2014 SF Audiobook Rundown (Mostly Books NOT From 2014)

Holiday travelers, fear not! Whether you be road trippin’, air trippin’, or train track hoboin’, here are some excellent audiobook recs to help keep your eyes on the road, and your hands off that child in the seat behind you who won’t stop singing tunes from the latest animated hit. Plus, your ears are occupied so, sorry, dude who wants to talk the whole flight. You’d really love to talk, but wha—? huh?…*shakes head and gestures to noise-canceling headphones.*

The Bests, the Mehs, and the Oh, god, don’t stick that in your ears! The following are novels I read/heard in 2014, all of which are award-winning or award-nominated classic tales, or they are likely headed to some award shortlist next year.

THE BESTS

PerdidoStreetStationPerdido Street Station (2000) by China Miéville
Narrated by John Lee
                  &
The Scar (2002) by China Miéville

Narrated by Gildart Jackson

TheScarEasily the best audiobooks I have ever listened to, tentacles down. The audio format heightens Miéville’s rich, dramatic tales, and both Lee and Jackson provide distinctive, vivid voicing in fun and punchy notes. Their uptight British narrator voices carry the listener from scene to scene in storybook fashion, which can be inadvertently hilarious when the effluvia flows. And, if you accidentally get distracted because that driver cut you off, no biggie, because the narrator is STILL on Interlude 157, describing the anal depths of the mucal ocean. You didn’t miss anything important because THAT will go on for a while. Inexorably.

 

Way Station (1963) by Clifford Simak
Narrated by Eric Michael Summerer)

WayStationA sweet, soft voice for a sweet, soft tale, Summerer is the ideal narrator for Simak’s pastoral tale about an alien travel stop in the middle of the unassuming Midwestern countryside. Simak does big ideas in small ways, and Summerer captures that essence with his characterization of the immortal-seeming ex-Civil War soldier Enoch, and his alien mentor and friend Ulysses. I listened to this entire audiobook during my late-spring walks/jogs at sunset but, for travelers, I recommend saving it for that turbulent ride in the sky. Very soothing.

 

Glory Season (1993) by David Brin
Narrated by Claire Christie

GlorySeasonChristie’s steady, alto voice assumes an air of dignity appropriate for this incredibly thorough, swashbuckling tale of a young woman searching for her commercial niche on a planet ruled by oppressive matriarchal guilds. An inverse allegory for our own gender divide, and yes, Christie avoids the exaggerated feminine squeaks of many an annoying narrator.

You can’t go wrong with any of the above audiobooks. For the rest, some are better read, and some are better forgotten…

 

The Mehs (READ or SKIP or YOU DECIDE)

 

The Shadow of the Torturer (1980) by Gene Wolfe
ShadowoftheTorturerNarrated by Jonathan Davis

While the tale is worthy of some serious forehead knuckling, I ditched the audio when Agia’s breast popped out. I’ll do my own idiot-woman voicing in my head, thank you. Allusions are best read. Plus, Davis sounds like Captain Kirk. READ.

 

DarkUniverseDark Universe (1961) by Daniel Galouye
Narrated by Eric Michael Summerer

Even the talented Summerer (see Way Station above) can add nothing to this pulpy yet poppy prose, full of its linguistic twists, which is best read. MUST. READ.

 

TheBoneClocksThe Bone Clocks (2014) by David Mitchell
Narrated by various

Each narrator is great at voicing his/her own part, but the Super Fantasy Exposition Tea Party of Part 4 was hard enough to read, let alone listen to. READ (SKIP PART 4.)

 

AnnihilationAnnihilation (Southern Reach #1) (2014) by Jeff VanderMeer
Narrated by Carolyn McCormick

I was once compared to the biologist of Annihilation because I am supposedly “curt and fungal.” McCormick nails curt and fungal with her steady, unaffected voicing. Perfect casting that starts great, but gets dull after a while. READ (or MIX IT UP).

 

Authority (Southern Reach #2) (2014) by Jeff VanderMeer
Narrated by Bronson Pinchot

AuthorityBalki? The guy who played that stereotyped immigrant character on Perfect Strangers? Yep, that guy. My bias against Bronson Pinchot goes back to an unfortunate Heinleinesque sojourn (see below), but Pinchot’s female voicing irks me, and his Southern Reach Assistant Director voicing borders on offensive. Argh. READ.

