Review of Jack London: An American Life by Earle Labor

January 25, 2014 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Cover for Jack London: An American Life by Earle LaborJack London: An American Life
By Earle Labor; Read by Michael Prichard
16 hours 50 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Media
Published: 2013
Themes: / biography / writing / politics / literature

As Earle Labor notes in his preface to this comprehensive biography, Jack London is a man who, nearly a century after his death, still looms large in the American imagination. Labor seeks to illuminate, or in some cases even dispel, some of the myths surrounding this literary genius (e.g. London was an alcoholic, London was a badass, London committed suicide). Labor also sets himself the task of reconciling London the rugged individualist with London the ardent socialist. With these lofty aims set forth, Jack London: An American Life might have become a programmatic attack, or defense, of London’s life and work. But this book is biography at its best: rich in its description and reliant on primary sources whenever possible not only to dole out facts but to lend an air of local color. The subtitle An American Life is thus appropriate, since the reader is treated to a glimpse into not just the life of Jack London, but into the America (parts of it, at any rate) of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Unlike some modern biographies that attempt literary flourishes by beginning in medias res and then backtracking, or otherwise play with chronology or other tropes to heighten the narrative power, Labor’s work doesn’t pull any punches. It is a biography from start to finish, and only delves beyond London’s birth in an effort to shed some light on his less-than-Rockwellian parentage and upbringing. The biography then marches chronologically right up until the days of London’s final illness and death–which at only age 40 came much too soon. While at points this made for tedious reading–I felt I was stuck in the South Sea doldrums right along with London and crew–it left me with a sense of completion lacking in shorter or less thorough biographies. I really feel like I know London’s story from cradle to grave. Though not written for a scholarly audience by any means, the tight focus on London’s immediate life and surrounding does mean the reader should have some knowledge of turn-of-the-century world events. Labor does not deviate from the story, for example, to explain the origins of the Russo-Japanese War or the Mexican Revolution, which both figure into London’s life as a reporter.

This work might just as easily have been subtitled “American Lives”, since Jack London was not only a journalist but also an oyster pirate, a gold miner, a hobo, a convict, a captain, and a rancher, not to mention world-class writer. And Jack London is a prime specimen of the adage “write what you know.” After his time as a gold miner in the Great White North, he cranked out Klondike stories; after his stint reporting boxing matches, he tried his hand at writing a story about a prize match; and during his cruise in the Pacific, he wrote moving pieces about Hawaii and the South Sea, most notably Ko’olau the Leper. As a reader fascinated with wordcraft and the writing process, I found Labor’s observations on London’s writing life particularly insightful. Sadly (for me, at any rate), any sort of deeper criticism (in the scholarly sense of the word) of London’s writings or their far-reaching influence is beyond the scope of this biography. We do not learn whether Ernest Hemingway read London’s anti-bullfighting story The Madness of John Harned, for instance, nor do we discover whether his socialist writings had any impact during the Red Scare not long after his death. The lack of these literary insights isn’t so much a problem with the book as it is a casualty of its tight biographical focus. Most casual readers who don’t go in for literary trivia will probably actually be grateful for its absence.

What makes Jack London: An American Life such a joy to read is its frequent inclusion of source material, much of it written either by London himself or by his precocious and stalwart second wife Charmian. Labor weaves these glittering strands into the narrative’s tapestry so seamlessly that, at least to the audiobook listener, it’s occasionally difficult to ascertain where London’s words leave off and Labor’s prose picks up again. This is partly due to Labor’s own skill as a writer in his own right, and perhaps some of the literary prowess of his subject rubbed off on him as well. The strength of the biography’s prose easily buoys the text along through the book’s occasional slow spot. Michael Prichard’s narration complements the text well, and his accentuation and intonation of quoted text helps mitigate the aforementioned problem of distinguishing quoted material from Labor’s own pen. The few “mistakes” I noticed in the narration are more a matter of usage or stylistic debate than actual shortcomings. Overall, the audio presentation never detracted from, and in some ways added to, the power of the written work.

As I hinted earlier, the only real problem with Jack London: An American Life is that there isn’t enough of it. Earle Labor, curator of the Jack London Museum in Shreveport, Louisiana, clearly has a lot to say about London, and in fact has written other works about the literary giant. As with any great biography, this book is a springboard inviting readers to further exploration, which in this case means, above all, reading Jack London’s own work. Through his own powerful words, and through the able stewardship of scholars like Labor, Jack London continues to blaze a literary trail almost a hundred years after his passing.

An NPR piece on this new biography features not only snippets of an interview with Earle Labor, but also a wax cylinder recording of Jack London himself.

Posted by Seth Wilson

The SFFaudio Podcast #237 – A PODCAST ABOUT PODCASTS

November 4, 2013 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #237 – Jesse, Tamahome, Julie Davis, Seth, and Jimmy Rogers talk about podcasts.

