FanLit thanks Seth Jones of Free Listens for this contribution!
In my last column, I introduced you to some free audiobooks of fantasy classics. This time, I’ll do the same with fantasy literature’s kissing cousin, science fiction. As with last time, a link in the book or story title will take you to a full review at my blog, Free Listens. You can download the audiobooks by either clicking on the link to the publisher’s webpage or by right-clicking and saving the mp3 file in brackets.
The roots of modern science fiction can be traced to a few authors in the 19th century, notably Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. A good introduction to Verne’s work, though not as fully science fiction as some of his larger novels, is Around the World in 80 Days (LibriVox, narrated by Mark Smith [zipped mp3s]). The War of the Worlds may be best known today for the Orson Welles or Stephen Spielberg adaptations, but the original novel is a superb critique of colonialism and racism (LibriVox, narrated by Rebecca [zipped mp3s or M4B]). Verne and Wells established many of the qualities of science fiction, including its ability to take on larger social issues.
In the first half of the twentieth century, the pulp magazines began to publish a number of science fiction stories of varying quality. Some of the most influential works of this period include the first planetary romance: Edgar Rice Burroughs’s A Princess of Mars (LibriVox, narrated by Mark Nelson [zipped mp3s]), the first space opera: E.E. Smith’s The Skylark of Space (LibriVox, narrated by Phil Chenevert [zipped mp3s]), and the first real alien intelligence in Stanley G. Weinbaum’s “A Martian Odyssey” (LibriVox, narrated by Greg Margarite [mp3]). These pulp stories have plenty of action, but show their age clearly in impossible science and mostly underdeveloped characters.
Science fiction entered its Golden Age in the middle part of the twentieth century. Stories like Isaac Asimov’s “Nightfall”(Escape Pod, narrated by Steve Ely [mp3]), Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder” (Freaky Trigger, narrated by Elisha Sessions [mp3]) and Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Hammer of God” (Time Traveller Show, narrated by Scott Brick [mp3]) define what we currently mean when we say “science fiction”. Several of Phillip K. Dick’s stories are available for free, including his first published story, “Beyond Lies the Wub” (Time Traveller Show, narrated by Mac Kelly [mp3]), the Terminator-esque “Second Variety” (LibriVox, narrated by Greg Margarite [zipped mp3s]), and the time-travelling novella The Variable Man (LibriVox, narrated by Greg Margarite [zipped mp3s]). For a longer book from this time period, check out H. Beam Piper’s Hugo Award winning novel Little Fuzzy (Maria Lectrix, narrated by Maureen O’Brien [zipped mp3s]).
I’ll stop there with the close of the Golden Age of science fiction and leave the exciting developments in contemporary science fiction for another post. If you’d like to find more free audiobooks from science fiction to mysteries, visit Free Listens.