The Best of Escape Pod 2010-

written by David Steffen

And, on to my next list. Again, I’ll be picking up where I left off from my previous Best of Escape Pod list, and running to the end of 2010. This’ll be a short one because I posted that list in May. For this list I considered episodes 240-273, and here’s my 5 favorites. Enjoy!

There have been big changes at Escape Pod since the last list, especially two things:
1. The founder of Escape Pod and the other Escape Artists podcasts, Steve Eley, has stepped down from his former role after the birth of his second child. I hope everything’s going great for him, and I wish him the best of fortune. I’ll always have a soft spot for the guy, because my very first story check came with his signature on it (for my Pseudopod sale). I’d be happy to buy him a beer if I ever cross his path.
2. They’re a pro paying market now! As far as I know, this is the only pro paying podcast, great news.

And, if you like this, check out my other Best Of lists.

1. Bridesicle by Will McIntosh
read by Amy H. Sturgis

I’m clearly not alone in my like of this story, since it won the Hugo for short story. But hey, it’s really good. In the future, medical technology has advanced to the point that almost no condition is fatal, and the body can be kept alive for a very long time. The technology is available, but very expensive. It’s funded by treating it like a dating meat market. Wealthy customers visit, have a chat with the momentarily awakened people, and if they hit it off they can pay to have them permanently cured and revived. This is the story of a woman in one of these holds, as she’s woken up for suitor after suitor.

2. Cruciger by Erin Cashier
read by Kij Johnson

I read this first in Writers of the Future. To quote Flight of the Conchords, “The humans are dead.” Well, most of them are, and the rest are preserved, in the hands of a superpowerful superintelligent robot (named Duxa) created by the last vestiges of humanity to find a planet suitable for terraforming and tear it apart to make a human-inhabitable world. But while she’s there, she makes first contact with an intelligent race of swimming tentacled beings.

3. We are Ted Tuscadero for President by Chris Dahlen
read by Cheyenne Wright

You think political advertisements are ever-present now? Imagine if Presidential candidates could make dozens of “proxies” of themselves, with their full set of memories, allowing them to be everywhere they want to be all at once. Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s about a politician. I generally hate politician stories, but this one was really good, perhaps because this proxy was split off from his main self

4. The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake by Robert T. Jeschonek
read by John Cmar

Wow, Cmar has an amazing voice, unbelievably well-suited for this story. Smidgen is a snack cake, part of an intelligent sales system, meant to tempt buyers into spending money. He has no greater goal in the world other thanbeing eaten. And Cmar’s salesman voice is very convincing in the role.

5. Ò‰lan Vital by K. Tempest Bradford
read by Mur Lafferty

Have you ever wished you could’ve extended the life of a loved one who died before their time?. Â But what price would you pay?

The Best of Podcastle 2010-

My first Best of Podcastle list was posted back on January 4th, 2010. This list picks up where that one left off, and includes the rest of 2010. So it includes all of Podcastle’s publications except for “When Shakko Did Not Lie”. Including flash fiction, there were 67 stories included in this set, and I’ll be listing out my favorite 7.

There have been some major events at Podcastle in the last year. They reached their 100th episode. Rachel Swirsky stepped down about the same time of my list last year, and was replaced by dual editors Dave Thompson and Anna Schwind (who I interviewed last year after they took over).

If you like this list, check out my other “Best Of” articles.

1. The Mermaid’s Tea Party by Samantha Henderson
read by Tina Connolly

Don’t be fooled by the title into thinking that this is Disney’s The Little Mermaid. The mermaids in this story are evil, spiteful creatures and the story hits on all cylinders from the first moments in which a young girl, a survivor of a shipwreck, is feigning enjoyment of seawater “tea” to keep the sharp-toothed mermaids from eating her. Very dark.

2. Creature by Ramsey Shehadah
read by Norm Sherman

A lovely, well-told non-human perspective. Creature is a near-invincible blob living in a post-apocalyptic world. The story follows his travels across the wasteland, as he meets and befriends a young girl.

