Spotify Playlist: American Gods

american gods

A few years ago, Bridget McGovern at the TOR Books blog put together an exhaustive soundtrack to go along Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods: “The Complete American Gods Mix Tape”.  I added all the tunes I could find, which is the vast majority, to a Spotify playlist.  I was thinking of this playlist because Christmas features at the centre portion of the book, so it’s seasonal.  Unfortunately, Spotify does not allow custom images for playlists (it’s only been a top user request for 3.5 years!) but I’m nothing if not stubborn.  Hence, sharing through my own blog so I could have a representative image when I post the link!  Enjoy.

Spotify playlist: American Gods Mix Tape.  If you want more about the novel, here are some thoughts and links from my previous posts.

[Edit: Now includes the long-missing Beatles songs, just released on Spotify.]

american-gods-mixtape1

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War of Ashes RPG: Icy Sounds

iPhoneDock-01Edmund gave me a speaker dock station for my phone a few days ago, so I now have my Agaptus playlist in the background while I prepare my two War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus adventures for next weekend’s Big Bad Con: Jean Sibelius (Finlandia, The Tempest), Edvard Grieg (Peer Gynt Suite), Camille Saint-Saëns (Le Carnaval des animaux), Paul Dukas (L’Apprenti sorcier), Sergei Prokofiev (Peter and the Wolf), Danny Elfman (Music for a Darkened Theatre), etc.

The two adventures are Ice, Ice, Baby and Curse of Agaptus, and will both be released as downloadable content on Evil Hat Productions’ website in the not-too-distant future.

Edit: Here is the Agaptus playlist on Spotify if you want to peruse it.

Pop Culture Wicked Bradbury

Something Wicked This Way Comes coverI’m a little late for the “pop culture” links for this month’s reading in my SF/F book club, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes.  (I’m even later with my essay for last month’s book, never mind that!)  Back in April we read another Bradbury book, The Martian Chronicles, for our SF/F class and I posted some links as well as my essay.

First, a reminder that you can read a large number of Bradbury’s stories online thanks to Unz.org.  But let’s concentrate on this specific book: Something Wicked This Way Comes was published in 1962, so although it’s over 50 years old, it’s still well within copyright protection, which means no legal free copies online.  Many editions are available for purchase, including as a full-cast audiobook and in graphic novel format.

The novel was made into the 1983 Disney film Something Wicked This Way Comes, with Bradbury as the screenwriter. In a later interview, Bradbury said that he considered the film one of the better adaptations of his works.

Bradbury’s Pandemonium Theatre Company also debuted a play based on the novel in Los Angeles on October 1, 2003, directed by Alan Neal Hubbs, also associated with the 1970 stage adaptation of Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. The play received generally favourable reviews, stating that it captured the lyricism and dark tone of the novel, and praising its special effects.

The novel was also produced as a full-cast radio play by the Colonial Radio Theatre on the Air, and released by Blackstone Audio on October 1, 2007; Bradbury wrote the script, modified for audio from his stage play.  It was was produced as a radio play for the BBC Radio 4 Saturday Play series as a different adaptation, and was broadcast on 29 October 2011 and 7 December 2012.

Many popular culture references and influences can be found in television shows, novels, comics, and games, from The Simpsons to South Park.  Wikipedia cites no less than six songs or albums named for the book.  More generally, just about any creepy travelling carnival, like the one in later seasons of Heroes, or the focus of the excellent HBO mini-series Carnivàle, contains a nod to Bradbury’s novel.  Heck, wouldn’t you say that Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which we read a few months ago, also contained a bit of an homage with its bizarre, carnivalesque entertainments at the House on the Rock?

nicewheel

Ferris wheel at night © David Karp 2007.  No copyright challenge intended, it’s just a gorgeous photo that I wanted you to see.

Pop Culture American Gods

american gods

Odin from "American Gods" by freaky-dragonlady
The book club reading for July is Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (2001), so as usual, here are some pop culture links.

