Review of Jack London: An American Life by Earle Labor

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

Author Focus – F. Paul Wilson

SFFaudio Author Focus

F. Paul Wilson F. Paul Wilson is an award-winning author of dozens of novels and more than a hundred short stories. While he considers himself a “Thriller writer” his storytelling spans many genres. Wilson’s books cover everything: Horror, Adventure, medical thrillers, and of course Science Fiction and Fantasy too. He is most famous as the author of the popular “Repairman Jack” series. Wilson has had a fair number of his tales produced to audiobooks, but quite a few of them are out of print. Here’s the complete listing:

The Keep
By F. Paul Wilson; Read by Michael Prichard
10 Cassettes – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Books On Tape
Published: 1983 (OUT OF PRINT)
ISBN: 073660846X
In the spring of 1941, a message is received from a German Army commander stationed in a remote castle high in the Transylvanian Alps: “Something is murdering my men.” An SS extermination squad is sent to destroy the enemy, presumed by the military to be partisans.

The Touch
By F. Paul Wilson; Read by ?????
? Cassettes – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Books On Tape
Published: 1986/1987/1988 ? (OUT OF PRINT)
ISBN: 9998438845 / 5557087567
After twelve years of practicing medicine, Dr. Alan Bulmer develops a supernatural ability to heal, but the miraculous power carries a potentially lethal price.

The Select by F. Paul WilsonThe Select
By F. Paul Wilson; Read by Elizabeth Shue
2 Cassettes – Approx. 3 Hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audioworks
Published: 1994 (OUT OF PRINT)
ISBN: 0671883186
Quinn Cleary is smart, idealistic and poor. She’s been accepted at The Ingraham, a prestigious medical school, where a select few receive the finest education free of charge. But something is terribly wrong at The Ingraham. Quinn notices subtle changes in the bright, hand-picked students. Then she stumbles upon the silent, staring patients in locked Ward C.

By F. Paul Wilson and Matthew J. Costello; Read by ????
2 Cassettes – Approx. 3 Hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Soundelux Audio Publishing
Publisher: 1996 (Out of print)
ISBN: 1559352396
A team of doctors creates a virtual reality scanner that allows them to enter a person’s memory and watch it via videocasette recorder. Neuropsychologist Julie Gordon decides to use the device to enter the mind of her twin sister, Samantha, who has lapsed into a coma in Paris. Julie’s looking for the neural pathway that is blocking Samantha’s mind, but in the process of probing Samantha’s memory, Julie makes shocking discoveries about the fire that killed their parents.*INCLUDES: “An exclusive author interview.”

Seeing Ear Theatre Interactive Audio DramaDerelict
By F. Paul Wilson and M.J. Costello; Performed by a full cast
Publisher: The Sci-Fi Channel / Seeing Ear Theatre
Published: 1997 (NOW TAKEN OFFLINE)
A mining crew found it floating on the outer reaches of the asteroid belt. When they saw what it was, they called the marines. Now an exploration team has entered the floating hulk of a ship… abandoned, lifeless. Or so they think.

Conspiracies by F. Paul WilsonConspiracies
By F. Paul Wilson; Read by F. Paul Wilson
Publisher: WyrdSisterS ProductionS / Gauntlet Press
Published: 1999?
The audio CD of F. Paul Wilson reading a dramatization of a scene from his novel Conspiracies.

Horror / Fantasy Audiobook - Midnight Mass And Other Great Vampire StoriesMidnight Mass And Other Great Vampire Stories
Edited by Martin H. Greenberg; Read by various narrators
4 Cassettes – 6 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Dove Audio / Phoenix Audio /
Published: 1999 / 2002
ISBN: 0787119040, 1590402456
“From the horrifying to the humorous, some of today’s finest authors share stories about one of mankind’s oldest imagined evils, the vampire.”
“Bite Me Not, or Fleur de Fur” by Tanith Lee
“Food Chain” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
“Moonlight in Vermont” by Esther Freisner
“Madeleine” by Barbara Hambly
“Victims” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
“Seat Partner” by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
“Midnight Mass” (a novella) by F. Paul Wilson (read by Theodore Bikel)

Masque by F. Paul Wilson and M.J. CostelloMasque
By F. Paul Wilson and M.J. Costello; Read by Michael Prichard
9 Cassettes – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Books On Tape
Published: 2000
ISBN: 0736655980
Tristan is the perfect spy. He’s a “mime,” an artificially created and cloned human who’s metamorphic DNA can be programmed to transform him into a “masque” – a perfect genetic copy of anyone. Mimes can be turned into anyone their corporate city-state owners want, until the stress of assuming masques causes a meltdown.

leftThriller: Stories To Keep You Up All Night
Edited by James Patterson; Read by various readers
? CDs or ? MP3 CDs – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: 2006
ISBN: 1423321758 (CDs) or 1423321774 (MP3-CD)
This hefty collection contains just one short story by F. Paul Wilson

Dark Voices Vol. 6 Sex Slaves of The Dragon TongDark Voices VOL. 6: Sex Slaves Of The Dragon Tong
By F. Paul Wilson; Read by F. Paul Wilson
Chapbook and 1 CD – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Borderlands Press
Published: June 2007
ISBN: 188032590X
A short story paying homage to the pulp era.

