Synthetic Voices #15 – February 2013 Top Picks

SynthVoicesBigSwirl_200Woweewow, I love February’s crop of Top Picks!  There is so much goodness I can hardly contain myself!  I think all tastes will be sated this month.

Discuss on:

*A Bit Part*
This month I got the opportunity to participate in a little audio fiction myself!  Marshal Latham of the Journey Into… Podcast asked me to play the part of Dr. Coleman in “The Mask of the Red Death (1920)” by Lee Lackey.  The story came about as the result of an Edgar Allen Poe-themed contest and it was an honor to play a part across from narrator Laurice White.  Take a listen if you’re so inclined!

*Top Picks from February 2013*

“The Very Pulse of the Machine” by Michael Swanwick
Escape Pod Ep. 385
53:21 mins/sec
— This story begins with a young woman who finds herself the only one alive on the surface of Io after a terrible accident kills her expedition partner.  As she drags said partner’s corpse across the expanse of the moon, she begins to make contact with what she believes to be a new life form.  The nature of that life form, coupled with it’s bizarre method of communication, will challenge your previous ideas about alien intelligence.  The story ends brilliantly.  I should add that the narrator did a very nice job, with the exception of pronouncing the moon as “Eee Oh” throughout the piece.

“Cry Room” by Ted Kosmatka
Pseudopod Ep. 322
21:32 mins/sec
— A twisted and bizarre tale, this story follows a man at a funeral as he attempts to quiet his upset child.  While his journey out of the sanctuary and into the cry room may be familiar, his subsequent descent into further cry rooms will have you wondering just how far the rabbit hole goes.  Another great example of weird fiction from Pseudopod!

“Where Virtue Lives” by Saladin Ahmed
Podcastle Ep. 246
53:28 mins/sec
— I loved this Eastern sword and sorcery adventure.  Ahmed’s world of traders, dervishes, and ghul hunters is immersive and will pull you along for the ride.  From what I have gleaned from the comments on the Podcastle discussion forum, this story is in the same world as Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon novel, so look that up if you’re hankering for more!

“Power Armor: A Love Story” by David Barr Kirtley
The Drabblecast Ep. 272
39:39 mins/sec
— Here, a mysterious inventor inside an Iron Man-esque suit begins a deadly dance with a crafty femme fatale.  Released on Valentine’s Day, this story was the perfect combination of calculating assassination, mechanized exoskeletons, and romance.  Plus the ending will keep you guessing and hoping until the very last moment.

“The Trinket” by P.G. Bell
Pseudopod Ep. 323
48:40 mins/sec
— As a lover of the legend of King Arthur, I have always had a special place in my heart for stories of Romans in Britain.  This story isn’t particularly Arthurian, but the Roman soldiers described within run into more than a little local magic.  I don’t usually like multiple timeline stories, but Bell pulls it off beautifully and the narrator does a good job conveying breaks in the chronology.  So grab your gladius and ask yourself, “What are YOU fighting for?”

“The Mad Scientist’s Daughter” by Theodora Goss
StarShipSofa Ep. 278
~1 hr
— Before listening to this story, I recommend taking a look at the text over at Strange Horizons.  There are a LOT of ladies names bandied about in this one, mostly hypothetical names of classic mad scientist’s daughters, so having an in-text reference might be handy.  That said, both the reading and the the text of this story are fantastic.  The story manages to be highly referential without being merely an homage.  Instead each character has their own well-developed backstory.  Goss has elevated the “home for monsters” story above its usual trope-y confines.

*Jimmy’s Rant*
February was a fairly good month for fiction, but I have to admit that most of my go-to fiction markets really let me down in December and January.  It was tough to FIND top picks among the bushels of lemons being served up to my ears.

Since this is my dedicated area for ranting, I thought I would put down a few of my own observations about what makes a story go BAD.  We’ll assume our esteemed fiction editors are not just picking only BAD stories to begin with…

First, there is the schedule.  As a listener to as many podcasts as I can find, I can tell you authoritatively that almost ALL of my favorite stories each month are either published on the first or the last day of the month.  While I understand a number of markets are in “magazine format” and want to front-load their ebooks with solid stories, most markets don’t have this excuse and still leave a gaping hole in the middle of their monthly lineups.  The stories in the middle of the month aren’t always bad, but they’re almost never primo stories from the most esteemed authors.

Second, let’s say we now have a nice, smooth lineup of great stories each week.  Many podcasts, regardless of how well-funded they are, often have every story read by the same narrator.  I don’t care how in love your listeners are with your primary narrator, variation is important.  One size narrator does NOT fit all.  In fact, I would recommend a minimum of one male and one female, especially when stories reveal the main character’s gender late in the story and would lead to confusion for the reader.

