13 Best Science Fiction Audiobooks

I get excited by a good book, and sometimes read more quickly than I should. Audiobooks slow me down to a more humane pace, allowing me to really spend time in the words of a book instead of blasting through it. Listening to an audiobook can give me a surprisingly deeper reading experience than, well, reading. I’m not ever giving up paper books, but I’m impressed at the depth of the experience of a really well-done audiobook.

 

13
Childhood's End
by Arthur C. Clarke – 1953

It looks like a good deal at first: a peaceful alien invasion by the mysterious Overlords, whose arrival ends all war, helps form a world government, and turns the planet into a near-utopia. However, they refuse to answer questions about themselves and govern from orbiting spaceships. Clarke has said that the idea for Childhood’s End may have come from the numerous blimps floating over London during World War II.

Narrated by Eric Michael Summerer. 7 hours, 47 minutes.

12
Anathem
by Neal Stephenson – 2008

In an alternate universe, scientists, philosophers, and mathematicians live in seclusion behind ancient monastery walls. That is, until they are called back into the world to deal with a crisis of astronomical proportions.

Readers of Stephenson’s earlier works will not be surprised by this take on Anathem:

“[L]ong stretches of dazzling entertainment occasionally interrupted by pages of numbing colloquy.”
—Publishers Weekly

colloquy: a high-level, serious discussion (I had to look it up.)

Narrated by Oliver Wyman. 32 hours(!), 30 minutes.

11
Ender's Shadow
by Orson Scott Card – 1999

In his previous book Ender’s Game, the human race is at war with the “Buggers,” an insect-like alien race. As Earth prepares to defend itself from total destruction at the hands of an inscrutable enemy, all focus is on the development of military geniuses who can fight such a war, and win. The long distances of interstellar space have given hope to the defenders of Earth. They have time to train these future commanders from childhood, forging them into an irresistible force in the high orbital facility called the Battle School.

Andrew “Ender” Wiggin was not the only child in the Battle School; he was just the best of the best. In Ender’s Shadow, Card tells the story of another of those precocious generals, the one they called Bean, the one who became Ender’s right hand, and part of his team, in the final battle against the Buggers. Bean’s past was a battle just to survive. His success brought him to the attention of the Battle School’s recruiters, those people scouring the planet for leaders, tacticians, and generals to save Earth from the threat of alien invasion. Bean was sent into orbit, to the Battle School. And there he met Ender.

Multiple narrators, which is cool. 15 hours, 42 minutes.

10
The Martian
by Andy Weir – 2011

The Martian is one of the most enjoyable science fiction books I’ve ever read. An astronaut is left behind on Mars, and must survive by himself for over a year, using only his wits and what was left behind by a few previous missions.

Author Weir does a masterful job in creating his highly likable, intelligent, and deeply human protagonist Mark Watney. The science in The Martian is hard and feels as real as stone.

This book is a great combination of man vs. nature à la Jack London, with the inventiveness of MacGyver, moments of laugh-out-loud humor, page-turning pacing, and plot twists that are surprising but in hindsight feel inevitable.

All in all, a good story well told.

Narrated by R. C. Bray. 10 hours, 53 minutes

9
Brave New World
by Aldous Huxley – 1932

Both Brave New World and 1984 saw dystopian futures, but Huxley seems to have gotten much of it right (though Orwell did nail the surveillance state). According to social critic Neil Postman:

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism… Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.”

British actor Michael York narrates. 8 hours

8
Red Rising
by Pierce Brown – 2014

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. He spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow discovers that humanity reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and lush wilds spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies… even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

“[A] spectacular adventure.”
— Entertainment Weekly

Great narration by Tim Gerard Reynolds. 16 hours, 12 minutes.

7
Parable of the Sower
by Octavia E. Butler – 1993

God is change. That is the central truth of the Earthseed movement, whose unlikely prophet is 18-year-old Lauren Olamina. The young woman’s diary entries tell the story of her life amid a violent 21st-century hell of walled neighborhoods and drug-crazed pyromaniacs, and reveal her evolving Earthseed philosophy. Against a backdrop of horror emerges a message of hope: if we are willing to embrace divine change, we will survive to fulfill our destiny among the stars.

“There isn’t a page in this vivid and frightening story that fails to grip the reader.”
— San Jose Mercury News

Narrated by Tony Award-winning actress Lynne Thigpen, who was the voice of “The Chief” from Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? 12 hours.

