Archive for the ‘Reader's Advisory Lists’ Category

In some divergent reality, the name Sarban could have been spoken of in the same breath as John Wyndham or Philip K. Dick. In an alternative universe, he could have become one of the giants of post World War II science fiction. But like many of his fictional characters, Sarban was a person out of time and out of place – a stranger in a world not yet ready to understand him.

Sarban was an anomaly, even in the quirky world of science fiction authors. Those who knew him (there were very few who did) recall his hatred of writing. Almost nothing was known about him during his lifetime (Russell: 2001). The curiously named author guarded his identity with Thomas Pynchon-esque zeal. It seems his distaste for writing was eclipsed only by his disdain for the fame that came along with it.

His career spanned a mere three years and produced only three titles (Russell: 2001). Sarban’s debut work Ringstones and Other Curious Tales was published in 1951. By 1953 he had simply disappeared, his true identity unknown. Disappeared that is, until his death in 1989 revealed the secrets he had spent a lifetime keeping.

Born John William Wall (1910-1989), Sarban grew up in the small middle class town of South Yorkshire, England (Russell: 2001). There was nothing particularly remarkable about his childhood. He had a disappointingly average British upbringing, went to a thoroughly typical school and lived on a dull, respectable street. Like his peers, he filled his leisure hours with pastimes such as cricket and became an expert small game hunter (Russell: 2001). He was destined for bigger things than could be offered by a small town in the English countryside. In 1928 he won a full scholarship to Jesus College, Cambridge where he studied English. It was at Jesus College he discovered what would become his lifelong love – the study of Arabic. Immediately upon graduation he took the Consular Service Exam. In 1933 the British Foreign Office awarded him his first post as Probationer Vice-Consul to Lebanon.

Sarban/Wall spent his career as a reliable, if unremarkable, diplomat. He plied his trade in exotic locales such as Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan (Russell: 2001). Although he eventually rose to Consular General to Egypt he could never fully shake his middle class upbringing. Friends recall the contempt he showed for his upper class peers. In particular he loathed the privileged loafers he felt populated the diplomatic world (Russell: 2001). His love for all things Arabic and his distaste for high society would figure prominently in his writings.

On the face of things it would appear that Sarban/Wall led the uneventful, grey life of a government bureaucrat. Perhaps this life of mediocrity was too much for him to handle. For a few brief years he became Sarban, the writer of some of the most disturbing supernatural tales ever told. He settled on a single pseudonym, the genesis of which is unclear (Joshi: 2005). The name sounds vaguely Arabic and would certainly have seemed exotic to a British readership. He may simply have been too embarrassed to have his unsuccessful writing career associated with his more serious work as a diplomat.

Most scholars mark the end of the Golden Age of science fiction to coincide with the end of World War II (Joshi: 2005). A new wave of science fiction authors speculated on a utopian world where technology would bring about an era of peace and prosperity (Joshi: 2005). With memories of the war still fresh in the British psyche, readers were more than happy to escape into these optimistic fantasies.

Sarban’s milestone novel, The Sound of His Horn (1952) must have seemed like a slap in the face to those wishing to forget the horrors of Nazi Germany. Sound was one of the first novels to speculate on the consequences of a Nazi victory and world domination by the Third Reich (Joshi: 2005). British soldier Alan Querildion escapes from a WWII Nazi prison camp and inexplicably finds himself transported 100 years into the future. He arrives in a world where the Third Reich rules the globe. Nazi aristocracy has taken Adolf Hitler’s beliefs on Master Race superiority to brutal extremes. Genetically modified “under-races” (non-Aryan humans) are used as slave labour and are hunted for sport in specially built amusement parks. Sarban/Wall adeptly prophesied human cloning and genetic manipulation. Borrowing heavily from Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game (1924) the novel centres on a human version of the British fox hunt. While the Connell novel was a straight-up thriller, Sarban/Wall throws in a less than subtle helping of social commentary.

