This month’s Top Picks are some of the most clever stories I’ve heard in a while. I guess January is just a clever kind of month!
*A Brief Correction*
I feel a little silly, but sometimes I get my wires crossed! “The Sounds of Old Earth” featured in last month’s episode…should have been in THIS month’s episode, as it was published at the very beginning of January. Oh well, at least it got mentioned, if a little early.
*Top Picks from January 2013*
“The First Conquest of Earth” by David W. Goldman
The Drabblecast Ep. 270
— While the premise of this story is by no means original – I can think of a few stories detailing how Earthers can end up on the wrong side of intergalactic law – I enjoyed the peculiar direction Goldman took with the repercussions. Told in the form of several distinct vignettes it might take you a little while to grasp the big picture, but in the end, the same could be said for the Earth citizens in the story.
“Driftings” by Ian McDonald
Clarkesworld Magazine January Issue
— Here we meet a sculpture artist who works in the medium of disaster. A slow-moving tale, “Drifitings” does not capitalize on a gotcha ending, but rather a gradual examination of how we treat tragedy. Toward the climax of the story, I hope you too will wonder how you would behave if faced with the artist’s dilema.
“Punk Voyager” by Shaenon Garrity
Escape Pod Ep. 380
— This story put a smile on my face…I mean, it didn’t suck. I’m about as far from a “punk” as they make um, but both the dialect of the characters and the intense attitude in narrator Nathaniel Lee’s voice won me over. The science makes not a lick of sense, but then again, neither does most of the plot. Instead the story develops into a kind of punk fable. This is especially the case with the ending, whose moral appears to be, “Geez, shut up already!”
“In the Moment” by Jerry Oltion
StarShipSofa Ep. 274 (timecode 46:30)
— This story merges two great dramatic elements: young love and the end of the world. At least, a potential end of the world. If you’ve ever shivered in a dewy meadow, maneuvering a telescope, you’ll feel a twinge of nostalgia during this story. Personally, I’ve always found stargazing intensely boring, but then, I’ve never had a giant chunk of rock hurtle toward me while doing it. Maybe that makes it much more interesting. The two characters in this story seem to think so.
“Enzymes” by Greg Stolze
Pseudopod Ep. 317
— I listened to this story with a couple friends in the car, and we all had a good time listening as it started off. We knew that there was some kind of a supernatural monster element involved, but it took us a while to figure it out. Despite it’s home at Pseudopod, a horror market, this story sits closer to “weird” than “horror.” I also enjoyed the touching second act of this tale, which has a hint of romance.
“How I Lost Eleven Stone and Found Love” by Ian Creasey
StarShipSofa Ep. 271 (timecode 22:20)
— If you listened to these in order, then “Enzymes” would flow nicely into this short piece on love and silly space creatures. A longtime fat guy finds a new chance at life when he adopts a parasitic alien as a pet. Things go swimmingly until his pet begins to grow sick. The necessary visit to the vet’s office begins an empathetic and believable love story, which I hope you will enjoy.
I don’t have a lengthy editorial this month, but I have decided on a small procedural change, so I’ll mention it here. Normally I tend to put my favorite stories from each month in the “Top Picks” section. Often, though, there are a group of stories that fit together well into a feature section, such as the seasonal stories from last month. I’ve decided to always favor putting a great story in the Top Picks over a feature section, lest it be overlooked. That way the the most interesting stories will always get top billing, even if they might fit well into a themed group.
*4 Interesting Horror Reads*
Here are four stories in the horror genre that I though were worth featuring together. They range from Lovecraftian to adventurous, and any reader should find a few here to their liking.
“Triumph” by Damir Salkovic
Tales to Terrify Ep. 52 (timecode 10:52)
— Here is a dark story, not only because of its globe-spanning Lovecraftian search for arcane knowledge, but also because it deals with Nazis. For some reason Nazis have always been associated with dark rituals, and in this case they get their own alternate universe where their esoteric pursuits pay off and they defeat both the Russians and the Americans with a single Herculean blow. I was not prepared to like this story, but I was soon grow rapt in the strange tale and was even a little challenged by it (as we’re working with anti-heroes here). And don’t worry, the Nazis get what’s coming to them, Cosmic Horror-style.
“The Gaze Dogs of Nine Waterfall” by Kaaron Warren
Tales to Terrify Ep. 54 (timecode 16:31)
— This relatively rare “adventure horror” story caught my attention because it creates such a bizarre rabbit hole. Two sisters pursue strange vampire dogs in a remote tropical village, following a trail that spans nine weird waterfalls. I’d love to hear thoughts on this one over at the Goodreads forum!
“Dig Me No Grave” by Robert E. Howard
SFFaudio Podcast Ep. 197
— This story was mislabeled in the podcast file as having been authored by Lovecraft himself. Thus I was baffled at how clearly and concisely the tale was told. As it turned out, it was actually written by the author of the Conan stories, and thus takes the “whack over the head” approach to Lovecraftian narrative. I found this story both gripping and evocative.
“Violent Delights” by Harry Shannon
Tales to Terrify Ep. 53 (timecode 31:37)
— This last story is a bit on the gory side, but not to the extreme of, say, a splatterpunk story. What struck me here was the effective depiction of a woman with almost no empathy for her fellow man. It’s a bit rough to hang in there with the main character, but I think you’ll find it a worthwhile listen.
*Two Great Pulps*
Pulp fiction is a tough genre to select from, as so many stories range from boring to offensive to bad! That said, two stories from Protecting Project Pulp this month stood out as enjoyable reads, so I thought I’d pass them along to you.
“Devil’s Asteroid” by Manly Wade Wellman
Protecting Project Pulp Ep. 27
— This story reminds me a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom series. A man is deposited on a Martian (yes, Martian) penal colony and immediately jumps from one heroic offensive to another, garnering respect from those pure of heart along the way. There’s little that will reward the sophisticated reader’s intellect, but if you have a nostalgia for adventure pulps of old, this one will do the trick.
“Tarzan Rescues the Moon” by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Protecting Project Pulp Ep. 28
— Surprise, surprise, this one IS by Burroughs, though in a completely different vein of his work. I’ll admit, I am a new fan of Burroughs and this was my first experience with Tarzan. I can see why the character caught fire in its day. He is heroic, pure of heart, and lives above both the men and the beasts. For a great window into the character of Tarzan, I certainly recommend this one!
*A Plug for a New Market*
As you may recall, I’ve mentioned several works by M. Darusha Wehm in the last few months. Now she has taken it upon herself to launch a new magazine for the mystery genre. Technically mysteries are not a “speculative” genre, but they have always been “speculative adjacent” in my mind, and there are so very few mystery markets today. So if you’re interested in helping out with Plan B Magazine, head over to their IndieGoGo page to donate and maybe pick up a donor reward in the process!
Our closing quote for the week:
“The bold are helpless without cleverness.” –Euripides
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This article was first published on Science Is Magic, home of the Synthetic Voices podcast. Reprinted here under a CC license.