My discovery of audiobooks ten years ago went a long way towards smoothing out my daily routines. You haven't seen awkward until you've seen me washing dishes with a bookstand teetering on the edge of the sink, or folding laundry with a paperback held open by my toes. Now I do these chores with all my hands and feet free for the task while I listen to a good story. I listen when I walk the dog, when I walk to and from school, and when I do any of the repetitive and mundane tasks that come along with being an adult. My least favorite household chore is vacuuming because I can't listen to an audiobook while I do it.
The advent of MP3 players and audiobooks downloaded off the Internet felt like a miracle. In the space of a year, I went from juggling tapes, batteries, and easily breakable portable cassette players on a daily basis, and driving half an hour to the audiobook rental store on a monthly basis, to carrying a cute little MP3 player in my pocket and downloading books in the comfort of my home. Heaven.
If there is one thing I'd wish for, it would be a wider selection of speculative fiction available in the format. Most of the literary fiction and classics I want to listen to are readily available, but very little of the speculative fiction is. Listening to any good story is a pleasure, but there's something special about listening to a story set in an alternate world or reality while doing something as mundane as scrubbing out the tub. What I wouldn't give to be able to download Octavia Butler's latest book, Fledgling, or anything by China Miéville, an author I've been meaning to check out for ages. Why aren't there more audiobooks available in the genre? Do readers of SF not like to listen to books as they drive to work or sort socks as much as readers of any other genre?
I have enjoyed some SF and fantasy audiobooks over the past year, however. Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otori trilogy caused me to lengthen many a walk by a block or five in order to prolong my time immersed in the story. Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age was one of my favorite listens this fall. It had been a while since I read (or listened) to anything in the cyberpunk vein. Now I wish I could find William Gibson's Neuromancer in the audiobook format; I think it is about time to revisit it. Currently, I have Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys waiting for me. I'm saving it for a dark and dreary week, as I'm expecting it to be an extra-fun listen.
There's another reason I haven't started the Anansi Boys, too. Through podcasts, I've discovered ABC Radio National. The Australians produce some damn good radio. This fall I started listening to Books and Writing, The Science Show, the Health Report, and All in the Mind. Over the holidays, I fell behind in my listening, and now I'm catching up on all these terrific shows. They've been cramming my head full of new ideas and knowledge.
Yesterday I learned about the history of IVF, in vitro fertilization, from the December 26th edition of the Health Report. The host spent half an hour interviewing Robert Edwards, one of the pioneers of the field. I found his description of the history of his research fascinating. I'm used to thinking about things like IFV as fixed parts of the landscape. From Edwards I learned that at the beginning of his research, people in the fields of genetics and reproduction had nothing to do with each other; the topics simply didn't overlap. He was one of the first people to see the two disciplines were intimately connected. It made me think about how many of the new ideas in the world come from making connections others have never made before.
Sunday morning I listened to the January 7th edition of All in the Mind, about delusions and current research in cognitive science which is striving to create a model explaining how they develop. I'm bipolar and have been treated for several delusional episodes, so it was a program which hit close to home. Max Colheart, a researcher at the Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science discussed the difficulty they had in doing something as basic as defining what a delusion is. In order to come up with their definition, researchers consulted with philosophers, tapping into a discipline which has been grappling with such issues for centuries. Again, an example of how new connections lead to new knowledge.
I love that these shows spend a significant amount of time exploring a subject, often by interviewing a single scientist. It is a treat, getting a window into the way these scientists and researchers think about their subjects. Listening to these shows gives me a window into new worlds. These windows offer more than entertainment, too. They create new connections in my own mind, and such connections are the fodder essential to writing new poems. For the past two days, I've been mulling over and writing about yet another thing I learned about in the January 7th edition of All in the Mind, Cotard's syndrome, suffers of which believe they are dead. There must be countless stories and poems which could arise from that. If I keep mulling, maybe I'll manage to get one of them down on paper.
I'm curious about the things other Strange Horizons' readers are finding to listen to. Any particularly compelling audiobooks you've found? Any podcasts, especially ones about writing or science, that you've discovered? Share your finds in the comments thread. I'll be grateful. My dog will be too as I swerve away from the house and walk her around a couple more blocks in order to get to the end of a good story.