Well, it’s (past) that time of year again: time for Dave and I to look back on a year in listening. We laughed, we cried, we cheered, we jeered, we stayed up well into the night for these audiobooks. It seems like every year calls for a slight wrinkle in presentation, but this year it’s a familiar one: our audiobooks of the year, runners up in both new audiobooks of new books and new audiobooks of previously published books, and our favorite “new to us” listens of the year. (And, mostly because it helps give me closure on the year in listening, some mention of those books we wish we had been able to get to in 2014.) But enough preamble! On to…
AUDIOBOOK(S) OF THE YEAR:
Dave and I are unanimous on this one, and have been for months and months, since the towering opening line of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation hooked us and drew us ever deeper into the mystery of Area X: Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance) by Jeff VanderMeer, read by Carolyn McCormick, Bronson Pinchot, and Xe Sands for Blackstone Audio. From McCormick’s turn on the first-person journal account of “the biologist” on a doomed expedition into the unknown in Annihilation, to the surreal absurdity of spooks and scientists through the voice of Pinchot as “Control” in Authority, to the moving performances of both Sands and Pinchot in Acceptance, the answers and unanswered and the unanswerable all coming together. Dave’s reviews: Annihilation; Sam’s reviews: Annihlation, Authority, and Acceptance.
RUNNERS UP, BEST NEW AUDIOBOOK OF A NEW BOOK:
While we both dug Lock In (I listened to Wil Wheaton and bits of Amber Benson; Dave listened to Amber Benson and bits of Wil Wheaton) Dave has it higher on his list, and we both loved Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword. Other than that, we diverge entirely, both in what we listened to and what we liked:
Dave’s picks: 1. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie, read by Adjoa Andoh [review: “Pretty Fucking Badass”]; 2. The Silkworm by J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith, read by Robert Glenister — follow-on to The Cuckoo’s Calling which Dave reviewed back in 2013; 3. Afterparty by Daryl Gregory, read by Tavia Gilbert [review] [Kindle]; 4. Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey, read by Erik Davies [review: “Some problems require diplomacy. Others require Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante.”]; 5. Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham, read by Kristen Bell [review: “I’m happy to say that everything I loved about watching Veronica Mars was evident in this book.”]; 6. Silverblind by Tina Connolly, read by Rosalyn Landor for Audible — Book 3 in Connolly’s Ironskin series after Copperhead which Dave reviewed last year [Kindle]; 7. Lock In by John Scalzi, read by Amber Benson and/or Wil Wheaton for Audible [Kindle]; and 8. Maplecroft by Cherie Priest, read by Johanna Parker and Roger Wayne for Tantor.
Sam’s picks: 1. Tigerman by Nick Harkaway, read by Matt Bates for Whole Story Audio — a fantastic audiobook that manages to be both fun and moving, of a British veteran of Afghanistan as acting consulate of a tiny Pacific island experiencing slow environmental catastrophe; 2. Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle, read by the author — short, disturbing, spiraling fiction that has permanently unsettled me [review] [Audible | Kindle]; 3. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, read by Kyle McCarley for Tantor — refreshingly wonderful fantasy with goblins and elves and airships and politics and language and (rare but when it happens, wow!) magic [Kindle]; 4. The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, read by Josh Cohen — a British pastor joins a private expedition to an alien world as missionary (by request) to the aliens while his wife remains on an Earth in collapse, featuring award-worthy voice work by Cohen for the fleshy sound of alien speech; 5. On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee, read by B.D. Wong for Penguin Audio — wonderfully-voiced near-future novel of a Chinese-resettled rusted-out Baltimore and a truly fantastic heroine’s journey through its quasi-dystopian surrounds; 6. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North, read by Peter Kenny for Hachette Audio — a book that to me stands in earnest conversation with Kate Atkinson’s lovely Life After Life; 7. My Real Children by Jo Walton, read by Alison Larkin for Audible — I liked Walton’s latest, concerning aging and love and caretaking even more than I did her previous, Among Others, and that made my best of the year list as well [Kindle]; 8. The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley, read by Liza Ross for Audible — a giant pile of ideagasm awesomeness with sentient trees, acid magic, multiple worlds, a quasi-samurai-Jedi class, pacifists vs. huge body counts, and more to come [Kindle]; 9. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie, read by Adjoa Andoh — even better and tighter than “all the awards” winning Ancillary Justice and I can’t wait for the conclusion; 10. World of Trouble by Ben Winters, read by Peter Berkrot for Brilliance Audio — Berkrot is Detective Hank Palace as much as any narrator has ever been a character in this story of imminent asteroid destruction set mostly in and across the small towns of Ohio as Palace tries to find his sister before The End [review]; 11. The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman, read by Mark Bramhall for Penguin Audio — “while I’m sad to see this series end, if this is all we ever see of Fillory, we sure got an awful lot” [review]; and 12. The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne, read by Dioni Collins and Nazneen Contractor for Random House — a powerful near/medium future debut of Africa-meets-India and aftermaths of personal and geopolitical tragedies [Audible]. Honorable mentions, science fiction: The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu, read by Luke Daniels for Macmillan Audio — on which I spent not one but two Downpour.com credits and felt it well worth it; Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor, read by Adjoa Andoh and Ben Onwukwe for Hodder & Stoughton — aliens in Lagos, a counterpoint to District 9 in many ways; Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, read by Kirsten Potter for Random House — a traveling Shakespearean troop in a post-apocalyptic North America, and their pre-apocalyptic backstories; The Peripheral by William Gibson, read by Lorelei King for Penguin Audio — if the future is this strange, and it probably will be, we’re all in a lot of trouble and may as well look forward to living in semi-abandoned Airstream trailers while scraping by at the local metastasized/weaponized Wal-Mart while insanely rich oligarchs from the future use us as a playground; Lock In by John Scalzi, read by Wil Wheaton and/or Amber Benson for Audible — combining themes of handicap access, remote robotics, whodunnit technothriller, and gender identity in a cracking yarn; and The Chaplain’s War by Brad Torgersen, read by George Newbern — cyborg mantis aliens and the human chaplain’s assistant who searches for faith among the stars. Honorable mentions, fantasy: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes, read by Christine Lakin, Terra Deva, Sunil Mohatra, Robert Morgan Fisher, and J. D. Jackson for Hachette Audio [Audible]; Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer, read by Luke Daniels for Brilliance Audio; Frostborn by Lou Anders, read by Fabio Tassone for Random House Audio; and Ghost Train to New Orleans by Mur Lafferty, read by the author for Hachette Audio. Honorable mentions, other fiction: The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson, read by Peter Francis James for Penguin Audio — a fictionalized retelling of an early major NAACP case involving a lynch mob attack on a black GI returning from WW2; The Bees by Laline Paull, read by Orlagh Cassidy for HarperCollins — whether you read this as excellent sf world-building or as anthropomorphized bees, Flora’s story is epic and (at least vaguely) scientifically accurate in its use of chemical codes and dances [Audible]; Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami, read by Bruce Locke; Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West, read by Jonathan Frakes — the “moustache song” alone makes this one of the funnier audiobooks of the year; Homeland by Cory Doctorow, read by Wil Wheaton; Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, read by Susan Bennett and Carra Patterson for Recorded Books; and Girls of the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine, read by Susie Berneis for Dreamscape Media. Honorable mentions, non-fiction: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore, read by the author for Random House; What If? by Randall Munroe, read by Wil Wheaton for Blackstone Audio; and The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer, read by the author for Hachette Audio. Honorable mentions, young readers: The Forbidden Library by Haruki Murakami; Emma and the Blue Genie by Cornelia Funke; Space Taxi: Water Planet Rescue by Wendy Mass and Michael Brawer, read by Eason Rytter; and Digory the Dragon Slayer by Angela McAllister (which is a bit of a cheat in this category as Bloomsbury USA published the book in 2006, but I don’t have an honorable mentions list below, so…).
