Synthetic Voices #13 – December 2012 Top Picks

This month has been a tumultuous one – travel, holidays, and illness.  Podcasted fiction seems to have also had a hard time, December representing the weakest month for fiction that I have yet seen.  Even so, we shake off the snow from our cloaks and gather round the fire to discuss the best stories from December and the year at large!

Click Here to Listen to Synthetic Voices Ep. #13

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*Top Picks from December 2012*

“Pop Quiz” by Curtis James McConnell
The Drabblecast Ep. 265
34:39 mins/sec
— This was one of my favorite stories this month.  A lot of young science fiction writers begin writing short stories that revolve around one really smart zinger ending.  Very few manage to produce anything decent, and for good reason.  It requires a particular attention to detail and timing, like making a fine wine.  Done properly  you get a lovely story like this one: a man is interrogated and must be tested for an invisible enemy within himself.  You’ll wonder throughout, just what can the test be?

“Sleep And Wake” by Holli Mintzer
Podcastle Ep. 238
37:20 mins/sec
— Loosely based on the Sleeping Beauty ethos, this urban fantasy is concise and clever.  A young man and his neighbor discover that his new apartment houses a secret room.  You can guess who lingers inside, but you might be surprised how this one turns out.  I found the whole story believable and a joy to read.  A disclaimer, the author is actually a friend of mine, living in the next burg over.  That said, this story stands easily on its own two feet.

“The Sounds of Old Earth” by Matthew Kressel
Lightspeed Magazine December Issue
38:11 mins/sec
— Here a man hides away in his ancient familial home as the world ends.  It ends not by the hand of God, but by the hand of Man, specifically Man’s space-based cutting lasers.  The story asks if we could give up this world to feed the birth of another, or whether we would rather hang about until this one shrivels and dies.  The descriptions are great and the sentiment feels real.

“Feeding The Machine” by Hunter James Martin
Pseudopod Ep. 312
24:12 mins/sec
— Unlike some of the others on this list, this story dips a little South of sane.  Follow a worker in The Machine as he describes daily life and justifies the grizzly cost of The Machine’s operation.  It’s a grim tale, but the author does a nice job placing you in the pit with the rest.  Warning: Some mild gore and language.

“The Perfect Match” by Ken Liu
Lightspeed Magazine December Issue
52:48 mins/sec
— As I first listened to this story, I felt disappointed in the author.  Liu seemed to be retelling a rather trope-y science fiction story about a computer that knows better and takes away personal choice from the people.  It’s true that he sets up the first half of the story this way, but I was surprised and relieved to see that the second act takes a decidedly modern turn.  Even if the ending doesn’t sate your need for closure, I think you’ll be impressed by the intricate climax and resolution.

“Crossroads” by Laura Anne Gilman
PodCastle Ep. 237
22:53 mins/sec
— This final Top Pick is a short tale of magic and order in the Old West.  If you were the sheriff of a one-horse town, how would you deal with two immortal creatures dueling on your doorstep?  This might make a nice aperitif between any two of the others on this list.

*Year’s Best Podcasted Fiction – 2012*

Instead of formally editorializing this month, I’ve decided to editorialize formally and write up a list of the Best Podcasted Fiction of 2012.  My list is comprised solely from stories already featured on Synthetic Voices (or its predecessor top lists).  There’s a whole blog post dedicated to my selections already, so I’ll just read the names on the show and then you can click through to find all the links and descriptions.

*An Xmas Sampler*
A lot of Christmas and otherwise holiday-inspired pieces come out each December.  Here are a few that I thought represented the season well.  Let’s roll them out in order of most traditional to most avant garde…

“It’s A Wonderful Life” Originally Broadcast by Lux Radio Theater
Journey Into… Podcast, Journey #54
1:18:50 hrs/mins/sec
— Sometimes it’s fun to revisit a classic in a different format.  Utilizing several of the original actors from the famous film, this radio version of “It’s A Wonderful Life” is similar, yet in places different from the original.  Plus, old-time radio ads for soap are always interesting.

“Marley and Cratchit” by David Steffen
Escape Pod Ep. 375
48:26 mins/sec
— Many re-tellings exist of the classic “A Christmas Carol,” so this story attempts to circumvent Scrooge as much as possible, instead focusing on Mr. Marley and Mr. Bob Cratchit.  I thought it was a clever take on the worn tale, integrating alchemy and madness into an otherwise ghost-laden plot.  The podcast host makes a number of good suggestions for other Dickensian homages, so check those out as well.

