Synthetic Voices #16 – March 2013 Top Picks

SynthVoicesBigSwirl_200This was one of those wonderful, terrible months where there were simply too many good stories to choose from.  Buckle up!

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This month I have a couple hijinks in play surrounding the podcast.  First, if you have attended the podcast discussions I run each month at the 3rd Friday meeting of the Washington Science Fiction Association, that discussion will now be held separately on a date and time yet to be determined.  I’ve had some scheduling conflicts come up with that regular meeting, and I figure a separate event will give us all more time to discuss  the stories.  I’m working on the logistics right now, so watch the Synthetic Voices Facebook page or for coming details.

Next, this is just a teaser…I’m in talks with another podcast that you surely already know.  If all goes well, you may see some component of Synthetic Voices syndicated on that show…as soon as this month, possibly!

Lastly, I just wanted to share the joy…Tales to Terrify has negotiated with all of the Bram Stoker short story nominees this year and as a result, each and every one will be recorded and podcasted!  Escape Pod usually does the same thing for the Hugo short story nominees during their Hugo Month, and it’s good to see horror getting some award-winning, audio love as well!

*Top Picks from March 2013*

“Let’s Take This Viral” by Rich Larson
Lightspeed Magazine March Issue
35:06 mins/sec
— You may know cyberpunk, but what about “cyberscenester.”  To my understanding, a “scenester,” is somebody obsessed with being seen in the right place, at the right time, sitting ahead of the curve.  Mesh that with nigh-immortal post-humans and you’ll have one wild ride.  The dizzying, neuro-hedonistic party lifestyle of the two main characters may give you some wicked whiplash, but after you get the hang of it, you might enjoy the deeper meaning woven into the psychedelic fabric of this story.  Oh and fair warning, this story is definitely for mature listeners only.

“Wings” by Nathaniel Lee
Pseudopod Ep. 324
52:29 mins/sec
— I don’t want to spoil the cleverness of this imaginative homage, but I should say a few words about it.  This story does an excellent job redesigning an iconic minor character and stretching him from two dimensions to three.  “Wings” goes a little dark, but nothing regular listeners can’t handle.  Plus there are some truly unique special effects in the audio file!

“Throwing Stones” by Mishell Baker
Podcastle Ep. 251
48:03 mins/sec
— Despite my general distaste for poetic fantasy tales, this story won me over.  Both the protagonist, an enigma of questionable gender, and the mysterious goblin drew me in as their motivations unfolded.  The goblin creature used in this story was new to me, especially its worldview, which resembles the gift economy from Burning Man.  I found the final message at the end of the story interesting, too, if a tad underemphasized.

“Bakemono, or The Thing That Changes” by A.B. Treadwell
Beneath Ceaseless Skies Ep. 99
42:50 mins/sec
— It’s been a long while since I featured a BCS episode on the show, but this one caught my attention.  Departing from Arthurian sword and sorcery, this story shifts our gaze East toward a bloody conflict between Japan and Russia.  A young boy finds himself entranced by a captured girl from the savage hills and must come to terms with what is happening to both of them.  Many threads come to a head at the end of this story, and while chaotic, I think the author pulled it off.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Goodreads forum!

While I’m on the subject, by the way, I was fortunate enough to win Beneath Ceaseless Skies’ latest contest, celebrating their 100th episode.  My prize was a copy of Saladin Ahmed’s audiobook Throne of the Crescent Moon.  Now I know what you’re thinking…”I LOVED ‘Where Virtue Lives,’ on Podcastle last month and wish I’d won a whole audiobook in that same universe.”  Well, I can’t mail each and every one of you a copy of the CD, but I will listen to it in the near future and review it on the show.  If it sounds like you can’t live without it…grab your own MP3 CD and support the author.  This one is surprisingly cheap, costing less than a lot of paperbacks!

“Jackie’s Boy (Parts 1 & 2)” by Steven Popkes
StarShipSofa Eps. 280 and 281
~2 hrs 10 mins
— This is probably one of the longest stories I’ve featured as a top pick, but I think it earns its length.  A boy who has survived a horrific apocalypse finds himself in an automated zoo with a dwindling supply of animals.  This is the starting point for a journey with biologically enhanced elephant named Jackie.  Together they face danger, but also learn to enjoy one another’s company, in a strange, interspecies kind of way.  Unlike a lot of the snappy sci-fi stories you probably come across, this story is a slow burn, with numerous adventures and a lot of neat twists.

