Book Fight!

Tough love for literature


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Episode 281: J.G. Ballard, High Rise

This week we’re continuing our Spring Forward season by reading J.G. Ballard’s 1973 novel High Rise, considered by many critics to be an under-appreciated gem. The book follows several characters as they deal with the breakdown of social order in a residential high-rise tower. The residents of the complex form clans, pitting the upper floors against the middle and lower floors, and what started as petty squabbling soon turns violent and deadly. We talk about whether the book’s premise feels dated, tied as it is to the rise (pun sort of intended) of residential towers in both the U.K. and the U.S. during the 60s and early 70s. We also talk about Ballard’s vision of human nature, which seems especially bleak, even cynical–though perhaps not entirely unrealistic.

In the second half of the show, we talk a bit about architecture and urban planning in science fiction, from the Jetsons to Blade Runner, as well as Korea’s “city of the future,” which has loads of smart-city technology but not nearly as many people as planners had hoped for.

As always, you can stream the show right here on our site, or download the mp3 file to listen to later. Or check us out in Apple podcasts, where you can subscribe (for free!) and catch up on older episodes. We’re also available on Spotify, Stitcher, or just about any other podcast app. If for some reason you can’t find us in your favorite app, please reach out and let us know!

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps us make a bit of money each month and keep the show going. For just $5 a month, you’ll get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we visit some of the weirder, goofier corners of the literary world. Recently, that’s involved reading a paranormal romance novel, the debut novel of Jersey Shore’s Snookie, and the novelization of the movie Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 280: Mark O’Connell, To Be a Machine

This week we’re continuing our Spring Forward season by diving into Mark O’Connell’s book To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death. O’Connell, an Irish journalist and writer, throws himself into the world of transhumanism, spending time with a number of people who are trying, in various ways, to “solve the problem of death.” That includes a company that will cryogenically freeze your head, scientists working to dramatically extend humans’ life spans, and “grinders,” who surgically implant pieces of technology inside themselves, in an attempt to become part machine.

In the second half of the show, we revisit some early-80s predictions for jobs that would be “stolen” by robots, and try to figure out how many of those predictions came true.

As always, you can stream the show right here on our site, or download the mp3 file to listen to later. Or check us out in Apple podcasts, where you can subscribe (for free!) and catch up on older episodes. We’re also available on Spotify, Stitcher, or just about any other podcast app. If for some reason you can’t find us in your favorite app, please reach out and let us know!

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps us make a bit of money each month and keep the show going. For just $5 a month, you’ll get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we visit some of the weirder, goofier corners of the literary world. Recently, that’s involved reading a paranormal romance novel, the debut novel of Jersey Shore’s Snookie, and the novelization of the movie Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 279: Ray Bradbury

As we continue our Spring Forward season–in which we’re reading forward-looking books, stories, and essays–this week we checked out four famous Ray Bradbury stories and talked about Bradbury’s visions of the future. The stories we read include one about a sentient house, one that introduced the idea of the butterfly effect to the world, one about a veldt (and some evil children) and one about a man out for an evening walk in a future society in which that kind of behavior can get you locked up.

Also: Ray Bradbury fun facts! And an early-20th-century plan to give New York City a central vacuum system.

As always, you can stream the show right here on our site, or download the mp3 file to listen to later. Or check us out in Apple podcasts, where you can subscribe (for free!) and catch up on older episodes. We’re also available on Spotify, Stitcher, or just about any other podcast app. If for some reason you can’t find us in your favorite app, please reach out and let us know!

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps us make a bit of money each month and keep the show going. For just $5 a month, you’ll get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we visit some of the weirder, goofier corners of the literary world. Recently, that’s involved reading a paranormal romance novel, the debut novel of Jersey Shore’s Snookie, and the novelization of the movie Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 278: Ecotopia, by Ernest Callenbach

Since we’re doing an entire season on future-looking books, stories, and essays, it seemed like it would be a real oversight to not consider at least one utopian novel. Ernest Callenbach wrote Ecotopia while living in Berkeley and working as an editor for the University of California Press. He couldn’t find a publisher, but managed to get the money together to self-publish the novel (a more expensive, and more difficult proposition in 1974 than it is today). The book built up a cult following, and after an excerpt appeared in Harper’s Magazine, Ecotopia was picked up by Bantam and given a wider release. Now, more than forty years after its release, it’s a book that’s still taught at universities and discussed in environmental circles.

