Ah yes, me and my Sofa. I feel confident calling it my Sofa. With a capital S because the sofa I’m referring to, StarShipSofa, is a podcast magazine. And I can call it mine because it’s a collaborative effort. It belongs to everyone else who works on it too. Yes, it was Tony C. Smith and Ciaran O’Connor’s brain-child and is kept up and running now by Tony and a small team of people. But really, it’s a work attributable to many, many people. There are the authors, whose fiction and poetry are offered up for our listening pleasure; the narrators, without whom there would be no fiction to listen to; the artists, who give the “cover” of the Sofa that special pizzazz each month; the contributors of fact articles (Genre History; Science News; movie, book, comics and game reviews; Philosophy of SF; soundtrack magic; SF science explained, SF freebies found on the web). There are easily 20 people who contribute on a regular basis and more people than I care to count who have contributed a single time or just a few times (the authors and artists mostly).
StarShipSofa (SSS) is a FanZine and even won a Hugo Award as such. It even prompted the powers that be in Hugo-land to create a separate Hugo Award for Best FanCast (for audio and/or video offerings as opposed to print). Tony Smith puts together a show modeled after the create SF Magazines like Asimov’s and F&SF, and I believe its content is unique among podcasts. But I could be proven wrong….
It was 2006 when I started listening to StarShipSofa. I had just moved to London and found myself with lots of time on my hands and a brand new iPod. When I looked for podcasts on SF to listen to SSS was one of the first I found (that and EscapePod). Back then it was Tony and Ciaran O’Connell shootin’ the shit about a particular author and their body of work. I thought that sounded interesting enough and once I learned how to decipher their Geordie accents (they’re from Newcastle, England) I discovered they were darned funny too. After listening to a few backlogged shows I started listening to the most recent ones. At the end Tony gave a shout-out for their new Members Forum. What I found there was a great bunch of people actually talking about Science Fiction. A few days later I got a private message from Tony Smith himself!! He welcomed me to the forum and said that since it was still small he could still check out all of the new members. He’d followed a link to my MySpace space and listened to my music. He said he was just blown away by this song I sang solo on with my church choir when we were on tour to Prague and could he please play it on SSS?? Pretty please??? OK, I was a little perplexed because it has nothing to do with SF and it’s a pretty bad quality recording (although the song is great). But who was I to say no to a little free advertising?
Anyway, the atmosphere on the forum was the most friendly, most supportive (of the members’ activities) I had ever experienced. Many of the people I met there I consider friends now and are still active on SSS in various capacities.
Skipping on ahead to 2008. I had just moved back to Germany and again found myself with lots of time on my hands (this happens when you move around with your husband’s job. I’m the one who can work anywhere, theoretically). I was chatting with Tony, who had just revamped SSS into a podcast like EscapePod. Well, it was a little more complicated than that, but he started getting fiction narrated for the show. I mentioned that I read aloud to my husband each night before bed and that we were reading the Earthsea series at the moment. I got an email from Tony putting the Smith charm on to get me to narrate a story for him. It sounded like fun, so I bought a microphone, boned up on Audacity, which is a free recording software and gave it a bash. Well, actually, I gave it two bashes, but Tony loved the narration. It was Infinity Syrup, which is a great story by Laurel Winter (who is also an SF poet of note). It appeared on SSS Aural Delights No. 10. Since then, I’ve done 31 narrations of fiction and poetry and since 2010 I’ve done 8 Poetry Planet segments. I also appeared on a couple of the Sofanaut podcasts – a shortlived round-table kind of podcast with authors and editors and the like. I’ve also done narrations for a couple of other podcasts but not nearly as many as for SSS. If you’d like to check out my podcast appearances, I have a running list going on my personal blog here.
I listen to SSS each week. For was a while there, when I didn’t have time to listen to the whole thing. And you know what I skipped? The fiction. Yes, I skipped the “meat” of a podcast focusing on Science Fiction. I just wanted to hear all the rest of it – to stay “connected” to my friends. Amy H. Sturgis’ brilliant “A Look Back at Genre History,” J.J. Campanella’s informative “Science News,” Morgan Saletta’s “Life, the Univers and Everything,” Dennis Lane’s “Film Talk,” Matthew Sanborn Smith’s rare and crazy “Fiction Crawler” (not to mention his own zany 5-minute fiction podcast “Beware the Hairy Mango”) and most of all Tony’s waffling at the beginning and the end of the show. I’ve had a major shift in my life recently which means I now have time to listen to podcasts again and I’m really enjoying the fiction SSS has to offer again as well as new Fact Articles like “Cheapskates” by Adam Pracht, “Movie Soundtracks” by David Raiklen and “Hugo Reviews” by Andy Tomaswick. I’ve also branched out and added SSS’s sister podcast Tales to Terrify hosted by Lawrence Santoro (1 of 4 podcasts that make up The District of Wonders all produced by Tony C. Smith) to my regular listening queue.
My story is doubtless similar to many of the old-timers on SSS but Tony puts out the call for narrators and people willing to do a fact article for the show regularly, maybe even every show. Now, this could be tedious, if Tony weren’t just that sort of person whose enthusiasm is infectious. He waxes ecstatic in every show about the authors, the narrators and all the contributors. I think Tony could enthuse about the telephone book, if it caught his fancy. And that, my friends, is why all of us contributors keep doing it. And doing it for free. Because Tony Smith does a bang-up job of making each and every one of us feel essential to the show’s success and integrity. He gives credit where credit is due and then some. Well, and then a lot more. OK, and he somehow manages to get hold of great fiction week for week. It’s astounding, frankly.
Long live the Sofa.