Lastly, don’t let editorial voice flatten the diversity of your fiction!  Even the most genre-specific market shouldn’t run the exact same “feel” of story every week.  Running too many stories by one author is an easy way to do this.  Another way is to run the same “type” of story every week.  For an example, a to-remain-nameless podcast seems to have started running only stories of the “I know a thing!” variety.  In other words, all of the stories are front-loaded with a lengthy description of some specialized knowledge or skill, before the meat of the story has begun.

You, the non-editorial listener of podcasts, may wonder, why is Jimmy bothering to tell me this?  The world of podcasted audio fiction is not only new, but also small.  Listeners have a much larger voice and can express those voices to fiction editors.  Speak up and share your opinions via email or social media.  You don’t have to share my opinions, but hopefully I’ve said a few things that will resonate with your own observations.

*Altered Perceptions*
These stories explore new ways of looking at the world…

“The Electric Ant” by Phillip K. Dick
The Drabblecast Ep. 273
59:52 mins/sec
— Wow, this story will make you realize why Dick is such a titan of the genre.  The logic and technology of the story are a bit odd or outdated, but the essential, existential question stands firm.  How do we know what we know?  And how do we know it?  Follow an android around as he questions the difference between reality and his own programming.  Then stick around for Norm Sherman’s awesome post-story discussion of solipsism.

“Vacant Spaces” by Greg Kurzawa
Clarkesworld Magazine February Issue
37:57 mins/sec
— Are there mystic planes where the soul and the body become two distinct entities?  According to this story’s author, there are.  Follow the plight of one salvage ship crew as it fights desperately to reunite bodies with souls and return the ship to port.

“They Go Bump” by David Barr Kirtley
Escape Pod Ep. 382
51:03 mins/sec
— Ah, invisibility, a trope, but rarely approached by modern authors.  Admittedly this story takes a little bit of time to get going, but I really enjoyed the barren world in which surface-walkers are always at risk of being detected by deadly space satellites.  That is, when deadly invisible assassins aren’t stalking you.  I loved the point of view granted by this story — every character is totally invisible.

“The Man With The Broken Soul” by Matt Wall
Pseudopod Ep. 320
32:14 mins/sec
— In this dark and somewhat Lovecraftian tale, an academic stumbles upon a way to essentially make “horcruxes” of Harry Potter fame.  The split soul pieces operate more like dopplegangers, however, granting him vastly more time.  As you can imagine there are drawbacks to this scheme, as illustrated by the other-worldly ending.

*Three Great Flash Stories*
A bit of flash…THREE bits, in fact!

All three of the following stories were featured in a “Trifecta” episode on The Drabblecast (#271).

“Fool” by Steven R. Stewart
— A story of hope and longing in the lifespan of a moth.

“The Desires of Houses” by Haddayr Copley-Woods
— An unabashed piece of erotica, this piece plays with anthropomorphism and desire.   It will be on your mind for days!  My favorite of the three.

“Spidersong” by Alex Shvartsman
— A creepy tale of creepy children and creeping, alien spiders.

*2 Tongue-in-cheek Tales*
You may find these stories a bit on the humorous side.

“Neighborhood Watch” by H.G. Stratmann
StarShipSofa Ep. 275
~40 mins
— I love this story because I’m convinced that it was at least in part written to land a terrible pun found right in the middle of the text.  That said, this silly tale holds its own as it describes the xenophobic inhabitants of our solar system deciding on our fate, now that we have started making greater strides in space exploration.  If you can buy into the premise (and overlook the pun), I think you’ll smile at this one.

“Space Patrol: Commander Corry”
Journey Into… Podcast, Journey #60
15:59 mins/sec
— Possibly falling into the “unintentionally funny” category, this pulpy space adventure from 1950’s radio follows the adventures of Commander Corry and his Robin-esque sidekick as they battle the forces of evil.  “Smokin’ rockets!”

*Now and Again*
Two audio takes of the same story.

“On The Acquisition Of Phoenix Eggs (Variant)” by Marissa Lingen
Lightspeed Magazine January 2012 Issue
Read by Hillary Huber
Podcastle Ep. 245
Read by Tina Connolly

— Here is a neat pair of fiction readings.  The former is read by Hillary Huber, of the Skyboat Road Company Inc. production company.  The latter is read by author/narrator Tina Connolly, of Toasted Cake fame.  I think both narrators did a nice job, so feel free to listen to a few seconds of each and decide which you prefer.  It’s a great story of wealthy sorceresses matching wits for the acquisition of phoenix eggs.

Our closing quote for the week:
“Great wealth and content seldom live together.”  –Thomas Fuller



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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