9 Science Fiction and Fantasy Audiobooks by Women of Color You Must Hear

Making the Internet rounds yesterday was a new list from Buzzfeed of 19 Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels by Women of Color You Must Read and as headline-bait listicles go it’s actually pretty good. (Of course one may quibble, but those that I have read that are on this list are fantastic books.) Here’s an audiobibliophile tour of the list:

9 ARE IN AUDIO:

Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, read by Lynne Thigpen for Recorded Books — One of the absolute all-time best books and audiobooks I’ve ever encountered. “God is change. That is the central truth of the Earthseed movement, whose unlikely prophet is 18-year-old Lauren Olamina. The young woman’s diary entries tell the story of her life amid a violent 21st-century hell of walled neighborhoods and drug-crazed pyromaniacs – and reveal her evolving Earthseed philosophy. Against a backdrop of horror emerges a message of hope: if we are willing to embrace divine change, we will survive to fulfill our destiny among the stars.” Get: [Audible]

Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince, read by Rebecca Mozo and Lincoln Hoppe for Scholastic Audio — “A heart-stopping story of love, death, technology, and art set amid the tropics of a futuristic Brazil. The lush city of Palmares Tres shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him (including June’s best friend, Gil). But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist.” This is one I haven’t (yet!) listened to, but the sample makes me look forward to completing my pledge of listening to the titles on this list I haven’t gotten to yet. Get: [Audible | Downpour | OverDrive | Hoopla]

Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death, read by Anne Flosnick for Brilliance Audio — I’ve listened to this World Fantasy Award winner in full, and it’s an utterly fantastic audiobook. And I’m not the only one by any means who thinks so– The Guilded Earlobe had it as honorable mention #1 in his best of 2011 — not in the list proper only because the audiobook was published in 2010. “In a far future, post-nuclear-holocaust Africa, genocide plagues one region. The aggressors, the Nuru, have decided to follow the Great Book and exterminate the Okeke. But when the only surviving member of a slain Okeke village is brutally raped, she manages to escape, wandering farther into the desert. She gives birth to a baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand and instinctively knows that her daughter is different.” In my own review, I said: “This book is a journey, and it is at times an intentionally uncomfortable one. … It is a book which is quite present, and is highly recommended to readers with an interest in something beyond the beaten path, whether coming from an interest in fantasy or more mainstream fiction, and the willingness to travel on unfamiliar and rocky ground.” Get: [Audible | OverDrive |  IndieBound]

Malinda Lo’s Ash, read by the author for Audible Studios — a YA title retelling of Cinderella: “In the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.” This is one I haven’t listened to, and glancing around at reviews and listening to samples the author’s narration may leave a little to be desired for some listeners, but it’s still a clear recording and I’m not dreading the full listen. Get: [Audible]

Tananarive Due’s Joplin’s Ghost, read by Lizan Mitchell for Recorded Books — “In Joplin’s Ghost, 24-year-old R&B phenomenon Phoenix Smalls is on the cusp of fame and fortune. But she is haunted by the spirit of Jazz legend Scott Joplin. After a series of sultry, erotic encounters with the ghost, and with the pressures of stardom closing in on her, Phoenix begins to fear for her life and career.” Another one I haven’t listened to yet, but the sample sounds engaging and well cast. Get: [Audible]

Mary Anne Mohanraj’s The Stars Change, read by Sasha Dunbrooke for Audible — “On the brink of interstellar war, life (and sex) continues. Humans, aliens, and modified humans gather at the University of All Worlds in search of knowledge…and self-knowledge…but the first bomb has fallen and the fate of this multicultural, multispecies mecca is in question. A thought-provoking work on sexuality and the connections between people – whether male or female, human or alien – The Stars Change is part space opera, part literary mosaic of story, poem, and art. The Stars Change: an erotic science fiction novel-in-stories.” And another one I haven’t listened to yet, with a sample that definitely leaves me eager to get to this one soon. Get: [Audible] [Also, a fairly inexpensive Kindle plus Whisperscync upgrade title at $5.38+$1.99.]