3. The Warlock and the Man of the Word by M. K. Hobson
read by Bob Eccles

An awesome “weird west” tale, in a world where demons exist among cowboys in the wild west, and the power of prayer can generate a sending from God with unpredictable results.

4. The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe
read by Eric Luke

This is probably my favorite Poe story, and it’s good to hear it on the podcast. This is one of those stories we had as required reading that convinced me that required reading does not necessarily suck.

5. Biographical Notes to “A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-planes” by Benjamin Rosenbaum by Benjamin Rosenbaum
read by Graeme Dunlop

No, the doubling of the name “Benjamin Rosenbaum” is not a mistake, the first is part of the title. This is a long philosophical adventure in a parallel world starring a parallel version of the author. Most of it takes placeon a dirigible in a world where airplanes are nothing but imagining. In this world philosophy is more prevalent than scientific rigor, so the perspective is very different and interesting.

6. The Alchemist’s Feather by Erin Cashier
read by Dave Thompson

Another well-told non-human perspective. The point of view is an Alchemist’s simulacrum, a little wooden doll without a voice who is kept only for his value in experiments.

7. Songdogs by Ian McHugh
read by Amanda Fitzwater

And, another “weird west” type tale, this one in a mutated post-apocalyptic Outback starring a bounty hunter mage bringing in her captive for her pay.

Honorable mentions

1. The Christmas Mummy by Heather Shaw & Tim Pratt
read by Rish Outfield

Interesting note: This was included with Heather and Tim’s Christmas letter last year. What a fun idea!

2. Fetch by Nathaniel Lee
read by Peter Wood

3. Sir Hereward and Mr. Fitz Go to War Again by Garth Nix
read by Paul Tevis

The Best of Cast Macabre

sFor those looking for more audio fiction, here’s a podcast you might not have heard of: Cast Macabre. They started up in mid-2010, and filled a nice horror fiction gap while Pseudopod was on hiatus. It didn’t take too long to get caught up, as they’re only 28 episodes in. And in case you’re really pressed for time, here’s a top five for you. They’re also running classic stories, including Bram Stoker and H.G. Wells.

I first heard of Cast Macabre when Barry’s story “Corvus Curse” ran on Pseudopod (which made my Best of Pseudopod 2010+ list posted last week)

1. Metastasis by Nathaniel Lee
read by Barry J. Northern

A man searching for his brother. They both have powerful abilities, and the brother who has advanced stages of cancer, has not been himself lately. This story kept me on the edge of my seat, very good stuff.

2. Faces in the Window by Talu Briar
read by

Awesome dark humor! It’s all about a conversation between a married couple at the breakfast table. I won’t ruin the surprise for you, just go listen!

3. What They Consumed by Helmut Finch
read by Alasdair Stuart

A long lost manuscript discovered by C. Deskin Rink. Good Lovecraftian style horror in a classic style.

4. Like, Popular by Kevin Brown
read by Julie Hoverson

This one was chilling because I could just see it happening. What teens won’t do to be popular, child abuse becomes the next “in” thing.

5. A Little Nest Egg by Ken Goldman
read by Barry J. Northern

The protagonist in this one is one of those characters you love to hate, looking to find little old ladies to steal from. At first it seemed a bit predictable but this one had some twists and turns I didn’t see coming.

The Best of Pseudopod 2010+

written by David Steffen
On November 9, 2009 I posted my very first “Best Of” podcast list, the Best of Pseudopod, which was based on Pseudopod episodes 1-167 and flash episodes 1-22. Well, I’m still listening and still enjoying myself, so I figured there’s no reason I can’t make another list. I expect this will become a yearly thing, and will usually cover everything within 1 calendar year. This one will be a tiny bit different because a bit more than a year has passed since my last, which is why this is 2010+. It will cover episodes 168-219, 60 stories total (because there are a few episodes with more than one story).

