Listening List: Six science fiction novels with great audiobooks

By Becky W.

I love listening to audiobooks. Anytime I have the option to occupy my ears (driving, washing dishes, mowing the lawn), you can be sure an audiobook is playing in the background. Despite all the benefits of audiobooks, sometimes when we finally get a book that’s been on hold for six weeks – we are disappointed to discover that we can’t relate to the narrator. A narrator can make or break our impression of a title. While we all have different preferences as to how a book is read, here a few audiobooks that, I feel, enhance their novel’s stories.

Bonus tip: to avoid those long waits only to return the book after five minutes of listening, try the “Play Sample” feature on Libby for a short preview of the narration.

The background is a solid bright green, with the illustration of a head wrapped in cord or wire. Where goggle would appear, the text "neuromancer" is repeated in black letters on white.

Neuromancer by William Gibson 
Read by: Robertson Dean 
Available through: Overdrive/Libby 

If you are science fiction fan, you have probably run across William Gibson’s Neuromancer. We first meet Case, an ex-computer hacker, in Chiba City, Japan – broke, drug addicted, and at rock bottom. After stealing from his former employer, Case is injected with a toxin, damaging his central nervous system and leaving him unable to access the virtual reality database known as the Matrix. He lands himself on the hit list of Wage, an infamous drug lord. On the verge of suicide, Case meets Molly, a cyborg working for a mysterious hacker, Armitage. Armitage agrees to help Case heal and regain access to the Matrix in exchange for his services as a hacker. Desperate, Case accepts the trade, not knowing Armitage’s motives or what services he must provide. 

Why choose the audiobook?

If you have not read Neuromancer (or if it’s time for a re-read), I highly suggest listening to the audiobook. Written from the perspective of Case, Dean’s spot-on embodiment of the character, along with his ability to shift into other unique and relatable characters, adds another level to this already iconic story.  

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
Read by: Jon Lindstrom
Available through: Overdrive/Libby, Cloud Library, Audiobook on CD 

If you are new to science fiction (i.e., not quite ready to tackle the intricacies of the Dune universe), Dark Matter provides an excellent place to start. If, however, you are a science fiction boss… you should still read Dark Matter. Is there a little bit of plot hole time magic? Yes, but look past it – it’s worth it. The story is told from the perspective of Jason Dessen, a college physics professor. On his way home, Jason is approached by a man he presumes to be a mugger. In an instant, Jason finds himself abducted, drugged, and waking up in a world that is not his own. 

Why choose the audiobook?

I originally began this as a printed book, but switched to audiobook. Though the story quickly grabs your attention, Crouch’s use of fragmented sentences and one-line paragraphs makes this a clunky read. After starting in on the audiobook, I was able to experience these fragments as they were intended, as the sporadic thoughts of an abducted man. 

3. Sphere by Michael Crichton
Read by: Scott Brick
Available through: Playaway (what is a Playaway?) 

While Michael Crichton is best known for Jurassic Park (a must read and must watch), he has a huge body of work that contains some of my favorite sci-fi reads. Sphere follows psychologist Norman Johnson and a team of other scientists who are recruited by the US Navy to explore a foreign spacecraft discovered at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. After gaining access to the ship, the team encounters an alien intelligence named Jerry. Communicating through a large sphere found on the ship, Jerry exhibits a child-like and temperamental demeanor that sparks an interest in Johnson. After unexplainable events start to threaten the team’s safety, Johnson becomes desperate to understand Jerry and explain the phenomena taking place around him.

Why choose the audiobook? 

While technically science fiction, Sphere is also a psychological thriller. As Johnson dives deeper into Jerry’s thoughts, the reader constantly questions who is in control of the conversation. Brick’s narration enhances the suspense, so much so that it is worth reaching for the audiobook. 

Lange blocky letters spell out titles and authors. For first book, letters appear against an urban apartment block. For the second, it's blue letters on a black cover.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Read by: Wil Wheaton
Available through: OverDrive/Libby, Cloud Library, Audiobook on CD

I know, I know, I’m late to the game on this one. Honestly, when this book first came out, the virtual reality video game setting just didn’t spark my interest. But with the release of sequel Ready Player Two, I decided to give it a try… and it was definitely worth it. The story follows eighteen-year-old Wade Watts who spends the majority of his time in the global virtual reality network known as the Oasis. The late Oasis creator, James Halliday, left his enormous fortune to any person who could solve the puzzle he hid within his creation. Wade, like many other “gunters,” has dedicated his entire life to learning everything about 80s–obsessed Halliday and winning his fortune. 

Why choose the audiobook? 

This book is just fun to listen to. I am definitely not a gamer, but the intensity in the narration of this book made me feel as if I were behind the controller. I am not sure if I would have developed the same level of excitement and suspense in the narration of this book if reading a printed copy. Oh, did I mention, it’s read by Wil Wheaton… why wouldn’t you choose the audiobook!  

