Blog – Posted on Friday, Aug 09
The 30 Best Sci-Fi Audiobooks
When you’ve got a good audiobook piped into your earbuds, time takes on a different texture — sometimes it zips along, impelled by laughter, or slows to an ooze thanks to suspense. Either way, audiobooks keep your brain engaged with a good story even if your hands aren’t free to flip a page.
Maybe you like the sound of a listening experience that will crack open the mundane shell of your day-to-day and launch you up among the stars. If that sounds like a good time, look no further than science fiction — wildly inventive stories that will have your heart racing with their sharp plotting and your mind racing from their even sharper ideas.
Load up your phone with these 30 best sci-fi audiobooks and they’ll make you feel like every road-trip is a space odyssey — and like you’re terraforming Mars every time you do your chores. We've even organized them by length, shortest to longest, so you can find the perfect futuristic adventure to fill up your time.
If you're feeling overwhelmed by the number of great sci-books books out there, you can also take our 30-second quiz below to narrow it down quickly and get a personalized book recommendation 😉
Which sci-fi book should you read next?
1. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, narrated by Robin Niles
Nigerian writer Nnedi Okorafor is best known for weaving spellbinding tales of magic, illuminated by her knowledge of Igbo folklore and African history. In this Hugo- and Nebula-winning novella, she applies her gifts to science fiction. Binti stars the eponymous teenage math whiz, a Himba girl who runs away from home and hitches a ride on a spaceship bound for a distant planet.
The Himba, Binti’s narration claims, are meant to “stay put,” caring eternal for their ancestral land. But her destination is Oomza Uni, the galaxy’s most prestigious institution of higher learning, so she gets on that ship anyway — as the only Himba ever to be accepted to the university. But Binti soon has more to worry about than furthering her education: the spaceship that’s meant to take her to her new school is hijacked by the alien Meduse, putting her within their tentacled grasp. Robin Miles’ complex, layered performance — honed by her years on- and off-Broadway — turns this beautiful Afrofuturist fable into an emotional tour de force.
Time duration: 2 hours and 30 min.
2. All Systems Red by Martha Wells, narrated by Kevin R. Free
If you like the sound of a sensitive, contemplative main character who nevertheless calls itself a “Murderbot,” All Systems Red is the sci-fi novella for you. Of course, Martha Wells’ (anti-)hero wasn’t given such a provocative name when it was built. Originally christened a “security unit,” or SecUnit, this deadly droid was created to protect a planetary survey team controlled — like everything else in this corporate dystopia — by the sinister Company.
But the SecUnit bucks its programming, gains self-awareness, and acquires what looks like a case of droid depression. It starts calling itself Murderbot, but the newly sentient robot is less interested in killing sprees than in video binges. Kevin R. Free’s performance as Murderbot netted him an Earphones Award. His subtly Eeyore-ish narration brings the droid to life in a touching and relatable fashion: as a thinking being at odds with itself, plagued by all-too-human doubts.
Time duration: 3 hours and 17 min.
3. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, narrated by John Banks
This steampunk classic makes for delightful listening — especially through audiobook superstar John Banks’ narration, which renders its decorous prose in the posh tones of a BBC announcer. In The Time Machine, a Victorian scientist travels to the year 802,701 AD, where he’s thrilled to find humankind finally at peace. But he’s no longer among humanity as we know it: instead, the Time Traveller finds them replaced by the elfin Eloi on the one hand, and the brutish Morlocks on the other.
The enchantingly beautiful Eloi dwell in a sunilt paradise. But they live in fear of the hulking Morlocks, who seem all too ready to invade from their own squalid, underground abode. The tensions between these two “human” races hide sinister secrets — and uncovering them will make the Time Traveller question everything he knows.
Time duration: 3 hours and 22 min.
4. This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, narrated by Cynthia Farrell and Emily Woo Zeller
This is a love story. It’s also a gripping epistolary novella — and a thrilling tale of espionage surrounding, well, a time war. Co-written by two sci-fi veterans and jointly narrated by musician-actors Cynthia Farrell and Emily Woo Zeller, This Is How You Lose the Time War makes us fall in love with two enemy agents named Red and Blue, living weapons in a cosmic, chronologically jumbled war between the Agency and the Garden.
