Stream 47 Hours of Classic Sci-Fi Novels & Stories: Asimov, Wells, Orwell, Verne, Lovecraft & More

The pronouncements of French theorist Jean Baudrillard could sound a bit silly in the early 1990s, when the internet was still in its infancy, a slow, clunky technology whose promises far exceeded what it could deliver. We hoped for the cyberpunk spaces of William Gibson, and got the beep-boop tedium of dial-up. Even so, in his 1991 essay “Simulacra and Science Fiction,” Baudrillard contended that the real and the imaginary were no longer distinguishable, and that the collapse of the distance between them meant that “there is no more fiction.” Or, conversely, he suggested, that there is no more reality.

What seemed a far-fetched claim about the totality of “cybernetics and hyperreality” in the age of AOL and Netscape now sounds far more plausible. After all, it will soon be possible, if it is not so already, to convincingly simulate events that never occurred, and to make millions of people believe they had, not only through fake tweets, "fake news," and age-old propaganda, but through sophisticated manipulation of video and audio, through augmented reality and the onset of “reality apathy,” a psychological fatigue that overwhelms our abilities to distinguish true and false when everything appears as a cartoonish parody of itself.

Technologist Aviv Ovadya has tried since 2016 to warn anyone who would listen that such a collapse of reality was fast upon us—an “Infocalypse,” he calls it. If this is so, according to Baudrillard, “both traditional SF and theory are destined to the same fate: flux and imprecision are putting an end to them as specific genres.” In an apocalyptic prediction, he declaimed, “fiction will never again be a mirror held to the future, but rather a desperate rehallucinating of the past.” The “collective marketplace” of globalization and the Borgesian condition in which “the map covers all the territory” have left “no room any more for the imaginary.” Companies set up shop expressly to simulate and falsify reality. Pained irony, pastiche, and cheap nostalgia are all that remain.

It’s a bleak scenario, but perhaps he was right after all, though it may not yet be time to despair—to give up on reality or the role of imagination. After all, sci-fi writers like Gibson, Philip K. Dick, and J.G. Ballard grasped long before most of us the condition Baudrillard described. The subject proved for them and many other late-20th century sci-fi authors a rich vein for fiction. And perhaps, rather than a great disruption—to use the language of a start-up culture intent on breaking things—there remains some continuity with the naïve confidence of past paradigms, just as Newtonian physics still holds true, only in a far more limited way than once believed.

Isaac Asimov’s short essay “The Relativity of Wrong” is instructive on this last point. Maybe the theory of “hyperreality” is right, in some fashion, but also incomplete: a future remains for the most visionary creative minds to discover, as it did for Asimov’s “psychohistorian” Hari Seldon in The Foundation Trilogy. You can hear a BBC dramatization of that groundbreaking fifties masterwork in the 47-hour science fiction playlist above, along with readings of classic stories—like Orson Welles’ infamous radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds (and an audiobook of the same read by English actor Maxwell Caulfield). From Jules Verne to H.P. Lovecraft to George Orwell; from the mid-fifties time travel fiction of Andre Norton to the 21st-century time-travel fiction of Ruth Boswell….

We’ve even got a late entry from theatrical prog rock mastermind Rick Wakeman, who followed up his musical adaptation of Journey to the Centre of the Earth with a sequel he penned himself, recorded in 1974, and released in 1999, called Return to the Centre of the Earth, with narration by Patrick Stewart and guest appearances by Ozzy Osbourne, Bonnie Tyler, and the Moody Blues’ Justin Hayward. Does revisiting sci-fi, “weird fiction,” and operatic concept albums of the past constitute a “desperate rehallucinating” of a bygone “lost object,” as Baudrillard believed? Or does it provide the raw material for today’s psychohistorians? I suppose it remains to be seen; the future—and the future of science fiction—may be wide open.

The 47-hour science fiction playlist above will be added to our collection of 900 Free Audio Books.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Bill Murray Reads the Poetry of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson, Billy Collins, Lorine Niedecker, Lucille Clifton & More

Who among us wouldn’t want the ineffably mellow, witty, and wise Bill Murray to crash their party, wedding, or White House press briefing room? Maybe you’re one of the few who could resist his comic charms. But could you throw him out if he brought along a cellist and read Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem “Dog”? Not I.

