For this month’s column, I want to pivot a little bit.  I’m going to discuss audio books and where to get them.  I know this isn’t exactly reading but obviously some good audiobooks can help a lot with your English skills.

Fortunately, there are a few ways for students to access audiobooks for free (or cheap).  Here’s what you should know.

Option One – Libby

Those of you who live in Canada and the United States can get free audiobooks and ebooks from Libby.  This Android and iPhone app is used by public libraries to distribute both audiobooks and ebooks.  Just enter your library card number and you’re good to go.  And if you don’t have a library card… go and get one.  It’s easy.  The only drawback with Libby is that you can expect long wait times for popular titles.  Instructions for using the app can be found right here.  I have seen Libby used outside of North America, so take a moment to check with your library wherever you are.

Option Two – Hoopla

I love Hoopla.  I really love Hoopla.  This is sort of a “Netflix of Random Junk” used by Libraries to provide content to patrons (for free) with no waiting times.  It’s got TV shows, movies, ebooks, audiobooks, comics, music… all sorts of stuff.  A lot of it is random crap that is pretty hard to enjoy, but if you know what you are looking for there are some real gems here.  Again, you just need a library card number to access it.  Here’s the Play Store link.  It is also available for iPhones, of course.  This one is strictly Canada/US.

Option Three – Audible

Well, okay.  Now we get to the paid services.  The most popular is Amazon’s Audible.  This one costs money, but when you sign up you can get two free books right away.  You can cancel the subscription before paying anything and still keep your books.  If you sign up at this link, I’ll get a few dollars.  When you cancel, check the “it costs too much” box and they’ll probably give you more free books.

Option Four – The Rest

Uh, there are a few other audiobook sellers online.  I’ll try to summarize those in another post.  They all provide a few free books before you have to pay anything.

Some Stuff

This month I’ve been listening to short science fiction stories from 2019.  I like to listen to them as I run.   Below is a list of my favorites.  If you don’t want to get them in audio form, they are all available on Kindle and in paperback.

  • Permafrost, by Alastair Reynolds. This is a really gripping time travel story. I was hooked right from the in media res opening – someone’s dead, someone else is a bit stabbed, and the plane is running out of gas. It’s a fairly short novella, so I’ll spare any specific details. Basically, though, the premise is that an ecological catastrophe has befallen the earth in the near future, and “World Health” is attempting to use a novel time travel method to recover from it. The best short SF from 2019 that I’ve come across, so far.  Note that the audiobook is narrated by a woman with a Russian accent.
  • Desdemona and the Deep, by CSE Cooney. This is an interesting one. Sort of a comedy of manners in a fantasy setting. Our hero, Desdemona Mannering (get it?) is the sort of person who doesn’t appreciate art, but does collect a lot of artists. She goes to cocktail parties and fundraisers. She drinks a lot.  She’s shallow. Eventually, Desdemona discovers that her father is a really terrible businessman. She’s going to have to descend into the worlds below to undo all of his evils.  Imagine that Ivanka Trump has to save our souls.
  • To be Taught, if Fortunate, by Becky Chambers.  There isn’t much of a plot here, but I recommend it to everyone preparing for the TOEFL.  It’s about a happy bunch of astronauts who visit four planets and observe the life on them.  Along the way, the narrator explains basic scientific concepts.  See?  It’s sort of like a TOEFL put into fiction.  The audiobook narrator even SOUNDS like a TOEFL listening section lecturer.  There is a mildly interesting sliver of story between planets, but it is pretty basic. 
  • The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djeli Clark. Quite a lot of good stuff here! The depiction of an alternate Cairo (in the 1910s) where Egypt has become a world power is atmospheric as heck. We really get a sense of all the sounds, sights, smells and tastes of the place. The goal here seems to be the depiction of what a decolonized Egypt would look like at this critical juncture, but the story used to set up that backdrop is enjoyable. Depicting a pair of bureaucrats trying to deal with a the titular haunting (on a budget!) it moves briskly enough and is funny at the right moments. The climax hits with some more-than-welcome action.  This is a sequel to A Dead Djinn in Cairo, but you can read them in either order.  Note that the audiobook narrator has an middle-eastern accent.
  • In An Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire.  Take Alice in Wonderland, Adam Smith and Proverbs 22:7.  Mix together in a blender.  You’ve got “In An Absent Dream.” 

That’s all for this month.  The February column will have short non-fiction articles about science topics.

 

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