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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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Episode 274: How to Warn Future Humans of the Mess We’ve Made

This week we continue our Spring Forward season by discussing an essay by Matt Jones that first appeared in The New England Review and was then republished by The Lit Hub. The essay, titled How Can We Warn Future Humans of the Poison We Buried Underground?, is a kind of thought experiment brought on by an actual project, in which a team of thinkers was tasked with coming up with a way to communicate to future societies that we’d buried nuclear waste under a specific spot in the desert. The essay delves into various ways that futurists think of possible futures, and the inherent optimist in even imagining a future.

We also talk about what the future of food looked like to people in the middle part of the twentieth century, and atomic gardens, and Betty Crocker’s Recipe Card Library. You can read more on that last subject here, via the New York Times Magazine.

If you have suggestions for things we should check out this season, let us know! We’re not just interested in traditional science fiction, but any kind of writing that imagines a possible future (including those written long enough ago that their “futures” have already passed).

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 274:

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Episode 192: Summer of Selfies, Gaute Heivoll (Before I Burn)

This week we’re continuing our discussion of literary “selfies” with this novel by Gaute Heivoll, which is about a string of arsons in 1970s Norway, though it’s also about the writer who is haunted by those fires, even years later, enough to write a book about them. Though it’s categorized as a novel, it seems clear the book’s main character is closely aligned with Heivoll himself.

In the second half of the show, we talk about the phenomenon of the Mary Sue in fan fiction, and in the larger world of pop culture. Is it a useful term to describe stories in which writers create characters who are too-perfect versions of themselves? Or is it merely cover for men to offer misogynistic critiques of female characters?

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file. You can also find us in the iTunes store, or in just about any app you might use to listen to podcasts.

If you like the show, you can subscribe to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you’ll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we discuss the wide world of romance novels.

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Episode 191: Summer of Selfies, Jennifer Lunden (“Evidence, in Track Changes”)

This week we continue our discussion of literary “selfies” with a piece by Jennifer Lunden that appeared recently in Diagram, called “Evidence, in Track Changes”). The piece includes an essay written by Lunden, plus margin notes added by her mother and Lunden herself. The original essay was published in the journal River Teeth, Lunden explains. But after some back and forth with her mother over details in the piece–as well as their relationship more generally, which was fractured when her mother left while Lunden was still a girl–she decided to publish this modified, inter-textual piece.

We talk about what makes an experiment like this feel organic, rather than gimmicky, and what sorts of writing lessons that line might offer. Also, plenty of our usual foolishness, including some discussion of trends that (like selfies) might stick around and become more or less accepted, another installment of Millennial M0m3nt, and for some reason a digression into the relative merits of Three Musketeers and its #ThrowShine hashtag. What do you expect from us, high-minded literary talk?

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file. You can also find us in the iTunes store, or in just about any app you might use to listen to podcasts.

If you like the show, you can subscribe to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you’ll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we discuss the wide world of romance novels.

Stream Episode 191:

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Episode 97: Jeff Sharlet, “#Nightshift”

This week we’re checking out something a little different, an Instagram “essay” created by the journalist Jeff Sharlet. After joining the social media site, Sharlet started taking portraits of people and writing brief narratives about their lives. Several of these profiles were later collected and reprinted in two parts by Longreads.

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In the second half of the show, we discuss Tom’s penchant for arguing with idiots on the internet, and offer some advice to a listener who keeps getting encouraging rejections on a story, Also, in preparation for National Novel Writing Month (which starts November 1), we visit the NaNoWriMo forums to see what we should be doing to get ready for the competition.

As always, we’re happy to hear what you think about the stuff we talked about this week. You can email us directly, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site. Also: we’re on Facebook, and gradually getting better about posting studio pics and links and such. So come visit us over there, like our page, etc. etc.

You can stream today’s episode by clicking on the little player thingy below, or download the mp3 file to play on your favorite device. Or visit us in the iTunes store, or wherever you normally get your podcasts, where you can download back episodes and subscribe (for free) so that you never miss another weekly installment.

Thanks for listening! And if you like the show, tell your friends!

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Fall of Failure Episode 4: Eula Biss and Failed Amusement Parks

This week’s short is a Tom pick, an essay by Eula Biss called “Time and Distance Overcome,” which is about, among other things, early telephone technology, resistance to telephone poles, and the widespread lynching of black men in early-20th century America. We talk about non-linear essays, and whether it’s more interesting or less interesting to know something about the behind-the-scenes construction of a piece.

We also talk this week about failed amusement parks: some that were proposed but never built, like an entire theme park in Indiana that would’ve been devoted to Garfield, and some that probably shouldn’t have been built, all things considered, including a wild-animal safari in New Jersey responsible for at least two deaths, and Dickens World in the UK, which seems like the Saddest Place on Earth.

You can read more about Dickens World here, in a great New York Times Magazine piece by Sam Anderson. Here’s a link to some photos of the creepy (and now demolished) Gulliver’s Kingdom in Japan.

Finally, here’s a Dailymotion mini-documentary about Action Park, featuring comedian Chris Gethard. We would highly recommend you spend the next twelve minutes of your life watching it. That starting image is an actual, non-photoshopped picture of the park’s looping waterslide, in case you thought Mike was making that up.

And in case you missed the link above, you can read the essay here.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the little player thingy below. Or download the mp3 file, and do with it what you will. We’re also in the iTunes store, and in just about any of the available podcast apps floating around in the world. If you subscribe, through one of those methods, you’ll never miss another episode.

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We’d love to hear your feedback on what we talked about. You can send us an email, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment right here on this post.