Sound clearly thumbs its nose at comforting symbols of British colonialism (Joshi: 2005). The hero is set free in the forest to be tracked and hunted by his Nazi captors. The reader sees the hunt from the prey’s point of view. They experience the terror and isolation that only the hunted can feel. The similarities to the popular British pastime of fox hunting are too obvious to be ignored. The trappings of high society barely mask the savagery that lie beneath. Sound strips away fox hunting’s veil of make believe courtesy and exposes the underlying brutality of the sport.

The fox hunt analogy is also used to skewer the upper crust socialites that Sarban/Wall so greatly despised. The substitution of fictional Nazi bureaucrats for the real life British hunters was a blatant insult (Joshi: 2005). The hero (playing the part of the fox) uses cunning and wit to escape his increasingly savage captors. As they see their prey slipping away, the Nazi hunting party degenerates into savagery, frustration and anger. Feral instincts overpower their civility and the hunters allow their primitive urges to engulf them.

In spite of glowing reviews and kudos from the literary world, the novel sold poorly (Russell: 2001). The reading public wasn’t ready to be reminded how close England came to destruction at the hands of Hitler’s Germany. The clear indictment of the fox hunt cannot have made Sarban/Wall many friends in 1950’s England. Years later other authors would make alternate histories a bona fide sub-genre of science fiction (Rosenfeld: 2005). Sarban themes appear in such works as Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962), Ira Levin’s The Boys from Brazil (1976) and Robert Harris’ Fatherland (1992). All used the spectre of a surviving Nazi regime to unnerve audiences.

Despite being spurned by readers, Sarban/Wall produced two collections of short stories. Ringstones and Other Curious Tales (1951) and The Doll Maker and Other Tales of the Uncanny (1953) met with much the same fate as his novel. The collections were skillful mixtures of supernatural fiction, ghost stories, mystery and science fiction tales. Both centred on female protagonists performing work typically reserved for male heroes.

Ringstones concerns Daphne Hazel, a young governess charged with the upkeep of an isolated English country manor. She discovers a stone circle and unearths a collection of dangerous and powerful relics. The remnants seem like mere curiosities until Daphne realizes she’s awoken an unearthly and primitive force. Again we see the theme of base instincts overpowering the thin sheen of civilization.

Doll Maker told the story of Clare Lydgate, a young woman who runs away from her stuffy boarding school. She meets Niall Sterne, a doll maker, and slowly slips into a world of madness populated by his doll creations. As in many of Sarban/Wall’s works, British convention is attacked. Living in the honey trap of the doll-world is preferable to Clare than the stodgy, confining halls of the institution. Methodical pacing slowly draws readers in and slowly seduces them. By the time they realize the doll-world is a trap, it’s far too late.

Sarban/Wall’s talent for genre blending may be appreciated in the modern day, but at the time readers were simply confused (Joshi: 2005). He did not fit neatly into either the science fiction, mystery or horror genres that were popular at the time. Perhaps ghost stories no longer had the power to frighten a public who could still recall the real life terror of German air raids. Sound had been praised as a forward thinking and chillingly real portrait of a future gone wrong. In comparison, Sarban/Wall’s other two titles were panned for being hokey and old-fashioned (Joshi: 2005). Again Sarban/Wall’s works were just out of step with the times. Readers may have missed the eerie subtlety that was the trademark of a Sarban/Wall yarn.

No one knows for sure why Sarban/Wall abandoned the quill after such a brief career. Even his closest friends can only speculate on the motives of this intensely private man (Russell: 2001). His career as a diplomat involved constant travel and frequent job changes. His duties cannot have left much time for the pen. Public indifference to his writing would not have served to inspire him. Since no one really knew who Sarban was it’s doubtful he felt anyone would miss him. In 1953, the Sarban half of his identity quietly faded away, and Wall went on his merry way.

For over forty years Sarban/Wall’s body of work sat largely dormant. There were occasional limited run reprints. His short stories would pop up in anthologies from time to time. It wasn’t until just prior to his death in 1989 that Wall publicly acknowledged his alter ego (Joshi: 2005). Memories of Sarban/Wall’s books had long since faded and this revelation made few headlines. It did capture the eye of Kingsley Amis, the prolific British novelist, poet and literary critic. Amis is perhaps best known as the author of several post-Ian Fleming James Bond spy novels. He contributed a forward to a small run reprint of Sound, but he was playing to an empty house.