Sam’s Special Award: Andy Weir’s The Martian was first self-published in late 2012 to tens of thosuands of very happy readers, and R.C. Bray’s narration for Podium Publishing in 2013 was so good that it made many year’s best lists last year. Still, Podium went so far as to have Bray record a new narration to accompany the updated text in the February 2014 hardcover release by Crown and, again, it’s simply fantastic, a near one-of-a-kind book that spawns many, many requests for “similar” books and audiobooks, not to mention taking home this year’s Goodreads Science Fiction award. “Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.” At turns funny (“I’m fucked!”) and dry — and I don’t just mean the Martian dust, I mean the calculations of air and calories and distances and on and on, as much as I personally enjoyed them — the book takes the form (primarily) of a series of Watney’s log entries as he attempts to survive, with interstitial scenes set on Earth as they realize they have left a man behind. Bray is Watney on such a deep level that seeing Matt Damon portray him in the upcoming film edition will be weird; he’s got a high bar to meet. Still, it’s a hard book to categorize across a few axes. Is it science fiction? (Yes, obviously, I mean c’mon people.) Is it a “new” book? (It’s clearly a new audiobook but this is a different much more pedantic question.) That one’s more muddy. The original text from 2012 was cleaned up and the ending re-wrinkled for the 2014 republication. A close reading of the Nebula rules (“A novel re-issued in expanded or modified form shall not be eligible unless previously withdrawn in accordance with the rules.”) is clearly on one side, while I don’t see anything directly referencing this kind of situation in the Hugo rules. (Which if last year’s nomination of the Wheel of Time series as a whole illustrates, anything not expressly forbidden is likely permissible.)
BEST NEW AUDIOBOOK OF A PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED BOOK:
Again, some intersection (Motherless Brooklyn finally unabridged!) but mostly divergent listening for Dave and I this year.
Dave: 1. A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham, read by Neil Shah for Tantor — Tantor published the entire Long Price Quartet in late 2014, and Dave actually ranked this first installment 3rd on his overall list of the year [Hoopla]; 2. Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem, read by Geoffrey Cantor for HarperCollins — “without a doubt worth the wait” [review] [Audible]; and 3. the all-star cast production of R.A. Salvatore’s The Legend of Drizzt collection, which “deserves to be somewhere on the list because that was just wild”.
Sam: 1. Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem, read by Geoffrey Cantor for HarperCollins — while Steve Buscemi’s abridged performance remains one for the ages, Cantor was fantastic, absolutely fantastic in bringing “Freakshow” to life in unabridged audio [Audible]; 2. All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld, read by Cat Gould for Blackstone Audio; 3. Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler, read by Janina Edwards for Audible — fantastic fiction and a few short essays that even further cement my opinion that Butler was the best sf writer of all time; 4. Stories of Your Life, and Others by Ted Chiang, read by Todd McLaren and Abby Craden for Tantor Audio — Chiang’s 2002 collection is filled to the brim with jaw-droppers [Audible]; 5. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, translated by Gregory Rabassa, read by John Lee for Blackstone Audio; 6. Dawn by Octavia E. Butler, read by Aldrich Barrett for Audible — what couldn’t Butler do? an Earth near (human) extinction, first contact with aliens, and social sf galore to boot [Kindle]; 7. The Kingmakers by Clay and Susan Griffith, read by James Marsters for Buzzy Multimedia — the concluding book three of the Vampire Empire trilogy, combining elements of alternate history, Steampunk, vampires, and fantasy, which Marsters (“Spike” from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) has been amazing on throughout [Audible]; and 8. Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente, read by Julia Whelan for Dreamscape — a Wild West retelling of “Snow White” as only Valente could have done it [Audible]. Late additions: As I’ve somehow signed up to this year’s Armchair Audies for the Science Fiction category, during the writing of this post I got to nominees Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (narrated by and The Beam: Season 1 by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant (narrated by Johnny Heller, Tara Sands, Ralph Lister, Ray Chase, R. C. Bray, Jeffrey Kafer, Chris Patton, Eric Martin, Brian Holsopple, Rachel Fulginiti, Stephen Bowlby, and Emily Woo Zeller for Podium Publishing, an outstanding multi-narrator production combining elements of dystopian and post-apocalyptic sf, mystery, and thriller ideas).
