Audible SF/F NOTE: moved to The AudioBookaneers

This is the first of four posts looking back at 2011 in science fiction and fantasy audiobooks. I’m going to start with my year in listening, continue with a look into what I missed, and then gripe at the world with my list of the most missing audiobooks of the year — those books I wanted to listen to but for which there was no audiobook. Lastly, I’ll lay out my picks for the year’s best in science fiction and fantasy audiobooks. But first! My year in listening.

I have never read as much as I have this year. (But still, I didn’t come anywhere close to The Guilded Earlobe’s 165 audiobooks, even if you count the dozen or so print books I “really” read!) Anyway, categorized by how I “read” them, are the 68 70 audiobooks I have taken in this year, nestled between Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman — which I bought in CD audiobook format at Fry’s Electronics in Houston, TX, and listened to December 2010, if you were curious — and Stellarnet Rebel by J.L. Hilton, which is what I’ll be listening to first thing to start the New Year, as soon as I finish listening to Natania Barron’s Pilgrim of the Sky, which I hope is here in time for the holidays:

DIGITAL AUDIOBOOK FROM AUDIBLE.COM: (44)

  • The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente — a completely different kind of fantasy, a fantastical lost land, the Kingdom of Prester John, a love of language, narrated so very well
  • The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin — a masterpiece of our literature, a portrayal of an egalitarian moon, of communicating between worlds on several levels
  • The Forever War by Joe Haldeman — another masterpiece, a foundational text for military sf
  • Non-genre: Journal of a UFO Investigator (2011) by David Halperin read by Sean Runnette — a beautiful coming of age story, of escapes and cost
  • The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear (2011) by Patrick Rothfuss — I rode the first two books of the Kvothe train and I’ll ride the third, though the second installment felt a little desultory
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler — amazing amazing amazing, there’s not much more to say other than, WOW, this novel is 20 years old and is still decidedly prescient to our time
  • Elantris by Brandon Sanderson — after Discworld (on the one hand, lampooning the genre) and Martin (on the other, grimdarking his way through greed and such), earnest epic fantasy with a voice this optimistic is a hard sell for me; I put it down a couple of times but came back to see how it ended anyway — good guys were too good?
  • Non-genre: True Grit by Charles Portis — western fun!
  • WWW: Wake by Robert J. Sawyer — I’m not sure this is how a web intelligence would work, but the blind POV was very interesting
  • Glimpses (2011) by Lewis Shiner read by Stefan Rudnicki — my favorite new audiobook this year is this 1994 World Fantasy Award winner (but if you were following this blog you knew that)
  • Dies the Fire by S. M. Stirling — when the fall comes, the Society for Creative Anachronism and the Wiccans will be the surviving powers…
  • More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon — a startling vision of a future humanity
  • A Storm of Swords and A Dance with Dragons read by Roy Dotrice (2011) by George R. R. Martin — Dotrice is back, and Martin is… closer but the 5th novel is a bit ponderous at times
  • Fuzzy Nation (2011) by John Scalzi read by Wil Wheaton (with bonus audiobook, H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy) — Scalzi’s reboot loses a little (but not too much) of the shades of gray from Piper’s original, but Wheaton brings the fuzzies to warm life
  • Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke — there really was a time that parapsychology was treated this seriously
  • Embassytown (2011) by China Mieville — truly alien, not without its flaws but an ambitious novel I much, much admired
  • Feed by Mira Grant — a bit too YA in voice for me but there’s enough “there” there
  • Non-genre: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen — Great American Novel? That’s for others to say, but it certainly nails regentrification and to some extent progressivism
  • The Quantum Thief (2011) by Hannu Rajaniemi — hits you with a wall of sfnal ideas and throws in a cracking heist novel amidst a stream of software privacy protocols
  • How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (2011) by Charles Yu — a strange, self-referential, trope-playing book-within-a-book-within-a-book of time travel, fathers and sons, virtual dogs, and choosing to choose
  • Redemption in Indigo (2011) by Karen Lord — a wonderful, wonderful 6 hours of storytelling in the great mythopoetic tradition
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut read by Ethan Hawke — Tralfamadorian perspective on how humans see the world and time is a compelling one
  • Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi read by Wil Wheaton — Scalzi’s humor comes through even stronger with Wheaton at the helm, a fun book which doesn’t take itself too seriously
  • YA: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi — a YA perspective of the post-oil, post-crash, post-climate change world vision which Bacigalupi has all but made his own
  • The Word for World Is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin — I probably shouldn’t have gone for this so soon after Little Fuzzy and Fuzzy Nation (and watching Avatar last year besides) as it comes off a little heavy handed, though it has a power all its own
  • The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison — just couldn’t get into this one, may try again another year
  • Germline (2011) by T. C. McCarthy — in a well-imagined near future of genetically engineered soldiers fighting over mining rights in southeast Asia, McCarthy drop ships a strung-out journalist with a death wish for the Pulitzer
  • The Magician King (2011) by Lev Grossman read by Mark Bramhall — a worthy sequel to one of the new millenium’s great fantasies
  • Ready Player One (2011) by Ernest Cline read by Wil Wheaton — Wheaton’s wonderful narration brings Cline’s novel of 80’s geek pop culture indulgence and near-future geek power fantasy to appropriately glorious heights of guilty, self-referential pleasure
  • Non-fiction: Zombie Spaceship Wasteland by Patton Oswalt — which are you? I suppose I’m a Spaceship.
  • Southern Gods (2011) by John Hornor Jacobs — appropriately visceral, with one of the year’s more “true” feeling endings
  • The Night Circus (2011) by Erin Morgenstern read by Jim Dale — Dale’s narration is marvelous, adding needed vibrance and warmth to a novel which needed a bit more “there” to rise to the heights to which it so longingly (and beautifully) reached
  • The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, and Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie read by Steven Pacey — Pacey’s characterization of Glokta is a masterpiece of voice acting, and I didn’t wait for new credits to appear before diving into books 2 and 3
  • Zoo City (2011) by Lauren Beukes — also received as a physical review copy — every bit as “phantasmagorical” (Jeff VanderMeer) and “cool” (William Gibson) as advertised
  • Reamde (2011) by Neal Stephenson — also received as a physical review copy — throw your suspension of disbelief into the wind for this thriller of tomorrow and you will probably enjoy the ride; next-gen World of Warcraft with built-in support for gold farming and mechanical turking, with international malware hunts and jihadist terrorism to boot (not to mention…)
  • Mr. Fox (2011) by Helen Oyeyemi — at the higher end of the literary fantasy spectrum lives this artful, metanarrational book which kept me both confused and delighted — though, primarily, confused
  • 1Q84 (2011) by Haruki Murakami — a literary thriller! no, seriously, a sizable portion of the plot concerns a somewhat unethical approach to entering a new writer’s contest, and the spiraling outward arms of irreal alternate world interference which finger their way into the nooks and crannies between lives
  • Earthbound by Joe Haldeman, read by Annie Henk for Recorded Books — I hadn’t read the first two books in this series and subsequently felt a little lost, and more than a little like the characters and their relationships were not very developed; however that’s not a fully fair criticism for the third book in a series; this one ended up being a bit of a post-apocalypse book, with electricity being turned off world-wide by The Others
  • The Lost Gate: Mithermages, Book 1 by Orson Scott Card, read by Stefan Rudnicki and Emily Janice Card — Rudnicki is one of my favorites, and as Danny North is a very Ender-esque character, Rudnicki’s narration here is also reminiscent of his turn as Ender; the story here is more grown up than Ender’s, some teenage hormones, with a second storyline narrated by Emily Janice Card more in the high fantasy vein; overall very interesting beginning of a series with plenty of room for storylines galore, though (as in Ender’s Game) we have the internal thought process of the character very (very) laid out for us, and the wires are showing a bit in Danny’s sympathetic setup and some of the machinations which lead to his decisions

