“Before Adam” by Jack London

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Has this happened to you? You’ve settled into bed and have just fallen – or are just about to fall – asleep, but then you suddenly shake yourself fully awake after having the sense you are about to fall. What’s that all about, anyway? Well, it’s a common phenomenon known as a “hypnagogic myoclonic twitch” or “hypnic jerk” for short. While the cause is not completely known, it has to do with the brain misinterpreting “relaxation signals” from the muscles and being tricked into thinking you are falling down. It then takes the appropriate measures to prevent a fall. Many think this is an ancient reflex from when evolutionary ancestors slept in trees to avoid the many predators below.

Whatever the cause, author Jack London uses the latter idea brilliantly to explain the phenomenon that the narrator of his unique novella, “Before Adam,” is experiencing. You see, the narrator, since childhood, has spent night after night dreaming of a time long ago, recalling an earlier life of an ancient hominid progenitor. He believes this phenomenon is a freakish amplification of the type of “racial memory” (like the sensation of falling) everyone experiences, and that he is seeing a kind of replay of an actual life lived long ago.

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(my guess is that Big Tooth would fall somewhere between the third & fourth of this line-up) 🙂

All of this is explained in the first couple chapters, and the remainder of the novella is a narrative of the adventures of this ancestor, known as “Big-Tooth,” who begins his life living in the treetops of a primeval forest with his “species” and flees when the abuse of a step-parent (to apply the modern terminology) becomes more than he can endure. He next lives with “the horde” – a clan of cave people who spend time dodging saber-toothed tigers and also the clan leader, a oversized brute called “Red-Eye.” Other dangers include a new “race” of hominids called the “Fire-People” who have alone tamed fire and have even invented a rudimentary bow and arrow. They hunt the people of the horde, to whom a bow is a shocking development.

I found it remarkable that London’s imagination could run so far with this concept, especially in an age when the science of the day knew relatively little of the early ancestors of man. Perhaps, though, this is also why this is a novella rather than a longer work. London ran as far as he could with it. In an age where it is becoming harder and harder to find anything new under the sun to read, I found this work of just over one hundred years ago a refreshing change of pace.

Have you read “Before Adam?” What did you think about it? Is there other “prehistoric genre” literature that you can recall or recommend?

(Other cinematic interpretations of early and proto-humans: Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and Raquel Welch as Luana being brought home to “meet the family” by Tumak in One Million Years B.C.)

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Read-a-thon post #2

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A quick update. 10 a.m. – I’ve read a total of 1 hour and 56 minutes thus far, and I was able to finish Jack London’s unique novel, Before Adam. I won’t post about it in depth at this time, but maybe later. For my short story reading project, I drew the five of spades, which I had assigned to the Charles Beaumont short story, “The Howling Man,” which I have just completed. (You may be familiar with this story from the Twilight Zone episode of the same title.) What’s next? I think I may get started on Kevin Helmick’s “noir novel” Driving Alone: A Love Story.

How’s your read-a-thon coming along?

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October Reading – The Month Ahead

I’ve been a bit of a reading slacker this year compared to the last three years. I’ll probably even end up a few books short of my unofficial “par score” of fifty books in 2013. Part of this is because my blog’s focus seems to keep slanting more toward short stories, which, honestly, was not my original intent. As a fairly busy person, though, it’s a logical practical decision to read more shorter works. We’ll see if the trend continues into 2014, when I hope to take my annual short story reading project “public” and make it a reading challenge that hopefully other bloggers or readers will participate in. Anyway, back to October 🙂

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I am going to revisit Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” as it is the October reading selection of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library’s  book club. What’s more, I’m supposed to lead the discussion, so I’d better be prepared. It’s an awesome book, though. I could probably just ask one question and let everyone talk for the next hour, but I’ll try to add a little more value than that.

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I’m also currently reading a great non-fiction book called “Osman’s Dream.” It’s by Caroline Finkel and is a history of the Ottoman Empire (Osman being the first Sultan of that mysterious – to me, anyway – entity). I’ve learned a lot so far in just the first eighty pages, but look forward to becoming a little more conversant with that corner of world history, which I’ve hitherto neglected.

Bookmama’s bookstore is having a discussion of Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” next week. I’ve read it before, but may revisit in time to drop by and attend. As a kid, I always loved the movie version with James Mason and Pat Boone(!)

(below: James Mason leads his intrepid group of explorers deeper into Carlsbad Caverns… oops, er, I mean The Centre of the Earth!)

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I also plan to read Jack London’s novella, “Before Adam.” Recommended by an old college/H.S. classmate of mine, I tried a few pages a couple of weeks ago and the premise is fascinating…

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Since it’s October, I’m sure I’ll also squeeze in some ghost or horror stories (I bought a new anthology recently!) and hopefully blog about a few for the R.I.P. Challenge, to which I’ve already contributed a couple posts.

Let’s see, what else… I’ll continue reading stories for my “Project: Deal Me In” annual short story challenge, and there are a couple other books that I’ve read a few pages into but haven’t really officially “started” yet, those being Ruth Ozeki’s “A Tale for the Time Being” (which I got far enough into to appreciate that that title doesn’t quite mean what you would think… & It’s also a finalist for the coveted Mann-Booker prize!).

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Also there’s James Alexander Thom’s “St. Patrick’s Batallion,” which is much shorter than his other books that I’ve read, so I should be able to knock it out in a few days, right? 🙂

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That’s it for my plans, but what about YOU? What are you planning to read this month?