Stream 47 Hours of Classic Sci-Fi Novels & Stories: Asimov, Wells, Orwell, Verne, Lovecraft & More

The pro­nounce­ments of French the­o­rist Jean Bau­drillard could sound a bit sil­ly in the ear­ly 1990s, when the inter­net was still in its infan­cy, a slow, clunky tech­nol­o­gy whose promis­es far exceed­ed what it could deliv­er. We hoped for the cyber­punk spaces of William Gib­son, and got the beep-boop tedi­um of dial-up. Even so, in his 1991 essay “Sim­u­lacra and Sci­ence Fic­tion,” Bau­drillard con­tend­ed that the real and the imag­i­nary were no longer dis­tin­guish­able, and that the col­lapse of the dis­tance between them meant that “there is no more fic­tion.” Or, con­verse­ly, he sug­gest­ed, that there is no more real­i­ty.

What seemed a far-fetched claim about the total­i­ty of “cyber­net­ics and hyper­re­al­i­ty” in the age of AOL and Netscape now sounds far more plau­si­ble. After all, it will soon be pos­si­ble, if it is not so already, to con­vinc­ing­ly sim­u­late events that nev­er occurred, and to make mil­lions of peo­ple believe they had, not only through fake tweets, “fake news,” and age-old pro­pa­gan­da, but through sophis­ti­cat­ed manip­u­la­tion of video and audio, through aug­ment­ed real­i­ty and the onset of “real­i­ty apa­thy,” a psy­cho­log­i­cal fatigue that over­whelms our abil­i­ties to dis­tin­guish true and false when every­thing appears as a car­toon­ish par­o­dy of itself.

Tech­nol­o­gist Aviv Ovadya has tried since 2016 to warn any­one who would lis­ten that such a col­lapse of real­i­ty was fast upon us—an “Info­ca­lypse,” he calls it. If this is so, accord­ing to Bau­drillard, “both tra­di­tion­al SF and the­o­ry are des­tined to the same fate: flux and impre­ci­sion are putting an end to them as spe­cif­ic gen­res.” In an apoc­a­lyp­tic pre­dic­tion, he declaimed, “fic­tion will nev­er again be a mir­ror held to the future, but rather a des­per­ate rehal­lu­ci­nat­ing of the past.” The “col­lec­tive mar­ket­place” of glob­al­iza­tion and the Bor­ge­sian con­di­tion in which “the map cov­ers all the ter­ri­to­ry” have left “no room any more for the imag­i­nary.” Com­pa­nies set up shop express­ly to sim­u­late and fal­si­fy real­i­ty. Pained irony, pas­tiche, and cheap nos­tal­gia are all that remain.

It’s a bleak sce­nario, but per­haps he was right after all, though it may not yet be time to despair—to give up on real­i­ty or the role of imag­i­na­tion. After all, sci-fi writ­ers like Gib­son, Philip K. Dick, and J.G. Bal­lard grasped long before most of us the con­di­tion Bau­drillard described. The sub­ject proved for them and many oth­er late-20th cen­tu­ry sci-fi authors a rich vein for fic­tion. And per­haps, rather than a great disruption—to use the lan­guage of a start-up cul­ture intent on break­ing things—there remains some con­ti­nu­ity with the naïve con­fi­dence of past par­a­digms, just as New­ton­ian physics still holds true, only in a far more lim­it­ed way than once believed.

Isaac Asimov’s short essay “The Rel­a­tiv­i­ty of Wrong” is instruc­tive on this last point. Maybe the the­o­ry of “hyper­re­al­i­ty” is right, in some fash­ion, but also incom­plete: a future remains for the most vision­ary cre­ative minds to dis­cov­er, as it did for Asimov’s “psy­chohis­to­ri­an” Hari Sel­don in The Foun­da­tion Tril­o­gy. You can hear a BBC drama­ti­za­tion of that ground­break­ing fifties mas­ter­work in the 47-hour sci­ence fic­tion playlist above, along with read­ings of clas­sic stories—like Orson Welles’ infa­mous radio broad­cast of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds (and an audio­book of the same read by Eng­lish actor Maxwell Caulfield). From Jules Verne to H.P. Love­craft to George Orwell; from the mid-fifties time trav­el fic­tion of Andre Nor­ton to the 21st-cen­tu­ry time-trav­el fic­tion of Ruth Boswell….

We’ve even got a late entry from the­atri­cal prog rock mas­ter­mind Rick Wake­man, who fol­lowed up his musi­cal adap­ta­tion of Jour­ney to the Cen­tre of the Earth with a sequel he penned him­self, record­ed in 1974, and released in 1999, called Return to the Cen­tre of the Earth, with nar­ra­tion by Patrick Stew­art and guest appear­ances by Ozzy Osbourne, Bon­nie Tyler, and the Moody Blues’ Justin Hay­ward. Does revis­it­ing sci-fi, “weird fic­tion,” and oper­at­ic con­cept albums of the past con­sti­tute a “des­per­ate rehal­lu­ci­nat­ing” of a bygone “lost object,” as Bau­drillard believed? Or does it pro­vide the raw mate­r­i­al for today’s psy­chohis­to­ri­ans? I sup­pose it remains to be seen; the future—and the future of sci­ence fiction—may be wide open.

The 47-hour sci­ence fic­tion playlist above will be added to our col­lec­tion of 900 Free Audio Books.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free: Isaac Asimov’s Epic Foun­da­tion Tril­o­gy Dra­ma­tized in Clas­sic Audio

Sci-Fi Radio: Hear Radio Dra­mas of Sci-Fi Sto­ries by Ray Brad­bury, Philip K. Dick, Ursu­la K. LeGuin & More (1989)

Free: 355 Issues of Galaxy, the Ground­break­ing 1950s Sci­ence Fic­tion Mag­a­zine

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Kerry W says:

    Sev­er­al sto­ries show: “Chap­ter one” by Issac Asi­mov, or “Chap­ter one” by HG Wells. Please rec­ti­fy miss­ing titles. thanks.

  • Kerry W says:

    Sev­er­al Titles are miss­ing: There is “Chap­ter one, chap­ter two, etc” by HG Wells and “Episode one, etc” by Issac Asi­mov. Please rec­ti­fy. Thanks.

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