OTHER DIGITAL AUDIOBOOK: (2)

  • An Occupation of Angels (2011) by Lavie Tidhar — Iambik Audio — more from Tidhar, please! Weaponized angels over Europe. Nuff said?
  • YA: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow — OverDrive/Sync — again (like Mira Grant’s Feed) a little too YA for me, but (again, like Feed) there’s enough “there” there — I’m looking forward to For the Win when I free up some listening time

DIGITAL AUDIOBOOK PODCAST: (2)

  • Burn by James Patrick Kelly, read by the author — I loved Kelly’s voice for the High Gregory, and there’s a reason the “pocket novel” / novella won the Nebula Award — it’s an interesting tale of a purposefully Luddite society in the midst of a galaxy-spanning far future civilization
  • Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente — Clarkesworld Magazine podcast (part 3 of 3 is still to come) — taking the latter half of the same quote for which Ken Liu named his excellent short story “Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer”, Valente dials up the mythology level in an excellent AI-based science fiction story

PHYSICAL AUDIOBOOK PURCHASE: (2)

  • With a Little Help by Cory Doctorow — collection, bought in late 2010 from Lulu.com — the quality of narrations and recordings is all over the map, but you can hear the fun and love and friendship which went into making each track, and the stories (which also are a bit up and down, YMMV, etc.) have some real gems among them as well
  • Missing Persons by Lewis Shiner — short collection — all 3 of the stories here were enjoyable, but Stefan Rudnicki’s narration of “Perfidia” was one of my favorite listens of the year

PHYSICAL AUDIOBOOK BORROWED FROM THE PUBLIC LIBRARY: (15)

  • Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke, read by Peter Ganim — this classic is perhaps most easily read as an alternate history for us in the 21st century where spaceflight would still have difficulty matching orbit and engaging the eponymous Big Alien Artifact Ship, but Clarke’s style here actually has aged quite nicely IMHO; we get a realistic and fairly rigorously checked scientific/military expedition into the interior of a star-spanning alien spacecraft — “works as advertised”
  • Twilight by Stephenie Meyer — OK. It’s not as bad as some say. For what it is — a first-person narrative from an incredibly naive and foolish teenage girl in love with a sparkly ethical vampire — it actually does more things right than wrong, which is, of course, why it’s a huge huge freaking bestseller
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy, read by Tom Stechschulte — hello, heartbreak in this raw, bleak novel of post-apocalypse father-and-son survival amidst cannibalism, ash, starvation, and cold
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood — first off yes, this book is a work of science fiction, and second, it’s excellent and you should read it
  • Anansi Boys, Coraline, and The Graveyard Book by Neal Gaiman — I’ve not read all of Gaiman yet, but I’m getting there; the narration on Anasi Boys is top notch (Gaiman agrees!) and though I enjoyed Odd and the Frost Giants (which I listened to last year, and more than once a month with my kids every month since!) a bit more than either Coraline or The Graveyard Book they were both well worth the storytelling time
  • A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Feast for Crows (read by John Lee) by George R.R. Martin, the others read by Roy Dotrice — I was tired of changing CDs and just went with Audible.com for the other two books in the series — A Game of Thrones is a real game changer, but books 2 and 4 were among the slower and lower points of the series; I though Lee did a quite capable job standing in for Dotrice on Feast, though Random House has just released a new recording of the book with Dotrice for those who crave a consistent voice for the series (but don’t look too hard; for book 5, some voices dramatically change…)
  • YR: Fantastic Mr. Fox written and read by Roald Dahl for Harper Children’s Audio — I probably shouldn’t include a 1-hour children’s book, but… why not? I enjoyed it, I listen to it about once a month with my kids, and it’s wonderful, wonderful to hear Dahl reading it
  • Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey — this series truly belonged to my older sister; it was her world and hers alone, amidst all the ones we’ve shared over the years. I tried to pick it up this year, and after a couple of tries, it will have to wait for another year, still. I think I just got myself fantasy’d out after all of the above, and since so much of the above is influenced by McCaffrey in one way or another sometimes you need to step away to be able to come back to the source, you know?
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, read by Stefan Rudnicki, Harlan Ellison, and others — I think some (Prof. Kessel, I love you, but I’m looking at you) read a little too much into what is, in essence, a book for young readers that (other than being a bit optimistic about the power of BBS communication!) really does still work, that is fun to read, that (while it stacks the deck to achieve it) creates a truly reluctant hero in Ender
  • Gun, With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem, read by Nick Sullivan — I see where they were going by casting Sullivan, but overall it didn’t work for me very well
  • The Passage by Justin Cronin, read by Scott Brick — WHO AM I WHO AM I WHO AM I WHO AM I — while I have my quibbles with this one, it’s quite a book; I eagerly await reviews of book 2 in the series which comes out in 2012 to see where Cronin takes the world he’s built

PHYSICAL AUDIOBOOK BORROWED FROM A FRIEND: (1)

  • Perfume by Patrick Suskind, read by Sean Barrett for Penguin Audio UK — thanks again, Zack, for recommending and then lending this to me; it’s a strange one, a portrait of a disturbed savant of scent in France in the time of Kings — if nothing else, I take away that I should look for more books read by Barrett, as his performance was phenomenal

PHYSICAL AUDIOBOOK REVIEW COPY: (4)

  • The Alloy of Law (2011) by Brandon Sanderson, read by Michael Kramer for Macmillan Audio — the original trilogy is absolutely not required reading for this interesting mix of allomancy and ferruchemy (metal-based magic) and guns and steam
  • Both Wild Cards I (2011) and Wild Cards II: Aces High (2011) edited by George R.R. Martin, narrated by Luke Daniels for Brilliance Audio — in my quest for more Lewis Shiner I churned through these shared-world anthologies; the first is more socially prescient, evoking both the race, political, and homophobia focused government persecutions of the last half of the 20th century, as well as (in an almost eerily promontory scene) the eviction of Occupy protests from parks, using sticks and pepper spray; the second is a more overall tied-together “novel” like thing, with an over-arcing Menace against which our superheroes must struggle; both were enjoyable and I hope Brilliance produces the third book as well
  • The Thirteen Hallows (2011) by Michael Scott and Colette Freedman, narrated by Kate Reading for Macmillan Audio — setting up a larger series, an introductory (but certainly self-contained) story into a modern world of dark demonic power

So, what did I miss? A lot. An awful, awful lot. But that’s a list for part 2, next time.

Update: statistics wise, that’s only 13.5 books authored by women. My listening in the previous year was maybe a little more balanced (Valente, Kowal, and Okorafor having new books helped, and listening to Mur Lafferty’s and Natania Barron’s audiobook podcasts) but I’m not yet sure what it says about what books I chose. Hopefully I can figure out why I picked what I picked and skipped what I skipped in part two.

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