The Antelope Wife | Louise Erdrich 

Louise Erdrich’s The Antelope Wife, read by the author for HarperAudio — Unfortunately for Audible customers this 1998 NY Times Notable Book and 1999 World Fantasy Award Winner is both an abridged recording (though I don’t think by much at 6.5 hours for 250 pages) and a quite poor one. Underneath the static and other technical issues, the narration seems engaging, but unfortunately it’s hard to make it out. I may try to track down a cassette tape edition, but this — what appears to be a really, really bad digital transfer from cassette to Audible — is a pity. On the plus side, the Downpour edition is of a much higher quality, apparently sourced from a 2012 resampling, allowing the narration, evocative of Janis Ian’s voice work, to come through. As the available Overdrive edition has this same quality, hopefully Audible can update their catalog with this (much) cleaner recording soon. “The author of Love Medicine brings an unforgettable novel about the irrevocable patterns set in motion by certain fateful acts. A soldier deserts the cavalry during a cruel raid on an Ojibwa village to chase a dog bearing on its back a baby on a cradle board strung with breathtaking blue beads. Generations later, a fast-talking trader kidnaps a silent and graceful woman from a powwow. In a haunting recreation of a native tale, the woman is part antelope – hunter and hunted change identities and nothing is ever the same for those involved.” Get: [Audible | Downpour | OverDrive]

Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria, read by Josh Hurley for Audible — A wonderful, literate, creative book of a fantastic sojourn that I’ve been so happy to see recognized with awards and praise over the past year. The audiobook made my honorable mentions list last year, and you should definitely put it somewhere near the top of your to-listen list — that is, of course, if World Fantasy Award winning debut fantasy novels are your bag. (Hint: they are totally my bag.) “When reading and writing are the most important things in the world. Jevick, the pepper merchant’s son, has been raised on stories of Olondria, a distant land where books are as common as they are rare in his home – but which his mother calls the Ghost Country. When his father dies and Jevick takes his place on the yearly selling trip to Olondria, Jevick’s life is as close to perfect as he can imagine. Just as he revels in Olondria’s Rabelaisian Feast of Birds, he is pulled drastically off course and becomes haunted by the ghost of an illiterate young girl.” Get: [Audible]

Karen Lord’s A Redemption in Indigo, read by Robin Miles for Recorded Books — I’m just going to quote from my own review of this one from 2011: “Redemption in Indigo is a short listen at a shade under six and a half hours, and it’s well worth discovering. The overall arc of the story comes under the frame of a storyteller relating the events, complete with asides (such as “we’ll learn more about this later”) and informalities (such as “let us skip forward through time a bit so as to miss the boring parts”) and footnotes and digressions. The story comes across in a playful, light way, the way of an elder telling a favorite story around a village campfire. This is a wonderful change of pace not just from the battlefields and seriousness of much of the rest of fantasy these days, but also in its leisurely pace, delighting on simple surroundings imbued with the mythological references which have been passed down through the generations. As a work of oral storytelling goes, this one’s a keeper, and I’m glad I was able to enjoy it in this format.” I’ve had the chance to hear Lord read from this herself a couple of times, and even had the chance to talk with her at more length about her Caribbean sensibilities in her speculative fiction. Another wonderful audiobook from this list. Get: [Audible | Downpour]

10 ARE NOT (YET?) IN AUDIO:

Kathleen Alcala’s Spirits of the Ordinary: A Tale of Casas Grandes — “This “strong and finely rendered book” (Larry McMurtry) takes us to the Mexican-american border in the 1870s, conjuring up a magical tale of faith, gold, and family passions that “echoes the style of Isabel Allende and Laura Esquivel” (Washington Post Book World). Winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Award.”

Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl — “the mesmerizing tale of an ageless female character who shifts shape and form through time and place. Told in the beguiling voice of a narrator who is fish, snake, girl, and woman – all of whom must struggle against adversity for survival – the novel is set alternately in nineteenth-century China and in a futuristic Pacific Northwest.”

Sherri L Smith’s Orleans — “After a string of devastating hurricanes and a severe outbreak of Delta Fever, the Gulf Coast has been quarantined. Years later, residents of the Outer States are under the assumption that life in the Delta is all but extinct…but in reality, a new primitive society has been born.”

Sabrina Vourvoulias’s Ink — “What happens when rhetoric about immigrants escalates to an institutionalized population control system? The near-future, dark speculative novel INK opens as a biometric tattoo is approved for use to mark temporary workers, permanent residents and citizens with recent immigration history – collectively known as inks.”

Ana Castillo’s So Far from God — “Sofia and her fated daughters, Fe, Esperanza, Caridad, and la Loca, endure hardship and enjoy love in the sleepy New Mexico hamlet of Tome, a town teeming with marvels where the comic and the horrific, the real and the supernatural, reside.”

