Episode 0: An Introduction and a Preview
Welcome to Words To That Effect. Episode 0 is a short intro and preview of what’s to come
Episode 1: Invasion Fiction, William Le Queux, and Fake News
What is invasion fiction? Who was the mysterious William LeQueux? And why did a group of great writers gather together in a room at the outbreak of World War I to aid in the British war effort?
Episode 2: Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes, and Spiritualism
Sherlock Holmes is the most rational and scientific detective of them all. So why did his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, passionately believe in ghosts, fairies, and telepathy?
Episode 3: Irish Science Fiction
Ireland is not, it is fair to say, the first country that springs to mind when you think “science fiction”. When aliens land on Earth, we tend to assume they’ll land in New York, or London, or Tokyo. Definitely not Dublin or Cork. But why not?
Episode 4: Popular Literature
What is popular literature? Walk into most bookshops and you will find fiction categories like “Crime”, “Science Fiction”, and “Horror”. You will also tend to find a section called “Literature”. But how does a book get placed here? Is there really such a thing as “Literature” (with a capital “L”)?
Episode 5: Canals on Mars
For as long as humans have been looking at the night sky, the planet Mars has fascinated us. But while astronomers had charted the movements of the planet for hundreds of years, there had never been a chance to see the planet in any detail. Then, in 1877, everything changed.
Episode 6: Neurasthenia, Cowboys, and Feminists
In 1881 an American neurologist named George Miller Beard published a hugely influential book: American Nervousness. In it, he laid out the symptoms, cures, and implications of what he called “neurasthenia”, essentially what one might call nervous exhaustion. If you read books or newspapers from the 1880s right through to at least the 1930s you find numerous accounts of neurasthenia. Characters in fiction are constantly suffering from it. Every newspaper ran ads claiming to cure the disease. But what was it exactly, and why was it called the “national disease of America”?
Episode 7: Overpopulation from Malthus to Manila
A baby girl was born in a hospital in the Philippines, on 30th October, 2011. However, unlike all the other children born that day, the arrival of Danica May Camacho was witnessed by a crowd of photographers and journalists. The world’s media were gathered in a hospital in Manila because this little girl was the 7 billionth person on earth.
In this episode I talk to Dr Ruth Doherty, an expert in the cultural and literary representations of overpopulation. We talk misery and vice, Dickens and Dan Brown, London and the world.
Episode 8: A Lawyer, an Author, and a Murderer – The Trial of William Edward Hickman
The case of William Edward Hickman went to trial in Los Angeles in 1928. The accused was charged with the gruesome murder of a 12-year-old girl, and he faced the death penalty. The trial was reported all across the U.S. because it was the culmination of a horrific tale of murder and kidnapping which had gripped the entire nation.
This episode is a true crime story, but one which takes in insanity, genetics, and the writings of a world famous author.
Episode 9: Imaginary Countries and the Ruritanian Romance
Writers make up imaginary countries all the time, and for a variety of reasons. It’s relatively straightforward to slip in a familiar-sounding name into a part of the world your reader or viewer may not be too familiar with.
Livonia, Wallaria, Tazbekistan…
They could be countries, right? But there’s one name in particular which stands out. It is the imaginary country, and the inspiration for an entire subgenre. This is the country of Ruritania.
Episode 10: From Robinson Crusoe to Survivor: The Robinsonade
Robinson Crusoe is, without doubt, one of the most recognizable stories in our culture. It is a book which has had hundreds, if not thousands, of editions. It has been translated into over 100 languages, adapted for stage and screen more times than it is possible to accurately record. It is a book which was an immediate commercial success, accessible and readable by the masses. It was a novel at a time when the form really was novel. Indeed, it’s often cited as the first ever English novel.
Defoe’s novel has left a lasting, powerful, complicated, and often dangerous myth in the popular imagination.