Books on tape might be extremely dead technology, but iPods and eBook readers like the Amazon Kindle have reanimated the medium and turned audiobooks into the commuter's wonder drug. When the book is read well, you'll find yourself sitting mesmerized in your parking space just listening, instead of heading into work. Check out our list of eleven classic scifi audiobooks, and listen up.
- Minority Report and Other Stories, by Phillip K. Dick: Keir Dullea (who played Dave in 2001) reads these short stories from Dick's library. "Minority Report" is, of course, a lot better (and different) than the movie was, but the standout here is "Second Variety," which details artificially intelligent robots that have learned how to disguise themselves as humans in order to be more deadly. This came out years before Terminator and Battlestar Galactica, and is worth the price alone. Collection also includes "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" which became Total Recall, and "Paycheck," which became a terrible Ben Affleck movie of the same name.
- The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King: King's science fiction meets sorcery Dark Tower series has been coming out in dribbles for decades, and the last volume finally came out in 2004. I found that the best way to catch up with these was by chucking them onto my iPod while I was stuck in the car in Los Angeles all morning and evening. Some of the seven books in the series are expertly read by Frank Muller, who has narrated a huge share of King's novels. Tragically, he had a motorcycle accident several years ago, and has been unable to resume his narration work as a result. George Guidall picked up the reins and does an equally impressive job.
- Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card: In 2002 a 20th anniversary edition of Card's novel about the extensive training of young boy by the military to be the savior of all mankind was issued with a full cast production reading the story, and a bonus epilogue tacked on by Card. The project was extremely successful, and they also released the sequel Ender's Shadow with the same cast members. If you've never picked this book up, this is a great way to get into it.
- Neuromancer, by William Gibson: Gibson himself reads this audiobook version of his classic novel, and U2 provided a track for the book, with the group Black Rain contributing music and sound effects throughout the reading. It's moody and atmospheric, great for listening to while the rain is hammering down outside. Sometimes it can (oddly) be a mixed bag when the author reads their own work, but Gibson does a fantastic job.
- The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson: Jennifer Wiltsie not only reads both the abridged and unabridged versions of this book about a nanotechnology-built learning "illustrated primer," but she also provides different voices and accents for all the characters. Not many readers can pull this off without being distracting, and she does a great job with this, particularly with the Primer and the young Nell character.
- Idlewild, by Nick Sagan: This book by Nick Sagan, the son of Carl, is read by a cast of characters and features a superb robotic female monotone as the voice of one of the A.I. taskmaster programs in this story about a virtual reality school for rich kids. It owes a lot to The Matrix, but the ending opens up a whole new world where the sequel Edenborn takes place. Immersive narration takes you deep inside the VR world in the novel.
- A Scanner Darkly, by Phillip K. Dick: Paul Giamatti does an excellent job of reading this novel and capturing the frenetic apathy that the world of Substance D brings on. I listened to this not long before the animated film came out, and I vastly prefer the audiobook version. Giamatti's range as an actor shows off even when you can't see his face.
- Transmission, by Hari Kunzru: Kunzru reads his own novel about a hacker from India who thinks he's found paradise in the United States, until he realizes he'll never escape his slave labor job as a database engineer for a temp firm. He unleashes a powerful computer virus that infects your computer with a dancing video of a Bollywood starlet so he can appear to step in and save the day with a "cure," but it doesn't go as planned. A great listen, and a wonderful read.
- Dune, by Frank Herbert: Clocking in at 21 hours long, this unabridged version of Herbert's classic novel about desert planets and space-folding spice drugs is read by a full cast and will require a serious time commitment. However, you'll get more satisfaction out of listening to this than you will watching the movie or the miniseries again. Perfect if you decide to drive across the continent, or through a desert somewhere.
- Idoru, by William Gibson: I didn't want to have two Gibson novels on this list, but Idoru was the first science fiction book I ever listened to, and it got me through my first year in Los Angeles. I have probably listened to this thing at least ten times, and it never gets old. Actor Jay O. Sanders does a superb reading job, providing different voices for all of the characters, and captures this book perfectly. Plus, it's a great starting point for Gibson if you missed out on the whole Neuromancer cycle.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams: This series has appeared in multiple formats: read by the author, read by the full cast, read by Simon Jones (who played Arthur in the TV and radio versions), read by Martin Freeman (who played Arthur in the movie version), the BBC Radio versions, and even a Live in Concert version, featuring Douglas Adams giving live readings from his works in front of an audience. With multiple readers and multiple books, there is a ton to choose from here. In my opinion, the Douglas Adams and Simon Jones (and full cast version, including Simon Jones) editions are the best. Sorry, Martin. Technically, this gives this list a lot more than 11 books, but who's counting?
You can find most of these books at places like Audible, SimplyAudiobooks, or the iTunes music store, although I had to track down my copy of Neuromancer on eBay a few years ago. There are also hundreds more scifi audiobook greats out there on the interwebs — check your favorite sources for music online and you'll be pleasantly surprised that most have books too.