Shake Up Your Brain Books: Fiction

The first books I remember reading are science fiction. I loved the way SF took me to new worlds; I loved the way it shook up my brain.

I don’t remember learning to read; consequently, I don’t remember being read to as a child. But my folks must have read to me because I knew how to read before I started school, and how else would I have learned?

During the last few years I’ve (re?)discovered the pleasures of being read to. Listening to a good story lightens the load of household tasks, errands, and long drives. Putting books on my Treo lets me take a library with me when I travel, without carrying another suitcase. My computer can read to me, leaving my hands free for making bead creatures.

Audiobooks solve the problem of books printed in unreadable tiny little type. Is it my imagination that more books are like that these days? It can’t just be that I don’t read in the dark like a cat anymore.

leguin_powersI’ve been rereading, via audiobook, the work of Ursula K. Le Guin. Much of her science fiction as well as the Annals of the Western Shore (Gifts, Voices, and Powers) and the Earthsea books (except for Tehanu — Where, oh where is the audiobook of Tehanu?) are available as audio downloads. I don’t reread books often, but Le Guin’s work stands up to multiple readings, giving me the opportunity to appreciate the world-building, the social extrapolation, the humor.

tehanu_pbOne particular pleasure is being read to by the author. Some of us, though adequate readers of our own work, are well served by pros such as the late Anna Fields. But when a writer is also a good reader, the authorial voice adds something extra.

Le Guin’s Catwings series is a perfect example. I’m listening to Catwings Return again as I write this, getting a little snuffly as the Catwings go in search of Mrs Jane Tabby. I’m looking forward to her readings of the other Catwings books.

Joshilyn Jackson brings her own unique voice to The Girl who Stopped Swimming, a ghost story (or is it?), and to her other, mainstream, books, Gods in Alabama and Between, Georgia.

Michael Chabon is another writer who sometimes reads his own work, for example, Summerland. It’s his homage to the quest novel; if anyone had told me I’d be enthralled by a baseball book, I’d’ve laughed at them.

WonderboysChabon often makes me laugh, not at him but with him, as when his Wonder Boys protagonist waits for his soon-to-be-ex-wife outside the Baxter building, where she works at the Richards Reed Company, with her friends Ben and Sue. This doesn’t even come out of left field; but fellow Fantastic Four fans will join in a chuckle.

His tour-de-force mystery/sf/alternate history The Yiddish Policemen’s Union won the Nebula and just about ever other award in sight, and deservedly so.

BlindsightFor the ultimate in brain-shaking books, try Peter Watts’ take-no-prisoners SF (the Rifters trilogy: Starfish, Maelstrom, ?ehemoth: ?-Max, and  ?ehemoth: Seppuku; and Blindsight). I was a little bit relieved when I couldn’t find them in audio versions (they’re likely to be pretty intense), but I note that now Blindsight is available as an audio download.

But be warned. His stuff might not just shake up your brain. It might explode your entire skull.

— Vonda


This is an expansion of the fiction section of my audible.com guest curator essay, which because of a severe pixel shortage among the Interweebs came out in an abridged version. I don’t like abridged audiobooks, either.


LADeDeDa in NatureLADeDeDa,” by Ursula K. Le Guin and Vonda N. McIntyre, appears in the “Futures” column of the science journal Nature, in its 12 March 2009 issue. (Requires subscription)

You can find The Moon and the Sun at Book View Cafe, where a new chapter is featured each Sunday. For print copies of The Moon and the Sun and my other SF novels, visit my website’s Basement Full of Books.

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Shake Up Your Brain Books: Fiction — 6 Comments

  1. My favourite genre Audiobook is Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman because one of the best British stand-up comedians – Lenny Henry – is the sole narrator, and he does incredibly flexible voices on stage, so this really shines in the audiobook version.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_BRxZnW1_M
    He’s doing the characters of a 50 year old black woman and then her husband who is black and a newspaper vendor owner (doing a black BBC reporter) one after the other ^^.

  2. Estara, thanks — that’s pretty funny (though it’s actually a different routine than the one you mention — lots of videos of the performer on YouTube).

    Vonda

  3. Hi Vonda,

    glad you chuckled ^^, but it really is Lenny doing a Jamaican mother in the first part (see how he sits) giving her impression of the reason why Irak and the US went to war (and putting words into head of states’ mouths) and when he stands up and holds the glass he’s her husband, Neville Lister (whom he has played in other comedy series before) and then he becomes a coloured BBC anchor “Reggae” Omar who must have been the one black reporter they had in Irak when the 2nd Irak war started. The show itself is from 2005 ^^

  4. I have always wanted to experiment with offering audios of my work. Maybe the tech will finally get easy enough for me to use!

  5. Brenda, if you can get a good recording of yourself reading, from there it’s relatively easy to make it available to people to hear. Would be cool!

    Vonda