In Print

First, those who only know him from his novels may not realize this, but Neil Gaiman got his fame with this essentially pop culture medium, writing comic books, most notably The Sandman and the initial story arc of The Books of Magic.  There are several cross-references between American Gods and, in particular, The Sandman and its spin-offs, all pulished under DC’s Vertigo imprint.

Cover of The Sandman #50: RamadanThe Sandman is excellent and remains strong for a long time.  If you ever want to sample it but don’t want to get tangled in a long story line, I recommend trying issue #50 (June 1993), which has a lovely standalone story.  If you like it, try buying the collected books from the start; if you don’t like it, this comic is probably not for you.

Gaiman also wrote the mini-series 1602 for Marvel Comics in 2003-2004, which ties well with American GodsContinue reading “Pop Culture American Gods”

Pop Culture Neuromancer

Neuromancer cover, 20th anniversary editionThe book for June in our Goodreads post-SF/F class reading group is William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984).  This book marked the next generation of SF authors and fans, and defined the fledgling subgenre of cyberpunk.

As usual, I gathered some pop culture resources to accompany it; however, I’m now faced with Problem Type 3.  You may recall that Problem Type 1 is when a book is old enough to have been half-forgotten and there are very few resources for it (for example, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland); and Problem Type 2 is when a book is recent enough to still be covered by copyright but old enough to pre-date the Internet, yielding plenty of resources but few available online (for example, Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness).  Problem Type 3 is what happens when a book has become so intricately embedded into pop culture that it’s hard to select resources that are both representative and significant among a pervasive background!

While others had already written stories that we would now associate with the genre (Bruce Bethke invented the term with his story “Cyberpunk” in 1980, and John M. Ford’s Web of Angels pioneered the Matrix/Internet/etc. the same year) and a couple of movies had started influencing the visuals (John Carpenter’s Escape From New York in 1981, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in 1982, probably also Tron in 1982), Gibson had already started shaping the new style with his short stories like “Johnny Mnemonic” (1981) and “Burning Chrome” (1982).

He was commissioned by Terry Carr for the third series of Ace Science Fiction Specials, which was intended to exclusively feature debut novels, and given a year to complete the work.  Although Gibson nearly gave up after multiple re-writes and crises of anxiety, the book was an underground success and became a cult classic.  It also received the 1984 Hugo and Nebula awards, and the 1985 Philip K. Dick Memorial Award.

Neuromancer fan movie trailer by Jarred SpekterThere has been a lot of talk over the years about film projects based on Neuromancer, but the projects have repeatedly fallen through.  Given how poorly the movie version of Gibson’s short story Johnny Mnemonic turned out, I can’t say that I particularly mourn the project; besides, there are still rumours of a movie project in the works.  However, there is a rather nice fan-made trailer for a non-existent movie, partly spliced from footage from other movies and accompanied by a fan-made poster.

The BBC aired a radio drama version in 2002, the clips for which can be found in a few places online.  Here are Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 of Episode 1 (playlist), and Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 of Episode 2 (playlist) on YouTube.

There have been partial releases as graphic novels, but to my knowledge none that gave the complete novel.

Neuromancer game screen captureA computer game also called “Neuromancer” and based on the novel was released in 1988 and got good reviews at the time.  Here is a remix of the soundtrack, with some stills from the game!  But the impact of Gibson’s vision is felt in many more games and movies than those officially licensed for his intellectual property.  Really, if a game description mentions “cyberpunk” anywhere, then it’s a safe to assume that it was influenced by Gibson’s Neuromancer and other stories of the Sprawl.

C yberpunk 2020 cover Shadowrun 4th Anniversary Edition coverThe Sprawl trilogy also deeply influenced the role-playing game scene, particularly with the games Cyberpunk from R. Talsorian Games (three editions in 1988, 1990 and 2005) and Shadowrun from FASA Corporation and later Catalyst Games, the latter of which adds magic and urban fantasy to the mix (1989, 1992, 1998, 2005, 2010, 2013), and their tie-in novels, sourcebooks, and derived materials.  Other significant cyberpunk role-playing games include GURPS Cyberpunk (Steve Jackson Games), Ex Machina (Guardians of Order), SLA Industries (Nightfall Games), and Tokyo NOVA (Enterbrain).