The announcement raised eyebrows at Tartarus Press, an independent publisher specializing in resurrecting classic works of the macabre (Russell: 2001).  Sarban/Wall’s 1953 retirement wasn’t the end of his career, it merely marked the last time he was published. His estate contained stacks of undiscovered works. Tartarus published Sarban/Wall’s manuscripts as The Sacrifice and Other Stories (2002).

Although he was misunderstood in his day, Sacrifice proved the timeless quality of Sarban/Wall’s work. This led to a mini-resurgence of his classic tales, even if it was only amongst hardcore collectors and aficionados. Although largely ignored in his day, Sarban/Wall foreshadowed many of the trends that have now become science fiction conventions. His themes consistently pop up in other author’s works. Perhaps now, sixty years after his retirement and twenty years after his death, we are finally ready to embrace his ideas.

Although not currently in print, all three of Sarban’s classic titles can be downloaded for free at www.Munseys.com. A posthumous collection of Sarban’s lost works is available from www.TartarusPress.com. The Merril Collection of Science Fiction at the Toronto Public Library also boasts a non-lending set of Sarban titles.

References:

Clute, J. (1995). Science fiction: The illustrated encyclopedia. Toronto: MacMillan.

Joshi, S.T. (2005). Supernatural literature of the world: An encyclopedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Rosenfeld, G. (2005). The world Hitler never made: Alternate history and the memory of Nazism. England: Cambridge University Press.

Russell, R.B. (2001). Sarban. The lost club journal: A journal of literary archeology, 3. Retrieved May 21st, 2009, from http://www.tartaruspress.com/wall.html

Anyone who’s seen my wall of spreadsheets knows that perhaps I take my hockey pools a tad too seriously.  Over the years I’ve developed a fairly decent methodology for drafting, managing and (mostly) winning my pools.

As with most speculative or odds-based games, intuition and gut-feelings play a major role in the decision-making process.  Sports speculation can be an incredibly information-intensive endeavour.  Players who win typically have to most information, the most accurate information and most timely information when compared to their competitors.  In the spirit of the season, I’ve compiled a bibliography of reliable and up-to-date hockey pool resources that may make or break your fantasy year.

Keep checking back – I’ll be updating and improving this list as the season wears on.  Good luck poolies!

Starting Goalies:

I used to swear by Hockey Informer for all my starting goalie advice, but that site went strangely silent sometime in 2008.  Since then, I’ve used the following resources to fill the void.

*UPDATE* I was just alerted to a bit of controversy regarding exactly where the info on these sites was coming from.  Take a look at this link, then judge for yourself: DailyFaceOff.com Caught Stealing Content

Daily Face Off

Fantasy Hockey 911 This site’s only recently been launched, but goalie starter resources are pretty scarce so they help fill an important void.  I really like the line combo page and these guys will be adding more tools as the season presses on.  Definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Goalie Post Unlike most of the sites I include, GoaliePost is a for-pay service (a nominal fee of $10/year).  They boast a 97% accuracy rate and offer instant email updates.  When it’s 3 minutes to puck drop and you haven’t set your starters, you’ll thank your lucky stars for their last-minute emails.

Left Wing Lock I have to give major props to these guys.  Their predictions and confirmations are timely, up-to-date and best of all – they’re spot-on accurate.   You gotta love a goalie prediction site can claim 98-99% accuracy!

Magazines:

I typically try to recommend only free resources, but paper ain’t free.  You’ll pay anywhere between $7.99 and $9.99 per mag, but you cannot put a price on the ability to lord sweet victory over people’s heads.

The Fan 590 The Fan 590 is best known for their outstanding sports talk radio shows, but they also crank out a stellar NHL fantasy guide.  The website’s also a great source of expert blogs and sports opinion.

McKeen’s Fantasy Hockey McKeen’s has long been my go-to fantasy guide.  They spend significant time on player analysis and their point and stat predictions are generally accurate.  They made me blow a draft pick on Derrick Brassard on 2008, but other than that I’m pretty confident in their predictive abilities.