 

City of Stairs (2014) by Robert Jackson Bennett
Narrated by Alma Cuervo

CityofStairsCuervo is an excellent narrator and, for people eager to read this fantastical big hit, this might be the best format. I loved the action scenes and godly drama, but the superficial depth, sometimes silly dialogue, and token gay guy in a fur coat ultimately made me indifferent to the tale. YOU DECIDE.

 

BlindLakeBlind Lake (2003) by Robert Charles Wilson
Narrated by Jay Snyder

A steady generic voice for a steady generic, made for TV, sci-fi story. SKIP.

 

 

IlIliumium (2003) by Dan Simmons
Narrated by Kevin Pariseau

Pariseau provides annoying female voicing in this contrived, mish-mashed mash up about Greek gods on Mars. And dinosaurs. SKIP.

 

MovingMarsMoving Mars (1993) by Greg Bear
Narrated by Sharon Williams

Another excellent narrator who avoids the overt girly stylings of some narrators. Moving Mars is an interesting tale about Martian colonization that can be enjoyed in either format. YOU DECIDE.

 

Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern (1983) by Anne McCaffrey
Narrated by Sheila Hart

MoretaDragonladyofPernHart is the audiobook equivalent of a Disney princess. Cutesy, feminine and saccharine-sweet, she brings twee to this tale about time-shifting space dragons. Not my bag, but this might be the perfect distraction in a minivan full of young-uns headed to grandma’s house. (But if they start asking questions about the plausibility of space spores “falling” from one planet to another, shove a popsicle in their mouths and tell them to shut up because time-shifting space dragons.) SKIP, UNLESS THE ABOVE SCENARIO APPLIES.

 

TheCurseofChalionThe Curse of the Chalion (2001) by Lois McMaster Bujold
Narrated by Lloyd James

James portrays the bemused bewilderment due to a bad case of belly demons very well. SKIP.

 

Startide StartideRisingRising (1983) by David Brin
Narrated by George Wilson

Wilson is awesome at voicing uplifted dolphins and monkeys. It might also be good for a trip with kids, but it does get kind of kinky with a sort-of threesome with a dolphin. It’s not bestiality in an uplift universe, people! YOU DECIDE.

 

OH, GOD! DON’T STICK THAT IN YOUR EARS!

 

The Peripheral (2014) by William Gibson
Narrated by Lorelei King

ThePeripheralKing literally sounds like Siri’s understudy. Yes, we get this is Gibson and he’s all high-tech cyberthriller, but his commonfolk characters are the best part, and they are NOT AI. Usually.

I heard one sentence, then ditched the audio for the book. MUST READ.

 

Time Enough for Love (1973) by Robert A. Heinlein
Narrated by Lloyd James

TimeEnoughForLoveWanna know how to ruin a month-long beach vacation in the south of Spain? Stick this in your ears during your early morning jogs along the Mediterranean. Yes, I did this. Yes, it was horrible. Why did I do this? Because I could not subject my poor eyeballs to more of Heinlein’s chauvinistic hot air. Listening to it was no better.

The only book I did not finish this year, in either format. SKIP.

 

Dune (1965) by Frank Herbert
Narrated by various

DuneHow to confuse a listener: Do a few scenes with multiple actors, then have one of those actors narrate the rest, then bring the actors back for more dialogue, but have them play different characters. Wait, who said that? What? Now who’s talking? I thought that guy was dead.

SKIPbutiguessyoubetterREADbecauseimportantSFmomentyaysandopera.

 

GloryRoadGlory Road (1963) by Robert A. Heinlein
Narrated by Bronson Pinchot

Balki again. The women in Heinlein’s books are stupid, sexy airheads. Pinchot does the voicing for stupid, sexy airheads in a stupid, sexy way and I’m driving and now I want to hit somebody so I better just stop this and listen to some Arcade Fire. That’s better. SKIP.

 

Narrator Analysis: British male narrators are the bomb. American female narrators are excellent, but they often get stuck with lame books. Male American narrators suck, especially when they do female voices. Guys, you don’t have to raise your voice an entire octave. That’s annoying and patronizing.

Full disclosure: I only listened to about 30 – 50% of most of these novels, because reading is just better. It will always be better. But, the auditory experience reveals all kinds of neat little details about books, like different takes on rhythm, tone, and super contrived dialogue. I recommend the experience, even for those of us who are not auditory learners.