Pop Culture Mythago Wood

Mythago Wood coverThe May book for my post-class reading group on Goodreads is Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood (1984). Holdstock met an untimely death from an E. coli infection after attending a science fiction convention in November 2009.  I tell you, this makes me even warier of con food!  It’s very sad that he died of such a seemingly stupid cause and well before his time.

As usual, I gather pop culture and offbeat resources to accompany our reading.   The first thing to note, however, is that for a book that had so much influence, and garnered so much acclaim, it generated relatively little pop culture derivatives, at least by name.  Moreover, it’s another of these books that is recent enough to be covered by copyright, but not enough to have received Internet popularity.

  • Robert Holdstock’s own official Website still exists and provides links to articles, reviews, news, and clips of his appearances before his death, as well as numerous tributes afterwards.
  • The Worlds Without End page for Mythago Wood offers a good number of links to reviews.
  • Holdstock himself on a bit of pop culture: “The Games We Play.”
  • Flickr user group: “Mythago Wood.”
  • Bran Ruz by Alain Deschamps and Claude Auclair, a standalone graphic novel telling legends of early Celtic Brittany and particularly of the lost city of Ys, is a good companion book.

There are, however, some fan-made mini-movies online, for example:

The book and subsequent series also produced musical influences:

  • Mythago Morris, a team of dancers, musicians and story tellers from Sussex (you’ll find a good number of clips of their shows on YouTube.)
  • The Latvian “post-metal” group SoundArcade released a song called “Mythago Fern” on the album “Moving The Great Hadron” (2012).
  • The Scottish death metal band which exists on-and-off, Mythago, with one album to date.
  • EDIT: The music of Ralph Vaughan Williams influenced Holdstock while he was writing the Mythago series.

And sports!

  • The University of Bristol Ultimate Frisbee Club calls itself the Mythago.

For those of us who enjoy role-playing games, I suggest the following:

  • Tim Gray’s Albion (Silver Branch Games): Celtic fantasy in a once and future Britain.  In addition, some of Tim’s other games like Legends Walk! and Arsenal of Heaven are also influenced by the mythic fantasy genre that Holdstock shaped.
  • In addition, several of the games listed when I wrote about the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales could be good matches.

Pop Culture Gilead?

Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale"So I joined a follow-up reading group on Goodreads which participants in my recent SF/F class created in order to continue discussing fantasy and science fiction books of note in-depth.  The plan is to have one book a month to read and discuss, alternating between works of science fiction and fantasy.  We are starting with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale for April.

Margaret Atwood is well-known for refusing the label “science fiction” for her work.  In fact, three decades later I still have trouble thinking of her work as a science fiction; I grew up looking at what my parents — both avid readers — were reading and my mom had all the early French translations of Atwood’s works.  My mom has never liked science fiction, ergo, Margaret Atwood didn’t write science fiction!

You can view the book online on OnRead.com.  It had the distinction of making No. 37 on the American Library Association (ALA)’s list of 100 most challenged books of the 1990-1999 decade, but dropped to No. 88 in 2000-2009, woo-hoo!

You can read many of Atwood’s works: books, short stories, essays, articles, interviews, as well as reviews or her books, etc. on Unz.org.

The discussion of the book’s motifs on TV Tropes is worth browsing.  I think it’s fair to say that as a place to live in, the Republic of Gilead sits as far as it can from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland.

There is a 1990 movie starring Natasha Richardson as Offred, Faye Dunaway as Serena Joy, and Robert Duvall as The Commander; the link has the entire movie with original English audio but German subtitles on YouTube.

A dramatic adaptation of the novel for radio was produced for BBC Radio 4 by John Dryden in 2000.  Listen online to Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of 3.

