Wells with platypus. Australia, 1939.

Essay: Hawthorne and Poe

Clockwork butterfly by Mike LibbyThe Week 5 reading assignments for my online class on Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World were Nathaniel Hawthorne‘s short stories “The Birthmark,” “Rappaccini’s Daughter,”  and “The Artist of the Beautiful,” found in Mosses from an Old Manse, and “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” found in Twice-Told Tales; and Edgar Allan Poe‘s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Black Cat,” “The Oval Portrait,” “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” “The Bells,” “The Raven,” and “Annabel Lee,” found in The Portable Poe.

The best known of these is undoubtedly “The Raven.”   It is the first poem I fell in love with in English.  I was the right age, a brooding teenager, when I found a volume of poems for some long-forgotten class on the early 20th century.  The old textbook had a faded dark blue cloth cover and was tucked with other books in a box found by my uncle in an old house he had bought.  He was going to throw the books away, but I thumbed through a few and decided to salvage them.

I remember standing there in front of his garage, reading “The Raven” and feeling my brooding teenager soul, lately fed on J.R.R. Tolkien, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas and Charles Dickens, gasp with delight.  The gloom!  The pathos!  The supernatural!  If we’d had Romantic Goths back then, that would have been my tribe, at least that year.  I didn’t like Hawthorne, I didn’t care to read his musings on sin.

Now I’m older, and I find that while I still like Poe, I don’t love him as much; and I got much more interested in Hawthorne than I did long ago.  I guess I’ve grown up despite my best efforts!  Like many others on the class forum, I particularly enjoyed Hawthorne’s tale “Rappaccini’s Daughter”, an interesting reversal of the Grimm Brothers’ “Rapunzel.”

Anyhow, here is my 300-word essay on one aspect of the tales (we were free to focus on only one or a few tales.) Continue reading “Essay: Hawthorne and Poe”