Yes, it’s been a looooooooong wait. But 2013 was a pretty good year, and we have the audiobooks to prove it! In our wrap-up of 2012 in audiobooks, we had a consensus pick for best new audiobook, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. This year, we are a house — er, pirate ship? — divided. Last year, we also split things up quite a bit between “best new audiobook of a new book” and “best new audiobook of a previously released book”. This year, there are no second class citizens among our listens, though as last year we each single out some audiobooks that were “new to us” in 2013. But enough pre-amble! On to:
BEST NEW AUDIOBOOK OF THE YEAR:
Sam: Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson, read by Graeme Malcolm for Hachette Audio — I loved everything about this “novel of the ice age”, from its narrative voice of “the third wind” to the memorable characters: Loon, Thorn, Heather, Elga, and Click. And Malcolm brought it to life wonderfully. I’m not the only one to think so — it was recently named a finalist for the 2014 Audie Award for Science Fiction audiobook of the year. [Kobo| Kindle]
Dave: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, read by the author for Harper Audio — This is an easy one for me. I’m a huge fan of Gaiman’s work, but I’ll admit with talk of sequels to Odd and the Frost Giants, American Gods, and Neverwhere – all books I’ll gobble up as soon as they come out, if they come out – left me a little bit weary. But this book is a small, quiet treasure. It’s a wonderful meditation on mortality, a license to keep dreaming of wondrous and mysterious things no matter how old you get, and easily the most personal novel Gaiman’s written. Read Dave’s full review here. [IndieBound CD | Kobo | Kindle | Amazon CD]
RUNNERS UP, BEST NEW AUDIOBOOK OF THE YEAR:
Hild by Nicola Griffith, read by Pearl Hewitt for Macmillan Audio — I’m not sure what it says that my top two listens this year were ancient-set historical fictions; this one takes a look at both seventh century Britain and the young Hild, advisor of kings who would eventually become St. Hilda, narrated with a wide-ranging set of accents to match the Anglo-Saxon landscape of Northumbria.
Life After Life by Kate Atikinson, read by Fenella Woolgar for Hachette Audio — which shows over the course of dozens of Ursula’s lifetimes the horror of the Blitz like no novel in my memory, and opens with a daring scene like a navigational star for the course of the book.
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, read by Khristine Hvam, Peter Ganim, Jay Snyder, Joshua Boone, Dani Cervone, and Jenna Hellmuth for Hachette Audio — a perfectly taut and plotted time travel novel, of which there are very few, brought fantastically to audio under a full cast.
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, read by George Guidall for Harper Audio — A beautiful love letter to a turn-of-the-century New York City that was, and a fantastical love story between a woman of Eastern European clay and a man of Syrian fire. From the first chapter — itself one of the strongest short stories of the year, honestly — the golem was alive and magic was real, and Guidall handled Yiddish and Arabic accents and more, weaving a spell of rain and sand that I was sad to see end. [Kobo | Kindle]
River of Stars by Guy Gavariel Kay, read by Simon Vance for Penguin Audio — a beautifully-written novel in whose words one could happily drown; a remarkable secondary world fantasy plotted against ancient China; a triumphant standalone return pairing for Kay and Vance after Under Heaven.
Honorable mentions, fantasy: No Return by Zachary Jernigan, read by John FitzGibbon for Audible Frontiers [brutal and explicit, an eye-opening secondary world fantasy debut]; Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams, read by George Newbern for Penguin Audio; A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar, read by Josh Hurley for Audible [a rich and original secondary world fantasy, filled with books and language and poetry]; The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, read by the author for Harper Audio; Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill, read by Vikas Adam for Harper Audio; and When Women Were Warriors by Catherine M. Wilson, read by Janis Ian for Dog Ear Audio.
Honorable mentions, science fiction: Countdown City by Ben Winters, read by Peter Berkrot for Brilliance Audio; Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh, read by Kevin T. Collins, Eileen Stevens, and Ali Ahn for Hachette Audio; Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, read by Celeste Ciulla for Recorded Books; The Best of all Possible Worlds by Karen Lord, read by Robin Miles for Audible Frontiers; The City of Devi by Manil Suri, read by Vikas Adam and Priya Ayyar for Blackstone Audio; METAtropolis: Green Space edited by Jay Lake and Ken Scholes, read by a full cast for Audible Frontiers; and Dimension of Miracles by Robert Sheckley, read by John Hodgman for Neil Gaiman Presents.