Pseudopod reached landmark episode 200 during this time period, and this range of episodes includes my premier on Pseudopod, episode 169 “The Disconnected”. In addition, I received another acceptance letter from them just a few weeks ago for my flash story “What Makes You Tick”, which should appear some time in 2011. Now, on to the list.

Instead of ten in the list, I’m going to include 10% of the total and make it a Top Six (plus honorable mentions).

If you like this list, check out my other “Best Of” articles.

1. The Snow-White Heart by Marie Brennan
read by Ben Phillips

I love reimagined fairy tales, and this may be my favorite of all. This is a reimagining of Snow White. Finally, a story that explains why she’s so darn pale, and why she lives with seven strange little men.

2. Ankor Sabat by C. Deskin Rink
read by Ben Phillips

A man on an all-consuming quest to save his wife from the evil cult that has taken her, so many years ago. This starts a little slowly, but I enjoyed it enough that it didn’t bother me. The story went on just a tiny bit longer than it needed to, but other than, it was great.

3. The Dark Level by John F.D. Taff
read by Ian Stuart

Near empty parking garages are one of the creepiest locations in the modern world, and this story takes that idea and magnifies it. There’s something not quite right about this particular garage. Enhanced greatly by the amazing Ian Stuart’s reading, you’ve got to check this out.

4. The Mother and the Worm by Tim W. Burke
read by Paul S. Jenkins

This picks up where the The Garden and the Mirror (another Pseudopod story by the same author) left off. This stars the same two main characters, the yantra master and the woman who wants to use his power.

5. The Horror of the Heights by Arthur Conan Doyle
read by Alasdair Stuart

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is, of course, most well known for his Sherlock Holmes mysteries, but apparently he did some supernatural horror as well. This is the tale of a daring man who flies his plane to impossible heights, and the chronicles of his visit.

6. Spirit of Nationalism by Richard Marsden
read by Mike Bennett

Historical fiction tends not to suit my fancy, but I really enjoyed this one, supernatural horror story taking place during Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. The plot seemed familiar, but it didn’t go where I expected.

Honorable Mentions

1. Corvus Curse by Barry J. Northern
read by Ian Stuart

Note that the author is also editor of Cast Macabre, a new horror fiction podcast, which I am currently listening to. Expect a Best Of Cast Macabre, coming soon.

2. Turning the Apples by Tina Connolly
read by Cayenne Chris Conroy

3. The Evil-Eater by Peadar O Guilin
read by Wilson Fowlie

On November 9, 2009 I posted my very first “Best Of” podcast list, the Best of Pseudopod, which was based on Pseudopod episodes 1-167 and flash episodes 1-22. Well, I’m still listening and still enjoying myself, so I figured there’s no reason I can’t make another list. I expect this will become a yearly thing, and will usually cover everything within 1 calendar year. This one will be a tiny bit different because a bit more than a year has passed since my last, which is why this is 2010+. It will cover episodes 168-219, 60 stories total (because there are a few episodes with more than one story).

The Best of StarShipSofa

written by David Steffen

And here I am again with the latest in my “Best of” podcast series. If you want to see my other “Best of”lists, just click on “The Best Of” category on the right side of your screen.

This time, the podcast is StarShipSofa, the first (and so far, only) podcast to win a Hugo award. StarShipSofa was launched in 2006 by Tony C. Smith and Ciaran O’Carroll. Back then, they were an entirely nonfiction podcast, talking about authors and other science fiction related topics. About a year later, Tony went solo and launched the Aural Delights podcast as a separate cast which has been running ever since. Most episodes of Aural Delights includes one main fiction, one flash fiction, one speculative fiction poem, and a couple fact articles. If you want to learn more about Tony, the editor and co-founder, you can check out our interview of him that ran in October.