Murray appeared at SXSW on Monday and read the poem as part of the promotional campaign for Wes Anderson’s new stop-motion animation film Isle of Dogs. And it can seem when we look back at Murray’s many public appearances over the last few years, that the one thing he’s done more than crash other people's parties and star in Wes Anderson films has been read poetry in public.

Murray, as Ayun Halliday pointed out in a previous post, is a “documented poetry nut,” who once wrote poetry himself as a much younger man. He’s been “wise enough,” writes Gavin Edwards at Rolling Stone “not to share it with the world.”  Perhaps we’re missing out.

But we do have many, many clips of Murray reading his favorites from other poets he admires, like Ferlinghetti, and like Wallace Stevens, whose “The Planet on The Table” and “A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts,” he reads above at New York’s Poets House, an institution he has wholeheartedly supported.

Wallace Stevens is a famously difficult poet, but he is also quite funny, in an obliquely droll way, and its no wonder Murray likes his verse. Poets House director Lee Bricoccetti observes that there is “an alignment between comedy and poetry… a precision in the way you handle language.” Some of my own favorite poets—like Frank O’Hara and the “willfully ridiculous” Stevie Smith—are also some of the funniest writers I’ve ever encountered in any form. Murray’s own poetic efforts, were we ever to hear them, may not measure up to the work of his favorites, but he is undoubtedly “a master of linguistic control and pacing.”

We also know that he can turn in finely nuanced dramatic performances when he wants to, and his mastery of the spoken word contributes just as much to moodier poets like Emily Dickinson, whom he reads above in a surprise performance for construction workers at work on the new Poets House home in 2009. You might agree, however, that he really shines with comic fare, like Billy Collins “Another Reason I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House” and Lorine Niedecker’s majorly condensed “Poet’s Work.”

Any of these readings should grant Murray admission into the most uptight of literary affairs. If anyone still doubts his skill in the craft of reading literature well in public—which, any writer will you, is no easy thing by far—then hear him read Lucille Clifton’s uplifting “What the Mirror Said” (above), or Sarah Manguso’s “What We Miss,” Billy Collins’ “Forgetfulness,” and Cole Porter’s song “Brush Up on Your Shakespeare.” Hear him read from Huckleberry Finn and mumble his way through Bob Dylan’s “Shelter from the Storm,” in character in the film St. Vincent.

Oh, but does the multitalented Bill Murray, "master of linguistic control and pacing," sing show tunes? Does he ever….

Find these poetry readings added to OC's collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How to Download Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House Now as a Free Audiobook?: Check Out Audible’s 30-Day Free Trial

Despite cease and desist orders issued by the president's lawyers, Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House is now out and it's the #1 bestselling book on Amazon. If you want a print copy, you'll have to wait 2-4 weeks. But there are some more immediate options: You can instantly snag a copy in Kindle format (price $14.99). Or download it as an audio book essentially for free.

If you start a 30 day free trial with, you can download two free audio books of your choice. At the end of 30 days, you can decide whether you want to become an Audible subscriber or not. (I definitely recommend the service and use it every day.) No matter what you decide, you get to keep the two free audiobooks. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House can be one of them. It runs 12 hours.

To sign up for Audible's free trial program here, follow the prompts/instructions on this page.

NB: Audible is an subsidiary, and we're a member of their affiliate program. Also, this post is not an endorsement of the book. (We haven't read it yet.) It's simply an fyi on how you can "read" a bestselling book that's in short supply.

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Hear a Dramatization of Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys: Free for a Limited Time

A quick heads up: The BBC is now streaming a new, six-part adaptation of Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman’s mythical fantasy novel from 2006. Only available for the next few weeks, each episode runs about 30 minutes. Find them here.

Fans of Neil Gaiman will also definitely want to check out this post in our archive: 18 Stories & Novels by Neil Gaiman Online: Free Texts & Readings by Neil Himself.

