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New Sci-Fi on Audio

Let’s get far away from present-day Earth this month with some thought-provoking and fun science fiction.

Up first are Gabrielle de Cuir and Stefan Rudnicki’s expressive performances of TUSKS OF EXTINCTION by Ray Naylor. It’s the near future—elephants have been hunted to extinction, but mammoths have been recreated. Led by a matriarch who’s been given the consciousness of Damira, a murdered elephant expert, the mammoths encounter scientists and hunters who pay for the science project with strategic and pricey culling. Rudnicki's gravelly narration exposes the men’s self-importance and greed, while de Cuir inhabits Damira with ferocity and radiance. All does not go as humans plan in this gripping tale about intelligence and the rights of non-human creatures. Do also listen to Naylor’s thrilling sci-fi novel about the nature of consciousness, THE MOUNTAIN IN THE SEA, read by Eunice Wong, which takes us to an island occupied by hyperintelligent octopuses, a security agent, a scientist, and a degrading android.

THOSE BEYOND THE WALLAngel Pean’s impressive narration of Micaiah Johnson’s THOSE BEYOND THE WALL transports us to a future—or perhaps alternate—Earth, where some folks live in clean enclosed cities and others are consigned to gritty exurbs. When the residents of Ashtown start to be murdered—by the inhabitants of walled Wiley City?—a young warrior named Scales is tasked by Ashtown’s emperor to find out why. Pean gives Scales honeyed tones and audible bravado as she faces all manner of threats, which the narrator performs with edge-of-your-seat pacing. Other characters from both cities contrast evocatively with Scales, raising listeners' involvement with this fierce and emotive morality tale. I also recommend Johnson’s debut novel, THE SPACE BETWEEN WORLDS, for which Nicole Lewis won an Earphones Award.

YOURS FOR THE TAKINGJasmin Savoy Brown delivers a dynamic reading of YOURS FOR THE TAKING by Gabrielle Korn, a dystopian mix of climate fiction and feminist revisionism. It’s 2050. NYC has been ravaged by climate change. Ava has been accepted into Manhattan’s weather-safe "Inside Project," although she had to abandon her girlfriend to do so. Slowly, she becomes aware that the founder’s cis-white vision for a feminist future may be deeply flawed. Savoy Brown enters the characters fully and makes their emotional changes audible and stunning—doubting to dreamy, bored to curious, saccharine to unhinged.

FRONTIER Aven Shore’s deft and immersive performance of Grace Curtis’s FRONTIER won an enthusiastic Earphones Award from our reviewer. In this gender-bending queer Western, Stranger’s ship breaks apart after crashing on a broken Earth 300 years after most humans left. As Stranger discovers in her quest to reunite with her ship and her love, those who remain are challenged and challenging. Shore creates an empathetic Stranger while also voicing an array of assassins, sheriffs, con women, and oddballs. Funny, heart-rending, romantic, and unusual, this debut novel by a game-developer has it all. (Watch Aven Shore's video about FRONTIER.)

PASSAGEErin deWard delivers an Earphones Award-winning performance of PASSAGE by Hugo and Nebula Award-winning grandmaster Connie Willis. Written in 2001 (a perennially meaningful science fiction date) but only now available on audio, the story revolves around Joanna, a psychologist who works with a neurologist to better understand near-death experiences and their role in patient survival. This gives deWard a great chance to demonstrate her range—be it an old man, a little girl, other doctors, or Joanna herself, deWard’s performance is realistic and immersive. Her comforting voice also helps listeners navigate the surprising discoveries and stunning conclusion.

SYSTEM COLLAPSEI couldn’t leave you without mentioning SYSTEM COLLAPSE, the latest (2023) installment in Martha Wells’s Murderbot series. Performed as always by Golden Voice narrator Kevin R. Free, the story takes place immediately after NETWORK EFFECT. Stuck on the planet that’s been marked for corporate salvage, our now-distressed Murderbot, ship-brain ART, and their humans try to help rescue the colonists while battling corporate nasties. Free gives a moving portrayal of Murderbot’s internal mix of humanoid trauma and computer logic. His rendition of the ever sarcastic ART is a clever mix of funny and affecting. And, wait for it, we get to meet Holism, ART’s rival and frenemy. Listening to Free’s performance of their relationship will make you smile. And smiling is good for us. Happy audiobooks, everyone!

For more on our favorite Murderbot, don’t miss our new interview with Martha Wells.

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