Synthetic Voices #19 – June 2013 Top Picks

SynthVoicesBigSwirl_200This month’s Top Picks aren’t as apocalyptic or grisly as last month’s (at least I hope!), but there is an air of unnerving, intellectual horror to them.  Not to say that the stories are all horror, but they will hopefully give you pause…make you think…



First off, I’d like to once again thank the Synthetic Voices discussion participants from last month.  Each of you added a valuable insight to the evening.  We even had a special guest, Editor of Pseudopod, Shawn Garret.  It was interesting to discuss Pseudopod’s story “Gig Marks,” pulling no punches for either our criticism or praise, and then turning around to Shawn and asking, why did YOU buy it?  I would LOVE to see more “involved” parties attend our discussions, so if you’re in the area, you’re hereby invited.

So how DO you participate?  Our next Synthetic Voices discussion group will meet, as usual, on the 1st Monday after the 3rd Friday, in this case, July 22nd from 7:30pm to 10pm.  We’ll be meeting at Jason’s Deli in College Park, all they way in their private back room.  After dinner, we discuss all of the fiction we can stand, with liberal breaks for complimentary soft serve.  You can find more details here:

Link, link

I also wanted to mention a new endeavor I’ve begun.  At the urging of friends who listen to the podcast, I’ve begun emailing editors whenever I feature their stories as either a Top Pick or a featured story.  I take my picks very seriously, but I had always been apprehensive about bothering busy editors with my upstart accolades.  After one month, I have gotten back NOTHING but encouragement, warm wishes, and excitement about said notifications.  In fact, several podcasts even plugged me on their show!  I plan to produce some 30-second and 1-minute drop-in promos for podcasts to use, but for now, I’ll just be happy with any verbal or linked plugs the show receives.  And of course thanks to Amazing Stories and StarShipSofa for the continued syndication.

One more thing: a while ago I mentioned a drabble of mine called “Benjy” that ended up on The Dribblecast.  Well Norm Sherman over at The Drabblecast clearly listens to The Dribblecast from time to time, and indeed, he used my recording on the latest episode of The Drabblecast proper, Episode 287.  Feel free to take a listen to that drabble, along with the rest of the episode as well!  Thanks a bunch, Norm!

*Top Picks from June 2013*

“The Penitent” by M. Bennardo
Beneath Ceaseless Skies Ep. 106
~30 mins
— This story of a nameless prisoner will take you into a dark rabbit hole.  Finding his cell door unlocked, the long-isolated prisoner finds the outside world incredibly different from what he expected.  I found myself rooting for him, hoping his sanity would last the length of the story.  While not all of your questions may be answered, I expect you’ll find the ending as unsettling as I did.  This one was a little out of character for the traditionally sword and sorcery-themed Beneath Ceaseless Skies, but I enjoyed it and hope this story heralds a more unpredictable menu of stories from the magazine.

“The Tale of the Golden Eagle” by David D. Levine
Escape Pod Ep. 402
~50 mins
— This was a lovely story.  I’d like to call it space fantasy with a bit of science fiction thrown in for authenticity; for example, interstellar ships piloted by cybernetic birds.  The description of these ships is really beautifully done.  On top of that, there is a bit of epic storytelling, a wonderful gambling scene, and an ending that I personally found quite satisfying.

“The Urashima Effect” by E. Lily Yu
Clarkesworld Magazine’s June Issue
~30 mins
— I’ve always enjoyed the conundrum of what to do while waiting around in a “sleep ship,” that is a ship where the occupants are put to sleep for an extended period of travel.  In this story, our sole passenger awakes ahead of landing (I believe in order to fully recover from sleep), and begins paging through pre-recorded messages from home.  In those messages he discovers a shocking truth about the nature of his voyage.  The “psychological action” of the story takes a little while to get going, but I think you’ll discover that all of the pieces eventually weave together into a massive decision for our lonely sojourner.

“Turning Point” by Poul Anderson
The Drabblecast Ep. 284
~40 mins
— Here, through the eyes of a few explorers, we meet an alien race on their home planet.  They turn out to be quite adept at our language and it seems that the more our explorers learn about the clever, but simple race, the more unsettled they become.  There are no secrets with these alien people, but there is a frightening realization, and subsequently a devious plan on the part of the humans.  I’ll leave you to judge the ethics of our protagonists’ actions.

“Neighbourhood Watch” by Greg Egan
Pseudopod Ep. 340
~55 mins
— As soon as I heard this story, I knew it would be a top pick this month.  First of all, the narration by Ron Jon Newton was fantastic, beautifully capturing the essence of an instinct-driven villain.  The writing, too, is spectacular, weaving in and out of various scenes easily.  To sum up as much as I dare, the story follows a monster, who lives underground in a planned community.  There is a deadly deal, an overconfident homeowners association diva, and an irascible little boy.  This story has a LOT going for it already, and I guarantee there’s more in store.

“Dead Men Walking” by Paul J. McAuley
Clarkesworld Magazine’s June Issue
~50 mins
— Sleeper agents, secret assassins, and subterfuge abound in this far-future story.  Many stories ask, “What would you do if you found out you were a sleeper agent?”  Well, this one dispenses with that, instead asking,  “What’s it like to have always known you were a sleeper agent?  And what will you do after your mission is complete?”  It’s a smart story, and while I found the non-linear organization a bit taxing, it was done with purpose and I found the ideas at work in the fictional world kept me interested through the ending.

