The Auditory Horizon Line | Top SFF Titles for Audiophiles

Soundscapes lead listeners into new words and future times.

Soundscapes lead listeners into new words and future times.

Darwin, Alexander. The Combat Codes. Hachette Audio. (The Combat Codes, Bk. 1). Jun. 2023. 15:01 hrs. ISBN 9781668622155. $31.99. SF

Darwin’s fast-paced, heartfelt debut asks, “Why do we fight?” In his imagined world, where highly trained Grievar knights engage in hand-to-hand combat to settle national conflicts, the answer is, “We fight so the rest shall not have to.” Murray Pearson is a scout for the Grievars, seeking new talent who can join the ranks of the knights and uphold their code of honor. When Murray sees Cego, an orphan from the gritty Underground City, defeating a Grievar knight, he knows that Cego may have a chance of surviving the elite Lyceum combat school and becoming a first-level warrior. Narrator Donald Chang provides compelling portraits of Murray and Cego, who emerge as fully developed individuals with intriguing backstories. Chang skillfully conveys the characters’ range of emotions, from grief to terror, while providing perfectly paced descriptions of action scenes. VERDICT Chang’s stellar performance and Darwin’s captivating story, mixing martial arts, dystopian science fiction, and fantasy, make for a top-notch listen. A thrilling series starter, highly recommended for fans of Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising” books.—Scott DiMarco

Paolini, Christopher. Fractal Noise. Macmillan Audio. (Fractalverse, Bk. 2). May 2023. 9:57 hrs. ISBN 9781250870995. $26.99. SF

Paolini’s second “Fractalverse” novel (following To Sleep in a Sea of Stars) is gloriously narrated by narrator and voice actor Jennifer Hale. With superb accents and character voices, Hale creates a diverse cast of researchers investigating the sudden appearance of a perfectly circular, mysteriously large hole on the remote planet of Talos VII. She brings the characters’ strained relationships to the forefront, allowing the setting and technology to become background noise. The audio is enhanced by an exemplary soundscape, perfectly modulated to capture the changing landscape. As the explorers excitedly start their investigation, the music is bright and animated, but it morphs into ominous drumming when enthusiasm turns to trepidation and tragedy. Beyond the music, an unsettling booming sound comes from the hole. This sound is heard throughout and gets louder as the characters close in on their target. Static, feedback, and sound distortion from radios add a sense of immediacy. Importantly, the audio makes judicious use of silence, allowing the dread to spike when the explorers lose their radio signals and are alone on the seemingly barren planet. VERDICT This cinematic production pulls listeners into a character study of grief and religious zeal while making the most of the audio medium.—Carmanita Turner  

Tesh, Emily. Some Desperate Glory. Macmillan Audio. Apr. 2023. 15:56 hrs. ISBN 9781250870773. $32.99. SF

Tesh (“Greenhollow” novellas) introduces Kyr, a young soldier emerging from the violent brainwashing of her youth. A rigid, single-minded soldier, Kyr lives aboard Gaea Station, where extremist humans plot to avenge Earth’s destruction. Her only weakness is her love for her brother, Mags; when Mags disappears, Kyr leaves in search of him, accompanied by only a despised colleague and an enemy alien. As Kyr encounters the universe outside of Gaea Station, she begins to question the essential tenets of her upbringing. Along with introspective passages, Tesh entertains with jaw-dropping twists, multiverse mayhem, and epic scenes of battle and apocalypse. Narrator Sena Bryer conveys Kyr’s quickly changing perspective, revealing different facets of her strength and determination, all of which will be necessary if she is going to save her brother’s life. Bryer allows Kyr’s voice to move through a spectrum of emotions and attitudes as the novel progresses—from blindly confident and willful to sorrowfully empathetic. She also captures the intricate emotional arcs of secondary characters, providing distinct voices for each. VERDICT An action-packed space opera that traverses the galaxy and considers issues of intolerance, homophobia, ableism, and misogyny. Perfect for fans of Ann Leckie and Tamsyn Muir.—Matthew Galloway

Willis, Connie. The Road to Roswell. Books on Tape. Jun. 2023. 14:01 hrs. ISBN 9780593743034. $95. SF

Francie, an alien skeptic, is in Roswell, NM, for her best friend’s UFO-themed wedding when she is abducted by a tumbleweed-shaped alien. The alien can only communicate by gesturing with his tentacles, but he clearly wants her to take him somewhere outside of Roswell. Along the way, they pick up additional abductees: handsome con man Wade, increasingly unhinged UFO conspiracy theorist Lyle, card shark Eula Mae, and Western movie–loving Joseph. Francie quickly begins to care for the alien, whom she and Wade nickname “Indy” for the way he uses his tentacles like whips (a reference to Indiana Jones). Jesse Vilinsky skillfully narrates Willis’s novel, offering an animated, brisk performance and giving each character a unique, easily distinguishable voice. Her narration of Indy’s gestures perfectly brings out his lively and endearing personality. Vilinsky’s comedic delivery is exquisitely timed, and she also communicates the sensitive side of this engaging story, imbuing the characters’ relationships with depth and charm. VERDICT Listeners will be over the moon with Hugo and Nebula Award winner Willis’s (Crosstalk) latest comedic gem, narrated by a voice actor at the top of her game.—B. Allison Gray

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