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
Read by: Andy Secombe, Eric Meyers, Laurel Lefkow, Charlie Anson, Liza Ross, William Hope, Christoper Ragland, Katharine Mangold, Adna Sablyich
Available through: OverDrive/Libby

This story opens with eleven-year-old Rose Franklin falling from her new bike into what seems like the center of the earth. When Rose’s fall is broken, she finds herself in the cradled of a giant mechanical hand. Seventeen years later, the mystery of the buried artifact remains, and Rose, now a physicist, is consumed with solving it. The story unfolds as a series of question and answers conducted by an unidentified interviewer. The unnamed man attempts to reveal the mystery of the artifact through the accounts of Rose and her team, all of whom have had encounters with parts of the artifact. 

Why choose the audiobook? 

Neuvel’s question-and-answer structure lends itself very well to audio. While listening to this story, I really did find myself duped into feeling as if I was listening to an archive of interview tapes, investigating the mystery for myself. 

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
Read by: Kristen Sieh, Hank Green
Available through: OverDrive/Libby

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavour by Hank Green (sequel)
Read by: Kristen Sieh, Joe Hempel, Jesse Vilinsky, Nicole Lewis, Kevin R. Free, Hank Green, Robert Petkoff, Angelo Di Loreto, Oliver Wyman, Hillary Huber, P.J. Ochlan, Gabra Zackman
Available through: OverDrive/Libby

Hank Green and his brother John Green (author of The Fault in Our Stars) have made names for themselves, via writing and their YouTube channel Vlogbrothers, along with other online content. Throughout An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, Green examines our newfound concept of internet fame while also delivering a funny, thrilling, and engaging science fiction story. While I have had opinions on this topic, I am not an internet celebrity (in case you were wondering). So, I was really interested to learn how Green (who has a lot of experience with internet fame) tackles this subject.  

This two-book series follows April May, a twenty-something living in New York City. When April finds what she believes to be a Banksy-inspired art installation, April and her friend, Andy, decide to create a YouTube video to introduce the giant robot sculpture (dubbed “Carl”) to the rest of the city. When a total of sixty-four Carl statues appear simultaneously all over the globe, April finds herself in the spotlight. 

Why choose the audiobook? 

While I definitely would recommend listening to both of these novels, the audio production of  A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor knocks it out of the park. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is written from the perspective of April, while the sequel switches perspectives among the core group of characters. I was already familiar with the characters from the first book, but I had doubts about relating to them if they were read by different narrators. I was extremely impressed with the attention taken in choosing the narrators for this book, and how well they embodied each of the characters.  

Becky is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS East Columbia Branch who enjoys art and everything science.

Books in the Public Domain: Free with Project Gutenberg

The photograph shows the spines of a row of antique books, including classics like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Man in the Iron Mask.
Old Books” by Moi of Ra is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

By Becky W.

I suspect many of you have heard the term “public domain” thrown out here and there – as have I – but what does it really mean? When I ask myself this question, my thinking runs along the lines of “free, up for grabs, no questions asked, right?” Well, yes… but there is a catch. 

When a work is placed in the public domain, it is broadly defined as being free of protection from intellectual property rights including copyright, trademark, and patents. But how does work end up in the public domain? There are three main ways. First, the work was never protected by copyright law to begin with. Second, the owner places the work in the public domain before the copyright has expired. Third, the copyright has expired, either due to the terms of the copyright or the owner failing to follow copyright renewal rules. Once a work is placed in the public domain it is, in a general sense, free to be used without restriction. As with any legal perspective, there are exceptions. I am not a copyright expert, and, let’s be honest, have already spent all of the mental bandwidth I can muster for this topic, so I can’t give you all the legality behind those exceptions. If, however, copyright law is your jam, there is a great resource from Cornell University that takes a detailed look at copyright and the public domain. 

So why, as readers and lovers of knowledge, do we care about this? Well, the public domain covers a lot of creative works, but one material abundant in the public domain is books. I know what you’re thinking: “free books, great, yes, sign me up,” and you’re absolutely right. The public domain offers us free access to thousands of books and writings. But remember, I said there was a catch. When a book is placed in the public domain, it allows for people to do any number of things with that book, including selling it. Books in the public domain are not always free; in fact, if you look up a public domain title online, it will most definitely have a listed price. Luckily for us, this is not always the case. There are some great people out their dedicating their time to digitizing these books and building them a home on the internet so everyone can have access to them. 

Now, and I know I made you wait for this, how do you access these books? Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg is a volunteer-run website and organization that digitizes and distributes works in the public domain at no cost. Books found on Project Gutenberg can be downloaded in multiple file formats, including PDF and EPub, so you can read them on any device or eReader. If you don’t have a tablet or eReader, you also have the option to read on their website. 

And that’s it! Time to go explore the public domain. There really are too many books to name: everything from classic novels to unpublished fiction. So, if you are overwhelmed and need a place to start, here are some of my recommendations. 