6
The Girl with All the Gifts
by M.R. Carey – 2014

The Girl with All the Gifts is a wonderful book, which is odd praise for a story about zombies. But it’s surprisingly thoughtful, and at times, even tender, all while managing to be a fast-paced thriller. Every day I looked forward to reading it.

In a post-apocalyptic England, Melanie, along with other children, is imprisoned in a windowless bunker. They are all strapped down and muzzled whenever they leave their cells. No adult is allowed to touch them under any circumstances. Given who these children are, these are reasonable precautions. Then the installation is attacked, and Melanie is freed along with several adults, some who want her alive, some who want her dead, and others who want her dissected.

“One of the more imaginative and ingenious additions to the dystopian canon.”
― Kirkus

Narrated by Finty Williams (Dame Judi Dench’s daughter!). 13 hours, 4 minutes.

5
The Fifth Season
by N.K. Jemisin – 2015

Winner of the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.

It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.

It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

“Intricate and extraordinary.”
— New York Times

Narrated by Robin Miles. 15 hours, 27 minutes.

4
Lagoon
by Nnedi Okorafor – 2014

It’s up to a famous rapper, a biologist, and a rogue soldier to handle humanity’s first contact with an alien ambassador—and prevent mass extinction—in this novel that blends magical realism with high-stakes action.

After word gets out on the Internet that aliens have landed in the waters outside of the world’s fifth most populous city, chaos ensues. Soon the military, religious leaders, thieves, and crackpots are trying to control the message on YouTube and on the streets. Meanwhile, Earth’s political superpowers are considering a preemptive nuclear launch to eradicate the intruders. All that stands between seventeen million anarchic residents and death is an alien ambassador, a biologist, a rapper, a soldier, and a myth that may be the size of a giant spider, or a god revealed.

“Chaotic, enthralling, and moving fluidly from character voices to oral-style narration to gut-punchingly beautiful prose.”
— NPR Books

Narrated by the impressive Adjoah Andoh and Ben Onwukwe. 10 hours, 49 minutes.

3
The Fireman
by Joe Hill – 2016

A terrifying new plague spreads like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one: Boston, Detroit, Seattle. Called Dragonscale, it’s a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies—before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe.

Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse as pragmatic as Mary Poppins, treated hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burned to the ground. Now she’s discovered the telltale gold-flecked marks on her own skin. When the outbreak first began, she and her husband, Jakob, had made a pact: They would take matters into their own hands if they became infected. To Jakob’s dismay, Harper wants to live—at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term. At the hospital, she witnessed infected mothers give birth to healthy babies and believes hers will be fine, too…if she can live long enough to deliver the child.

“[A] tremendous, heartrending epic of bravery and love set in a fully realized and terrifying apocalyptic world, where hope lies in the simplest of gestures and the fullest of hearts.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Narrated by Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager). 22 hours, 19 minutes.

2
We Are Legion (We Are Bob)
by Dennis E. Taylor – 2016
Winner of Audible’s 2016 Best of Science Fiction.

Bob Johansson has just sold his software company and is looking forward to a life of leisure. There are places to go, books to read, and movies to watch. So it’s a little unfair when he gets himself killed crossing the street.

Bob wakes up a century later to find that corpsicles have been declared to be without rights, and he is now the property of the state. He has been uploaded into computer hardware and is slated to be the controlling AI in an interstellar probe looking for habitable planets. The stakes are high: no less than the first claim to entire worlds. If he declines the honor, he’ll be switched off, and they’ll try again with someone else. If he accepts, he becomes a prime target. There are at least three other countries trying to get their own probes launched first, and they play dirty.

The safest place for Bob is in space, heading away from Earth at top speed. Or so he thinks. Because the universe is full of nasties, and trespassers make them mad—very mad.

Narrated by Ray Porter. 9 hours, 31 minutes.

1
Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline – 2011

This is the book that turned me on to audiobooks. Narrator Wil Wheaton does a phenomenal job.

If you’re a child of the 80s, reading Ready Player One is like mainlining heroin-strength nostalgia. It’s so ridiculously fun that I frequently imagined author Ernest Cline giggling and saying to himself, “I can’t believe I’m getting away with this!”

In the dystopian future, teenage Wade Watts searches for a mysterious Easter egg in a worldwide video game called the OASIS. Finding the Easter egg will allow him to inherit the ownership of the OASIS and billions upon billions of dollars. Of course, he’s not the only one looking for it.

15 hours, 40 minutes.

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