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 →

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BACKLIST BUMP: The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

Title: The Book of M
Author: Peng Shepherd
Narrators: Emily Woo ZellerJames Fouhey

Every year, twice a year, everyone and everything between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn loses their shadows. For a few brief moments, the sun shines directly overhead in that area, and everyone’s shadows shrink ever and ever smaller until they magically disappear. The shadows always return, of course, after which everyone goes about their lives. Until, one day, in a marketplace in India, a man named Hemu Joshi inexplicably loses his shadow forever.

He becomes a global sensation, strutting about without his dark companion. Doctors and scientists are baffled; news outlets are enraptured. It seems like a miracle until Hemu begins to lose his memories—and then, as the consequences of his memory loss become apparent, horror ensues. Before long, others begin to lose their shadows, forgetting themselves and their realities, collapsing the world as we know it. And so, the story begins.

In the aftermath of the Forgetting, Orlando “Ory” Zhang and his wife Max have taken refuge in the hotel they had been staying in for a wedding when the Forgetting reached the United States. When Max loses her shadow, she quietly slips away while Ory is out scavenging to spare him the pain and anguish that will inevitably follow.

The story unfolds as Ory embarks on a desperate journey across an unrecognizable United States to find Max before she forgets completely. The opening chapter is a powerful emotional hook, compelling and tender with just the right amount of exposition—by far one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of listening to.

The Book of M straddles the line between science fiction and romance, and Peng Shepherd is an expert at threading tender, human connections through a world that is wholly new, disturbing, and at times nonsensical. As the inescapable shadowless disease spreads and reality becomes unhinged, listeners are anchored by Ory and Max’s bond, which is a steadfast, comforting force that propels the story through strange and frightening terrain.

James Fouhey is a transformative narrator, bringing to life three out of four characters through whom the story is told: Ory Zhang; Mahnaz Ahmadi, an Iranian athlete training in the USA; and The One Who Gathers, a mysterious individual with a unique understanding of memory. Rounding out the cast is Emily Woo Zeller as Max, whose poignant, heartbreaking performance is an absolute standout.

Clocking in at just over 17 hours, The Book of M isn’t exactly a short listen, but Shepherd makes every second of it necessary and meaningful. With plenty of post-apocalyptic intrigue and lyrical prose, Shepherd’s stunning dystopian debut manages to be innovative and extraordinary in a genre that is inundated with repetitive stories. Capped off with an ending that will pull the rug out from under your feet, The Book of M is a novel that you’ll want to treasure in your memory for a very long time.

Publisher’s Summary:

One afternoon at an outdoor market in India, a man’s shadow disappears—an occurrence science cannot explain. He is only the first. The phenomenon spreads like a plague, and while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories.

Ory and his wife Max have escaped the Forgetting so far by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life feels almost normal, until one day Max’s shadow disappears too.

Knowing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up the time they have left together. Desperate to find Max before her memory disappears completely, he follows her trail across a perilous, unrecognizable world, braving the threat of roaming bandits, the call to a new war being waged on the ruins of the capital, and the rise of a sinister cult that worships the shadowless.

As they journey, each searches for answers: for Ory, about love, about survival, about hope; and for Max, about a new force growing in the south that may hold the cure.

Like The Passage and Station Eleven, this haunting, thought-provoking, and beautiful novel explores fundamental questions of memory, connection, and what it means to be human in a world turned upside down.

Read more and sample the audio →

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Nebula Award Finalists

The Nebulas, a prestigious science fiction award, has just announced the list of finalists for 2017, and the ballot is out of this world! Take a look at the full list of novels under consideration, with the results to be announced in May. I’ve already devoured all of them, and have no idea how they will ever decide. Give them a listen for yourself here, and feel free to leave your thoughts below!

 

Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly

“Trust no one with anything especially in Amberlough City.”

From author Lara Elena Donnelly, comes a debut spy thriller, Amberlough, where a gay double-agent schemes to protect his smuggler lover during the rise of a fascist government coup

Combining the espionage thrills of le Carré with the allure of an alternate vintage era, Amberlough will thoroughly seduce and enthrall you. Listen to a sample.

 

 

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

 

“Now it is up to the monsters to finally triumph over the monstrous.”

Based on some of literature’s horror and science fiction classics, this is the story of a remarkable group of women who come together to solve the mystery of a series of gruesome murders–and the bigger mystery of their own origins.

Listen to a sample.

 

 

Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory 

 

“Hilarious, heartfelt and brimming with humanity.” -Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, author of The Nest

Harnessing the imaginative powers that have made him a master storyteller, Daryl Gregory delivers a stunning, laugh-out-loud novel about a family of gifted dreamers and the invisible forces that bind us all.

Listen to a sample.

 

 

The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

“She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.”

The remarkable conclusion to the post-apocalyptic and highly acclaimed trilogy that began with the multi-award-nominated The Fifth Season. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly suggest you drop everything and get on that immediately.

Listen to a sample.

 

 

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

 

“It was not common to awaken in a cloning vat streaked with drying blood.”

