Podcastle is a podcast of fantasy stories, which I’ve been listening to for the past couple of months to get caught up on their backlog. They’ve provided a whole lot of great stuff for free distribution. They do ask for donations, but they are not required to listen to their fiction. Now that I’ve listened to all of their episodes, I’ve made a list of my top ten favorite episodes (and some honorable mentions that almost made the list).
If you like this article, you might also want to check out The Best of Pseudopod, in which I make a similar list for Podcastle’s horror counterpart, and The Best of Escape Pod, the science fiction counterpart.
1. Cup and Table by Tim Pratt
Read by Stephen Eley
Superpowered agents on a quest to find the Holy Grail. You can’t get much cooler than that! On top of that, the protagonist has a confused time sense, and Pratt’s writing of the story in non-chronological order works surprisingly well. And if that’s not enough, the ending was both cool and unpredicted (by me anyway).
2. A Heretic by Degrees by Marie Brennan
Read by Paul Tevis
Worldbuilding at its best. The strange world of Driftwood is revealed to the reader bit by bit. I know from experience that this is a tough balance to strike. Too much at once and it gets boring. Not enough and it’s confusing. Parallel worlds have always been one of my favorite fantasy elements.
3. Fourteen Experiments in Postal Delivery by John Schoffstall
Read by Heather Lindsley
This one starts out relatively normal and ramps up the weird as it goes on which, for me, made it easier to digest. I don’t particularly like the protagonist of this one, but she feels like a real person and that’s more important to me than likeability anyway. If you’ve never read any surrealism you might want to give this one a try just to see what you think. There are some lewd images and swear words–they fit well within the story, but just FYI.
4. Captain Fantasy and the Secret Masters by Tim Pratt
Read by Matthew Wayne Selznick
Clearly Tim Pratt’s style is well suited to my reading tastes! This is a very long one, one of the Podcastle “Giant” episodes, and one of the few Giants that I’ve liked. Most stories this long are much longer than they need to be–they could benefit by cutting their length in half and they seem to be padded for word count. This one is worth every word, every second. I do love superheroes, and this story gives nods to old-school superheroes alongside more modern styles, and has some unique ideas I haven’t seen in any other superhero stories (which is hard to do in this day and age). Lots of good rip-roaring action, as well as some good mystery elements.
5. Come Lady Death by Peter S. Beagle
Read by Paul S. Jenkins
This is an oldie but a goody. First published back in 1963, it tells the story of Death in human form who attends a party. The setting is similar to Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, but the style and plot are all their own. It’s not the first time I’ve seen a female Death figure (Susan Bones from Pratchett’s Discworld series, for instance), but this incarnation is distinct and provides an enjoyable experience.
6. Nine Sundays in a Row by Kris Dikeman
Read by Kane Lynch
I have a lot of respect for anyone who can do a nonhuman point of view well, and Kris Dikeman has done that with this story. It’s the tale of a deal with the devil with the point of view of the devil’s dog, sent to watch over the supplicant who must spend every Sunday night at a crossroads for nine weeks in a row in order to earn a meeting with the devil. The characters are great, and the ending is fitting. A great story.
7. Komodo by Tim Pratt
Read by Cat Rambo
Yes, another one by Tim Pratt! Apparently I’m a huge fan, though I made the list on the stories without thinking much about the authors. His style and subject matter must just be particularly well-suited for my tastes. So I’ll definitely be watching for more from Pratt. This is the tale of a very powerful sorceress living in the modern day, when she comes up against something that seems to be beyond her abilities. She’s a well fleshed-out character, and the magic system in this is really good, not like anything else I’ve read.
8. Colin and Ishmael in the Dark by William Shunn
Read by MarBelle
Usually I don’t like omniscient point of view, where the narrator is an apparently corporeal third party in the room, unable to affect, only to observe. But it works well in this story, describing an encounter between a prisoner and a guard in a pitch black jail cell. The story is told almost entirely through dialogue between the two, and because the scene is dark, the actual events that are occuring are not always straightforward to interpret. This helps keep the story as disorienting for the reader as it is for the characters, which is quite a trick.
9. The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change by Kij Johnson
Read by Heather Lindsley
The premise of this story is very interesting, with domesticated animals suddenly gaining the ability to speak, and it focuses on the interaction between dogs and their former masters. As the dogs develop a lingual culture, they develop (as the title states) trickster stories, which are interspersed with the narrative itself. I actually liked the trickster stories better than the main narrative, despite their short disconnected nature. I wish the world had been fleshed out a bit more, animals gaining the ability to speak didn’t have nearly the effect that I would’ve expected, but there’s still a lot to love about this story, and the trickster stories themselves made them worth the listen.
10. Castor on Troubled Waters by Rhys Hughes
Read by Alasdair Stuart
This is a ridiculous tale told by a character who has quite a story to tell in the time honored tradition of making stuff up to get out of paying people money. This is clear from the very beginning, which just makes his tale all the more funny.
It was hard to pick out just ten, so here’s a few that were strong contenders to make the list.
The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe
Read by Cheyenne Wright
I know, it’s nearly a crime for Poe to be on the honorable mentions and not on the actual list. I’ve loved Poe’s writing since I first read them in English class, and this is one of my favorite authors. I love Cheyenne’s voice, and he narrated this quite well, except for one detail. The word “Amontillado” is mispronounced throughout, which drove me to distraction. One mispronunciation isn’t the end of the world, but since the word is used many times within the story, is in the title itself, and is in fact the central motivation for one of the characters, I found it hard to ignore. Even if it had been pronounced phonetically, it would have been better. In any case, Poe is one of my favorite authors of all time, I still wanted his story to be mentioned.
In Ashes by Helen Keeble
Read by Marie Brennan
The Twa Corbies by Marie Brennan
Read by Elie Hirschman
In Order to Conserve by Cat Rambo
Read by Mur Lafferty