“The Spirit of Christmas” by James Lovegrove
Tales to Terrify Ep. 49 (timecode 30:36)
~24 mins
— Another ghost story, in its way, this one follows a young patriarch as he is repeatedly haunted by a present from his deceased father.  It’s not so much spooky as it is suspenseful, and you’ll be wondering till the end how things will turn out.  I also enjoyed the host Lawrence Santoro’s bit of fiction about his own childhood, which made for another nice wintry story.

“Postapocalypsemas” by Tim Pratt and Heather Shaw
The Drabblecast Ep. 267
36:43 mins/sec
— Tim Pratt is an annual guest on The Drabblecast during the Christmas season, and he did not disappoint this year!  If a cybernetic reindeer searching desperately for a little girl through a post-apocalyptic wasteland doesn’t grab your now-departed holiday spirit for just one more day…then probably nothing will.

*A Compact Trio of Ghost Stories*
Here’s a convenient set of midnight tales, sure to give you goosebumps on a cold winter’s night.

“Smee” by A.M. Burrage
“Number Ninety” by B.M. Croker
“Stories Like Pearls” by P.D. Cacek

Tales to Terrify Ep. 50
1:21:27 hrs/mins/sec
— The first story, “Smee,” details a ghostly game of hide-and-seek.  The second, “Number Ninety,” explores a haunted house with a questionable past.  The third, “Stories Like Pearls,” captures the initiation of a young child into the ghostly tradition of his family.  All three fall more on the “spooky” side of things, rather than “scary,” and will put you in a curious mood.

*Stories From the War*
A long-running series has finally come to an end.

“The Great Game” by James Vachowski
Cast of Wonders Ep. 1-7
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7
— This seven-part series of short stories first began publication on Cast of Wonders in June and I have been waiting until the conclusion of the series to share them with you.  “The Great Game” consists of seven stand-alone short stories that outline the adventures of an aged veteran of “The Great War.”  While each story imparts a separate adventure, they all share the same vein of bold heroism and obvious exaggeration   If you’re like me, you’ll give the old man some leeway in order to hear his tall tales.

*A New Podcast for Insomniacs*

NoSleepPodcast200Part of my mandate for this podcast is to introduce my listeners to worthy podcasts that attract my attention.  One such feed is The Nosleep Podcast.  This well-edited podcast is a labor of love for those denizens of the /r/nosleep part of Reddit.  If you’re not familiar with Reddit, it’s essentially a huge series of social ranking pages that list interesting links, images, and stories.  The nosleep subreddit compiles stories written by twisted Redditers to keep you up at night.  Thus far the stories on the podcast appear to range from common campfire stories to seriously twisted tales of terror.  All the stories are relatively short, and there are about 5 or 6 per episode.  I don’t have any specific recommendations this month, but I’ve liked a lot of what I’ve heard, and I’ll keep an ear out and let you know of anything particularly spectacular.

*Meet Andersson Dexter*

Here’s a fun series of cyberpunk detective novels, sure to pull you in.  M. Darusha Wehm, who has been featured for short fiction here on the podcast before, has written a trilogy of detective novels featuring the dauntless Andersson Dexter, “Dex” to his friends.  Set in a high-tech far-future world, Dex works as a kind of private investigator, investigating crimes not only in the real world, but also in the ever-present Everywherenet.  I’ve just listened to all three of the books over at Podiobooks.

The first book, Self Made, is by far the best of the three.  In it the world of Andersson Dexter is introduced, including his real job at a big firm and his side job with an underground organization called “The Cublicle Men.”  The world is huge, believable, immersive, and well represents how things might eventually turn out.  Issues of gender have largely been settled, but issues of identity, especially online, are still complex and far from simple.  Wehm’s world holds a mirror to our own…then adds a few hundred years of awesome technological advance.

The second and third books are a little more romance oriented than the first, and in that respect I think they suffer a little bit.  Hard-boiled detectives need a bit of an edge, I think.  If you were hooked by the first book, you might find these interesting, however, especially as the third book wraps things up nicely.

Our closing quote for the week:
“Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”  –Carl Bard



This article was first published on Science Is Magic, home of the Synthetic Voices podcast.  Reprinted here under a CC license.

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