The Hockey News Ultimate Fantasy Pool Guide The Hockey News has long been a staple in the magazine racks of Canadian households.  The mag is unfortunately light on the in-depth analysis offered by other guides, but the website is a treasure trove of valuable articles and features.

Sports News & Player Profiles:

Most of these sites offer player profiles and career stats.  You’ll also find daily updates on each player’s performance and injury status.

SportsNet Hockey SportsNet covers all the usual hockey news, with a healthy dose of fantasy analysis and advice thrown in.

The Sports Network Hockey This is my tried and true source of NHL news.  Sign up for hockey news text alerts on your smart phone.

Entertainment and Sports Broadcasting Network Hockey ESPN boasts what are in all likelihood the best fantasy player profiles of the mainstream new sites.

Central Broadcasting System Hockey Check out their Fantasy Hockey section for quick reference charts of daily player totals and injury reports.

Players News Feeds:

These sites are all excellent resources for up-to-the-minute player reports, written with the fantasy player in mind.

RotoWorld Hockey If you only use one site to track player reports please make it this one!  RotoWorld scans the sports sections of all the major North American newspapers and aggregates that data into quick little bites.  They also have a website widget that’s pretty nifty.

Dobber Hockey Dobber has been a force in the fantasy world for years.  A great source of general advice, especially for the newbie.

Spector’s Hockey A great resource for injury, trade and free agent rumours.

Okay, so this isn’t going to be a traditional librarian-esque reader’s advisory list.  No books, no movies and no unfaithful movie versions of said books.

With all of the World Cup furor lately, even novice fans should have no problems following their favourite squads.  But what if you can’t afford to glue yourself to the television for that all-important match?  Perhaps you’re “employed”, or have a “family” or are otherwise beset by obligations that prevent you from spending the next month as one half of a TV/human conjoined twin.

Never fear.  Anyone with an Internet connection or mobile device has no excuse to miss any of the action.  Check out my list* of mobile apps, podcasting sites, gadgets and other nifty sources of FIFA 2010 info on the go.  Because watching things on TV is so old-fashioned…

*Many thanks to the folks who work in my department, as many of these gadgets were suggested for inclusion by them.  If anyone else has an app to add, please post a comment.  I’m particularly interested in finding links to text/SMS alert services.

Streaming audio & video:

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has done their usual bang-up job on international sports coverage.  You can watch all 64 matches live online, stream highlights and commentary and read in-depth team and player reports.  Check out their library of podcast documentaries.

For those of you who subscribe to Sirius XM radio, they’ll be live streaming all 64 matches, plus commentary and the usual sports chat.

The Guardian will be podcasting the entire tournament from a uniquely British perspective. Subscribe using iTunes or download MP3s for your mobile device.

Calendar and scheduling services:

This nifty little plug-in from MarkThisDate.com will import (and automatically update!) the entire World Cup 2010 match schedule into the calendar application of your choice.  Works for Outlook Express, iPhone,  Google Calendar and many more.

A great little interactive, stadium shaped calendar by Marca.com.  Just mouse over the team, date or stadium of your choice to pop up the relevant schedule info.

Maps and virtual tours:

For you Google Earth fans, explore 3D models of all ten South African stadiums.

Google Maps has updated their imagery to include a virtual tour of South Africa.  Most of the attention is focused on the tournament, but it would be a shame to ignore what is an absolutely stunning countryside.

Social networking sites:

Join in on the fun by following your favourite team on Facebook.  Engage in arbitrary arguments with people from all over the world.

The one and only, official FIFA World Cup Twitter feed.  Don’t forget to download the South Africa 2010 Twitter skin.  The most popular hashtags are #WC2010 and #WorldCup.

Twitter’s also set up their own World Cup dedicated section.  Tweets pop up in real-time in just about every language under the sun.  Given the massive server load the World Cup is expected to produce, prepare to make friends with Twitter’s Fail Whale.

Interested in seeing what other web surfers are searching for?  HitWise compiles a weekly ranking of the world’s most searched players.  Portugal’s Christiano Ronaldo is the current leader.