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Hear a Complete Reading of the Newly-Discovered Kurt Vonnegut Story, “The Drone King”

Twenty some years before a young engineer named Ray Tomlinson invented email, writer Kurt Vonnegut invented bee-mail in “The Drone King,” a story that didn’t see the light of day until his friend and fellow author Dan Wakefield unearthed it while going through old papers for a new Vonnegut collection.

The collection’s co-editor, Vonnegut scholar Jerome Klinkowitz, estimates that it was written in the early 50s, likely before the publication of his first novel, Player Piano, in 1952.

This early work, recently published in The Atlantic as well as Wakefield and Klinkowitz's collection, shows an author whose gallows humor is already firmly in place.

Several of his favorite themes crop up, too: the enthusiasm of the misguided entrepreneur, the battle of the sexes, and technology taken to absurd extremes (i.e. bees delivering scraps of messages in soda straws tied to their thoraxes).

If we’re not mistaken Indianapolis, Vonnegut’s boyhood home, now host to his Memorial Library, puts in an unbilled appearance, as well. The story’s Millennium Club bears an uncanny resemblance to that city’s Athletic Club, now defunct.

The self-pitying male haplessness Vonnegut spoofs so ably feels just as skewer-able in the post-Weinstein era, though the doddering black waiter’s dialect is rather queasy-making, especially in the mouth of the white narrator reading the story, above.

You can buy "The Drone King" as part of Kurt Vonnegut Complete Stories collection or read it free online here. The Atlantic was also good enough to create an audio version. It's excerpted up top. And it appears in its entirety right above.

"The Drone King" will be added to our Free Audio Books and Free eBooks collections.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Hear 14 Hours of Weird H.P. Lovecraft Stories on Halloween: “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Dunwich Horror” & More

Image by Dominique Signoret, via Wikimedia Commons

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far." So writes the narrator of "The Call of Cthulhu," the best-known story by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, who, before he burnt out and died young, spent his whole literary career looking into that infinity and reporting on the psychological effects of what he sensed lurking there. What better writer to read on Halloween night, when — amid all the partying and the candy — we all permit ourselves a glimpse into the abyss?

Indeed, what better writer to hear on Halloween night? Once it gets dark, consider firing up this fourteen-hour Spotify playlist of H.P. Lovecraft audiobooks, featuring readings of not just "The Call of Cthulhu" but The Shadow over Innsmouth, "The Dunwich Horror," "The Thing on the Doorstep," and other stories besides. (If you don't have Spotify's free software, you can download it here.)

Though Lovecraft has a much wider readership now than he ever accrued in his lifetime, some of your guests might still never have heard his work and thus struggle to pin it down: is it horror? Is it suspense? Is it the macabre, the sort of thing perfected by Lovecraft's predecessor in frightening American letters Edgar Allan Poe?

The word they need is "weird," not in the modern sense of "somewhat unusual," but in the early 20th-century sense — the sense of Weird Tales, the pulp magazine that published Lovecraft — of a heady blend of the supernatural, the mythical, the scientific, and the mundane. Joyce Carol Oates once wrote that Lovecraft's stories, seldom sensational, "develop by way of incremental detail, beginning with quite plausible situations — an expedition to Antarctica, a trip to an ancient seaside town, an investigation of an abandoned eighteenth-century house in Providence, Rhode Island, that still stood in Lovecraft’s time. One is drawn into Lovecraft by the very air of plausibility and characteristic understatement of the prose, the question being When will weirdness strike?" An ideal question to ask while floating along the black sea of Halloween night.

This playlist of Lovecraft stories will be added to our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

“Goodnight Moon,” as Read to Neil deGrasse Tyson by LeVar Burton

Metafilter sets the stage for the cute, newly minted video above:

At 1:00pm on May 17th, 2017, Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted that he occasionally longed for someone to read Good Night Moon to him as he falls asleep. Six minutes later, LeVar Burton tweeted "I got you... Let's do this!" And do it they did.

Some background: LeVar Burton hosted the children's TV show Reading Rainbow for two decades, reading to children and encouraging them to read. His new podcast, LeVar Burton Reads, is like Reading Rainbow for adults. Neil deGrasse Tyson is a famous dancer yt /astrophysicist.

You can see Susan Sarandon read her own version. Find it in the Relateds below. Enjoy.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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