A space adventure set on a lone ship where the clones of a murdered crew awake with with no memory of how they died, and somehow must find their murderer — before they kill again.

Listen to a sample.

 

 

Jade City by Fonda Lee

“FAMILY IS DUTY. MAGIC IS POWER. HONOR IS EVERYTHING.”

Award-winning author Fonda Lee explodes onto the adult fantasy scene with Jade City , an epic saga reminiscent of The Godfather with magic and kungfu, set in an Asia-inspired fantasy metropolis. Lose yourself in this tale of family, honor, and those who live and die by the ancient laws of jade and blood.

Listen to a sample.

 

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

From award winning tech-journalist and io9 founder Annalee Newitz comes a highly anticipated science fiction debut, 

Autonomous will pull listeners into a dark and dirty world that feels, at times, a bit too familiar to readers today. And underlying it all is one fundamental question: Is freedom possible in a culture where everything, even people, can be owned?

Listen to a sample.

 

 

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STAFF PICK DEAL: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

Oh my goodness, this is an absolute treasure of a book. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss tells the story of monstrous women: characters from classic literature who were barely considered noteworthy, infused with lives and voices all their own. While the respectable Mary Jekyll and the untameable Diana Hyde begrudgingly explore what it means to have a sister so unlike yourself, they are joined by Catherine, the unlucky creation of Doctor Moreau; Justine, the would-be bride of Frankenstein’s monster; and Beatrice, the tragic daughter of the botanist Rappaccini. The women adventure throughout Victorian London with varying degrees of enthusiasm, trying to unravel the mystery of a secret society of alchemists that seems to hold the answers to each of their respective origins.

The book is narrated with all five distinct voices telling the same story, often interrupting themselves and each other in the margins to let us know exactly how vexing the process is. Goss manages to weave this together with a simple elegance that masks how ambitious and nuanced the writing style truly is. They bicker as fiercely as they support each other, in a way that feels purely human and heartwarming.

These “monstrous” women, all by-products of men with too much power and too little humanity, are brought together by the need for answers about their origins, and stay together with the bond of chosen family. With them, we walk through familiar male-dominated worlds of classic sci fi and horror, reanimated by the vibrancy, agency, and aspirations of these five beautifully well-rounded, engrossing characters who have finally been given the space to flourish.

And, until February 11th, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is on sale! You can get this book in a BOGO with Himself–another charming, quirky mystery that draws inspiration from classic folklore. Jump on the deal here, under “Inspired Fiction”!

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In Memory of Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin was a profoundly influential figure, and truly a literary icon. To this day, I credit my discovery of The Dispossessed as a teenager as foundational to my development as a person, as an activist, and as a reader with a deep love of speculative fiction. This experience has been shared by countless other readers who have explored her work over the decades. We salute Ursula’s memory on this day, and thank her for her incredible contributions to not just sci-fi and fantasy, but to poetry and non-fiction as well.

Here is a selection of her titles that left an enormous impact on the literary landscape.

 

1. A Wizard of Earthsea

Originally published in 1968, it is an early precursor of Harry Potter, and regarded as a classic of fantasy and children’s literature.

The story is sA Wizard of Earthseaet in the fictional archipelago of Earthsea and centers around a young mage named Ged, born in a village on the island of Gont. He displays great power while still a boy and joins the school of wizardry, where his prickly nature drives him into conflict with one of his fellows. During a magical duel, Ged’s spell goes awry and releases a shadow creature that attacks him. The novel follows his journey as he seeks to be free of the creature.

 

2. Rocannon’s World

Rocannon's WorldThis was Le Guin’s first published novel, and employs a masterful blend of hard science fiction with heroic fantasy elements. This novel introduced readers to the world which would become to setting for many of her novels and stories.

Earth-scientist Rocannon has been living on a world shared by three native humanoid races: cave dwellers, elves, and warriors. When the planet is suddenly invaded, Rocannon sees his friends murdered and his spaceship destroyed. Marooned, he leads the battle to free this new world, and legends grow around him.

 

3. Lavinia

In this winner of the 2008 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel, Le Guin lends a resonant voice to a pivotal yetoften overlooked character of Vergil’s The Aeneid.

Lavinia

Born into peace and freedom, Lavinia is stunned to learn that she will be the cause of a great war-or so the prophecies and omens claim. Her fate is sealed, however, when she meets a man from Troy.

Le Guin has described Lavinia as a translation of the last six books of the epic poem into prose. Lavinia herself seems to have an awareness of her role in this translation, and frequently converses with “the poet” directly.

 

4. The Dispossessed

The Dispossessed Book CoverIn response to its highly political nature, this novel received a huge amount of literary recognition. It won a Nebula, Hugo, and Locus award for Best Novel, and received a nomination for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award as well.

The dual narrative set on twin planets–one capitalist and patriarchal, the other anarcho-syndicalist–is an exploration of humanity, society, and revolution, in an extraordinary work that is more relevant now than ever.

 

5. The Left Hand of Darkness

Perhaps her most famous novel, this winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards is a groundbreaking achievement of intellectual science fiction.

The Left Hand of Darkness

Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can change their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter’s inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters.

 

 

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