Friday Book Club: Jack London and Science Fiction

SWT-Book-ClubsWelcome to Friday Book Club!  This month we’ve been reading The Call of the Wild by Jack London.

Jack London is most famous for stories of adventure and for social commentary.  But he was also a science fiction writer.  In fact, the first paycheck he ever received as a writer was for his story “A Thousand Deaths”, about a mad scientist who kills and resurrects his son, which was published by The Black Cat in 1899.  He wrote fifteen short stories that contain some science fiction or speculative fiction element.

In “The Red One”, a scientist discovers a tribe of people who worship a giant red sphere that seems to come from outer space.  n “A Relic from the Pliocene”, a man in the northern wilds discovers a real-life wooly mammoth”The Shadow and the Flash” is about brother who are bitter rivals, and who race each other to develop a means of invisibility.  “The Unparrelled Invasion” is about germ warfare.  In most of his stores, the peril is human in origin, with mad scientists and unstoppable weapons abounding.  There were apocalyptic scenarios, dystopias and utopias.

London’s science fiction short stories have been collected under the title The Science Fiction of Jack London.  

 

Friday Book Club: The Klondike Gold Rush

SWT-Book-ClubsWelcome to Friday Book Club!  This month we’ve been talking about The Call of the Wild, by Jack London.  The Call of the Wild takes place during the Klondike Gold Rush.

The Klondike Gold Rush is often said to have started when a huge gold deposit was discovered in 1896, but like many starting dates for historical events this one is open to interpretation.  Miners had already been mining along the Yukon River and had established a large town, Circle City.

In 1896 three men and one woman discovered a huge deposit of gold in the Yukon river.  News spread within Alaska and miners began heading to the area.  But it took the news a whole year to reach San Francisco and Seattle.  Once it did, the Rush was quickly in full swing.  Approximately 100,000 people tried to get to the gold fields.  Most didn’t make it, and of those that did, few got rich.

George Carmack and , the purported discoverer of the Klondike gold, and his wife, Kate Carmack.  She was born Shaaw Tia and was a Tinglit First Nation Woman.  She was with George Carmack when gold was discovered and some say she may have been the one to actually discover it.  They had one daughter together, Graphie Grace.

George Carmack, the purported discoverer of the Klondike gold, and his wife, Kate Carmack. She was born Shaaw Tia and was a Tinglit First Nation Woman. She was with George Carmack when gold was discovered and some say she may have been the one to actually discover it. They had one daughter together, Graphie Grace.

The area in which the Gold Rush took place was populated by native groups including the Tagish, Tlingit, and Hän Athabaskan Peoples.  In The Call of the Wild, Thorton is attacked by the entirely fictious Yeehat Indians.  Although I haven’t studied this time period extensively, I could find little mention of violence between indigneous Alaskans and miners of the nature described by Jack London.  Many of the Hän people were placed in a reservation downstream from the boom town Dawson.  In addition to losing fish and game, they suffered disease when the people of Dawson built a sewage system that emptied out into the river that flowed to the Hän.

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The rush ended in 1899, when gold was discovered elsewhere in Alaska and Canada.  The discovery of gold in Nome, Alaska led to a gold rush there that lasted until 1909.  Gold mining continues in Alaska today and the sled dogs of Jack London’s Klondike rush are still indispensable as racers and as work dogs.

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Five Fun Facts About The Call of the Wild

SWT-Book-ClubsIt’s Friday Book club, and in May we’re reading The Call of the Wild, by Jack London.  If you are in the Sacramento area, join us on May 18 at 2PM at Arden Dimick for the in-person discussion of this exciting book!

Here’s five fun facts about The Call of the Wild:

1.  The dog, Buck, was modeled after London’s friend’s dog.

London spent a lot of time in Alaska staying with the wealthy Bond brothers, Marshall Bond and Louis Whitford Bond.  They became good friends despite having opposite political views (their arguments were a popular form of camp entertainment).  The brothers owned a fruit ranch in the Santa Clara Valley in California.  This ranch was the model for Buck’s home in the book.  The brothers owned a St Bernard/Collie mix that was the inspiration for Buck.

handwritten letter from Jack London to Marshall Bond

2. London’s writing style influenced Hemingway.

During the passages with Charles and Mercedes, London uses a flowery style to suit their over-blown lives, but for most of the time when Buck is facing the hardships of Alaska the language is stark and simple.

photo of the original Buck

3. The Call of the Wild was initially published as a serial.

The Saturday Evening Post bought it for $750 and ran it in four parts in 1903.  Later that year all rights were sold to Macmillan, who first published it as a book.  It has been in print ever since.

cover of Saturday Evening Post

 4.  While in Alaska, London read Origin of the Species, by Charles Darwin, and Paradise Lost by John Milton

Call of the Wild  is often seen as an example of survival of the fittest, and is also an examination of nature versus nurture.  Meanwhile, The Ranch can be said to represent Paradise Lost.

original call of the wild

5. London was accused of plagiarism.

Edgarton Ryerson Young wrote a book called My Dogs of the Northland.  He claimed that London had stolen Call of the wild from this book.  London claimed that he had been inspired and influenced by Northland  and that he had sent Young a thank you letter for the source material.