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16 thoughts on “2014 SF Audiobook Rundown (Mostly Books NOT From 2014)

  1. stephswint says:

    So many reasons I love this post! 1. Attention to audible books. I love them. 2. Attention to China Mieville. Kraken is my favorite so far. 3 attention to the unreadability of Heinlein because of his chauvinism. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are a braver soul than I, I don’t think I would ever have given Bronson Pinchot a chance, let alone two!

    The only Heinlein’s I’ve listened to are the Full Cast Audio versions of some of his juveniles. The Star Beast and The Rolling Stones are particularly enjoyable. They aren’t always the perfect choices for actors, but overall they do a fine job. As these are novels with 1950’s sensibilities, the old radio show/gee whiz feel of these work perfectly.

    Overall I tend to enjoy British male narrators best. Jim Dale, Neil Gaiman. One the female side, Jayne Entwhistle is one of my favorite narrators. Her readings of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce books are wonderful.

    One of my favorite audio books of the last few years is Wil Wheaton reading Ready Player One. It isn’t that he is a great narrator, as he is essentially being himself, but he was an inspired choice for the protagonist in Ready Player One as he himself is not only a child of that generation but has always been a big time gamer.

    I should see if my library has Way Station. I’ve been meaning to read Simak, and this would be a fun way to do so.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh my pod, I am listening to Ready Player One right now (for the ten millionth time), and you are so right. Wheaton was the perfect narrator for that book.

      Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Thanks for the new recs! I love Gaiman as a narrator. He got me through a long road trip in northern Mexico a few years back.

      Wil Wheaton seems to be a casting favorite, so I imagine I will come across something of his eventually. I love following him on Twitter.

      I have really enjoyed what I’ve read of Simak, although his narratives can be uneven and he’s not known for taking risks. But I’m a schmuck for optimistic scifi and he has that utopian slant that I can’t help but fall for. Let me know what you think when you get around to him.

      Like

  3. Widdershins says:

    This. Love. It. 🙂

    Like

  4. Thanks for the tips on Mieville and the Southern Reach. I might have eventually tried to listen to the Southern Reach, but now I never have to have that disappointing experience. I would be really fucking picky about a voice for those. It would need just the right amount of creepy…in the same way that I think nobody but Vincent Price should ever be allowed to read The Raven.

    I was really hoping, when I saw Dune on the list, that you were about to tell us how awesome it was. I just cant manage to force myself to read that one, though I want to for like, SF history purposes, and listening would have been a good way to get that shit done. But not if it is all stupidly confusing. Harumpf. I wonder if there are multiple versions out there.

    I tend to be obsessive about audio books. That is to say, I dont listen to many of them, but the ones I do listen to, I listen to over and over and over again. They become a sort of lullaby.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. fromcouchtomoon says:

    McCormick is the perfect choice for Annihilation because she plays the biologist so well. She nails the creepiness, but she’s the biologist… so at some point, it just got boring and I wanted to read it myself.

    I think Dune has good reviews on Audible. com, but I just couldn’t keep up with all of the casting changes. I guess they couldn’t afford to pay so many actors for the entire book, but I was totally confused. I don’t recommend it.

    I’m not obsessive about the audiobooks, but they do a good job of highlighting weak writing, where my reading brain might overlook it. And, the assholes who voice women with high-pitched, whiny, nasally voices… omg, I need to destroy something.

    Like

  6. Joseph Nebus says:

    I’m reminded of one (nonfiction) audiobook I listened to, about the US Civil War. The (American) reader felt the need to read direct quotes from … oh, that Times of London writer, you know the one … in what he presumably thought was an English accent, and was in fact somehow every English accent jammed into a single sentence. I was stunned.

    Like

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Haha! You mean he mixed the two varieties? The English accent that doesn’t pronounce ‘r,’ and the one that does? It is a small island, after all.

      Just kidding, of course. 😉

      Like

  7. […] the year listicles and such, and I will be in full obnoxious end-of-year form. Last year, I posted my best and worst audiobook listens, and I will do the same this year. Tomorrow, expect a collection of short reviews of all of the […]

    Like

  8. […] was my opening for last year’s audiobook listicle. I just like it. I also like to show off how rude I am on airplanes. At the time, I was relatively […]

    Like

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