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.
Episode 11: Cesare Lombroso & The Born Criminal
Cesare Lombroso was an Italian doctor and psychiatrist who believed that criminality was inherited, that there were “born criminals” who could be reliably identified by their physical features. He was one of the first people to really consider “criminality” a subject worthy of scientific study. His ideas were groundbreaking, controversial, and spectacularly wrong. Nevertheless he is often referred to as the “father of criminology”.
Episode 12: The Horrifically Complicated History of Zombies
Whether we like it or not, the zombies are coming for us all. Films, books, computer games, comics and TV shows. From historical and mythical zombies to claims to have proven the scientific truth behind zombification. From the gruesome, cannibalistic monsters of horror, to the harmless creatures of children’s playground games. There are zombie flash mobs and parades, zombie cocktails and drinks. There’s zombie capitalism and zombie corporations. And, of course, the zombie apocalypse.
Episode 13: The Ghost Stories of MR James
MR James’ ghost stories have never been out of print since first published over a century ago. They are, in many ways, what we think of when we think of the Victorian ghost story: dusty manuscripts, creaking old houses, libraries, or churches, menacing ghostly apparitions. In our own times, the stories are as unnerving and frightening as ever, especially if read late at night, by candle light, as they very much should be.
This week’s episode is a collaboration with the horror podcast, Down Below The Reservoir. The result is an episode about MR James’ ghost stories, followed by an audio drama production of “Lost Hearts”, one of James’ classic tales.
Episode 14: Weird Fiction & HP Lovecraft
H.P. Lovecraft’s writing has been enormously influential on the development of genre fiction – science fiction, fantasy, and particularly horror. His is a world, a mythos, in which cosmic entities such as Cthulhu are terrifyingly revealed.
This episode explores the world of Lovecraft, Lovecraftian writing, and weird fiction. My guest is Dr Tim Jarvis, lecturer in creative writing at the University of Bedfordshire, and an author of weird fiction himself. The story takes us from early 20th century America to contemporary writers, such as Jeff Vandermeer and China Mieville, writing weird fiction today.
Episode 15: The Scarlet Pimpernel & Baroness Orczy
The Scarlet Pimpernel is a character now long disconnected from his origins in a 1903 novel by Baroness Emma Orczy. The Pimpernel is a mysterious Englishman who uses elaborate disguises to heroically rescue French aristocrats from the guillotine during the French Revolution.
In this episode I explore the life and writings of Baroness Orczy, following her journey from her childhood home in Hungary to international fame and fortune. I’m joined by Dr Clare Clarke to assess Orczy’s impact on detective fiction and popular literature more widely. We talk Victorian periodicals, Sherlock Holmes, feminism, and a mysterious murder in Dublin.
Episode 16: Transhumanism, Fiction, and Immortality
This is an episode about who we are as humans. And, more importantly, where we are going. About a future in which technology and biology have merged in ways that are in equal part fascinating and terrifying. A future of unparalleled technological ingenuity, but one with deeply problematic ethical concerns.
It’s a future that sounds like science fiction because, in some ways, it is. But it’s a world that’s being designed right now.
Episode 17: The 10% Brain Myth from Self-Help to Pulp Fiction to Hollywood
The 10% brain myth. The idea that we use only 10% of our brain capacity, and that somehow unlocking or accessing the remaining 90% will result in vastly increased mental capacities.Sometimes the idea is fully believed and earnestly repeated. Sometimes it is very knowingly appropriated for the purposes of a good plot. Sometimes it’s confidently asserted to back up dubious claims of psychic abilities. Either way, the idea is everywhere.
Episode 18: What is Utopia? (Part 1 of 2)
This is a story of three journeys, by three people, in three very different times. But each of the journeys ends in the same area in the west of Ireland. And each journey is founded on a search for a more perfect world, a search for utopia.
Episode 19: Utopia, Pt 2 (Climate Change Fiction)
From the history of utopia in the last episode, we move to the future of the planet and the climate change fiction that addresses it. How does an intentional community work? How can fiction save the planet?