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.

Book Theater

By Cherise T.

Nature setting in bluish tint. Trees, clouds, horizon.

If you’re like me, you really miss live theater. The Playbills. Waiting for the curtain to rise, the actors to appear. Entering another world. Audiobooks can offer a similar exhilarating trip. Recently, some audiobooks go beyond one or two readers. They offer a whole cast of performers who immerse you in the books’ texts like only a theatrical performance can. Publishers have started to invest in larger ensembles of characters. These audiobooks provide a different experience from the written word. 

Those of you who have listened to the Harry Potter series on audio are already familiar with Jim Dale, the award-winning British actor with the unique ability to create special voices for all of Rowling’s Hogwarts characters. Dale has talked about children recognizing his voice at McDonald’s and asking him to order a burger as Dumbledore. It’s the rare audiobook narrator who can convincingly perform multiple characters on his own, but Dale can. If you haven’t heard Harry on audio, I recommend giving the series a try. 

The largest audio cast to date belongs to the Lincoln in the Bardo recording. In his first novel, George Saunders, an acclaimed speculative short story writer, brings us an otherworldly vision of President Abraham Lincoln mourning the death of his 11-year-old son, Willie. We meet Willie’s fellow cemetery spirits who linger between death and rebirth. One of the protagonists is voiced by Nick Offerman of Parks and Recreation fame and another by David Sedaris, the bestselling humor essayist. (Sedaris’s audiobooks are wonderful too as he reads his own works.) There are 166 performers in all. Although it’s fun to see how many voices you can recognize – Ben Stiller! Julianne Moore! – I recommend exploring the full cast list to enjoy the complete experience. 

Daisy Jones and the Six is a novel that takes the form of an oral history of a fictional 1970’s rock band. The members of The Six embody sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. Author Taylor Jenkins Reid even pens lyrics for the group’s hit songs. Now, what if you could hear the oral history? You can, in the amazing audiobook. Jennifer Beals of Flashdance and The L Word fame is the voice of Daisy, a character loosely inspired by Stevie Nicks. There are 21 cast members on this audiobook, and they bring the chaotic world of recording, tours, and relationships to life. 

If you’ve not explored the joys of audiobooks, give them a try. On free book promotion sites such as Goodreads and Book Riot, you can find reviews specifically of audiobooks. The readers are as unique as the books themselves, so don’t hesitate to give different voices a try. 

Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks.

Audiobooks and Activities: Fun Ways to Multitask

A bright blue hardback book rests on a natural wood table, with a red bookmark hanging from the bottom. White over-ear headphones sit on top of the book with the cord wrapping loosely in a circle on the table.
Audiobooks are a great way to enrich your current activities.

I will admit: at first, I wasn’t a huge fan of audiobooks. I prided myself on reading novels and turning the last page always seemed like a big accomplishment. However, on a whim a few years ago, I decided to listen to Shonda Rhimes’ self-help autobiography Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person. The experience of listening to Rhimes’s story from her own voice fueled my love of listening to audiobooks. 

If you’re like me, you may have started listening to audiobooks while commuting. A recent survey conducted for the Audio Publishers Association reported that 74% of consumers listen to audiobooks while driving. This makes sense, considering the number of drivers with long commutes. But what happens when work is moved online with no commute? Well, listening at home can provide a welcome addition to your daily activities during these challenging times. Here are a few ideas to help get you started: 

  • Working from Home: Transitioning to remote working and learning can be extremely difficult for anyone, from first-timers to even the most experienced. Instead of turning on the television and getting easily distracted, audiobooks help me stay engaged with my work while having something entertaining to listen to. 
    • My genre suggestion: literary fiction, humor 
  • Exercising: With many gyms closed around the country, what a great time to change up your exercise routine and add audiobooks into the mix! In order to stretch my legs, I like to listen to novels while I take walks through the neighborhood. You may even find yourself taking longer walks because your audiobook is so exciting. 
    • My genre suggestion: thrillers, inspiring non-fiction 
  • Playing Video Games: After working, I always love to unwind by playing a relaxing video game on the computer. A recent joy of mine has been listening to an audiobook during gameplay. Sometimes, the in-game sounds and music can be a bit overstimulating, so listening to an audiobook makes for great background enjoyment. 
    • My genre suggestion: science fiction
  • Puzzling: Never in my life have I seen so many people enjoying puzzles! Life at home has made many fans of puzzles and the more complicated, the better! Playing an audiobook may increase your concentration and will make finding the last piece all the more satisfying. 
    • My genre suggestion: classic mysteries
  • Gardening: What better way to enjoy an audiobook than getting hands-on in your backyard! Become one with nature and plant a garden. While you’re at it, listen to an audiobook that inspires your imagination and amplifies the colors of your plants. 
    • My genre suggestion: fantasy and romance

So go ahead, give an audiobook a try at home! Not sure where to start? Head over to hclibrary.org to check out audiobook options for your phone, tablet and computer. RB Digital now has more than 37,000 titles available for free!

Have additional questions? Contact AskHCLS and we’ll be able to help you find the best selection for your needs! 

Happy Listening! 

Claudia J. is has worked for Howard County Library System for more than four years. She enjoys writing on rainy days and drinking iced coffee on sunny days.