Sam’s Special Award: In addition to his superb narrations of Lewis Shiner’s Frontera (with Gabrielle de Cuir) and Manly Wade Wellman’s The Old Gods Waken — which could easily slot in at #4 or #5 in my list above — Stefan Rudnicki also read (among others I couldn’t get to in 2014) Robert Silverberg’s Nightwings, Robert W. Chambers The Maker of Moons, Joe R. Lansdale’s Deadman’s Road, Fredric Brown, on and on. And if early 2015 is any indication there’s plenty more where that came from, with backlist audiobooks from Ben Bova, Gregory Benford, Kim Stanley Robinson, Barry Malzberg, and more. (Dare we hope for more of Shiner’s and Wellman’s books?)
FAVORITE LISTENS FROM “NEW TO US” AUDIOBOOKS:
Sam: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, read by Jonathan Davis for Penguin Audio — I spent too long trying to track down the UK release with a different narrator, when, my goodness, Davis is fantastic on this fantastic book; A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, read by the author for Penguin Audio — another in a long and growing line of “tip of the hat” nods to The Kitschies for putting this book on my radar; Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey, read by MacLeod Andrews for Brilliance Audio; Kafka on the Shore and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami — I didn’t like either quite as well as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle but they slot in nicely near the top of Murakami’s fiction for me; A Calculated Life by Anne Charnock, read by Susan Duerden for Brilliance Audio — fantastic near/medium future sf that would certainly have made my lists last year; The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, read by David Pittu — love it or hate it or “meh” it, I found the audiobook of this award-winning novel fantastic throughout; The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon, read by Peter Riegert — I spent too many years waiting for a digital audio edition and so just tracked down a used CD box set of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s genre-border-smashing alternate history novel which won the Nebula, Locus, Hugo, and Sidewise awards; Z: A novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler, read by Jenna Lamia — wonderful historical storytelling, mixing in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life and writing (of corse) with Zelda’s own, with Ernest Hemingway and on and on; We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, read by Bernadette Dunne — shiver-worthy neo-gothic horror; The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, read by multiple narrators — a parallel novel to Oryx and Crake, complete with an original musical score of future Gardener “hymns”; and When Women Were Warriors Book I: The Warrior’s Path by Catherine M. Wilson, read by Janis Ian for Dog Ear Audio — a Bronze Age Britain-set story that Ian narrated poignantly and beautifully.
WHAT WE MISSED:
Neither Dave nor I have any doubt that if we’d gotten to Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Stairs that we’d have in in our top picks of the year. We’re both huge fans, and it’s somewhat inexplicable that neither of us listened to it in 2014. Also inexplicable is that, after waiting for years for a US release, neither of us got to Gildart Jackson’s narrations of China Mieville’s The Scar and Iron Council.
Dave: I also missed the last books in Daniel Abraham’s “Dagger and the Coin” and “Long Price Quartet” series (I suspect I’ll be doing those early next year as part of a post-PodCastle recovery), the new Daryl Gregory novella We Are All Completely Fine, and the new editions of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes.
Sam: Cribbing from Dave’s best of the year list, I’m definitely kicking myself for not making time to get to Cherie Priest’s Maplecroft or Daryl Gregory’s Afterparty, and cribbing from his “missed” list, the (now) Nebula-nominated We Are All Completely Fine. And 2014 brought so many more new Octavia Butler audiobooks that I haven’t (yet) gotten to them all. I also can scarcely believe I didn’t get to the conclusion of Tad Williams’ “Bobby Dollar” series, Sleeping Late on Judgement Day, along with the (finally!) release of the first two Otherland books in audio. Looking at The Guilded Earlobe’s Top 10 and Audies Prediction lists (is this where I admit to still not yet getting to Marcus Sakey’s Brilliance yet?) I hope to find time for Daniel Price’s Flight of the Silvers, Jonathan Maberry’s Code Zero, Sarah Lotz’s The Three, Josh Malerman’s Bird Box, M.R. Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts, Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes, and The Lesser Dead by Christopher Buehlman. (I still haven’t got through The Way of Kings so it seems poor form to yet bemoan not getting to Words of Radiance, and I’m so far behind in F. Paul Wilson’s “Repairman Jack” and John Connolly’s “Charlie Parker” series that Fear City and The Wolf in Winter are likely years away.)