"The Handmaid's Tale" opera productionThere is even an opera by Danish composer Poul Ruders; you can sample and buy tracks here.  From what I can see, the visuals in the English National Opera’s production were very dramatic even if the music got lukewarm reviews from critics.

Someone used Storify.com to make a sort of visual summary of the book using images from edition covers, stills from the 1990 movie, and images of the opera productions.

I think it’s fair to say that Atwood’s book had far-reaching influence, even in unabashedly entertainment-oriented science fiction.  Gilead is a dead ringer for several dystopias in later books, like David Drake’s Protectorate of Grayson (the redeemable version of Gilead) and Masada (the hard-core version) in his Honor Harrington series; and Elizabeth Moon’s New Texas (known in our household as “the Space Stupids”) in her Familias Regnant universe.

An interesting perspective from a self-described Mennonite feminist, The Femonite: The Handmaid’s Tale – Atwood and Feminism Then and Now.

Once again, I’m going to mention the game Shock: Social Science Fiction (Glyphpress), which is a fiction game of culture and future shock. Based on the works of masters of speculative fiction, the game pushes the players to make stories that matter to them — stories about politics, philosophy, love, and death.  It is a very good way to re-create a story in the style of Atwood’s various thought experiments.


Top illustration by Anna and Elena Balbusso, winners of a Gold Award from The American Society of Illustrators, for the Culture Label deluxe edition.  No copyright challenge intended.

Photo of English National Opera’s production of the opera version obtained from The Guardian UK.  No copyright challenge intended.

Pop Culture Hawthorne and Poe

Black CatTo 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 readings: 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.

Hawthorne

I’ll be honest, I’ve never enjoyed Hawthorne; he worries way too much about sin for my taste.  Besides, I like the writings of Poe, Mark Twain and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and all three were critical of Hawthorne’s writings.  Nowadays, there just aren’t many references about Hawthorne in pop culture; in fact he was rather, uh, prophylactic to pop culture.

  • Thankfully, Kate Beaton of the webcomic Hark, A Vagrant has us covered (“The Scarlet Letter”, middle of the page.)
  • There is also a Tumblr tag with Hawthorne pop references.
  • Here is Edgar Allan Poe himself, giving Hawthorne mixed praise in a review in Godey’s Lady’s Book, November 1847.
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writings and related articles on Unz.org.

raven

Poe

There is, on the contrary, a lot of Poe pop references to comic books.

By the way, Poe died in mysterious circumstances at the age of 40.  Given that he was a pedophile (hey, he even married his 13-year-old cousin when he was 29), I don’t care how good a writer he was — I don’t mourn his early death.

Pop Culture Wonderland

Red Queen (from The Book of Knots, a JGAS: Wonderland supplement)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 Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.  A few are contributions of fellow students in the class which I particularly enjoyed.

  • Works by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) on Unz.org.
  • Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition, which someone lovingly hyperlinked so that readers can just click on the annotations.
  • Melanie Bayley’s 2010 New York Times article, “Algebra in Wonderland.”
  • Namesake, a webcomic by Megan Lavey-Heaton and Isabelle Mélançon featuring a lot of fantasy and fairy tales characters, but starting with Alice.
  • Frank Beddor’s series, The Looking-Glass Wars, which includes three novels with a fourth planned, and a spinoff series of graphic novels illustrated by Ben Templesmith. A very interesting urban fantasy take on Carroll’s canon.
  • Marco Chacon’s Wonderland tabletop role-playing game as a free PDF, using the equally free JAGS system for a crypto-dimensional brain-twister of a setting.
  • Triple Ace Games’ Wonderland No More, another tabletop role-playing game but closer to the Carroll books, which uses the Savage Worlds system for a game of horror and dark humour.
  • “Will You Walk a Little Faster” (a.k.a. “The Lobster Quadrille” or “The Mock Turtle’s Song”), set to jazz music by Gerardo Frisina and sung by Norma Winstone (lyrics).
  • And of course, how could I not add Jefferson Airplane’s song “Chasing the White Rabbit“…