Out of This World: Titles from Lesser Known Sci-Fi Subgenres

A young Black woman navigates ship controls projected holographically
09/10/2020

Find Out What's Lurking in the Margins of Sci-Fi

Uncovering some hidden treasures at the margins of sci-fi

Big sci-fi stories are famous the world over. Titles like Dune and Blade Runner dominate the conversation — and for good reason, they’re definitely classics. But for true aficionados, the best sci-fi can often be found in the margins.

The best sci-fi audiobooks are about exploration — plunging toward the edges of space, of technology, of humanity. So we thought we’d take a look at the edges of the genre itself, at the lesser known subgenres that really show what science fiction can do, exploring top titles in cyberpunk, horror sci-fi and LGBTQ+ sci-fi.

Prepare for take off.

Start Your Cyberpunk Engines

Cyberpunk is a subgenre defined by outsiders taking up arms against traditional institutions, using their individuality and technological savvy to win the day. While the leading men and women of most sci-fi adventure stories are space jockeys or gunslingers, the protagonists of this subgenre are often hackers or cybercriminals who use the technological tools of authority against itself.

Neuromancer by William Gibson

It would be impossible to discuss the cyberpunk subgenre without mentioning William Gibson’s classic, Neuromancer.

Neuromancer

Author:
William Gibson
Narrator:
Robertson Dean
Length:
10:31
Series:
Sprawl Trilogy
Type:
Unabridged Audiobook

Not only did this title achieve commercial and critical success, but it also solidified cyberpunk as a unique subgenre of literary science fiction. It introduced readers to the concept of “cyberspace” and had a massive influence on the writers, comic book artists and filmmakers who would continue to create cyberpunk for decades to come.

Winner of science fiction’s Triple Crown (the Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick awards), this title was sci-fi’s first true glimpse into the digital future of humankind. Some 40 years later, this title still challenges us to look at how we deal with technology, authority and individualism.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Another heavy hitter in the cyberpunk subgenre, this title was ahead of its time thanks to its depiction of a virtual second world, predicting online games such as Second Life and* World of Warcraft*, as well as movies like *The Matrix*.

Snow Crash is one of those binge-worthy audiobooks that you’ll be tearing through as fast as you can. Stephenson has plenty of thought-provoking ideas about information theory and Sumerian religion, but the quick pacing and accessible prose will have you racing to the end.

Snow Crash

Author:
Neal Stephenson
Narrator:
Jonathan Davis
Length:
17:03
Type:
Unabridged Audiobook

If you consider yourself a tech geek or just a fan of techy prose, then this is the title you need to devote some time to. Its cyber-sensibility and lush descriptions make it a standout thriller of the information age.

A figure stands before an ominous ring in anti-gravity

Strap in for Some Serious Sci-fi Horror

Science fiction is such a great genre because it can stretch its wings and take off into unexpectedly imaginative places with strange new societies and memorable characters.

But every so often, sci-fi peeks into the darker corners of the mind in a subgenre known as sci-fi horror. Humankind’s oldest and most primal fear is that of the unknown and few genres explore this pit in our stomachs as well as science fiction.

The Institute by Stephen King

Of course, it’s impossible to have a conversation about horror in the 21st century without mentioning its reigning king. Stephen King to be precise.

Of all the chills King’s given us in the past, this slow burn of psychic dread might be the scariest because it touches close to home and presents its horror in a world that looks and sounds an awful lot like our own. This title demands our attention because it asks us to observe and judge the behaviour of people just like us.

Monsters abound in King’s catalogue, but his most unsettling antagonists look and sound like we do, and the villains of The Institute are so frightening because the grim work they do is all part of their job descriptions.

Punching in and out of a day job has never been more terrifying.

The Institute: A Novel

Author:
Stephen King
Narrator:
Santino Fontana
Length:
18:59
Type:
Unabridged Audiobook

The Handmaid’s Tale: Special Edition by Margaret Atwood

Whether you're a diehard fan of the original or someone who has recently come to love this story via the massively popular TV series, The Handmaid's Tale: Special Edition is a title sure to change the way you look at the world.

A classic Canadian sci-fi title that has been analysed as political allegory, feminist text, dystopic warning (and all three at once), the subtle horror elements of The Handmaid’s Tale sometimes get overlooked.

Where a great deal of sci-fi horror relies on complex situations that allow listeners to stay at a safe distance from the ghastly goings-on. After all, it’s easy to passively enjoy horror when you’re at a safe remove. With this insidious audio experience, the listener is never allowed to simply be an impartial observer – they are constantly sharing the protagonist Offred’s chilling perspective.

The new Audible special edition is required listening for any fan of Atwood or fan of science fiction in general. With knockout narration by Emmy Award-winner Claire Danes (Homeland), this title’s message is timelier now than ever before.

The Handmaid's Tale: Special Edition

Author:
Margaret Atwood, Valerie Martin - essay
Narrator:
Claire Danes, Ray Porter, Margaret Atwood, Tim Gerard Reynolds, full cast
Length:
12:06
Series:
The Handmaid's Tale
Type:
Unabridged Audiobook

And for listeners who want to learn more about Offred and Gilead, recent sequel, The Testaments, continues the story.

Make Room for Some Incredible LGBTQ+ Sci-Fi

It’s one thing to try a space opera that offers up the same old ingredients — the granite-jawed pilot and depressed android. After all, these stories are classics and they scratch a certain itch for a certain listener.

But sci-fi is all about pushing boundaries and looking deeper, and so it’s impossible to explore the margins of sci-fi without addressing the marginalized.

A recent influx of titles with LGBTQ+ protagonists has offered a breath of fresh air into the genre, and these two gems remind us that the best stories have many facets.

Ready for something different? Enjoy these two refreshing space operas that come with a twist.

Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee

What’s harder, fighting off supervillains or trying to figure out how to tell your bestie you might be in love with her?

Jessica hails from a respected line of superheroes — too bad she has no powers of her own. Unwilling to fill the boots of a mere sidekick, she takes matters into her own hands. Taking an internship with a supervillain (even if it lets her spend time with her secret crush, Abby) could turn out to be more than Jess bargained for in this wry and witty satire of the traditional superhero tale.

This fantastic coming-of-age story shows that navigating a complex world where people don’t fit into neat categories like hero/villain or gay/straight can be quite the challenge.

Not Your Sidekick: Sidekick Squad Series, Book 1

Author:
C.B. Lee
Narrator:
Emily Woo Zeller
Length:
8:00
Series:
Sidekick Squad Series
Type:
Unabridged Audiobook

All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault by James Alan Gardner

In All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault, we’re introduced to protagonist Kim, a genderqueer Canadian of Chinese descent, as well as the unlikeliest sci-fi setting imaginable — the University of Waterloo’s geology department.

Follow Kim and her ragtag band of allies as they race to defeat the villainous Darklings, while also discovering the secrets of their innermost selves.

Get your chuckles in without punching down and enjoy this hilarious space faring exploration of gender and identity politics.

All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's Fault

Author:
James Alan Gardner
Narrator:
Emily Woo Zeller
Length:
13:55
Series:
Dark vs. Spark
Type:
Unabridged Audiobook

No Frontiers are Final with Science Fiction

Sci-fi is an ever-changing genre and so are its characters and settings. And with so many fascinating subgenres to try out, you’ll never be wanting for a fresh new spin on sci-fi.

Check in with our blog as we continue to scout out the best in first contact sci-fi and other gems the genre has to offer. And don’t forget to share your favourites with us on Facebook.

We look forward to seeing you here again soon!

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