Daina Chaviano’s The Island of Eternal Love — “Alone in a city that haunts her, far from her family, her history, and the island she left behind, Cecelia seeks refuge in a bar in Little Havana where a mysterious old woman’s fascinating tale keeps Cecelia returning night after night. Her powerful story of long-vanished epochs weaves the saga of three families from far-flung pieces of the world whose connection forms the kind of family that Cecelia has long been missing-one cast from legendary, unbreakable love. As Cecelia falls under the story’s heady sway, she discovers the source of the visions that plague her, and a link to the past she cannot shake.”

Jewelle Gomez’s The Gilda Stories — “an elegant, sensual, and natural vampire fantasy. Time-traveling from Southern slavery in 1850 to environmental devastation 200 years later, Gilda is the quintessential outsider seeking community. Jewelle Gomez combines a natural flair for storyteller with an ability to weave tapestries of personality that grab the mind’s imagination and won’t let go. A memorable story, deftly told.” — Midwest Book Review

Leslie Marmon Silko’s The Almanac of the Dead: A Novel — “A tour de force examination of the historical conflict between Native and Anglo Americans by critically acclaimed author Leslie Marmon Silko, under the hot desert sun of the American Southwest.”

Nalo Hopkinson’s The Salt Roads — “Hopkinson’s time-traveling, genre-spanning novel weaves a common thread of spiritualism and hope through three intertwined stories of women possessed by Ezili, the goddess of love, as she inspires, inhabits, and guides them through trying personal and historical moments. Jeanne Duval is a talented entertainer suffering from the ravages of a sexually transmitted disease; Mer is a slave and talented doctor who bears witness as Saint Domingue throws off the yoke of colonial rule in the early nineteenth century; and Meritet is a woman of the night who finds religion her own way. Though the three are separated by many miles and centuries, a powerful bond draws them together.” Note: Several of Hopkinson’s books are in audio, including Midnight Robber (read by Robin Miles), Brown Girl in the Ring (read by Peter Jay Fernandez), The New Moon’s Arms (read by Gin Hammond), and most recently Sister Mine, read by Robin Miles for Dreamscape.

Sangu Mandanna’s The Lost Girl — “Eva’s life is not her own. She is a creation, an abomination – an echo. Made by the Weavers as a copy of someone else, she is expected to replace a girl named Amarra, her ‘other’, if she ever died. Eva studies what Amarra does, what she eats, what it’s like to kiss her boyfriend, Ray. So when Amarra is killed in a car crash, Eva should be ready.”

And, c’mon, this is just a subset, of course. N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms or Helen Oyeyemi’s Mr Fox (in audio) or Andrea Hairston’s Mindscape or Hiromi Goto’s Half World (not in audio) could easily be books 20 through 23 of a long and lengthening (Miyuki Miyabe’s Apparitions: Ghosts of Old Edo was first published in English in 2013, Noriko Ogiwara’s Dragon Sword and Wind Child and Sayuri Ueda’s The Cage of Zeus in 2011, Ytasha L. Womack’s Rayla 2212 in May (in audio in October), Jacqueline Koyanagi’s Ascension, and Jenn Brissett’s Elysium has literally just dropped) list. (We could add another dozen of Butler’s books, for starters, as well: KindredFledgling, on and on… Or L.A. Banks, whose Minion and The Awakening are in audio. Or, hey, for starters, just check out the Carl Brandon Society’s Parallax Award winners and nominees.) But for here, for now, this is the list that Buzzfeed’s Anjali Patel has sent out into the world, and we can just go ahead and get listening.

[And if you’re here and somehow new to audiobooks, among the many ways to get started are: you can try Audible with a free audiobook or get your first 3 months at Audible for $7.49/month; try a free 30-day trial at audiobook streaming service Audiobooks.com; or sign up for a $12.99 monthly membership at DRM-free Downpour.com. Or! Head to your local library, whose digital collection you can probably sample at OverDrive.]

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5 Responses to 9 Science Fiction and Fantasy Audiobooks by Women of Color You Must Hear

  1. Adding a plug for Delia Sherman’s THE FREEDOM MAZE – the author is not WoC (as far as we know; she was adopted!), but the book is READ by the amazing actress & narrator Robin Miles, who is, and takes on roles both black & white with aplomb & subtlety.

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  3. Pingback: 2014 Recommended Reading, Retrospectives, and Notes | Michael Matheson | A Dark and Terrible Beauty

  4. montsamu says:

    As a progress report, I’ve just finished The Antelope Wife, and earlier this year listened to The Summer Prince. I’ve got “Joplin’s Ghost” on request from the library, so that’s likely up next.

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