STAFF PICK: The Passengers by John Marrs

Title: The Passengers
Author: John Marrs
Narrator: Clare Corbett, Roy McMillan, Tom Bateman

Modern life is so strange.  I have an amazing phone app from my grocery store that, based on my past purchases sends me discounts, and seems to know when I’ve run out of shower gel, laundry soap, and cookies. Very, very creepy, but very, very convenient. Can you even imagine life now without phone apps, online DNA tests, or driverless transit systems like London Thameslink or Vancouver’s skytrain?

Many people are frightened of the growth of AI, which has lead to a growth in the popularity of dystopian literature, TV, and film, including shows and movies like Black Mirror, Ex Machina, and novels such as The Test.  I feel that there is nothing scarier (and more entertaining) than listening or reading something that you can actually imagine happening. I don’t generally find horror books scary, but a horror or thriller, set in modern times, involving normal day to day things? Nothing scarier.

The Passengers is such an all-encompassing, terrifying read. This listen is set in a society – not far from our own – where self-driving cars are now the norm. Considered to be safe, self-driving cars are used by everyone without issues.

One evening, eight people:  a faded TV star, a pregnant young woman, an abused wife fleeing her husband, an immigrant, a husband and wife, and a suicidal man, are traveling in their self-driving cars as usual. Suddenly, the doors lock, the destination changes, and all manual controls are disabled. Then a voice speaks, “You are going to die.”

From hidden cameras in their cars, their panic is broadcast to millions of people around the world. This situation is now a reality show with a twist. The public gets to choose which of the eight to save, which means killing the remaining seven….

What I love most about this listen is the way in which you feel like you are in the audience of the reality show.  During the book, the “voice” gives us more information about the eight people. Because of this information, the perception of the public changes, and suddenly the people who seem like they should stay alive become less deserving once we hear more about them. I started actually thinking about who I would kill first, and changed my mind over and over about who I felt should be saved. Much like Marrs’ other books, there are plenty of twists and turns that keep you listening and guessing right up until the end.

The audio production for this book is amazing. There’s a number of awesome narrators, and a barrage of sound effects, which adds to the idea that you’re listening to a reality show that’s happening live. It really adds to the drama of the situation.

If you’re a fan of writers such as J.G Ballard, or TV shows like Black Mirror, this is very much the listen for you! I’m now binge listening to the rest of John Marrs’ back catalog, and keeping away from all robots… 😉

Publisher Summary:
You’re riding in your self-driving car when suddenly the doors lock, the route changes and you have lost all control. Then, a mysterious voice tells you, “You are going to die.”

Just as self-driving cars become the trusted, safer norm, eight people find themselves in this terrifying situation, including a faded TV star, a pregnant young woman, an abused wife fleeing her husband, an illegal immigrant, a husband and wife, and a suicidal man.

From cameras hidden in their cars, their panic is broadcast to millions of people around the world. But the public will show their true colors when they are asked, ‘Which of these people should we save?…And who should we kill first?’

Read more and sample the audio →

New to Get your first book free, PLUS a bonus book from our VIP selection when you sign up for our one-month free trial. Digital audiobooks make audible stories come to life when you’re commuting, working out, cleaning, cooking, and more! Listening is easy with our top-rated free audiobook apps for iOS and Android, which let you download & listen to bestselling audiobooks on the go, wherever you are. Click here to get your free audiobooks!

If You Loved ‘Black Mirror,’ You’ll Love These Books

Are you as obsessed with Black Mirror as I am? There’s something so fascinating about seeing what could happen in our not-so-distant future – especially when technology takes a dark turn. Maybe it’s morbid curiosity or just simply self-preservation. Either way, if you binge-watched the latest season way too quickly like I did and you’re looking to fill that void, these audiobooks will do just that!

From virtual reality utopias to artificial intelligence, each one of these reads could easily find its place in a season of Black Mirror. Click here to check out our full ‘For Fans of Black Mirror’ book list.