Now, keep in mind that StarShipSofa is a rather different format from the other podcasts I’ve reviewed so far. The other ones have been entirely fiction-focused, generally with an intro, the story, and the outro. This one goes for a more well-rounded aesthetic, which is good or bad, depending on what you’re really looking for. For the purposes of this list, I am only going to include the main fiction, and only stories which I did not first hear somewhere else. Not that there’s anything wrong with more than one podcast running the same story, I just want these lists to be about suggesting new fiction, so I don’t want to list the same stories over and over.

If you’re trying to decide whether you want to undertake this podcast, I’ll list some pros and cons:

The Good and The Bad

The Good:

-Tony seems like a genuinely nice guy. I’d love to buy him a pint at a pub some time.

-What really makes this podcast special is the community dynamic. Tony does a good job putting it together, but there is a lot of effort by a wide cast of contributors, and it’s fun to hear the variety of voices as well as the variety of the content.

-StarShipSofa was the first to win a Hugo, hopefully making it easier for other fiction podcasts to win the award in the future.

-They have a lot of Big Name authors, like Michael Moorcock, Paolo Bacigalupi, even Tad Williams.

-There is a lot of great nonfiction, especially Amy H. Sturgis’s Genre History segments, J.J. Campanella’s Science News, and Matthew Sanborn Smith’s Fiction Crawler.

-They have a team of really great fiction narrators. My particular favorites are Amy H. Sturgis and Lawrence Santoro. Note that Lawrence has graced Diabolical Plots’ Best of Escape Pod list, where he made Eugie Foster’s #1 story even better with his fantastic narration.

The Bad:

-The self-promotion in episodes of this podcast is way beyond normal levels, enough so that I almost gave up the podcast at several points. StarShipSofa has launched three related books, which is great, but for months before and after they insert long fact articles about the making of (Often 30 minutes or more apiece), constant reminders to buy the book, even recordings of people opening packages containing the books when they arrive in the mail. They advertise themselves as a science fiction magazine, but this non-stop self-selling makes it hard to take them seriously. They only pull this off at all because of their audio format, which I feel undermines the trust that they should be nurturing in the audio medium for professional science fiction publications in audio. Imagine if Gordon Van Gelder of F&SF released an anthology, and spend 60 pages of every issue of his magazine advertising it, ad nauseum. It would not go over very well, and I don’t think we should cut SSS any more slack because it is audio.

-StarShipSofa doesn’t pay their contributors.

-Many of the episodes are really, really long. This is understandable, considering the volume of their nonfiction content, but the average length is well over an hour, and some top out at three and a half hours. The end result of that is that not many of them are going to have a permanent home on my iPod–I’m still using a first generation iPod, and this takes up a sizable chunk of my hard drive.

The List

1. A Map of the Mines of Barnath by Sean Williams
Ooh, a dark and mysterious mine story. A man heads into the depths to find his missing brother. Rumor has it that disappearances are common, and there are rumors of something that lurks in the mines and steals people away. The way I just described it sounds a bit cliched,but it did not go the way I expected it, and the result was very memorable.

2. Pump Six by Paolo Bacigalupi
This is the story that convinced me to stick with StarShipSofa. A tale of the distant future where the old machines are still running, but no one remembers how any of it works anymore. Pump Six at the water treatment plant is having trouble, and no one knows why. The employee in charge of the monitoring station goes to find the answer.

3. Knotwork by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
The story stars a woman from another world where the people have a wide range of powers, the most notable of those being knotwork, a way to influence relationships and the minds of those around. When she came to this world she vowed never to use those powers again, but the knot of her marriage to a mundane is unraveling and now she must choose what to do.

4. The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate by Ted Chiang
A tale in India, tales within a tales. An alchemist has created a gateway through time, and this tells several tales of those who’ve passed through it in pursuit of their own goals and how each one turned out. Each story is interested in its own right and they all tie together into a great story as a whole.