Speaking of The Audies, eventually I have to get to Richard Armitage’s performance of Hartley and Hewson’s Hamlet: Prince of Denmark (which also won Audible’s Audiobook of the Year); Fantasy nominees The Emperor’s Blades, Hawk, and Queen of the Tearling; and plenty more. Other titles (culled from many of the same sources I referenced in the most missing audiobooks of 2014 roundup) I’m fairly sure could have figured into my favorites this year: The Bone Clocks, Will Wiles’ The Way Inn, Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle, Adrianne Harun’s A Man Came out of a Door in the Mountain, Den Patrick’s The Boy with the Porcelain Blade, Mary Rickert’s The Memory Garden, Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades, Jane Lindskold’s Artemis Awakening, Nick Cutter’s The Troop, Paul Park’s All Those Vanished Engines, Chaz Brenchley’s Bitter Waters, Lauren Oliver’s Rooms, Porochista Khakpour’s The Last Illusion, Erin Healy’s Motherless, Jacob Cooper’s Circle of Reign read by Michael Kramer, J.M. Hayes’ The Spirit and the Skull, Will Wiles’ The Way Inn, Grady Hendrix’ Horrorstör, David Shafer’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Pierce Brown’s Red Rising, Mark Smylie’s The Barrow, Stephen King’s Revival, Ben Lerner’s 10:04, Howard Jacobson’s J, Richard Powers’ Orfeo, Graham Joyce’s The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit, Wendy Webb’s The Vanishing, The Blazing World: A Novel by Siri Hustvedt, Darin Bradley’s Chimpanzee, Forrest Aguirre’s Heraclix and Pomp, Chris Bohjalian’s Close Your Eyes Hold Hands, Garth Stein’s A Sudden Light, Alena Graedon’s The Word Exchange, Karen Russell’s Sleep Donation, Mike Allen’s The Black Fire Concerto, Hilary Mantel’s The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: Stories, C. Robert Cargill’s Queen of the Dark Things, Elizabeth Bear’s Steles of the Sky, Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Causal Angel, Peter Watts’ Echopraxia, Mike Underwood’s The Younger Gods and Shield and Crocus, Robin Hobb’s The Fool’s Assassin, A.S. King’s Glory O’Brien and the History of the Future, Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Doubt Factory, Kate Milford’s Greenglass House, Alexa Duncan’s Salvage, Gwenda Bond’s Girl on a Wire, Shae Ford’s fantasy trilogy from Podium, and so many anthologies including GRRM and Dozois’ Dangerous Women, Marquitz and Sharps’ Kaiju Rising and Rick Wilber’s Field of Fantasies.
And just too much fiction to list but I’ll start with Redeployment by Phil Klay which won the National Book Award, and Falling from Horses by Molly Gloss (any book Karen Joy Fowler recommends this highly I’ve got to get to before too long) and add Ishmael Beah’s Radiance of Tomorrow and Dave Egger’s Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? and Lily King’s Euphoria and Rabih Alameddine’s An Unccessary Woman and Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See and Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You and David Nicholls’ Us and Tiphanie Yanique’s Land of Love and Drowning and Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings and Roxanne Gay’s An Untamed State and… And plenty of non-fiction, too: Alan Cumming’s memoir Not My Father’s Son, Neil Patrick Harris’ Choose Your Own Autobiography, and (most of all) As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride.
And! So many new audiobooks of previously published books: J.M. Ledgard’s Submergence, Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw, The Revolutions by Felix Gilman, Maureen McHugh’s After the Apocalypse, Michael Rowe’s Wild Fell, Daniel Jose Older’s Salsa Nocturna, Geoff Ryman’s The Warrior Who Carried Life, Lisa Shearin’s The Grendel Files, Janis Iain’s Stars anthology, Kushner’s The Swords of Riverside omnibus, Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux, Glen Hirshberg’s Motherless Child, John Shirley’s Everything is Broken as well as his “A Song Called Youth” trilogy, Ekaterina Sedia’s Heart of Iron, James Daniel Ross’ The Last Dragoon, the Ursula Le Guin collections, Rudy Rucker’s Software, Aliette de Bodard’s Obsidian and Blood trilogy, several of Lavie Tidhar’s novellas, more backlist David Drake than I can list but I’ll start with Into the Hinterlands and Northworld, and on and on and on. And on.
Well! That’s our take. What’s yours?