The Test by Sylvain Neuvel, narrated by Neil Shah

The Test starts out with the seemingly normal story of Idir, a new immigrant, arriving to take the British Citizenship test so that he and his family can call Britain home. Things take an extremely unexpected turn, which rockets Idir into a situation where the choices he makes could change his entire life and potentially the lives of others.

Without giving too much away, The Test echoes the “Black Mirror vibe” with its use of tech coupled with government control. We’ve likened it to Black Mirrors “Fifteen Million Merits,” since both explore how far someone is willing to go for those who they love and in hopes of a new life.

Read more and sample the audio →

The Farm by Joanne Ramos, narrated by Fran De Leon

Can you really put a price on what a life is worth? In Joanne Ramos’, The Farm, it turns out, you can. At The Farm, you get paid a pretty penny, but for nine months you’re cut off from your normal life, so that you can produce the perfect baby. This is where Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, ends up – desperate to turn her life around.

With a synopsis like this, it’s hard not to think that this story comes right from the Black Mirror universe. In the episode “Playtest” we follow Cooper who is looking to make some extra cash, but is placed in an extreme situation that turns ugly. Again, both “Playtest” and The Farm hearken back to the idea of how far people will go for money and in pursuit of a better future.

Read more and sample the audio →

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, narrated by Wil Wheaton

Although already adapted into a major motion picture, directed by Spielberg no less, Ready Player One is something right out of an episode of Black Mirror. In a dystopian future there is a virtual reality program called the OASIS, where most people go all day to escape reality. It is there that Wade Watts’ story unfolds and he gets a little more than he bargained for.

While it’s not exactly the same fast-paced tale of good vs. evil, Black Mirrors “San Junipero,” has obvious similarities. In this episode there is a virtual reality world called San Junipero that is based on nostalgia where the elderly can visit freely and can remain after they die. In this world, the people are able to do things that they wouldn’t normally be able to do in real life, mirroring Ready Player Ones OASIS.

Read more and sample the audio →

The Circle by Dave Eggers, narrated by Dion Graham

The Circle, now a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson, tells the story of Mae who gets hired at a hugely influential company, which is on the cutting edge of technology. The social media accounts that are associated with said company eventually evolve into something that toys with the notion of transparency and the limits of human knowledge.

Much like The Circle, Black Mirrors “Arkangel” and “The Entire History of You” show us a world where technology has infiltrated our society and our lives, and how sometimes the best intentions may not have the best consequences in the end.

Read more and sample the audio →

The One by John Marrs, narrated by Sophie AldredClare CorbettSimon BubbJot DaviesVicki Hall

In Marrs, The One, we are dropped into a world where a company named Match Your DNA has been finding people’s soulmates for the last decade. The One zeroes in on five people who are about to be “Matched” and explores how not everyone is destined for a “happily ever after.”

In the same vein as The One, Black Mirrors “Hang the DJ” episode is set in a place called The System, where “Coach,” a Siri-like matchmaker, matches people with a series of different love interests for varying lengths of time with the end goal of finding their ultimate match. Technology meddling in people’s love lives, what could possibly go wrong? Both The One and “Hang the DJ” confront this question head on.

Read more and sample the audio →

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan, narrated by Steven Crossley

In McEwans Machines Like Me, we are presented with an alternative London, where artificial intelligence has advanced so much that the public are now able to purchase synthetic humans. We meet Charlie who has come into money and buys Adam, one of the first of these synthetic humans. After designing and programming Adam with a personality, the question of what it means to be human arises as does a love triangle that leaves Charlie in a moral dilemma.

Enter Black Mirrors “Be Right Back” where Martha loses her partner and utilizes a new technology that allows people to communicate with the deceased. Without giving away major plot points, this episode also explores where the line should be drawn when it comes to artificial intelligence and the human condition.

Read more and sample the audio →

New to Get 2 free audiobooks when you sign up for our one-month free trial. Digital audiobooks make audible stories come to life when you’re commuting, working out, cleaning, cooking, and more! Listening is easy with our top-rated free audiobook apps for iOS and Android, which let you download & listen to bestselling audiobooks on the go, wherever you are. Click here to get your free audiobooks!