Conspiracies by F. Paul WilsonBloodline
By F. Paul Wilson; Read by
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publisher: October 2007
ISBN: 1423346041
It starts off simply enough. (Doesn’t it always?) Jack has been on hiatus since the tragic events in Harbingers. With his beloved Gia’s encouragement he dips his toe back into the fix-it pool.


Free Talk Live |MP3|

Book Expo Podcast |MP3|

Without Your Head |WMA|

Pod Of Horror

Author Focus: Robert R. McCammon

SFFaudio Author Focus

Robert R. McCammonThe elusive Robert R. McCammon is one of the most admired living writers of Horror fiction. His output has diminished since he renounced deadlines and the pressures from publishers in 1999. But during his writing career McCammon wrote more than a dozen novels and about as many short stories. Not only an admired writer, he was also in great part responsible for the creation of the Horror Writer’s Association. There are just six commercially audiobooks that we know of that either contain one or more of McCammon’s short stories or abridge one of his novels. Here they are:


Audiobook - Nightcrawlers Stories from Blue World by Robert R. McCammonNightcrawlers: Stories from Blue World
By Robert R. McCammon; Read by William Windom
2 Cassettes – 180 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Published: 1989
ISBN: 0671881426
Includes Night Calls the Green Falcon, Nightcrawlers and Yellowjacket Summer.

Audiobook - Something Passed By: Stories from Blue World by Robert R. McCammonSomething Passed By: Stories from Blue World
By Robert R. McCammon; Read by Michael O’Keefe
2 Cassettes – 180 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Published: 1990
ISBN: 0671700502
Includes Something Passed By, Makeup, The Red House, Pin, and Chico.

Audiobook - Boy's Life by Robert R. McCammonBoy’s Life
By Robert R. McCammon; Read by Richard Thomas
2 Cassettes – 180 Minutes [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Published: 1991
ISBN: ??????????

Gone South
By Robert R. McCammon; Read by Will Patton
2 Cassettes – 180 Minutes [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Published: 1992
ISBN: 0671760165

Audiobook - The Best Horror Stories of The Year, 1989 edited by Orson Scott CardThe Best Horror Stories of The Year, 1989
Edited by Orson Scott Card and Martin H. Greenberg; Read by ???
4 Cassettes – Approx. 6 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Dercum Audio
Published: 1989
ISBN: 1556561458
Includes McCammon’s Lizardman and stories from eight other authors.

Stalkers by Dean Koontz, Robert R. McCammon and othersStalkers
By Dean R. Koontz and Robert R. McCammon; Read by Various
4 Cassettes – 2 hours, 30 minutes. [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Dove Audio
Published: 1992
ISBN: 1558004904
Very rare! A collection of nineteen original tales by “today’s masters of terror” includes the McCammon tales Lizardman read by David Dukes.

Audiobooks for the Blind and Visually Impaired:*

*These audiobooks are not available to the general public, listeners must qualify by visiting the National Library Service website.

Swan Song
By Robert R. McCammon; Read by David Palmer
Publisher: National Library Service
Published: ????
Product #: RC 26498
In a future world born of nuclear rage, an ancient evil as old as time roams a devastated, nightmare wilderness. He is the Man with the Scarlet Eye, the Man of Many Faces, gathering under his power the forces of human greed and madness. He is searching for a child who has the gift of life, a child named Swan, the child who must be destroyed.

By Robert R. McCammon; Read by Rick Foucheux
4 NLS Cassettes – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: National Library Service
Published: 1988
Product #: RC 34841
It is dawn in Inferno, Texas, and Cody Lockett is making plans to leave town right after next week’s graduation. Teacher Tom Hammond sees nothing but despair ahead for Cody and others like him, now that the copper mine has closed down and everyone is moving away. Then an indescribable fireball rolls through Inferno, stalking the residents with a terror worse than anyone can imagine.

By Robert R. McCammon; Read by Pam Ward
3 NLS Cassettes – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: National Library Service
Published: 1990
Product #: RC 35540
Dangerously disturbed Mary Terrell still worships Lord Jack, the leader of a sixties radical underground group. Meanwhile, journalist Laura Clayborne has given birth to a son just as her marriage is falling apart. Mary, believing she’s received an order from Lord Jack, steals Laura’s baby and sets off on a murderous cross-country trek to find her idol, with Laura in hot pursuit.