It’s often said that good fiction is a feast for the imagination. In today’s edition of The Audio File we’re going to take that saying a bit more literally. All of our stories will be about food, drink and sharing a meal. I could talk about the significance of food and drink throughout speculative fiction, and literature in general. After all, sitting around a fire and sharing a meal with friends is one of the oldest traditions of humanity. However, I thought it would be more fun if we set the table using our imaginations.
Imagine you and I are sitting down for dinner at Chez Audio File. It is a fancy upscale restaurant renowned for the succulent audio offerings. The other patrons are spacemen, wizards, aliens, dragons, superheroes and anything else you can imagine. Our favorite drinks have been poured in our glasses and I have made an order for the restaurant’s finest offerings. Our meal has been prepared by some of the finest writers I have been able to find, and they’re cooking just for us.
Before long a team of waiters arrives at our table with steaming silver domes. With mounting anticipation the first dome is opening and our feast of fiction begins…
“A Memory of Seafood” by Tina Connolly
Narrated by Angela Lee
Originally Published in Yog’s Notebook
This story follows a futuristic travel writer who recounts a visit to the planet named Estplanet. It’s a marshy world with lots of rain, and more than a bit of strife between the locals, but the food is amazing. So she stops by a seafood restaurant run by two chefs from both of the feuding species. The meal is great, but what was that banging noise from the kitchen?
Yeah, I think you’ve probably pieced together by now that the thumping noise was one of the chefs getting murdered and cooked. To make matters worse he was apparently the most amazing thing the protagonist ever ate. Personally I kind of saw this story as allegory for the vegetarian vs. omnivore debate. True, farmed animals do often live in harsh conditions and they are often rather cute. On the other hand, meat is rather tasty and it is a good source of nutrition. All I’m saying is there’s shades of gray to go around, though I personally am omnivorous.
I’d like to take this opportunity to state that I do not condone the killing and eating of humans or other sentient species. I’d also like to take this opportunity to say that Angela did a really great job with the narration. A somewhat darkly humorous story that makes for a great first course. I very much recommend it.
“Local Delicacies” by Fran Wilde
Narrated by Lauren Synger
A Drabblecast Original
This story follows Besha, the manager of the El Corazon restaurant on the Vegas Strip. Besha often has to keep her boss Danny, who has a bit of a gambling problem, from completely ruining the restaurant. One day an alien named Xlot arrives and says Danny has betted that El Corazon is the best restaurant on Earth. A group of slug aliens are on their way to judge the contest. Besha’s in for the craziest shift of her life.
This was a really funny story just because of how over-the-top it got. I’ve never worked in the food industry before, but I imagine this story captured the feelings of stress and chaos those who do feel. I particularly liked the scene where the health inspector shows up, and how the characters took care of him. The little audio quirks really helped moved the story along, such as the record scratch at particularly incredulous moments. Speaking of audio, I thought that Lauren handled the narration quite well.
A humorous story that serves as a great pallet cleanser after heavy reading. Very much recommended.
“The Carnival Was Eaten, All Except the Clown” by Caroline M. Yaochim
Narrated by Norm Sherman
Originally Published in Electric Velocipede
This story is about a sugar clown who has been created by a magician to be the leader of his candy carnival. It is the clown’s job to generate the other members of the carnival and instill them with joy that they are to be eaten at children’s birthday parties. Admittedly, she isn’t quite sure what it means to be eaten for she never gets to go to the parties. That all changes one day when she goes to spy on her crush, the gingerbread daredevil. What will the sugar clown do with this horrible revelation?
It would have been very easy to play this story for some very dark comedy. Therefore, the fact that Caroline played this story completely straight and have it work really shows her skills as a writer. I know we’re supposed to sympathize with the clown, and for the most part I did, but the descriptions of the candy carnival made it sound really tasty. Plus who wouldn’t have wanted something like that when they were a kid for their birthday? The writing itself has a very rhythmic and poetic quality to it.
Norm really nailed it with his narration. It’s a story that’s short, sweet and to the point.
“Ghost in the Coffee Machine” by Charity Tahmaseb
Narrated by Veronica Giguere
A Drabblecast Original
This story follows a ghost hunter named Katy who catches ghosts in a magic coffee machine passed down from her grandmother. Things had been going well, but now she’s got competition from a ghost hunter named Malcolm who uses a Persian tea samovar. It seems like Katy’s out of business, but a few ghosts in the machines could change all of that.
I guess you could kind of describe this story as Ghostbusters, but as a romantic-comedy with lots of coffee. Personally I’m surprised that it didn’t occur to Katy to team-up with Malcolm sooner. You gotta figure she must have encountered a ghost who didn’t like coffee at some point. I know that would be an issue if I were a ghost that needed to be captured. Then there’s the question of what to do when a ghost doesn’t like coffee or tea, but maybe I’m overthinking things. The story kind of reminded me of how Danny Phantom caught ghosts with his…well it wasn’t quite magical but it was a thermos.
Veronica’s narration certainly managed to capture my attention. All in all it’s a good little story that I give a recommendation.