Title: The Farm
Author: Joanne Ramos
Narrator: Fran De Leon

They say “Never judge a book by its cover, but the striking cover of The Farm, is what initially drew me to it. Seeing the title of the book, and the baby bumps on the front page, it reminded me of the themes in The Handmaid’s Tale (a personal favorite!). But this is not set in a dystopian future, nor under a totalitarian government – it’s set in New York state, in current times. This does not make it any less chilling – because to me, there is nothing more frightening than something that could already be happening.

If you’re a fan of Black Mirror, The Farm has a very similar vibe, and addresses cultural themes like capitalism, technology, racism, social inequality, and poverty. Like The Handmaid’s Tale, it focuses in on the women in the story, and defies conventions about motherhood, but in a more modern, and less dystopian manner.

The majority of the story is set in Golden Oaks, a sumptuous retreat in New York state, which boasts every amenity of an expensive spa: organic meals, private fitness trainers, and daily massages, and you get paid for the privilege! So what’s the catch?

If you didn’t know the purpose of Golden Oaks, you would assume it was just another getaway for the ultra-rich. However, it is anything but. Golden Oaks is surrogacy taken to the extreme – an expensive baby farm, where the ultra-rich delegate their pregnancy to a group of mostly poor, desperate, immigrant women. The babies they produce need to be perfect. And a premium is paid to the “hosts” for keeping to the rules.

The main character, Jane, is an immigrant from the Philippines and a struggling single mother. At first, she is excited to have made it through the highly competitive Host selection process at the Farm. Separated from her daughter and forced to endure a life controlled and manipulated by Farm management, Jane soon realizes her retreat at Golden Oaks is not the sweet deal she once thought it would be. Jane and the other female characters begin to discover that there is something amiss at the Farm, and that the rules cannot be broken without dire consequences for the hosts.

I truly LOVED this book. If you like a bit of politics in your literature, this is definitely for you. At no time are the characters forced to join the Farm, but their social circumstances (poverty, freedom from controlling family, etc) make them feel like they have no choice. My heart ached when Jane is separated from Amalia, and the commodification of motherhood really made me feel uneasy. I loved that all of the supporting characters are women, and come from a variety of backgrounds. Mae, the Farm’s Director, is ruthless and smart. Reagan, a “premium host”, is awkward and idealistic. Lisa is the feisty rebel who tries to overthrow the farm’s control, but mostly for her own benefit, and Ate is a strong, older Filipina woman who is a mother figure to so many of the women, Jane included.

There are a number of twists and turns throughout the novel, and it’s one of those listens that stays with you long after you finish it. Fran De Leon’s narration is amazing, and perfect for this listen. Like Joanne Ramos, De Leon lived her early years in the Philippines, and since there are many Filipina characters in the novel, her knowledge of the culture and accents make for a much more authentic listen.

Publishers Summary: 

Nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley is a luxury retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, personal fitness trainers, daily massages—and all of it for free. In fact, you’re paid big money to stay here—more than you’ve ever dreamed of. The catch? For nine months, you cannot leave the grounds, your movements are monitored, and you are cut off from your former life while you dedicate yourself to the task of producing the perfect baby. For someone else.

Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, is in desperate search of a better future when she commits to being a “Host” at Golden Oaks—or the Farm, as residents call it. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her family, Jane is determined to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she’ll receive on the delivery of her child.

Gripping, provocative, heartbreaking, The Farm pushes to the extremes our thinking on motherhood, money, and merit and raises crucial questions about the trade-offs women will make to fortify their futures and the futures of those they love.

Read more and sample the audio →

New to Get a free audiobook when you sign up for our one month free trial. Digital audiobooks make audible stories come to life when you’re commuting, working out, cleaning, cooking and more! Listening is easy with our top-rated free audiobook apps for iOS and Android, which let you download & listen to bestselling audiobooks on the go, wherever you are. Click here to get your free audiobook!