*Jimmy’s Rant*
My correspondences with esteemed podcasters this month has taught me one lesson: even esteemed podcasters don’t get a regular dose of “good on ya” as often as they should.  I’m sure you all have favorite podcasts.  You may occasionally comment on their forums or send them a nice note here and there…

But what about the other podcasts, the up and comers who don’t get as much love as they ought to.  Or have you long taken a successful podcast for granted, assuming they get lots of fan mail.  Well I say take 10 minutes and send a nice note to an underappreciated podcast!  That is your task this month, now go out into the world and laud praise upon those hard-working narrators!

*Several Stories to Make You Think*
I found all three of these stories extremely thought-provoking, and quite good as well!

“The Problem of Cell 13” by Jacques Futrelle
Protecting Project Pulp Ep. 48
~1 hr 20 min
— I’ll start out with a disclaimer on this one.  It’s perhaps a bit too long and not for everybody.  I enjoy a good old-fashioned locked-room mystery, and while the protagonist is a bit on the arrogant side, it proved to be an interesting brain teaser.  In essence, a famously genius gentleman accepts a bet to break out of a maximum security prison cell.  Once he’s securely locked up, there’s nothing left to do but try to guess his means of egress, which is sure to surprise.

“Better Phones” by Grant Stone
StarShipSofa Ep. 293
~20 mins
— This short piece piqued my interest immediately because of the sparse details given to the reader.  In it a group of neighborhood runners are regularly pestered by a group of hyperathletic, phone-disrupting aliens.  The plot unfolds once one of the aliens is injured and our human protagonist must decide how best to handle the situation.  While there are few surprises, I enjoyed the subtle drama that plays out at the  end.

“Get a Grip” by Paul Park
Lightspeed Magazine’s June Issue
~30 mins
— I don’t want to give away too much about this one, but this story blind-sided me several times with its sharp twists and turns.  In fact I’m not even sure where things shook out in the end.  Ask yourself this, though, if parts of your life weren’t true, would you want to know which?

*You’re Going to Die and It Knows How…*
I am certainly a bit late to the party, but I have just discovered the MACHINE of DEATH anthology edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki.  In truth I first heard of the project back on Duotrope as I was figuring out where to send my fiction, but at the time the Duotrope listing was quite poor and I didn’t really “get” the genius of the project.  I’ll try to make up for that here.

Essentially the book, now completely narrated and available in podcast form for FREE, is an anthology of different writers’ takes on a similar prompt: What if there was a machine that could tell you how you were going to die with absolute accuracy?  What if those predictions were spartan statements of fact with no context, time, date, or even coherency?

The results of this experiment have been phenomenal and I can’t wait to listen to the second book, THIS IS HOW YOU DIE, coming out in print on July 16th!  There’s also a fun-looking card game you can buy right now.

I recommend listening to all of the stories, in the order they appear on the podcast, but if you don’t have the time or you need to be convinced, I recommend “TORN APART AND DEVOURED BY LIONS.”

Oh and PS, yes, that’s the same “M. Bennardo” from the earlier mentioned “The Penitent” at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, quite a talented fellow!

*A Lovecraftian Lovefest!*

“The Nameless City” by H. P. Lovecraft
Protecting Project Pulp Ep. 50
~30 mins
— As a fan of Lovecraft’s fictitious places and books, I really enjoyed this story.  While by modern horror standards the protagonist exploring the eldritch city comes off as a little too naive, it was interesting to follow his solo investigation of The Nameless City and see what evils he stumbled upon.

“The Rats in the Walls” by H. P. Lovecraft
Protecting Project Pulp Ep. 47
~1 hr
— If you’re a Lovecraft fan, you’ve likely already read this one, “The Rats in the Walls” being one of his most famous works, but my Lovecraftian education is just beginning, so it was a first reading for me.  I have to admit I didn’t love this story as much as I expected, but that may be because this one has a certain density to it that likely deserves further study.  I think this one is perhaps an intermediate Lovecraft read.

“Fishwife” by Carrie Vaughn
Nightmare Magazine’s June Issue
~30 mins
— As Lovecraft’s works were all published some time ago, in the appropriate language for the time, I’ve found some of my favorite stories are those merely “Lovecraftian,” having been penned by other authors in a sort of homage.  Here Vaughn’s story of a village’s gradual descent into murder and alien bargains may remind you of a story mentioned last month, “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”  While not a direct retelling, your “Deep Ones” detector should start going off shortly after the tale begins.

“The Derelict” by William Hope Hodgson
SFFaudio Podcast Ep. 219
~2 hr 18 mins (with discussion after)
— I include this last story knowing full well that William Hope Hodgson is not H. P. Lovecraft.  Even so, there is a similar vibe throughout and the story has a beautiful description of the mystery of finding a derelict floating upon the open sea.  It is another LONG one (running about an hour and a half) and certainly will not keep the interest of the modern reader.  Even so, I broke it up into a few sessions and made it through.  Plus the discussion at the end about Hodgson’s life and death are really quite interesting.  Good work SFFaudio crew!

Our closing quote for the week:
“The most merciful thing in the world…is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.”  –H. P. Lovecraft



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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