“86, 87, 88, 89” by Genevieve Valentine
Clarkesworld Magazine March Issue
41:03 mins/sec
— Terrorism, fascism, and human interest all come together in this story.  Events are laid out in a bizzare kind of inversion of the 9/11 attacks and our protagonist finds herself in a grungy cleanup job after the fact.  We see an America that is changed, a people afraid of their government and their fellow citizen.  It’s hard to do this story justice, as it has so many moving parts, so I suggest just reading it and seeing what you can pick up as you sift through the rubble.

*Jimmy’s Rant*
Short rant this month: Why were there only 3 short stories nominated for the Hugo?!?!

*Aliens and Ladies*
Here are two great stories that were presented in March as a part of The Drabblecast’s month of alien stories by female authors.

“Amid the Words of War” by Cat Rambo
The Drabblecast Ep. 274
45:45 mins/sec
— This is an amazing piece of alien fiction.  The insectoid protagonist shares its dark tale of love, adventure, violence, and woe.  It’s hard to get inside the head of an alien, but Rambo sends you there with surprising ease.

“The Universe of Things” by Gwyneth Jones
The Drabblecast Ep. 277
34:38 mins/sec
— This other alien story comes from the human point of view, specifically that of a bored auto mechanic.  His world is shaken when an alien, part of a recent delegation of extraterrestrial visitors, walks into his shop and asks for some auto repair.  While the action of the story is largely unremarkable, his reaction to a non-human will leave you thinking about how you yourself might react in his stead.

*A Trio of Old Recordings*
Here are three great audio works from the annals of the internet.

“Fire Watch” by Connie Willis
The Journey Into… Podcast, Journey #64
1:22:05 hrs/mins/sec
— This cast recording was one of the best bits of fiction I listened to all month.  The voice acting is wonderful!  A young graduate student travels back in time from our distant future to study the destruction of The Blitz on London (during WWII).  His ill preparation for the trip blends with the overall chaos and terror of the environment.  It’s a great drama, one of the first in a series of similar time travel stories by Willis.

“The Shadow Kingdom” by Robert E. Howard
SFFaudio Podcast Ep. 202
2:06:29 hrs/mins/sec (including discussion)
— This King Kull story was my first exposure to the character of Kull, though not to Howard’s work.  Follow the newly-crowned king as he fights other-worldly assassins and forges new alliances with one-time enemies.  It’s not the most intellectual read of the month, but it makes for a great escape.  And as always the folks over at SFFaudio do a nice job discussing the story afterward!

“Knock” by Fredric Brown
The Journey Into… Podcast, Journey #65
48:26 mins/sec
— If you enjoy Twilight Zone-style stories, “Knock” will be right up your alley.  Imagine yourself to be the last man alive on Earth.  How would you react?  Probably not as calmly as our main character.  Even so, this one was a fun listen, if incredibly sexist.  But so was The Twilight Zone, at times.

*A Worthy Novel*
Here is a free audio novel for your enjoyment.

“The Status Civilization” by Robert Sheckley
SFFaudio Podcast Ep. 204
4:53:58 hrs/mins/sec
— I’d not heard of this classic novel before it popped up on the podcast feed, but wow what a trip!  We follow an amnesiac prisoner from his home on Earth to the evil prison planet of “Omega.”  There he finds a worship of evil, an insane government, and, of course, a lady upon whom to fix his attentions.  It has all the makings of a great, pulpy adventure novel, but then…you find you’ve actually started thinking about the consequences of both the Omega and Earth civilizations.   That’s right, after you’ve cut your teeth in the robot death arena, you’ll be wondering about utopian and dystopian archetypes.  I don’t want to spoil the bizarre twists in this novel, but suffice to say that Sheckley doesn’t always take you where you’re expecting to go!

Oh and once you’ve finished listening, check out SFFaudio’s excellent discussion of the novel, which is definitely worth the listen.

Our closing quote for the week:
“When your podcast should have been out yesterday, you don’t always have time to look for a snazzy quote.”  –Jimmy Rogers



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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