As they move through time thwarting one another’s plans, the two women exchange letters rich in spycraft — and, eventually, passion. This premise might sound comical, but El-Mohtar and Gladstone play it gorgeously straight, laying out Red and Blue’s impossible love in lyrical prose that enchants. Thanks to Farrell and Zeller’s heartfelt narration, This Is How You Lose the Time War is as moving as it is marvelous.
Time duration: 4 hours and 16 min.
5. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, narrated by Stephen Fry
Stephen Fry and Douglas Adams: you’ve never heard of a more perfect match. The English comedian’s interpretation — leavened by just the right touch of irony — brings this satirical romp through the galaxy to new, downright interstellar, heights. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy starts on what is, for downtrodden everyman Arthur Dent, an objectively shocking day: first, his home planet is destroyed, and second, he finds out that his buddy Ford Prefect has been an alien all along.
But all’s not lost: thanks to Ford’s… foreign connections, Arthur manages to get off Earth just before its demolition — albeit, inconveniently, in his dressing gown. As the two make their way out of the solar system, they encounter what might be the zaniest supporting cast in all of science fiction, from a depressed robot to a former grad student haunted by a lifetime’s worth of misplaced pens.
Time duration: 5 hours and 51 min.
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, narrated by Dick Hill
The elder statesman of British sci-fi, Sir Arthur C. Clarke published his spacefaring classic more than half a century ago. Since then, the year 2001 has come and gone, and we’re no closer to sending manned missions to Saturn or to colonizing the moon. Still, maybe it’s for the best — the titular space odyssey in this story is more harrowing than it is triumphant.
In Clarke’s far-out imagining of the early 21st century, researchers working on the moon’s Clavius Base discover a mysterious black slab. It looks like the work of intelligent life and emits a keening radio frequency pointed at one of Saturn’s moons. Unfortunately for the scientists sent to investigate, things soon go sideways — not least because the ship’s computer, Hal, develops an unforeseen nasty streak. Dick Hill’s narration, capable of a stupendous, spine-chilling horror, keeps you in suspense.
Time duration: 6 hours and 42 min.
7. The Girl in Red by Christina Henry, narrated by January LaVoy
This post-apocalyptic take on “Little Red Riding Hood” showcases soap opera veteran January LaVoy as Red: an intelligent, tough-minded survivor who can’t be blamed for being a little emotionally fragile since she’s lived through a devastating plague. The Crisis wiped out most of humankind, killing off its victims quickly — and leaving the rest to die off slowly in filthy quarantine camps.
But not Red. Armed with survival skills gleaned from the movies she devoured in the pre-Crisis days, she’s determined to go it alone, seeking shelter beyond miles of forest, in her grandmother’s house. The woods might be full of beasts — and men — but Red is no one’s prey. LaVoy brings The Girl in Red to life with remarkable warmth and subtlety, giving Christina Henry’s masterfully drawn protagonist exactly the right balance between fragility and grit.
Time duration: 8 hours and 21 min.
8. Planetside by Michael Mammay, narrated by R.C. Bray
This spellbinding, spacefaring adventure isn’t the kind of audiobook you put on in the background with the intention of doing something else: R.C. Bray’s electric delivery grabs your full attention, whether you want to give it or not. No wonder he won an Earphones Award for his pitch-perfect turn as Carl Butler, the no-nonsense war vet at the center of Planetside.
When a VIP’s son goes missing from a space station orbiting a war-torn planet, circumstances seem suspicious, to say the least. It’s bad enough for Colonel Butler to be pulled out of his half-retirement and dispatched to check things out. Strangely enough, the staff at Cappa Base seem ill-disposed to accommodate a war hero carrying out a serious investigation. Butler is stonewalled and sabotaged at every turn, and it soon becomes clear that the mystery of the young man’s disappearance is a cover for something even more sinister.
Time duration: 8 hours and 38 min.