  1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott 
  1. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving 
  1. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum 
  1. The Odyssey by Homer 
  1. Grimms’ Fairy Tales by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm

Information on the public domain and copyright in this post was pulled from Stanford University Libraries’ Copyright and Fair Use Center.

Becky is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS East Columbia Branch who enjoys art and everything science.

I Like to Watch by Emily Nussbaum

Title and author copy in big black block letters with a rainbow of drop shadow behind them.

By Rebecca W.

I’m not sure if anyone else spent the end of summer comparing the lengths of their summer reading list to that of their Netflix watch history… but for me the latter is headed for a sweeping victory. In a last ditch effort to slightly even the scales, while not venturing too far from my comfort zone, I picked up I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution (also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook). In a collection of her own criticism, author and TV critic Emily Nussbaum reflects on her work from 2007 to the present. 

Nussbaum’s anthology, a personally curated selection of work from New York and The New Yorker, explores the revolution in how we view TV; from “it will rot your brain” all the way to “binge-worthy”. The book begins with an introduction by Nussman explaining how Buffy the Vampire Slayer turned her away from her doctoral studies in literature in pursuit of TV; a pursuit that, in 2016, earned her the Pulitzer Prize for criticism. Now this, a mere three pages in, was about the place in the book where I was hooked. As an avid Buffy viewer, anyone who places her on the same tier as Tony Soprano has my full attention. 

Throughout her work Nussbaum continually defends TV’s place among “high-brow” art. As Nussbaum recounts her first episode of Buffy in the mid 90s, she also recalls public opinion of TV watching as shameful, an opinion that Nussbaum writes “was true not only of snobs who boasted that they ‘didn’t even own a TV’; but was true of people who liked TV.” While this view has definitely changed since the 90s, I found myself comparing the thought to my own TV habits. In the current age of television, I can simultaneously feel shameful for clicking “next episode” on my latest soapy obsession, while at the same time apologize for not keeping up with the latest hard-hitting drama. I am able to rationalize this feeling through another major theme in Nussbaum’s work. While we find ourselves in a place where acclaimed TV can be found in the same space as acclaimed films, there are a number of people left out when determining what is great TV and what is guilty pleasure. 

What I truly enjoy about this book is how Nussbaum navigates the gender, racial, and cultural biases all too common in the television industry through strong arguments, humor, and, at times, contradictions to her own thought. In the end, this book gave me a perfect end to my guilt-free-TV-binging summer. 

Becky is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS East Columbia Branch who enjoys art and everything science.

Research Your Genealogy with Resources from HCLS

The picture depicts an old book, with underlining and notes in the margins, and a vintage black and white photograph of a young woman standing on a bench in front of a ship.

By Rebecca W.

Remember when genealogy records first started popping up online? When you were finally able to research those mysterious New England ancestors without actually driving to New England, or even worse, calling someone on the telephone? And then remember how you jumped on your computer and, within hours, had a complete record of your family tree? Yah, me neither… But recently, with a little extra time on my hands, I got the itch to give it a try. After a number of – let’s face it – failed attempts, I can confidently report that I’ve caught the “genealogy bug.”

So, what brought on this sudden urge to research? Free, I repeat FREE, access to genealogy records through HCLS. If you’re anything like me (a total cheapskate), you just can’t turn down free. Though these resources have always been offered by our system, a limited time offer from ProQuest for at-home access to Ancestry.com library edition (previously available only in the branches) makes now the perfect time to start for all of our cardholders. 

Ancestry.com is truly a great resource for genealogy research, but it can easily lead a novice down the wrong path. So where to start? Well, I decided to search the names of random ancestors without a whole lot of other information. I did not have an organized plan of attack. My suggestion: start with a timeline. I mean a physical timeline. Not, “oh, I have an idea in my head,” or “yah, I know when so-and-so was born.” Check out Ancestry’s “Creating Timelines that Produce Answers Guide” to see best practices for using your timeline, including evaluating sources and tracking your ancestor’s migrations (from the Ancestry.com homepage, click Learning Center and scroll to the Getting Started section). 

Now, my number one piece of advice… check multiple sources! You will be surprised at how many birth certificates, marriage records, draft registration cards, you name it, will look like they fit into your family tree, but are actually unrelated. If you think you found the marriage certificate for your great-grandparents, make sure you can cross-check a solid number of facts on there. Do you have another source that verifies their age when the certificate was issued? Is their place of birth listed on the marriage record? Do you have a birth certificate to back that up? What about their parents’ names? You get my point: never take a source at face value. 

While there is a bit of a learning curve to genealogical research, these online tools really help with the heavy lifting. With just a day of searching, I was able to find information on my family tree that my relatives didn’t even know. Hopefully this post sparked a little curiosity and you are ready to start your search. Make sure to look at all of the HCLS genealogy research tools, including MyHeritage, HeritageQuest, and Gale Genealogy Connect. While Ancestry.com is a robust and popular resource, these other online tools can help fill in the gaps you are bound to encounter. Happy searching! 

Becky is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS East Columbia Branch who enjoys art and everything science.