Fall RTB Lineup: Writers, Scholars, Auteur

The RTB crew were busy over the summer. Like an iceberg (although not quite as cool….maybe more like a duck) most of what we do lurks beneath the surface, invisible and inaudible. Getting Cixin Liu’s words out there in both Chinese and English was fun, but it was also daunting; ditto our presentation of The Electro-Library.

So we are especially delighted to announce our 5-episode Fall 2019 lineup. This season poses new challenges, some conceptual, others geographic. John is going on the road to track down an elusive English filmmaker (a first for us!) in Columbus Ohio, of all places (November 21).

Back home, Sharon Marcus will come to Brandeis to discuss her wonderful new book about stars and stardom, The Drama of Celebrity (airing December 12 – for all these dates, read “if all goes well”).

Christine Walley from MIT– her marvelous work on postindustrial working-class Chicago features in Episode 10x–will also be dropping by (November 7). The physicist Albion Lawrence will be on hand (October 17) to help Elizabeth and John tackle that age-old academic question, why can’t humanists collaborate the way scientists do?

Starting us off with a bang, though, is a writer who constantly gets compared to Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis (ouch?!) but is really the closest our generation has come to the “moderate modernism” of Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster. From White Teeth to NW, she has staked her claim to chronicle London as colorfully and cogently as the Kinks and the Clash. Yup, the one, the only Zadie Smith.

Can you tell I’m a little excited for this interview? It kicks off our season, airing on September 26th. And it will be followed by an “aftermath” in which we dissect her words and then discuss the talk (and talking to) that Smith gave to Brandeis undergraduates during her visit.

Episode 14x: Afterthoughts about the Cixin Liu interview (Pu Wang and John)

In May, John and Pu interviewed SF superstar Cixin Liu (you will want to listen to that episode before this one). In August they entered the studio again to work on the final edits for that interview in both its Chinese and English versions. While they were there, they took some time to reflect on the most significant things that Liu had said, and to ponder the political situation for contemporary Chinese writers who come to the West to discuss their work.

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In the original interview, Pu leans forward to fine-tune a translation….

They consider whether our world is like a cabinet in a basement, and what kind of optimism or pessimism might be available to science fiction writers, and extend the conversation from their interview about world building, realism, and film. They compare the interview to a recent profile of Liu in The New Yorker, and ponder the advantages and disadvantages of pressing writers to weigh in on the hot-button topics of the day (hint: RTB made the right choice!).

Discussed in this episode:

Cixin Liu, The Three Body Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death’s End

Jiayang Fan, “Liu Cixin’s War of the Worlds” (New Yorker interview/profile)

Yuri Slezkine, The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution

Isaac Asimov, The End of Eternity

George Melies (dir.), A Voyage to the Moon

Fritz Lang (dir.), Metropolis

Frant Gwo (dir.), The Wandering Earth

Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov

Listen to the episode here:

Transcript available here:

Episode 14 : Cixin Liu (with Pu Wang, in English)

In this episode, John and Brandeis professor Pu Wang talk with the bestselling science fiction author Cixin Liu.

Mr. Liu is the author of The Three Body Problem, The Dark Forest, Death’s End, and other works. When he visited Brandeis to receive an honorary degree, Liu paid a visit to the RTB lair to record this interview. He spoke in Chinese and Pu translated his remarks in this English version of the interview: if you would rather listen to the original Chinese conversation, you will find it on the RTB website and in your podcast stream (see 刘慈欣访谈中文版 Episode 14c).

Mr. Liu, flanked by John and Pu (photo: Claire Ogden)

They discuss the evolution of Mr. Liu’s science fiction fandom, and the powerful influence of Leo Tolstoy on Mr. Liu’s work, which leads to a consideration of realism and its relationship to science fiction. Science fiction is also compared and contrasted with myth, mathematics, and technology.

Lastly, they consider translation, and the special capacity that science fiction has to emerge through the translation process relatively unscathed. This is a testament to science fiction’s taking as its subject the affairs of the whole human community–compared to the valuable but distinctly Chinese concerns of Mo Yan, or the distinctly Russian concerns of Tolstoy.