Talked about on today’s show:
Jimmy’s Synthetic Voices, Jenny’s Forgotten Classics and A Good Story is Hard to Find, podcasts are a house of mirrors, we have reached the podcast singularity, Julie’s podcast highlight feature, Edgar Allan Poecast, Dickens and Hawthorn podcasts on Julie’s wishlist, Jimmy’s podcast group meetup, Washington Science Fiction Association, Jimmy’s segment on StarShipSofa, the value of curated podcasts about podcasts, Luke Burrage’s geek Venn diagram (see below), Julie on the intimate nature of podcast listening, Jesse on the rarity of finding people who speak like they write, podcasts invite listeners into the conversation, “Tam listens to all podcasts”, SFSignalSword & Laser, mainstream podcasts, Security NowABC NewsAgony Column, Jesse wants to hit Margaret Atwood again, 99% Invisible funded by KickStarter, Julie scans the new releases section in iTunes, KCRW’s DnA and Martini Shot, Inside the New York Times Book Review Podcast, NPR’s Car TalkWait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me!Nature podcast, Science UpdateEncounters60 Minutes is tightly edited (and that’s how it is!), Vice podcast (HBO show tie-in) and Dennis Rodman, FreakonomicsDay 6, Dan Carlin’s Common Sense and Hardcore History, CBC embraces podcasters, Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac makes Seth sound smart, audio drama, the Lovecraftian Welcome to Night ValeNerdist podcasts, Twin PeaksWormwoodDecoder Ring Theatre‘s shows, Julie Hoverson’s 19 Nocturne BoulevardLeviathan Chronicles, podiobooks, Scott Sigler‘s BloodCast and Rookie series, J.C. Hutchins, Mur Lafferty‘s Heaven series, We’re Alive zombie podcast, Julie educates us on the Texas definition of “fine”, The Monster Hunters is zany UK comedy (not related to Larry Correia‘s Monster Hunters International), Plants vs. ZombiesHG World (not related to H.G. Wells), Ace Galaksi features Douglas Adams humour, meritocracy in podcast recommendations, “podcasting makes anyone a celebrity”, so does blogging (Julie’s Happy Catholic blog), Seth is the new intern (but can’t afford the Night Vale intern shirt), CromCast discusses Robert E. Howard whilst eating Chinese food, the nature of an author’s writing informs the nature of podcasts about them, H.P. Lovecraft Literary PodcastPhilip K. Dick Philosophical Podcast (not just on Facebook anymore), the importance of a well-researched podcast, Mr Jim Moon’s Hypnogoria, Peter Kushing, Chop Bard Shakespeare podcast, Julie challenges Jesse to do a podcast on The Tempest, SFFAudio’s Odyssey podcast series, Julie’s Genesis podcast series (based on Robert Alter‘s translation and commentary), Uncle Tom’s CabinBorn Yesterday history podcast featuring an objective history of the gay bar, History According to BobBritish History PodcastHistory of Philosophy without any gaps, Mike Duncan‘s History of Rome and Revolutions podcasts, When Diplomacy Fails, alternative iOS podcast apps, Stitcher, Swell Radio is Pandora for podcasts, Downcast ($0.99) is chock full of functionality, Huffduffer creates custom podcast feeds, if you don’t have RSS it’s not a podcast!, Free MP3 Downloader, fiction podcasts, Escape Artists Network (Escape Pod for SF, PodCastle for fantasy, and PseudoPod for horror), StarShipSofa’s Tales to TerrifyClarkesworld Magazine, John Joseph Adams’s Lightspeed MagazineNightmare MagazineDrabbleCast, different approaches to horror narration, Night of the Living Dead, don’t listen to horror before bed, Journey Into podcast, Seeing Ear Theatre on archive.org, Jimmy and Tam like to support creators of new content (but, asks Jesse, is new necessarily better?), CraftLit is way more than just knitting, podcasts about writing (Jesse hates them), Mur Lafferty’s I Should be WritingWriting Excuses (Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal), NaNoWriMo, Neil Gaiman on writer’s block, writing podcasts offer writers a sense of community, Adeventures in Science Fiction Publishing, Terry Pratchett “just makes things up”, the importance of writers reading classic works, Jimmy argues that ‘short stories offer writers more opportunity to extemporize and gives readers a sense of immediacy’, writing for deadline, Adventure magazine, Lord of the Rings, Tolkien Professor Podcast, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jane Austen, the Budweiser frogs, advertising as a source of drama, commercialization and ownership of brands, Jimmy on how podcasts build community, an intense debate about layering spoken word audio over music, This Week at NASADribbleCast is a fan spin-off of DrabbleCast, The NoSleep Podcast just won Parsec Award for Best New Podcast, Classic Tales Podcast (links are ephemeral), we all love podcasts–surprise!, Warrior Queen of Mars by Alexander Blade, if Doctor Who were a podcast the audience could request an episode with tribbles, Rappuccini’s Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens, podcast production has left overhead than traditional media offering greater flexibility and responsiveness.