9. Emily Eternal by M.G. Wheaton, narrated by Thérèse Plummer
Thérèse Plummer brings heartbreaking clarity to her performance as Emily: just 5 years old and already doomed to die. But this isn’t a work of sick lit, in the vein of The Fault in Our Stars. It’s a more universal malady: the sun is dying, some 5 billion years ahead of schedule, and the earth will soon be unable to sustain life.
Unlike the planet’s other doomed children, Emily isn’t made of flesh and blood; she’s an AI, built as a sort of therapist to help human users process trauma. Maybe that explains her unusual empathy, which Plummer portrays with remarkable poignancy. Grieving for the species that created her, Emily scours her own servers and databases for something — anything — that can save them all. But the dying sun isn’t the only danger she faces: she also encounters brutal human enemies who only want to save themselves. With its suspenseful plot and lovable lead, Emily Eternal is a beautiful meditation on humanity in the age of tech.
Time duration: 8 hours and 56 min.
10. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, narrated by Jeff Woodman
Flowers for Algernon is an unlikely audiobook hit. So much of the original, Nebula Award-winning novel, a fictive diary, relies on Daniel Keyes’ eye dialect, as his protagonist, the intellectually disabled cleaner Charlie Gordon, spells out his sentences the way they sound. Following in the footsteps of a lab mouse — the titular Algernon — Charlie undergoes an experimental surgery to enhance his intelligence. When the anesthesia clears, he awakens as a genius — and the style of his journal entries changes to match.
It’s a lot to throw at a lone narrator, from the shifting registers of Charlie’s writing to the powerful emotions behind every sentence. But Jeff Woodman rises to the occasion, with a performance that will break your heart.
Time duration: 8 hours and 48 min.
11. Artemis by Andy Weir, narrated by Rosario Dawson
Programmer-turned-novelist Andy Weir is best known for helping Matt Damon lose an Oscar with The Martian, the hard sci-fi saga that went from self-published hit to New York Times bestseller to Academy-endorsed flick. But when it comes his audiobooks, consider starting with Artemis: Goodreads collectively voted it the best sci-fi novel of 2017, and celebrity narrator Rosario Dawson elevates it to something truly special in an Earphones-winning performance.
Dawson delights with a self-assured, swaggering take on Jasmine Bashara, a part-time smuggler and full-time anti-hero based in the lunar city of Artemis. Warm-hearted as she is, Jazz has bills to pay — life on the moon isn’t cheap, and it’d be a shame to let her tremendous talent for moving contraband go to waste…
Time duration: 8 hours and 57 min.
12. Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold, narrated by Michael Hanson and Carol Cowan
Michael Hanson and Carol Cowan’s tag-team narration lends nuance and texture to this whip-smart, heartrending tale. Thanks to their performance, Falling Free can add an Earphones Award to the Nebula it snagged courtesy of Bujold’s thoughtful worldbuilding and vivid characters. Chief among these is engineer Leo Graf, a no-nonsense, by-the-book type who goes where he’s needed and does what he’s told.
But when Leo’s latest assignment takes him to Cay Habitat, he finds himself entangled in an ethical quandary: the corporate powers-that-be have created an exploited class of “quaddies” who have a second pair of arms in lieu of legs. A workforce tailor-made for toiling in free fall, the quaddies are treated not as human beings but as “post-fetal experimental tissue cultures”: enslaved, brutalized, and denied access to information. Now, it’s Leo’s job to train them — and his moral duty to help them break free.
Time duration: 9 hours
13. Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen, narrated by Cary Hite
Kin Stewart contains multitudes: he’s both a time-traveling secret agent and a family man working in I.T. It’s a situation fit to make your head spin — even if you are trained to hop between timelines. And it brings its fair share of problems, from a moody teenager who won’t give you the time of day to a squad of anxious colleagues desperate to get you back to 2142.
Time traveling also takes a physical toll. Ravaged by blackouts, Kin can barely remember the other family he left behind, or rather, ahead: he just wants to make sure that his daughter Miranda — who knows him only as a boring suburban dad — stays safe. But now, his own efforts to untangle the twisted skein of his life might be putting her very existence at risk. A wildly inventive tale full of both high stakes and heartwarming moments, Here and Now and Then hits home especially hard thanks to Cary Hite’s warm, velvety baritone.