5. Mars: A Traveler’s Guide by Ruth Nestvold
This was an odd story, but a good one, and was much-improved by the reading and editing. It’s told as one side of a conversation, a reference computer program responding to prompts that you don’t get to hear, as the unheard user asks questions, interrupts, and asks again. It starts a little slow, but the real story behind the scenes is implied by the answers and the questions you can infer from them.

6. Let the Word Take Me by Juliette Wade
This is a great story, typical of Juliette’s fare, rooted in her background in linguistics. After years of trying to translate the language of of chameleon-like aliens, the team of scientists in charge of establishing contact are at a dead end. They have to make a breakthrough, and soon.

7. Just a Couple of Highly Experimental Weapons Tucked Away Behind the Toilet Paper by Adam Troy Castro
Silly title, silly story. This had a Douglas Adams vibe to it, oddball alien races, entirely improbable inventions. Lots of laughs and fun twists.

8. Snatch Me Another by Mercurio Rivera
I first read this one over in Abyss & Apex and was glad to see it reprinted here. This is a followup to another short story by the same author showing the repercussions of a new invention called the “snatcher”, which opens a hole into other dimensions onto items that match a sample item inserted into the machine. The protagonist has recently lost her son to disease, and lives through most of the story in a drugged haze, but the very interesting world kept me interest, and it is very well told.

9. Flowers of Aulit Prison by Nancy Kress
A well-told alien perspective. An undercover agent in prison trying to learn information about a terrorist. What’s really interesting though, is her society’s point of view, that our reality is the end-result of our shared perspective of that reality, and anyone who violates that perspective is a dangerous criminal.

10. Boatman’s Holiday by Jeffrey Ford
Did you ever wonder what Charon, the boatman over the River Styx does when he’s on vacation? Okay, me neither. Rumor has it that there’s one patch of Hell that’s like an oasis in a desert, and Charon intends to find it.

Honorable Mentions

These are ones which ALMOST made it onto the list. But my Top Ten list with 15 entries is sort of a cop-out, so this is extra.

The Tenth Muse by Tad Williams
Yes, you read that right. Tad “Dragonbone Chair” Williams, author of many great novels, including the “Otherland” quadrilogy, one of my favorite series. This is a space colony story. First contact with a new alien race has just occurred, and the aliens are hostile as can be, blasting everyone in their path. The story is told by a child-like cabin boy, one of the lesser members, and the story centers around his interaction with a rich passenger and their dilemma as the alien presence isolates them from the transport channels back to the rest of the inhabited galaxy. This story was quite enjoyable. So far I’ve liked his novels better than his short stories, but I thought this was quite good.

When Harry Met Faerie: The Tolkien Solution to the Rowling Problem by Amy H. Sturgis
I would have put this on the list, except for my policy of keeping the list to fiction only. This is a great talk, nonfiction, that Amy has written regarding the value of science fiction and fantasy as a genre. In particular, addressing criticisms of JK Rowling’s work, which some say is too childish for adults, yet too adult for children. These are criticisms that have been leveled in the past, and Amy has put together a great discussion including quotes from JRR Tolkien and C.S. Lewis as well as JK Rowling. Very interesting and enlightening discussion that kept me interested from beginning to end. It’s a full length talk, longer than Amy’s usual Genre History articles, but well worth the 45 minutes to listen.

Edgar Allen Poe Special by Amy H. Sturgis
And another nonfiction entry by Amy H. Sturgis, which again made the honorable mention list because I’m keeping the main list reserved for fiction. In this episode, she’s taken over the helm of StarShipSofa and this episode is entirely dedicated to one of my favorite authors–Edgar Allen Poe. This includes discussion of his upbringing, his writing, his contributions to science fiction, and the mysterious circumstances of his death.