“Thanksgiving Day” by Jay Werkheiser
Narrated by Paul Haring
Originally Published in Analog
This story follows a group of colonist on a planet in the Tau Ceti system. Their crops haven’t been growing in the native soil, and local plants contain dangerously high levels of blood-thinners. The food supply is getting lower by the day and the colony is teetering on the edge of an all-out civil war. Can a good source be found in time to prevent disaster?
I was considering saving this one for my post about space colonization, but at its heart this is a story about the quest for food. Therefore, I figured it would fit in pretty well here. Navigating biochemical barriers is always a concern when colonizing other worlds, as are the different paths that evolution may have taken. I did find it a bit odd that the colonists had a ship that got them to Tau Ceti in ten years and artificial wombs for cloning rats, yet they still used manual labor rather than using robots. Of course, if they had those then it might have meant no story.
It was nice to see a story about two different groups of people learning to set aside their differences to solve a problem. It was also nice to hear Paul’s narration of the story. It’s a science fiction take on the story of Thanksgiving, and one you won’t want to miss out on.
“The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake” by Robert T. Jeschonek
Narrated by John Cmar
Originally Published in Space and Time Magazine
This story is set in the not too distant future in which all foods have limited AI capability. That means that items in a grocery store will do everything in their power to talk you into buying and eating them. The story follows a chocolate snack caked named Smidgen as he tries to convince a woman named Linda that he’s the snack she’s been desiring all along.
Smidgen can get fairly suggestive at times, but overall nothing too inappropriate happens in this story. That having been said, it certainly brings a new meaning to the phrase “food porn.” The scary part about this is that I can totally see this happening. Companies are always looking for new ways to push their products onto the public, and they’d probably leap at an opportunity like this. I’m not sure how the FDA would feel, but money certainly goes a long way with that sort of thing.
To pull off a story like this you need a good narrator, and Paul more than delivers in that regard. It a fun and slightly sexy story with a sweet ending. Very much recommended.
“It’s Easy to Make a Sandwich” by S.L. Bickley
Narrated by Ben Phillips
A Pseudopod Original
This story follows a young man who is a bit down on his luck. Life has dealt him more than a few knocks and he now finds himself working a dead-end job at a sandwich restaurant that is most likely a Subway. One day he decides to liven up his life by deliberately poisoning his customers.
I know that isn’t much for a description, but it isn’t that long of a story. It might no be a long story, but it is a very effective story. Whenever we go to a restaurant we put a certain amount of trust that those behind the counter won’t try to harm us. As this story show, if they wanted to, those in the service industry to do quite a bit of damage before anyone noticed. Though if you think that’s bad you might want to look at all the stuff the frequently goes on behind the scenes in the fast food world. It’s enough to make you swear the stuff off for good.
The story may be stomach-churning, but Ben’s narration goes down smooth. It’s a story that’ll have you thinking twice about where your food comes from. It’s also one I readily recommend.
“Raw Appetite” by Christa Pagliel
Narrated by Brian Rollins
Originally Published in Fictionvale’s Kitchen Sink
This story follows a culinary student who is living in Paris and studying under Chef Catalan, one of the finest chefs in all of France. One day Catalan take our protagonist into his confidence and unveils his latest plan. One of their finest customer’s is about to move away, and Chef wants to throw a farewell dinner so that he can murder the customer and cook his flesh into a delicious dish.
Again, the summary doesn’t sound like much but I promise it’s a good story. It kind of has a Ratatouille meets Sweeney Todd vibe to it. If there is a theme throughout this story it’s about the dangers of letting your passions consume you and going too far in pursuit of your art. The scene where they dispose of the customer’s car was kind of unintentionally funny. They find a series of fast food wrappers and Chef reacts as if he just discovered that his lover was having an affair. Though I suppose, from a certain perspective, that’s what it was.
The story may leave a bad taste in your mouth, but Brain’s narration is pleasing to the ears. A cautionary tale about raw passion gone wrong, and one that is very much recommended.
“The Rum Cake Runner” by Jessi Cole Jackson
Narrated by Michelle Ristuccia
Originally Published in Crossed Genres Magazine
This story takes place on the planet New Rio where sugar is a contraband substance. Nesi De Luca is a member of an Italian family who operate an illegal sweets bakery out of their home. Her job is to make deliveries for their various clients without getting caught. Little does Nesi know she’s about to make one of the biggest runs of her life.
Well first of all I thought that this was a fun little story. Having said that I had a few hang-ups with it. I guess my biggest one would be why is sugar banned on New Rio? I know Jessi was trying to draw parallels with Prohibition, but that ended after a few years whereas the sugar ban is implied to have been going on for generations. Surely there was a revolt at some point in New Rio’s history? On the other hand, maybe that goes to show possible dystopian undertones to New Rio’s government?
The name of the planet itself seems to suggest that it was colonized by Brazilians, but we don’t really see any in the story. Then again, Brazil is a fairly diverse nation, so perhaps its off-world colonies follow suit. There was like one racial slur in the story, but Nesi gets immediately reprimanded for using it. It didn’t bother me, and I think that Cast of Wonders really overdid it with their explanation of why it was included. Guys, we get it. Racism sucks, but you’re a young adult podcast. Young adults can handle that sort of stuff without being mollycoddled.