Discussed in this episode:

Cixin Liu, The Three Body Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death’s End

Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

Stanley Kubrick (dir.), 2001: A Space Odyssey

E.M. Forster, “The Machine Stops

Mo Yan, Red Sorghum

Listen to the episode here:

episode transcript available here:

刘慈欣访谈中文版 Episode 14c: Cixin Liu with Pu Wang (in Chinese)

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[This is the original Chinese interview with Cixin Liu; to hear the English translation, go to Episode 14]

今年5月18日,前来Brandeis大学接受荣誉博士学位的科幻小说家刘慈欣接受了John Plotz和王璞两位教授的专访。这次独具深度、异常精彩的访谈,已经整理为中英双语两个版本,想听刘慈欣中文原声的科幻迷们,请点这里!也请有兴趣的朋友们多多关注Recall This Book。

收听音频,请戳——

Episode 13: Polynesia, Sea of Islands: with Christina Thompson

John and Elizabeth talk cultural renewal with Christina Thompson, author of Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia, a book that both tells a part of the history of Polynesia, and tells how histories of Polynesia are constructed.

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Tupaia’s map

The discussion also ranges to consider different moments of cultural contact between Polynesian and European thinkers and doers. Those range from the chart Tupaia drew for Captain Cook during the “first contact” era (above) to the Hokule’a‘s triumphant reconstuction of ancient Polynesian wayfinding, in which the work of David Lewis, Brian Finney and the Bishop Planetarium (below) served as invaluable background to the navigational achievements of Mau Pialug and Nainoa Thompson.

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The conversation then turns to Epeli Hau’ofa’s influential article, “Our Sea of Islands,” and the conditions that arise to separate islands–water, language, or national boundaries. Can these conditions also serve to draw islands together? The discussion turns to the much-celebrated voyage of the Hokule’a, revivals of Polynesian tattooing practice, hula dancing, and oh yes, Moana.

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Planetarium at the Bishop Musuem

Finally, in Recallable Books, Christina recommends Nancy D. Munn’s The Fame of Gawa as a book that takes seriously the theories of value developed within Gawan community; Elizabeth recommends Sam Low’s documentary text Hawaiki Rising; and John, thinking broadly and archipelagically, recommends Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea novels.

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Christina Thompson (not in our studio)

Mentioned in this episode:

Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia and Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All, Christina Thompson

Ancient Voyagers in the Pacific,” Andrew Sharp

We, the Navigators: The Ancient Art of Landfinding in the Pacific, David Lewis

Our Sea of Islands,” Epeli Hau’ofa

Moana, dir. Ron Clements and John Cusker

The Fame of Gawa: A Symbolic Study of Value Transformation in a Massim Society, Nancy D. Munn

Hawaiki Rising, Sam Low

The Books of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin

 

Listen to the episode here:

 

Transcript available here:

 

Episode 12: RTB Presents “The Electro–Library” (with Jared Green)

In this warm summer episode, Elizabeth and John present a marvelous podcast, The Electro-Library, and they speak with one of its hosts and founders, Jared Green.

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Elizabeth, Jared and John play snippets from a recent Electro-Library episode on the decidedly non-podcasty topic of photographs, and use it as a  springboard to discuss the different aesthetic experiences of radio, television, film, reading, audiobooks, and podcasts. Which are the easiest and which the hardest artworks to get lost in? Would Frankenstein’s monster be more popular as a podcaster than as a YouTuber? (The answer to that one seems most likely to be yes). Continue reading “Episode 12: RTB Presents “The Electro–Library” (with Jared Green)”

Episode 11: Xenophobia and Ethno-Nationalism, 1973 to today (Quinn Slobodian)

What’s the relationship between immigration, globalization and demographics? What do a badly characterized, racist novel and an imaginatively metaphoric biology article from the 1970s have to do with that? And what is woke particularism? John and Elizabeth find out all of that and more in this discussion with Quinn Slobodian, professor of history at Wellesley College and author, most recently, of Globalists:  The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism.

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They first discuss Jean Raspail‘s racist 1973 novel The Camp of the Saints, a book whose popularity in certain quarters since its publication might explain how Europe has gone from Thatcher to Brexit, from Vaclav Havel to Viktor Orban.  How is this xenophobic screed related to science fiction of the same period–and to John Locke? Pat Buchanan,  American early adapter of Raspail’s hate-mongering, figures prominently. Continue reading “Episode 11: Xenophobia and Ethno-Nationalism, 1973 to today (Quinn Slobodian)”