 

Book Club Is Back with Five Things You Didn’t Know about Jack London

SWT-Book-ClubsBook Club is back!  We’ll have a post here every Friday.  If you are in the Sacramento area, join us on May 18 at 2PM at Arden Dimick Library for an in-person book club get-together!

Our theme this summer is “Animals Among Us”, and we’re kicking things off with The Call of the Wild, by Jack London.  Jack London was an amazing guy.  I’m not too proud to say that most of the info I’m about to relate comes from Wikipedia and seldom has a single entry contained more drama and mayhem then the one on Jack London.

In honor of our first selection, The Call of the Wild, here’s five facts about its author, Jack London (John Griffith Chaney):

1.  Jack London’s mother tried to shoot herself while she was pregnant with Jack.

Jack’s mother, Flora, was a music teacher and a spiritualist who lived in San Francisco (she claimed to channel the spirit of an Indian Chief).  She was living with and presumably married to an astrologer named William Chaney.  When she told Chaney she was pregnant, he insisted that she have an abortion.  She shot herself but didn’t injure herself seriously.  Baby Jack was raised by Virginia Prentiss, a former slave.  In 1876 Flora married John London.

JACK LONDON

2.  While in the Yukon, Jack developed a terrible case of scurvy.

Jack London went to the Yukon during the Alaska Gold Rush.  He developed a severe case of scurvy, which was common among miners.  He lost four teeth and had permanent facial scarring afterwards.

Jack London in Alaska

Jack London is reputed to be the one in front without a beard

3. Jack called his first wife “Mother-Girl” and his second wife “Mate-Woman”.

Jack’s first marriage was to Elizabeth Maddern.  They were friends who agreed that although they were not in love, they would make great kids together so would try a marriage.  They did have children, two girls, Jane and Bessie.  Jack and Elizabeth divorced in 1904.

Jack’s second marriage was to Charmain Kitteredge.  She was also a writer, and shared London’s progressive ideals and love of travel (this included a shared interest in having an open marriage, which had been a source of contention between Jack and his first wife).  By all accounts Charmain and Jack were happy together.  Incidentally, Charmain had a brief affair with Harry Houdini after Jack’s death, but Houdini felt guilty about the affair and ended it.

Jack London and daughters

Jack London and daughters

4. Jack was an ardent socialist.

Jack became a socialist because of the hardships he saw around him, especially those he experienced and witness in jail after being arrested for vagrancy.  You can find is essay “How I Became A Socialist” at this link – it’s powerful stuff.

5.  Jack wrote science fiction.

Jack wrote several stories that can be considered science fiction, including one about a tribe under the influence of aliens, germ warfare, a super-weapon, invisibility, and a modern-day man who encounters a mammoth.

 

 

 

Friday Book Club: Get Ready For Summer!

SWT-Book-ClubsWe’ve just concluded our series on humor, and we have a break in April.   But we’ll be back in May!  Here’s the summer schedule for Book Club.  You can follow Book Club online or join us in person at Arden Dimick Library, at 891 Watt Avenue, Sacramento, CA!

Our theme for summer is Animals Among Us.  We’ll be reading a classic, a contemporary work of fiction, and a nonfiction book.  If you are in the Sacramento area, you’ll notice that this ties into the Sacramento Public Library Summer Reading Program, whose theme this year is “Pets”!

May:  The Call of the Wild, by Jack London

The Call of the Wild, first published in 1903, tells the story of Buck, a St-Bernard-Scotch Collie, who is stolen from his home with a family in California and transported to the Alaskan Gold rush to work as a sled dog.  Buck works for several different owners before being taken in by John Thorton, with whom he shares a powerful bond.  But even as his attachment to Thorton grows, he feels connected to the wilderness that surrounds him and is torn between freedom and domesticity.

Original Cover

Original Cover

Meet us in person at Arden Dimick Library on May 18, at 2PM!

June:  The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein

The Art of Racing in the Rain was published in 2008 and is told from the point of view of a dog named Enzo.  Enzo belongs to a race car driver (loosely based on the author and on one of the author’s friends).  Enzo hopes that if he lives his life properly, he will reincarnate as a human being, and he carefully studies the humans around him to prepare for what he hopes will be his future life.

the-art-of-racing-in-the-rain

Meet us in person at Arden Dimick Library on June 22, at 2PM!

July:  Animals Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior, by Temple Grandin

In this nonfiction book, published in 2005, author Temple Grandin talks about how her autism helps her see the world the way animals might see it.  Temple Grandin works with the beef and poultry industries to improve the lives and deaths of animals who are raised for human consumption.  She also works with zoos and other organizations to improve conditions for animals.  Additionally, she’s a world-renowned activist for people with autism.

Animals-in-Translation

Meet us in person at Arden Dimick Library on July 13, at 2PM!