Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne

Source: The Drama Pod
Length: about 10 hours
Reader: Winfred Henson

The book: With modern science at our backs, it's hard to take Journey to the Center of the Earth seriously. We know that there's no secret chambers beneath the Earth's surface hiding dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. From the standpoint of modern geology and biology, calling this book science fiction rather than fantasy is only a matter of its place in the history of the genre.

Yet, in the book, Verne himself, through another character, ridicules his own concept of geology. This technique is also used in Conan Doyle's The Lost World (previously reviewed). In both cases, it gives the author the chance to have an exciting, yet improbable, adventure while also wink at his audience to let them know he's not totally taken in by his own fantasies.

Rating: 7 / 10

The reader: Henson has a deep clear voice. His speech pattern is precise, with distinctly enunciated words. He has a bit of a Southern accent in his narrating voice, but creates accents for the characters. The over-the-top voice he creates for the uncle may strike people as either silly fun or a bit annoying. The recording itself is well-produced with good quality sound.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Internet censorship day

I usually don't post political issues here, but there's currently a pair of bills in the U.S. Congress that directly relate to Free Listens. If you're not in the United States, feel free to skip this post. The SOPA bill in the U.S. House and the Protect IP Piracy bill in the Senate have good intentions, but I'm concerned that they will result in an overreach of censorship upon many to protect the property rights of a few.

The bills, as I understand them, would block websites to users in the U.S. if a property rights holder complains that there is any copyright violation on the website. So, if I link to a legally free audiobook or story on a website and there is another audiobook or story on that website that might violate copyright in the U.S., then access to that website is blocked.

As I read it, there doesn't even need to be any laws broken for this law to censor a website. For example: I link to a free Creative-Commons licensed audio version of the public domain book "Call of the Wild" at an Australian website. The same website has a free version of "Gone With the Wind" that I don't link to. Because of a difference in the length of copyright in the two countries, "Gone with the Wind" is public domain in Australia, so no laws are being broken, but access to the entire website is blocked!

The legislation has even worse consequences for sites that contain user-generated content, since if one user violates copyright, all are blocked. My blog is hosted on Blogger, so when any of the hundreds of thousands of blogs on Blogger posts a copyright violation, it all goes down. This is clearly unworkable.

Google, Yahoo!, Mozilla, Twitter, Wikimedia, Facebook, and eBay all oppose this legislation. Please read more extensively on this subject, educate yourself, then visit http://americancensorship.org/ to write your Congressperson on this subject.

Friday, November 11, 2011

"The Interior Castle" by Jean Stafford

Source: Miette's bedtime podcast (mp3)
Length: 1 hour, 1 minute
Reader: Miette

The story: In 1938, Stafford was seriously injured in a car accident, an experience which led her to write "The Interior Castle." In the story, Pansy Vanneman is bedridden in the hospital, with a host of injuries and an upcoming reconstructive surgery on her nose. Stafford's description of the pain Pansy experiences both before and during the surgery are some of the most disturbing passages I've ever read.

What's more striking, though, is not the physical pain but the emotional pain. The surgery becomes a violation of Pansy's body as the surgeon probes deeper and causes more pain. The picture of modern medicine is that of impersonal doctors with a veneer of bedside manner, but who see patients as a problem to be solved. This is a story, along with Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Illyich (reviewed previously) that all doctors and medical students should read.

Rating: 8 /10

The reader: Miette has a lovely velvet voice. She has an accent that I just love, with beautiful round vowels. Her phrasing is a bit unconventional at times and she repeats a line at least once, but these imperfections serve to make her reading less professional and more personal. Her reading starts with a little personal anecdote about round food which I initially mistook for the story. The recording cuts off with about 10 minutes to go. None of the story is lost, but there's a considerable bit of silence at the end.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Source: LibriVox
Length: 7 hours, 15 minutes
Reader: Karen Savage

The book: Persuasion was recommended to me as "the man's introduction to Jane Austen."  The book has several qualities that make it good for men interested in Austen: it's short, reducing the time you've wasted if you don't like it, it's one of Austen's later works, showing a more polished style for those unused to her writing, and many of the male characters are naval officers, making it sort of a shoreside version of a Patrick O'Brien novel. Being male and having already listen to (and mildly enjoyed) Pride and Prejudice, I looked forward to reading this one.

As with Pride and Prejudice, I liked the novel, but failed to see why Austen is so hugely admired by her fans. The plot concerns Anne Elliot, a spinster at age 27, who is re-introduced to her old beau, Captain Frederick Wentworth. Anne and Captain Wentworth had been engaged when Anne was younger and Wentworth was much poorer, but the engagement had been broken off at the advice of Anne's guardian. The reconnaissance and rebuilding of their relationship is an interesting story, full of Austen's wry observations on human nature, but I couldn't really get excited about a novel with so obvious a direction. I appreciate Austen's writing, but I still haven't learned to love her.

Rating: 7 /10

The reader: Karen Savage does a marvelous job at bringing Austen's characters to life. She has a bright tone of voice that manages to convey plenty of emotion with great subtlety, as is fitting for this book. The characters are clearly drawn without the performance of drastically different voices. I can't imagine why anyone would want a professionally made recording when this one is just perfect.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

"Pigeons from Hell" by Robert E. Howard

Source: Gremlin Radio (mp3)
Length: 1 hr
Reader: various

The story: Robert E. Howard is best known for his Conan the Barbarian stories (previously reviewed here), but he was also a great horror writer. He also wrote the Solomon Kane stories, featuring a roving Puritan hunting monsters, but this is one of his stand-alone stories. This is one of Howard's scariest stories and a favorite of Stephen King.

When two New Englanders visit the South, they make the mistake of camping out in a deserted antebellum mansion. Despite the title, the pigeons play little direct role in the story - this is not The Birds. Rather, this is a creepy nightmare, full of atmosphere and building suspense. Even though Halloween is over, there's still good reasons to scare yourself silly.

Rating: 8 / 10

The readers: Although I love this story, I'm less enthralled by the audio production. Gremlin Radio went with an old-time style audio theater production for this story. The additional sound effects and music are redundant to a well-crafted piece of prose. The asides voiced by the actors are even more intrusive and have the cheesy effect of doubling the narration with dialog (A paraphrased example: "He wondered where he was. 'Where am I?'"). The distracting effect lessens as the story proceeds, but I wish they had just stuck with Howard's words.