Time duration: 9 hours and 54 min.
14. Lock In by John Scalzi, narrated by Wil Wheaton
In John Scalzi’s gripping, near-future murder mystery, the Watergate Hotel once again becomes the site of scandal. When FBI Agents Shane and Vann kick off their new partnership by tackling a killing that took place on its seventh floor, they quickly figure out that it’s no ordinary murder case.
The suspect is an Integrator, one of the service providers who make a living by renting out their bodies to sufferers of Haden’s Syndrome, a condition that leaves the patient “locked in” — a living consciousness trapped in inert flesh. The Integrator’s body might be guilty of murder, but it’s unclear who was piloting it at the time: the man himself, or a client he was carrying? Wil Wheaton’s rapid, lightly sardonic patter keeps the pacing taut, leaving you in a state of wondrous suspense.
Time duration: 9 hours and 56 min.
15. We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor, narrated by Ray Porter
Named Audible’s best sci-fi audiobook of 2016, We Are Legion (We Are Bob) offers spacefaring, far-future hilarity to rival The Hitchhiker’s Guide. Dennis E. Taylor, with his wild imagination and razor-sharp wit, might just be the next Douglas Adams. And his impeccable narrator, Ray Porter, delivers deft irony like an American Stephen Fry.
Like Arthur Dent, Bob Johansson is a bit of a hapless everyman: he’s just on the cusp of leisured retirement when he’s killed by a passing car. But his story doesn’t end there: Bob wakes up a century later to find himself beneficiary of cryogenic freezing — or maybe we should say “victim,” since, as a “corpiscle,” he’s lost all of his legal rights. Instead, he’s been forcibly uploaded to a server and turned into software, made to scan the skies for habitat planets. In his new role, Bob finds himself entangled in a scientific arms race between nations competing to settle new worlds first: pretty big responsibilities for someone who couldn’t even cross the street without being killed.
Time duration: 9 hours and 56 min.
16. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, narrated by Jon Lindstrom
Is this the real life? Is it just fantasy? Blake Crouch’s dreamlike, mind-bending thriller turns everyone’s favorite Queen lyric into a sci-fi thought experiment with tremendous heart. In Dark Matter, Dr. Jason Dessen can’t distinguish reality from dreams. After surviving an attack by a masked man, he wakes up on a gurney — and in a totally foreign world.
Here, Jason isn’t an unremarkable professor who spends his days lecturing on undergrads on physics: he’s a household name, a genius whose work on quantum mechanics has revolutionized the field. It might be tempting to stay in this world, even if it must be a dream. But the fame feels empty, since Jason’s wife and son aren’t there. Can he make his way back to the reality he knows — if it was even real in the first place? Jon Lindstrom’s warm, confiding performance makes you root for Jason: it’s as comforting as listening to an old friend’s voice, no matter how dark his story turns.
Time duration: 10 hours and 8 min.
17. The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley, narrated by Cara Gee and Jackie Sanders
This ambitious, far-future thriller is a military sci-fi classic in the making — and one of the best books published in 2019. In The Light Brigade, the ever-inventive Kameron Hurley explores the scientific — and psychological — implications of having Scotty beam someone up. The result is a gripping meditation on the human costs of war. Our entry point into the intricate world she crafts is a rank-and-file soldier named Dietz, who’s joined the Light Brigade — the group of fighters transported from battle to battle on the Martian frontlines in the form of light.
Those who undergo this “dropping” process again and again are expected to pick up a few… personality quirks. But Dietz starts to experience drops so bad they hint at something far worse than these routine slippages. Cara Gee’s subtly ironic narration perfectly captures a soldier trained to obey against her own will and instincts. Jackie Sanders, meanwhile, carries off her role as a military interrogator with chilling perfection.
Time duration: 10 hours and 22 min.
