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Do You Hear What I’ve Heard?

a review by Sandra Odell

To those of you caught in the seemingly endless loop of too much to do/too little time to read, I say:  “Podcasts!”

“You can’t read podcasts,” you say.  True, but you can read on, dear friends, for with the next two columns we shall tour the internet in search of quality genre short fiction in the form of free audio and mp3 files available directly from the websites or through services such as iTunes.

Podcasts come in all shapes and sizes these days:  mainstream; alternative; music; literary; political; interview; DIY; butchering; baking; candlestick making.  You name it.

Most, but not all, serve a niche audience, yet what binds this divergent media together is a desire to share interests with a like-minded audience in a format that not only encourages audience participation via call-ins or forum feedback, but that hopes to hook new listeners with formats that keep people coming back.

First stop on our genre podcast tour is StarShipSofa, founded by Tony C. Smith and Ciaran O’Carroll in 2006 as a podcast of genre news and points of interest.

Not quite a year later, Tony went his own way with the launch of StarShipSofa’s Aural Delights, featuring Michael Moorcock’s London Bone, narrated by MCL Studios.  Since then, StarShipSofa’s Aural Delights has produced both new works and classics by the likes of Michael Bishop (episode #82, Vinegar Peace), Mike Allen (episode #74, The Button Bin), Clifford D. Simak (episode #165, The World That Couldn’t Be), and Genevieve Valentine (episode #171, Is This Your Day To Join The Revolution?).

StarShipSofa made Hugo Award history in 2010 as the first podcast to win for Best Fanzine.  StarShipSofa’s Aural Delights typically offers a selection of poetry, flash fiction, non-fiction/fact articles, and main fiction every week, and presents daily podcasts for Hugo and Nebula nominated stories as the awards come around.

I appreciate the narrative talent that crews StarShipSofa (Julie Davis, Lawrence Santoro, Randal L. Schwartz, and more), bringing life to the poetry and fiction selections.  Of the nonfiction articles, Amy H. Sturgis’s Genre History is by far my favorite, with Dr. J.J. Campanella’s Science News Update a solid second.

Unlike my other regular podcasts, I have fast forwarded through certain main fiction selections (either the story didn’t hold my attention, or the narration threw me off), and often wished there was a greater selection of shorter fiction pieces rather than multiple nonfiction/fact articles per episode.  The episodes can run long, but break down into easy listening chunks, a plus when you’re listening on the stop-and-go.

Clarkesworld Magazine began life as an online magazine in October 2006, and has gone on to win the 2010 Hugo for Best Semiprozine, and a 2009 World Fantasy Award:  Special Award Non-Professional, in addition to publishing a number of award-winning short stories.  Clarkesworld entered the world of audio podcasts in May 2008 with the production of Mary Robinette Kowal’s Clockwork Chickadee, narrated by the author.  Clarkesworld has since settled into a twice-monthly podcast of original fiction that has appeared in the magazine, with Kate Baker as host and narrator.

Clarkesworld is a magazine of alternative settings, realities or events.  The stories are stunning, the podcast production values (after they worked out a few early kinks) solid, and just enough magazine news to keep the listener up to date without bogging down the episode.

While I miss the variety of narrators from earlier episodes, Kate Baker is a deft narrator and host who does not allow her voice or personality to overshadow the story.  Kate manages to bring to life works such as Kij Johnson’s 2009 Nebula Award-winning Spar, Peter Watts’ 2010 British Fantasy Award nominated The Things and Yoon Ha Lee’s Ghostweight.  Given the high quality of such works, to say that the narrations only serve to make them even more enjoyable should be reason to sit up and take notice.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies galloped into the podcast arena on November 5, 2008 with Yoon Ha Lee’s Architectural Constants.  Since then BCS has provided listeners with tales of genre literary derring-do, tales of battles, magic, triumph and loss.  Like Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies showcases a particular type of story that may not find a home with some listeners.  For Beneath Ceaseless Skies that means no science fiction, no speculative horror or philosophical debates thinly disguised as plot, just old-fashioned adventure tales where the good guy may not always win, but he or she doesn’t go down without a fight.

BCS podcasts are straight forward, have solid production values, and offer an introduction and brief author bio before the featured story.  This makes for short, if somewhat dry, listening, but the format also leaves it to the stories to sink or swim on their own merits.

While I could wish for a bit more life to the narrations, I must admit BCS offers a fine selection of stories:  episode #3,  Kingspeaker by Marie Brennan; episode #27, Great, Golden Wings by Rachel Swirsky; episode #39, Mister Hadj’s Sunset Ride by Saladin Ahmed (a helluva story and easily my favorite BCS podcast), and episode #42, Prashkina’s Fire by Vylar Kaftan.

That’s all for this ti – oh!

A word about podcasts and sharing before we part.

The above podcasts are produced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 U.S. license, meaning you can copy and share the files all you like so long as you retain attribution to the author.

Don’t sell them, don’t change them, but by all means enjoy them with your friends.  Stripping off podcast credits and claiming the work as your own, or attempting to sell it in another form or market, is not only a bad idea, the podcast monkeys will find you and, well, it isn’t pretty.

Remember, lawyers don’t fling poo.

So, that’s all for this time.  I’ll see you around next time for part two of our genre podcast tour.  So many podcasts, so little time.  Until then, be safe and keep listening.

copyright February 2011 by Sandra Odell

By day a happily married mother of two teenage boys, at night Sandra Odell would like to fight crime, but lacking a spandex suit she has settled on writing and searching for quality chocolate instead.  Her work has appeared in Jim Baen’s Universe, Ideomancer, The Drabblecast, and will be included in Horrorbound Magazine Publications’ upcoming trade paperback anthology Fear of the Dark.

[Return to the February 2011 main page]

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2 Responses

  1. […] Odell is with us, too, with the first of a two-part review of SF podcasts — Do You Hear What I Hear? And Jude-Marie examines the power of names in By Any Other […]

  2. Hey!
    This is a pretty great run-down of the fantastic podcasts out there, thanks!

    Have you seen EscapePod, PodCastle, and Pseudopod? They also contain lovely podcasts, mostly from reprints but occasionally new content.

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