World Cup fantasy teams:

Now that the battle for Lord Stanley’s cup has been decided, what’s a sports pool addict to do? Yahoo Fantasy Sports offers a free World Cup football pool.

Developed by Electronic Arts Sports and FIFA Superstars, this Facebook app is perfect for the armchair football coach.  Choose form the best players in the world to build your fantasy team then challenge your friends.

Mobile apps:

Goal.com is just about the biggest soccer related site on the Internet and is available in multiple languages.  This mobile app is compatible with iPhone, Ipod Touch and iPad.

If the iPhone’s not your style, try South Africa 2010 on your Blackberry.

Or your Nokia.

Or your Android.

Or your Windows Mobile.

Widgets for web browsers and bloggers:

This Firefox plug-in from FootieFox.com integrates into the bottom right status bar of your browser.  Keep track of live matches as you surf.

Bloggers and web admins everywhere will want to embed these official FIFA widgets.

An odds and betting widget from PaddyPower.com.

Up to the minute World Cup odds-making from WagerWidgets.com.

You may have do do some scrolling to find one that’s actually useful, but WidgetBox.com has a whole set of easy-to-use FIFA gadgets.

Although I somehow managed to miss it when it showed at the Toronto International Film Festival, I was granted a second chance to see Grant Gee‘s Joy Division documentary.  It seems the good people at the Images Festival thought highly enough of it to bring it back for one night.

In spite of having to navigate through sketchy alleyways and construction zones to find the unmarked venue, the theatre was nearly packed.  The atmosphere was more akin to a cocktail party than a film showing, as patrons milled around sharing their best Joy Division memories.

The Images people are gearing up for the April launch of their 23rd annual festival.  I urge you to keep an eye on their website here: http://www.imagesfestival.com/

For those of you not familiar, the band Joy Division broke out of the late 1970’s Manchester punk scene.  While they never achieved the massive fame they so richly deserved, their bleak, haunting melodies laid the foundation for decades of popular music.  After only two albums, and on the verge of their first North American Tour, lead singer Ian Curtis was found dead by his own hand.

For the full history lesson check out: http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:gbfuxql5ldje

For those of you already initiated into the genius that is Joy Division, I hope my selected, annotated bibliography is of some use.

Further References

Corbijn, Anton. (2007). Control (Film). New York: The Weinstein Company.

  • A dramatized version of Curtis life, based on the book by his widow.  Considering the tragic opera that was Curtis’ life, this might not be an easy one to sit through.

Curtis, Deborah. (2007). Touching from a distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division. Faber and Faber.

  • Written by Ian Curtis’ widow, this book offers the only truly intimate portrayal of the enigmatic singer’s personal life. Includes a full set of Curtis’ lyrics.

Gee, Grant. (2007).  Joy Division (Film). New York: The Weinstein Company.

  • A gritty and touching documentary, this film features interviews with nearly every important living (and some dead) figure in the band’s history.  While it may not serve as a good entry point, it’s an absolutely stunning piece of work for the aficionado.

Luck, Richard. (2009). The Madchester scene: the pocket essential. Pocket Essentials.

  • A quick guide to all things Manchester, the music scene which gave birth to Joy Division, New Order, the Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses and Acid House.

Roberston, Matthew. (2006). Factory Records: the complete graphic album. London: Chronicle Books.

  • A complete collection of every graphical item Factory Records ever produced.  Includes album covers, records sleeves, club flyers and gig posters.

Wilson, Tony. (2002). Twenty-four hour party people: what the sleeve notes never tell you. Trans-Atlantic.

  • Chronicles the somewhat true/somewhat mythological tale of Factory Records, Joy Division and New Order.  See the eponymous film starring the sublime Steve Coogan.

Selected Discography

In their brief history together, Joy Division released but two proper studio albums, Unknown Pleasures and Closer.  This hasn’t stopped the market from being flooded with compilations, concert bootlegs and box sets.  In addition to their “real” albums, I’ve included several of the finer collections.

Closer. By Joy Division (Musical Group). London: Qwest, 1980.