18. An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, narrated by Cherise Booth
In An Unkindness of Ghosts, Rivers Solomon tackles structural oppression on a starship. The result is a dazzling debut, at once thoughtful and deeply felt — it recalls racially conscious speculative classics like Octavia Butler’s Kindred, transplanted into deep space. The novel takes place on the HSS Matilda, where generations of human beings — the last survivors of the species — will live and die before their descendants reach a Promised Land light-years away.
Despite all the tech that makes life on Matilda possible, the ship’s social organization resembles nothing so much as the antebellum South: its dark-skinned inhabitants, like the inscrutably brilliant Aster, toil below-deck under the cruel dominion of the ship’s light-skinned rulers. Solomon’s intricate worldbuilding leans on a densely stratified, richly textured assortment of accents and dialects, all used to delineate the social positions of the characters they’ve crafted so lovingly. Cherise Boothe carries these off with aplomb, making the sweeping narrative feel remarkably human.
Time duration: 11 hours and 54 min.
19. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, narrated by Stefan Rudnicki, Harlan Ellison, and Gabrielle de Cuir
Ender’s Game — a double Hugo-Nebula winner widely considered one of the all-time finest sci-fi works — seems like a challenging work to render in audio form. After all, the vast majority of its cast are prepubescent geniuses, and most audiobook narrators don’t have the clear treble voices you’d expect from a bunch of kids.
Led by the oft-emphatic, occasionally ruthless Ender Wiggin, these prodigies were plucked from their families and shipped to the Battle School orbiting Earth. There, they play war games to prep for the next confrontation with the ant-like aliens who have already laid waste to Earth in the past. Despite the characters’ youth, this capable cast wisely avoids affecting childlike squeaks in their dialogue. As a result, the brilliance and vulnerability of Ender and his friends shine through just like in the original.
Time duration: 11 hours and 57 min.
20. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, narrated by Lynne Thigpen
First published in 1993, Octavia Butler’s dystopian novel is somewhat unnerving to revisit today: it’s set in a tumultuous version of the 2020s, wracked by a warming earth, a growing class divide, and unchecked corporate greed. As we move closer in time to Parable of the Sower’s setting, it’s hard not to read it as bleakly prophetic.
For Lauren Oya Olamina, getting off-world is humanity’s best hope. As a young woman gifted with — or plagued by — hyperempathy, she started developing a belief system called Earthseed, an ideological antidote to the chaos all around her and a way to help her followers make it to other worlds. Its central tenet? “God is change.” Befitting the book’s Gospel-inspired title, Butler’s prose is somber and starkly beautiful, animated by a biblical cadence. The elegant Lynne Thigpen brings it to life with solemn sincerity.
Time duration: 12 hours
21. Ball Lightning by Cixin Liu, narrated by Feodor Chin
Hard sci-fi phenom Cixin Liu is best known for his Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, which put Chinese speculative fiction on the map. But don’t sleep on the standalone novel Ball Lightning — with its tighter cast and more intimate scope, it’s a fitting introduction to Liu’s cerebral, conceptually exhilarating brand of sci-fi. The story centers on a scientist named Chen, whose life narrows to a single point when his parents are killed right in front of him by a luminous sphere: ball lightning.
From that point onward, all Chen wants to do is understand the phenomenon that made him an orphan. His relentless quest for knowledge turns him into a scientific hermit. But it also pits him against soldiers and fellow scientists who want to harness his discoveries for their own, nefarious purposes. Chen’s story comes off particularly well in audio form thanks to Feodor Chin’s dynamic and versatile performance, which draws on his mastery of accent work and a full palette of expertly channeled emotions.
Time duration: 12 hours and 12 min.
22. Light from Other Stars by Erika Swyler, narrated by Kyla Garcia
A self-described mad scientist’s daughter, Erika Swyler doesn’t write about her dad. But she does remix the themes of her childhood — fathers, daughters, and science — in this achingly gorgeous coming-of-age novel. Light from Other Stars is as much about the intrepidity of space exploration as it is about a brilliant, sensitive girl’s journey toward self-understanding: think The Martian meets My Brilliant Friend. The narrative moves fluidly between two timelines.
