When I miss my mother, an intuitive woman with a sense of adventure, I like to imagine her living in the future—perhaps traveling through space on a sleek starship while counseling alien beings. So for Women’s History month, I’ve decided to celebrate the galaxy’s women and my timeless mother with some great science fiction and fantasy audiobooks featuring fascinating female protagonists.
Cynthia Farrell and Emily Woo Zeller bring lyricism and vibrant character-building to Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s novella THIS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR. Winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards, the epistolary tale follows warring agents Red and Blue as they travel through space and time altering history for their opposing empires. Farrell and Zeller movingly trace Red and Blue’s evolving relationship. Taunting tones become admiring, and then passionate with apparently impossible love. Complex, deeply imagined, and beautifully delivered, this is worth more than one listen.
Dion Graham and January LaVoy won Earphones Awards for their stirring performance of ARCH-CONSPIRATOR by Veronica Roth, author of the dystopian Divergent series. This powerful reimagining of Sophocles’s tragedy, Antigone, is set on a ruined Earth, where the tyrant Kreon holds Antigone and her siblings captive. When Antigone defies Kreon’s orders, tensions explode. LaVoy delivers engrossing narrative descriptions, and switches seamlessly from Antigone’s ferocity to the gentleness of her younger sister. Graham transforms himself from threatening Kreon into his sincere son Haemon and again into Antigone’s ebullient brother Polyneikes. You may think you know the end of Antigone, but you’ll be wrong.
Four fine narrators, John Lee, Dylan Moore, Arthur Morey, and Kirsten Potter, transport listeners through time in SEA OF TRANQUILITY, the mesmerizing novel by Emily St. John Mandel, award-winning author of STATION ELEVEN. Potter shines as an author embarking on an uneasy book tour at the start of a pandemic in 2200. Lee’s melodic tone convinces, whether he’s in 1918 British Columbia or on a 25th-century moon colony. Moore embodies the modern-day malaise of a young New York woman. And Morey offers a moving interpretation of a moon-colony inhabitant balancing the moral dilemma of his job. Together, the interlocking stories ponder the nature of love, meaning, and purpose.
Rachel Dulude creates a panorama of astonishing characterizations in her Earphones Award-winning performance of THE GALAXY, AND THE GROUND WITHIN, the fourth installment in Becky Chambers’s Hugo Award-winning Wayfarer series. While part of a series, this can be listened to as a stand-alone story about what happens when a technology failure traps several dissimilar beings on an out-of-the way planet. Dulude has a remarkable ability to create believable voices for such creatures as a marsupial-like mom and her teenage kid, a mechanical talk box, and an insectoid. Science-rich, thought-provoking, and heartwarming, this made me want to hear the entire series again.
My mother, who liked to describe herself as a Welsh witch, also believed in the life-changing power of love. So, my final recommendation this month is Sangu Mandanna’s delightful romance, THE VERY SECRET SOCIETY OF IRREGULAR WITCHES. English actress Samara MacLaren’s enticing performance draws listeners immediately into the uplifting and rather wacky romance between Mika, a cheerful witch, and Jamie, a prickly librarian. When Mika arrives at Nowhere House to tutor three young witches in how to control their magic, their caretaker, Jamie, distrusts her. But this is a romance, which we need these days, so settle into your earbuds and savor MacLaren’s melodic voice and her ability to create distinctive personalities for everyone from grumpy guys to exuberant young witches.
Photo: James Webb Space Telescope Stephan's Quintet by NASA, ESA, CSA from images.nasa.gov.