The Defenders by Phillip K. Dick
PKD is one of my favorite SF authors of all time. His writing contains really great ideas that have been copied time and again, always with less effectiveness than when PKD himself wrote them. His work has inspired many movies, including many great ones like Bladerunner and Total Recall (as well as some which were badly botched by the filmmakers, the more so whenever they deviated from the original ideas). This story is not among my favorite PK Dick stories, which is why it’s not on the main list, but it has some neat ideas and is worth listening to. It takes place in a future where automation has advanced much further than today, to the point that robots are fighting our wars on the surface while humans huddle in caves underground. The robots report back all the information, showing images of blasted cities and desolate landscapes, but recent discoveries have revealed to the humans that things are not what they seem.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Diplomat by Matthew Sanborn Smith
“Take me to your leader,” the tiny aliens say as they go door to door trying to find the ultimate authority of human civilization. This cliched opening line doesn’t work so well in this future earth, as no one seems to agree who’s in charge, as they talk to one-man nations and personality conglomerates. I got a lot of laughs out of this story.

The Best of The Drabblecast

If you like this “Best of” list, check out my lists for other podcasts.

Strange stories by strange authors for strange listeners (such as yourself). This is the aptly chosen opening tagline for the Drabblecast. Founded and narrated by Norm Sherman, the Drabblecast is an audio showcase of the weird. It doesn’t restrict itself to any particular genre, just so long as it’s weird, so there’s a mix of what could be called science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, mainstream, and some stuff that just defies any sort of classification–it’s all welcome on the Drabblecast as long as it’s weird.

Every week Norm provides a whole set of features to entertain and confuse. Every week there’s a feature flash story, approximately 2000 words or less. On top of this there is a weekly drabble (story of exactly 100 words) and a twitfic (story of less than 100 characters). On top of this there is often a Drabble News segment in which he discusses some strange news article like the celebration of Dead Duck Day in the Netherlands. As if that weren’t enough, Norm also includes some music segments written and performed by Norm himself. The most notable of these are the Bbardles–a donation incentive, if you donate a certain amount of money he will write a song in the style of your choice on the topic of your choice and turn it into a funny and entertaining piece of music. These are really fantastic pieces of work.

I don’t mean this as a slight to the other fiction podcasts I frequent, but the Drabblecast is more tuned in to my tastes (both as a reader and a writer) than any other magazine/podcast I’ve come across. It’s actually kind of creepy. I think that Norm has hacked into my mind and has downloaded some kind of insidious spyware tool directly into my brainstem which is both judging and altering my tastes to ensure complete control of my mind. This would make me worried if I weren’t enjoying it so much. So I say “Bring it on, Norm. You may be using unethical mind control techniques to ensure my continued listening, but I don’t mind. Maybe I only like it because your brain-virus is telling me to like it, but that’s okay, because I like it.”

Part of what sets the Drabblecast apart is their audio production. Many of the stories add dramatic music and sound effects at appropriate places. I’m not sure if I like this better than just a straight reading, but it offers some nice variety at the very least and it sounds really good.

By the way, I don’t know if it’s just me, but I haven’t been able to figure out a way to download the audio files directly from Drabblecast’s main site. I can listen to them there, and there’s a hyperlink to sign up for their mp3 feed, but not an actual download option. There is a Drabblecast archive, but it’s not updated as often as the main site. In any case, for my weekly download I’ve been downloading from other sites that re-post the episodes, usually CastRoller.

Without further ado, here is my Best of Drabblecast list. For the purposes of the list, I’ve only included the feature stories in the list. It’s not that I don’t like drabbles or twitfic, but even though I enjoy them, fiction that short doesn’t leave a long-lasting impression because it’s over before I’ve really gotten the story congealing in my brain. So, of all of the Drabblecast’s feature stories to date, these are my favorites:

1. Teddy Bears and Tea Parties by S. Boyd Taylor
Don’t be fooled by the title; this is not a chlidren’s story. Amazing, creepy, disturbing, weird. Teddy bears that bleed grape jelly. ‘Nuff said.

2. Babel Probe by David D. Levine
Time traveling AI visits the Tower of Babel to find the truth of the myth. It’s just as cool as it sounds.