Luke Burrage's Geek Nerd Chart

 

Posted by Seth Wilson

Review of On the Road with Ellison: Volume One

May 17, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Author of the Month

On the Road with Ellison, Vol. 1On The Road With Ellison, Volume 1
Live performance by Harlan Ellison
1 CD – 60 minutes
Publisher: Deep Shag Records
Published: 2001 (reissue from 1983)
UPC: 809879000322
Themes : / Non-fiction / Writing / Politics / Publishing /

On the Road with Ellison, Volume 1 is a collection of live lecture/performances by Harlan Ellison in 1981, 1982, and 1983 in front of three different university corwds. When he talks of mailing a dead gopher to an editor (er… comptroller) he’s hilarious, and when he reads an essay he wrote (“An Edge in My Voice: Installment #54”) he rattles our collective cage, making us look at a man who threatened to blow up the Washington Monument in a whole new way.

From the very first track, where he warns audience members to leave if words offend them, Ellison is abrasive yet totally engaging. Or perhaps he’s totally engaging because he’s so abrasive. Either way, the tracks are thoroughly enjoyable, and the album is worth grabbing.

And yes, there’s a Volume 2, also available from Deep Shag.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton

September 23, 2005 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Audiobook - Just a Geek by Wil WheatonJust a Geek
By Wil Wheaton; Read by Wil Wheaton
MP3 Download – 373Mb – 10 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: 10 Quick Steps
Published: 2005
Themes: / Non-fiction / Biography / Star Trek / Acting / Writing / Blogs / Internet /

So, there’s this guy named Wil Wheaton, right? And he wrote this book called Just a Geek, which is filled with his experiences as a Star Trek actor, as an ex-Star Trek actor, as a stepfather, a husband, a son… in short, Just a Geek is filled with life, and it’s compelling listening.

Wheaton started a blog a while back which now resides at http://www.wilwheaton.net. It’s not your average celebrity website; Wheaton’s blog entries are personal, honest, and interesting. He is as likely to talk about his family life as he is about his projects. And he is an excellent writer who writes things that resonate with his readers, as evidenced by the many folks who revisit his site to read more (myself included).

Just a Geek contains many blog entries from his site, along with much more material. Included are things from many parts of his life, from the time as a kid he traded a Death Star for a Land Speeder and five bucks to his experiences during and after the filming of Star Trek: Nemesis.

I knew Wil Wheaton was a good narrator before I clicked PLAY on my MP3 player, because I’d heard the audio version of the Hugo-winning science fiction story “Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers” by Lawrence Watt-Evans. Wil Wheaton read that, and I thought he was excellent. I came away even more impressed here. He reads about his life as if he’s talking to you personally across a table. Again, compelling is the word that comes to mind. I never once lost interest. This audiobook will make you smile, it will touch you, and it will make you want to go to Hooters for some chili cheese fries.

Oh yeah, and Wil wants all of you over for a Guinness later. Bring your own action figure.

Just a Geek is available for MP3 download or on Audio CD at 10 Quick Steps – click here!

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Most of My Friends Are Two-Thirds Water by Kelly Link

August 3, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Science Fiction Audiobook - Most of My Friends Are Two-Thirds Water by Kelly LinkMost of My Friends Are Two-Thirds Water
By Kelly Link; Read by Alex Wilson
FREE MP3 Download – Click here for link to file at www.spokenalex.org
– 27 minutes, 20 seconds [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: http://www.spokenalex.org/
Published: 2005
Themes: / Science Fiction / Alien Invasion / New York / Metafiction / Writing /

Jak calls me with the first line of a story. Most of my friends are two-thirds water, he says, and I say that this doesn’t surprise me. He says, no, that this is the first line. There’s a Philip K. Dick novel, I tell him, that has a first line like that, but not exactly and I can’t remember the name of the novel. I am listening to him while I clean out my father’s refrigerator. The name of the Philip K. Dick novel is Confessions of a Crap Artist, I tell Jak. What novel, he says.

Another FREE tale from author Kelly Link’s short story collection Stranger Things Happen. Link is a Nebula, World Fantasy, and James Tiptree Jr. Award-winning author. Her urbane speculative fiction always compares well to Nalo Hopkinson and Walter Mosley – but Link takes that post-modern mentality, rotates it 90 degrees, and adds more of a sense of play. I’m ambivalent about metafiction, which this most certainly is. Sometimes it works wonderfully, but it’s harder with short stories, as they tend to be fairly crowded with concepts already. Most of My Friends Are Two-Thirds Water comes away decently. Narrator Alexander Wilson reads well, but since the narrative voice is that of a female this is not the
perfect match of voice to story. Still, how can I complain when the reading is letter perfect and the price is 100% FREE! Downloadable here.

Posted by Jesse Willis