Honorable mentions, horror: American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett, read by Graham Winton for Recorded Books; The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates, read by Grover Gardner for Harper Audio; and North American Lake Monsters: Stories by Nathan Ballingrud, read by Travis Young for Audible.
Honorable mentions, other fiction: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, read by Orlagh Cassidy for Penguin Audio; Slam by Lewis Shiner, read by Stefan Rudnicki for Blackstone Audio, along with Shiner’s Collected Stories read by a full cast; A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, read by Colette Whitaker for Random House Audio; The Thicket by Joe Lansdale, read by Will Collyer for Hachette Audio; You by Austin Grossman, read by Will Collyer for Hachette Audio; Gun Machine by Warren Ellis, read by Reg. E. Cathey for Hachette Audio; and Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt, read by Scott Shepherd for Macmillan Audio.
Honorable mentions, WTF genre is this even: The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White, read by Ray Porter and Mary Robinette Kowal for Audible Frontiers; and Lexicon by Max Barry, read by Heather Corrigan and Zach Appelman for Penguin Audio.
American Elsewhwere by Robert Jackson Bennett, read by Graham Winton for Recorded Books — Length: 22 hours, 23 minutes — Further proof that RBJ’s novels will immediately go in MUST BUY list. Bob said it best: A kaleidoscope of WTFery. My review.
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, read by Celeste Ciulla for Recorded Books — Length: 13 hours, 47 minutes — Expect this debut novel to be nominated for all the awards this year. Review forthcoming.
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, read by Will Patton for Simon & Schuster Audio — Length: 18 hours, 32 minutes — Granted, I only listened to The Shining for the first time this year, but I found this book to be incredibly satisfying, if it wasn’t all that terrifying. Patton’s narration is one of the best this year. My Review. [IndieBound CD | IndieBound MP3-CD | Kobo | Kindle | Amazon MP3-CD | Amazon CD]
NOS4A2 by Joe Hill, read by Kate Mulgrew for Harper Audio — Length: 19 hours, 42 minutes — King and Hill got the best narrations this year, hands down. There needs to be many, many more Kate Mulgrew read audiobooks. This was far more horrific than Doctor Sleep, but the ending disappointed me. Still, a pretty great journey. My Review. [Kobo | Kindle]
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, read by Christine Lakin for Hachette Audio — Length: 12 hours, 6 minutes — Don’t think vampires can be both terrifying and sexy? Listen to this book. I would love for Black to come back to this world one day. My Review.
Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers, read by Fiona Hardingham for Blackstone Audio — Length: 17 hours, 26 minutes — Powers revisits the most disturbing vampires I’ve ever experienced. Less terrifying than The Stress of Her Regard, but a satisfying return. My Review.
The Land Across by Gene Wolfe, read by Jeff Woodman for Recorded Books — Length: 10 hours, 56 minutes — Holy crap! A Gene Wolfe audiobook! A travel guide written by the unluckiest travel writer ever. My Review.
The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith, read by Robert Glenister for Hachette Audio — Length: 15 hours, 54 minutes — J.K. Rowling took a chance under a pseudonym and proved she still has it. A new mystery series I can’t wait to see continued. My Review.
The Fall of the Kings, by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman, read Ellen Kushner and an illuminated cast for Neil Gaiman Presents — Length: 18 hours, 40 minutes — Kushner and Sherman return to Riverside. This time, instead of swordsmen we find dueling scholars who know just about every way to use their mouths, and maybe some magic too. My Review. [Kobo | Kindle]
FAVORITE LISTENS FROM “NEW TO US” AUDIOBOOKS:
Sam: Kindred by Octavia Butler, read by Kim Staunton for Recorded Books; Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, read by Ari Fliakos for Macmillan Audio; Last Call (read by Bronson Pinchot) and Declare (read by Simon Prebble) by Tim Powers, from Blackstone Audio; The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams, read by George Newbern for Penguin Audio; Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch, read by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith for Tantor Audio; The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, read by Kate Rudd for Brilliance Audio; The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt, read by John Pruden for Harper Audio; The Zombie Bible by Stant Litore, read by Benjamin L. Darcie for Brilliance Audio; and The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee, read by Stephen Hoye for Tantor Audio.