  • Though no one realized it at the time, Closer may well have served as Ian Curtis’ lyrical suicide note.

Still. By Joy Division (Musical Group). London: Qwest, 1981.

  • Primarily a collection of leftovers, odds and ends, Still is a worthwhile pickup for the completist.

Substance. By Joy Division (Musical Group). London: Qwest, 1988.

  • Easily the best Joy Division compilation on the market.  Chock full of alternate versions, B-sides and rarities.

Unknown Pleasures. By Joy Division (Musical Group). London: Qwest, 1979.

  • This album proved that not only could punk rock be touching, intelligent and poignant, it also sounded pretty damn good when you slowed the beat down just a little.

Warsaw. By Warsaw/Joy Division (Musical Group). London: Movieplay Gold, 1994.

  • This was originally intended to serve as the band’s debut album (before a legal scuffle forced them to abandon the name Warsaw).  It’s from a time before the band settled on their distinctive sound, but bristles with the raw energy, speed and anger that punk rock is best know for.

*Cover art image created by Peter Saville

Alien invasion and infiltration literature became hugely popular at the onset of the U.S/Russian Cold war. The public became obsessed with the idea that Communists agents were secretly infiltrating America. Of course this paranoia spilled over to popular culture and left us with some of the best (and worst!) novels and films in the history of Science Fiction.

Anyone interested in alien invasion has to start with H.G. Wells’ proto-invasion novel The War of the Worlds (1898). This title set the template for all subsequent invasion stories. There were hideous unstoppable invaders, an everyman hero and no shortage of damsels in distress.

The sub-genre is perhaps best typified by three novels: John Campbell’s The Thing From Another World (1938), Robert A.Heinlien’s The Puppet Masters (1951) and Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers (1954). All three offer up healthy doses of evil moon men, daring heroes and plenty of destruction and mayhem.   The common theme that unites them is the idea that the invaders are indistinguishable from regular humans.  A clear allegory for the supposed Communist infiltration as promoted by Senator Joseph McCarthy.  These three novels form the core of the genre – the Holy Trinity of Invasion Lit.

Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (1959) offers a reverse invasion tale. In Heinlein’s adventure, humans are the invaders and pre-emptively strike against a planet of hideous slug creatures. Considering the perception of Heinlein’s politics as shamelessly right-wing, many viewed this as a thinly veiled argument in support of an American invasion of Russia.

No discussion would be complete with the finest SF film of the era The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Humanity’s refusal to cease the nuclear arms race has raised the ire of Klaatu, and super powerful alien. He lands on earth in his interstellar spaceship (which strangely resembles a giant hubcap) and gives humanity an ultimatum – shape up or be destroyed!

There’s plenty of great Cold War lit and films from other places too. Pro wrestler El Santo protected Mexico from being invaded by “Los Marcianos”  in a series of unintentionally hilarious films. The world’s most famous man-in-a-lizard-suit Godzilla was a constant threat to the Japanese citizenry.  Angered when scientists start testing atomic bombs in his habitat, Godzilla destroys Tokyo and reminds us of the nuclear follies of man.   Defenders of the British Empire included Professor Alan Quatermass and the iconic Doctor Who. Quatermass first came to prominence in a series of BBC radio serials.  These proved so popular the character was spun into a television series and several films.  Doctor Who defended Earth from alien invasion in a television series that began in 1963 and continues to air today.

Just because the 1950’s are over doesn’t mean we can let our guard down. Try picking up a copy of the Alien Invasion Survival Handbook (2009). And keep watching the skies…

Further References

Booker, M. (2001). Monsters, mushroom clouds and the Cold War: American science fiction and the roots of postmodernism 1946-1964. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

Buker, Derek. (2002). The Science fiction and fantasy reader’s advisory: the librarian’s guide to cyborgs, aliens, and sorcerers. Chicago: American Library Association.

Gannon, Charles E. (2000). “Silo psychosis: diagnosing America’s nuclear anxieties through narrative imagery.” Imagining apocalypse: studies in cultural crisis. Ed. David Seed. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Seed, David. (1999). American science fiction and the Cold War: literature and film. New York, NY: Routledge.