In the past, Nedda Papas is an 11-year-old aspiring astronaut influenced by her physicist father, Theo, an eccentric who spends his free time tinkering with a time-altering device called the Crucible. In the future, a grown-up Nedda has achieved her dreams — she’s part of the starship Chawla’s four-person crew, handpicked to be among the first to explore a distant planet. As both timelines head towards catastrophe, Nedda’s stubbornness, brilliance, and empathy take the stage. Narrator Kyla Garcia brings the Papas family to life in a wonderfully layered performance, modulating her voice for each character to create distinct, yet interconnected, people out of Swyler’s words.
Time duration: 12 hours and 17 min.
23. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, narrated by Adjoa Andoh
Ann Leckie’s debut novel netted her a sci-fi triple crown: the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke Awards. Listen to the audiobook version, anchored by Adjoa Andoh’s warm, silky voice, and you’ll quickly see — I mean, hear — why. An ambitious space opera, Ancillary Justice nevertheless remains grounded in finely wrought characterization, tethering the great sweep of imperial history to the emotional life of its compelling lead.
Breq is an ancillary: one of the AIs used by the burgeoning Radch empire to control the bodies of its soldiers. She’s used to commanding a starship, with all its sophisticated machinery and deadly firepower at her fingertips. But someone has ripped her away from the systems that are hers by right: now she’s left with nothing at her disposal except fallible flesh. Breq’s individual quest for vengeance is undergirded by Leckie’s intricate sociological worldbuilding: for instance, because gender has no meaning in the Radch empire, the narration uses female pronouns for all its characters. It’s a detail that adds another layer to this rich, thoughtful work.
Time duration: 12 hours and 41 min.
24. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, narrated by Lloyd James
Known as the “dean of science fiction writers,” Robert A. Heinlein has exerted as much influence on the genre as anyone — he even coined the term “speculative fiction.” In The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, the former Navy engineer skillfully combines sciences hard and social: the novel transports the dynamics of the American Revolution to a penal colony on the moon.
Inhabited by ex-cons and exiles known as Loonies, the colony of Luna seems more like a futuristic Australia than a riff off colonial New England. But when a band of humans join a self-aware computer called Mike to plot the otherthrow of the Lunar Authority, they’ve clearly got the American Founding Fathers in mind: Luna declares independence on July 4. Lloyd James, a classically trained theater actor, brings this adventure to life with an offbeat, always engaging interpretation — Mike, for instance, comes to life with an unforgettable Russian accent.
Time duration: 14 hours and 12 min.
25. A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine, narrated by Amy Landon
This luminously intelligent space opera is Arkady Martine’s first novel, and the debut was a dazzling one — feted by several authors on this list, including Ann Leckie and Mike Chen. A Memory Called Empire concerns, of course, imperial memory. It’s a topic that Martine knows well: under the name Dr. AnnaLinden Weller, she’s a published scholar of the Byzantine Empire who holds a PhD in History from Rutgers.
As a storyteller, however, Martine wears her erudition lightly, illuminating rigorous worldbuilding with thrilling intrigue. Her story centers on a diplomat called Mahit Dzamare, whose home of Lsel — a mining station — is about to be annexed by a rapidly expanding, intergalactic empire. When Mahit makes for the imperial capital to plead the case for Lsel’s autonomy, she finds herself pulled into a succession crisis. Martine weaves a web of intrigue nothing short of byzantine, but Amy Landon’s smooth, assured narration helps listeners keep track of the story.
Time duration: 15 hours and 37 min.
26. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, narrated by Wil Wheaton
This technicolor love letter to ‘80s culture is widely considered one of the best sci-fi audiobooks of all time — you might even argue that it’s better than the movie. Ready Player One is hard to characterize: it’s part updated Jumanji, part cyberpunk Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Either way, it’s pure delight — helped along by Wil Wheaton’s exuberant narration, which will make the real world fade away as he conjures up teenager Wade Watts and his adventures in virtual reality.
Wade might have been born in 2026, but he’s an ‘80s kid at heart, spending his days researching Pac-Man and Tetris whenever he’s not logged onto OASIS, the VR system that makes life bearable in the slums of Oklahoma City. But Wade isn’t in it just for the knowledge: he’s looking for an Easter egg left inside OASIS by its eccentric, '80s-obsessed, Willy Wonka-esque creator, who’s promised to leave his billions to the first person to scrounge it up.