Dave: The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner, read by the author with an illuminated cast for Neil Gaiman Presents — I was a year late in listening to this book and just really can’t say enough good things about it. My listening experience was one of those where I’d come up with excuses to go to drive around to places, mostly taking the long way, or hide somewhere with my headphones on. It’s a coming of age full of adventure, romance, witty dialogue, and the subversion of societal gender roles. It also features one of the most fun readings I’ve had the privilege of listening to. I can’t recommend it enough. My review.
WHAT WE MISSED:
Sam: I could make an entire list just cribbing off of Dave’s picks: the last Riverside book certainly, Doctor Sleep, NOS4A2, Hide Me Among the Graves, The Land Across. But there’s also The Guilded Earlobe’s strong recommendations of Brilliance by Marcus Sakey and The Martian by Andy Weir, which I’ve got lying around for a lull in 2014 listening. And so many I couldn’t fit in over the year, whether time or money budget wise, led by Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam and Victoria Schwab’s Vicious (PW, Amazon, and Goodreads can’t all be wrong!), Lavie Tidhar’s The Violent Century, Scott Lynch’s The Republic of Thieves, Charles Stross’ Neptune’s Brood, Peter Higgins’ Wolfhound Century, and (first in line among hundreds — among the thousands of backlist titles new in audio in 2013) J.M. McDermott’s Never Knew Another. (Though a half-dozen or so of Greg Egan’s sf novels also beckon.) And some time soon I have got to get to World War Z particularly now that it’s out in a (more) complete edition. And? Dust Devil on a Quiet Street by Richard Bowes (hat tip to Jason Sanford‘s Nebula nominations post), Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Fractal Prince, Peter Hamilton’s Great North Road, Jay Lake’s Kalimpura, Patrick Wensink’s Broken Piano for President, James Gunn’s Transcendental, Victoria Lustbader’s Approaching the Speed of Light, Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, Brenda Cooper’s Ruby’s Song, Ian Tregillis’ Something More Than Night, Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent, S.M. Wheeler’s Sea Change, Rachel Bach’s Fortune’s Pawn, Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge, Christopher Buehlman’s The Necromancer′s House, Robert J. Sawyer’s Red Planet Blues, Daniel Wallace’s The Kings and Queens of Roam, Matt Bell’s In the House upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, Michael J. Martinez’s The Daedalus Incident, Richard Ellis Preston’s Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders, Will Self’s Umbrella, J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World, Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove, George Sanders’ Tenth of December, Dave Eggers’ The Circle, Jonathan Lethem’s Dissident Gardens, Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge, The Flamethrowers, The Interestings, The Goldfinch, A Tale for the Time Being, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Americanah, The People in the Trees, Southern Cross the Dog, The Ghost Bride, …
Dave: Oh, God. So many books. Pretty much everything off of Sam’s list including: The Shining Girls, Life After Life, Hild, A Stranger in Olondria, Love Minus Eighty, No Return, Shaman. I also sadly missed Phillip Meyer’s The Son, Terese Frohock’s Miserere, Mira Grant’s Parasite, and Jason M. Hough’s Dire Earth Cycle (I’M SO SORRY SIMON VANCE!) Probably a bunch of others – I really need to just stop doing everything else and listen to audiobooks if I’m ever gonna catch up.
WHEW! Well, that’s our take. What’s yours?
PS: A few “further mentions” from Sam: Fantasy: Mur Lafferty’s The Shambling Guide to New York City, read by the author; Emily Croy Barker’s The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, read by Alyssa Bresnahan; Francis Knight’s Fade to Black, read by Paul Thornley; Six Heirs: The Secret of Ji by Pierre Grimbert, read by Michael Page; The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon, read by Alana Kerr; and Lost Cantos of the Orobouros Caves by Maggie Schein, read by Janis Ian for Skyboat Productions. Science Fiction: Three by Jay Posey, read by Luke Daniels; The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian, read by Emily Woo Zeller; and Bullettime by Nick Mamatas. Other Fiction: Night Film by Marissa Pessl, read by Jake Weber for Random House Audio; and The Returned by Jason Mott.