In terms of narration I thought that Michelle did a stellar job. I don’t want you to walk away thinking that I didn’t like this story. Despite its flaws I quite enjoyed it and I still give it a recommendation.
“Lizzy Viscera and the Quest for the Perfect Sandwich” by Spencer Koelle
Narrated by Danielle Daly
A Cast of Wonders Original
This story follows a college student/necromancer named Lizzy Viscera. She likes to eat different things for breakfast and dinner, but she likes her lunches to be consistent. She tries to make herself the perfect sandwich. Unfortunately, she’s all out of mayonnaise, and so Lizzy embarks on an epic quest to complete her sandwich before her next class begins.
I loved the way this story juxtaposes Lizzy’s cheerful and sunny personality next to some of the darker aspects of necromancy. For example, Lizzy uses a spellbook bound in human skin and written in blood and rides a flaming skeleton horse, all while being a slightly chubby blonde girl with rainbow streaks in her hair. Spencer has stated that he did this deliberately so that he could write about a female necromancer who wasn’t a stereotypical goth girl in a skull bra. I remember how hectic my first year of college was, so I can relate to Lizzy’s desire to beat the clock and get some decent lunch.
In terms of narration I thought that Danielle did a great job brining to story to life. It’s a fun little story that’s sure to liven up your day.
“Help Summon the Most Holy Folded One!” by Harry Connolly
A Full Cast Production
Originally Published in Help Fund My Robot Army! and Other Improbable Crowdfunding Projects
This story is told as a series of Kickstarter posts. It follows two former Chipotle employees as they try to raises funds to summon the great taco god Tacothulhu. He is the holder of filling and the feeling that is held. They claim that Tacothulhu will unveil the secret to the perfect taco to them. Hilarious commentary occurs along the way.
If you hang around Kickstarter enough you’ll probably run into something very similar to this story. Though to my knowledge no real world Kickstarters have ever actually summoned a Lovecraftian taco deity. It was funny seeing the various ways the duo attempted to pitch their wild scheme to the masses, and that their taco religion had experienced a schism at some point. It was also rather humorous that the character True American was obviously voiced by a New Zealander.
Speaking of the narration, I thought everyone involved in the production did an amazing job. There not really much more I can add other than that this is a fun little story you won’t want to miss out on.
“Observations About Eggs from the Man Sitting Next to Me on a Flight from Chicago, Illinois to Cedar Rapids, Iowa” by Carmen Maria Machado
Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki
This story…well, the title really says it all. It’s told as a series of observations an old man makes to a young woman sitting next to him on a flight. He waxes on about the many magical qualities of eggs and the mysteries contained within them.
Okay, that’s not much of a description but…well, I assume you know the drill by now. I think we’ve all met the old man in this story at some point in our lives. It makes the story relatable. Plus the story is just pure unwatered down fun. In terms of narration Stefan does the same great job that he always does.
Not much more to add other than that this story is more than worthy of your time.
“The Witches of Athens” by Lara Elena Donnelly
Narrated by Anaea Lay
This story takes place in Athens. Athens, Ohio that is! It follows a pair of witch sisters who each run their own diner. The sister on Court Street is beautiful and runs a very flashy diner, while the sister on Union Street has a more working class look and her diner is more down to Earth. Despite their differences they often work together to help those around them. The story follows their attempt to play match makers with two gay men.
I really liked the way that magic in this story was based around different foods. For example, scrambled eggs and jalapeño burgers give you the ability and courage to speak up. It was also nice that the two witches were still close despite their differences. Admittedly I was a little disappointed that this story didn’t have anything to do with Greek Mythology, but the story I got more than made up for it. All things considered it’s a really sweet and heartwarming story.
I give it a hearty recommendation.
“Soul of Soup Bones” by Crystal Lynn Hilbert
Narrated by Wendy Bowlsby
This story follows a necromancer named Adrienne. She has revived the famous necromancer named Jacoben Stoyan. She expects that he’ll be a fountain of knowledge, but all Jacoben does is cook all day. Could the nonstop cooking be the key to it all?
Well what I can I say without giving it all away? It’s a fun and lighthearted story. It’s another one of those stories that combines necromancy and cooking. The descriptions of the food were mouth-watering. Wendy’s narration was spot on.
Uh…why don’t you go ahead and check the story out for yourself.
Well our meal has come to an end and it is time for us to leave Chez Audio File. Whether you came for a nibble or a full meal I hope you enjoyed it. Before you go I have some very exciting news. Recently a flash fiction story of mine, “Happy Dominion Day”, was recently published in issue six of The Wolfian. It’s a really great magazine full of short stories, poetry, articles and other good things. You can get a digital copy for 99 cents from Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook and Apple iBooks. If you prefer physical copies you can get that for $9.99 from Amazon.
In other events, don’t be shy about suggesting a topic for the next edition of The Audio File. I’m perfectly fine picking the topics myself, but I figure you guys ought to have a voice in the direction that things go. If it sounds promising I’ll be sure to put it on the rotation. No matter what, I’m sure it will be great. And with that I wish you all happy listening and will see you next time.