Time duration: 15 hours and 40 min.
27. Red Rising by Pierce Brown, narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds
This Earphones Award Winner — narrated with bardic flair in Tim Gerard Reynolds’s Irish brogue — feels like medieval high fantasy on Mars, a Game of Thrones for the space age. Sci-fi wunderkind Pierce Brown was only 26 when he published it in 2014, but Red Rising reads like the genre classics of the old school, all Shakespearean sweep and grandeur.
Lorded over by the imperious Golds, 16-year-old Darrow and his fellow Reds toil in a state little better than slavery. They work tirelessly as miners under Mars’ inhospitable surface: otherwise, they’ll be whipped — or worse. When Darrow and his wife Eo defy their overlords, they’re sentenced to death by hanging. But Darrow mysteriously survives the gallows to find Eo celebrated as a martyr, a new symbol of a “lowColor” movement to overthrow the Golds.
Time duration: 16 hours and 12 min.
28. Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky, narrated by Mel Hudson
Adrian Tchaikovsky’s magisterial Children of Time makes old tropes feel new again. It’s a novel about terraformation, first contact, arachnoids in space — all old sci-fi standbys. But Tchaikovsky’s storytelling makes the narrative whole feel like much more than the sum of these conventional parts. Imagine a terraforming proto-virus meant to accelerate the evolutionary development of monkeys, turning them into intelligent, tool-using simians very much like human beings. Let it loose on a planet — alongside some monkeys, of course — and check in after a few centuries have passed. Bring a spaceship full of human settlers, and they’ll find a planet already filled with friendly new neighbors who look and act like more or less like them.
But say something goes wrong: the monkeys never made it, and the proto-virus goes to work instead instead on some… less palatable species. What happens when a starship full of human settlers lands on a fully terraformed world — only to find it inhabited by highly intelligent spiders? Mel Hudson’s coolly intelligent narration pairs perfectly with this dense, vividly imagined story..
Time duration: 16 hours and 31 min.
29. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson, narrated by Jennifer Wiltsie
Neal Stephenson’s conceptually intricate, steampunk bildungsroman can be a little disorienting at the outset. But Jennifer Wiltsie’s narration — enlivened with an impressive repertoire of voices — helps listeners follow the story and uncover its glittering charms.
The Diamond Age is also called A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, in the style of an old-timey novel — think Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus. The titular Primer is an interactive, nanotech-enriched book meant for a youthful gentrywoman. But it’s been nicked by a working class girl called Nell, whom it goes about giving the My Fair Lady treatment. Except, as it turns out, the Primer’s ultimate goal isn’t to turn out merely elegant young maidens: it aims to shape young ladies into leaders capable of living “interesting lives” — and of reshaping their world in the process.
Time duration: 18 hours and 32 min.
30. Dune by Frank Herbert, narrated by Scott Brick, Orlagh Cassidy, Euan Morton, Simon Vance, and Cast
This sumptuous, full-cast production does justice to one of the undisputed greatest sci-fi novels of all time. Frank Herbert’s magnum opus came out in 1968, and its kingly place in the speculative canon hasn’t wavered: think of Dune as soft sci-fi’s answer to Lord of the Rings. Set in a feudal intergalactic empire that mixes medieval politics with futuristic tech, Dune stars Paul Atreides, heir to the noble house that’s just been given control over the desert planet of Arrakis.
Arid and unpleasant as it is, Arrakis is theoretically a great honor to rule. It’s also a tremendous pain: it’s the only source of the “spice,” a drug that enhances intelligence, lengthens lifespans, and pulls the whole planet into deadly political struggles. When Duke Atreides encounters treachery at the very start, his son Paul flees into the desert. There, he encounters mysterious forces that will hone his prophetic powers and remold him into nothing less than a messiah. This whole cast is excellent, but Euan Morton deserves a special shoutout for his touchingly vulnerable — yet bold — performance as Paul.
Time duration: 21 hours and 2 min.