The novel is set in 1999, a few years after the Pacific Northwest and Northern California have seceded from the United States. The book’s narrator is the first journalist to visit and report from inside Ecotopia; the book alternates between his newspaper dispatches and his personal journals. We talk about the book’s utopian vision, and to what degree it still feels environmentally relevant. We also talk about utopians more generally. We live in a time when dystopian stories are everywhere–in novels, on movie screens, and on television. Is there room in our current world for utopian storytelling? And what might that look like?

As always, you can stream the show right here on our site, or download the mp3 file to listen to later. Or check us out in Apple podcasts, where you can subscribe (for free!) and catch up on older episodes. We’re also available on Spotify, Stitcher, or just about any other podcast app. If for some reason you can’t find us in your favorite app, please reach out and let us know!

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps us make a bit of money each month and keep the show going. For just $5 a month, you’ll get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we visit some of the weirder, goofier corners of the literary world. Recently, that’s involved reading a paranormal romance novel, the debut novel of Jersey Shore’s Snookie, and the novelization of the movie Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 277: “Preview of The War We Do Not Want,” from Collier’s Magazine, 1951

In October 1951, Collier’s Magazine gave over an entire weekly issue to imagining a possible war with the Soviet Union and its aftermath. Perhaps in the midst of American Cold War anxiety, this issue seemed less patently insane. But to a modern reader it’s hard to fathom how Collier’s got more than twenty authors to embark on a project that feels like one part anti-communist propaganda and one part teenage war fantasy. You can read a PDF version of the entire issue here (and check out the sweet midcentury ads)

We talk about the magazine’s secretive project, which they dubbed “Operation Eggnog,” and the contributors’ odd conceptions of how a full-scale atomic war might play out.

Also this week: a special issue of Penthouse Magazine that imagined sex in outer space (while also previewing the launch of OMNI).

As always, you can stream the show right here on our site, or download the mp3 file to listen to later. Or check us out in Apple podcasts, where you can subscribe (for free!) and catch up on older episodes. We’re also available on Spotify, Stitcher, or just about any other podcast app. If for some reason you can’t find us in your favorite app, please reach out and let us know!

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps us make a bit of money each month and keep the show going. For just $5 a month, you’ll get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we visit some of the weirder, goofier corners of the literary world. Recently, that’s involved reading a paranormal romance novel, the debut novel of Jersey Shore’s Snookie, and the novelization of the movie Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 276: E.M. Forster, “The Machine Stops”

This week we read a science fiction story by someone you probably don’t associate with science fiction. In 1909, E.M. Forster wrote a story called “The Machine Stops” that imagines people living in isolation, in apartments under the eqrth, and communicating to each through technology that looks a lot like Skype.

Also this week, we talk about futuristic stick-shaped foods.

As always, you can stream the show right here on our site, or download the mp3 file to listen to later. Or check us out in Apple podcasts, where you can subscribe (for free!) and catch up on older episodes. We’re also available on Spotify, Stitcher, or just about any other podcast app. If for some reason you can’t find us in your favorite app, please reach out and let us know!

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps us make a bit of money each month and keep the show going. For just $5 a month, you’ll get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we visit some of the weirder, goofier corners of the literary world. Recently, that’s involved reading a paranormal romance novel, the debut novel of Jersey Shore’s Snookie, and the novelization of the movie Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 275: Domes!

This week we continue our Spring Forward season by discussing a short story by Steven Millhauser called “The Dome. The piece envisions a future in which individual homeowners start building domes over their houses, followed by neighborhoods, then cities, then the entire United States of America. We talk about the story as a thought experiment, and how to write a successful story that has no characters (at least not in the traditional sense).

In the second half of the show we talk about domes: dome houses, and proposals to cover towns and cities with domes.

As always, you can stream the show right here on our site, or download the mp3 file to listen to later. Or check us out in Apple podcasts, where you can subscribe (for free!) and catch up on older episodes. We’re also available on Spotify, Stitcher, or just about any other podcast app. If for some reason you can’t find us in your favorite app, please reach out and let us know!

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps us make a bit of money each month and keep the show going. For just $5 a month, you’ll get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we visit some of the weirder, goofier corners of the literary world. Recently, that’s involved reading a paranormal romance novel, the debut novel of Jersey Shore’s Snookie, and the novelization of the movie Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Thanks for listening!

Stream Episode 275:

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