3. Annabelle’s Alphabet by Tim Pratt
Is anyone surprised that Tim Pratt is on the list? This is a great piece of writing. I read this in print a while back and I loved it there too. The story is about a little girl, Annabelle, and it goes through the alphabet letter by letter, tying them into the story. This approach works surprisingly well, and Pratt does a great job of filling in backstory in bits and pieces so that the big picture coalesces smoothly and poetically.

4. Snowman’s Chance in Hell by Robert Jeschonek
This is a very recent one, but I’m glad it aired before I made the list. I love creation stories, especially ones which take a bizarre and irrational take on it all. This is the best one that I’ve ever read.

5. The Wrong Cart by Bruce Holland Rogers (in Doubleheader IV)
A short one, which is part of a Doubleheader special, which has two stories by the same author within the same episode. The other story is relatively good, but The Wrong Cart is a real gem, a perfect example of Drabblecast weirdness. You know how, when people realize that they’ve made a mistake, there’s a tendency to just go with and pretend like there was no mistake? Well, imagine that concept taken to the point of absurdity, and you have this episode.

6. The Fine Point by Gary Cuba
Ooh, existential philosopy of the best sort. The scary part is that these particular ideas have crossed my mind, but I never wrote a story about it, so Gary wins. 🙂

7. The Food Processor by Michael Canfield
A bizarre story, which gets weirder and weirder. Children living with their mother and their never-seen overbearing father. If, early on, you think you know where this story is going, you are wrong.

8. Charlie the Purple Giraffe was Acting Strange by David D. Levine
I never realized this, but it appears that I’m a fan of David D. Levine, since he got two entries in the top 10. This is another one that sounds like a children’s story but isn’t. It’s philosophy in a toon suit.

9. The Society of Eccentric Moustaches by Daniel Lemoal
If the title alone doesn’t make you laugh, then you may be a zombie. Odd facial hair always makes for quality entertainment–especially mustaches with funny names such as the pushbroom, handlebar, or walrus.

10. So You’re Going to Die by Robert Reed
Another very recent one, structured as a sales pitch, a former assassin selling a sort of death insurance. Good stuff.

Honorable Mentions:

Performance Anxiety by Weldon Burge (in Trifecta II)
I’ll let this one speak for itself. Just listen to it, and stick around til the end. It’s worth it, trust me.

Jelly Park by Aliya Whitely
Don’t expect any deep and profound meaning. This is one is cute, and sweet, and has an insanely catchy song.

2084 by Tom Williams
A glimpse of a risk-taker in the future. It’ll have you on the edge of your seat.

The Best of Escape Pod

Escape Pod is the mother ship of speculative fiction podcasts. Five years ago, Steve Eley posted the very first Escape Pod episode, and set out with the goal of providing a weekly audio speculative fiction story. He did not want to charge for it, and he didn’t want listeners to be annoyed by constant advertisements. And he’s kept to these goals remarkably well for nearly half a decade. He’s created a company to run it, Escape Artists Inc., which has spawned two sister podcasts, Pseudopod for horror and Podcastle for fantasy, while refocusing Escape Pod’s tastes to focus on science fiction. All three are supported by user donations. You can make a one-time payment or set up a monthly payment, whichever makes the most sense to you. They prefer reprints, though they do run original stories from time to time (like mine), so they’re sort of like a “Best of” podcast themselves, taking high quality stories that have (usually) appeared elsewhere, and breathing new life into them by having them read aloud.

I’m eternally grateful to Steve Eley for starting this venture because Pseudopod was the very first market to ever buy my fiction. If it weren’t for the success of Escape Pod, that sale would never have happened. After I received the Pseudopod acceptance letter, I set out to listen to Pseudopod’s backlog to find out whose footsteps I was following in, and I loved it!  If you’re like me and you rarely take the time to just sit down and read, podcasts are the perfect medium. I listen to stories while driving to and from work and while doing low-cognitive tasks around the house like washing dishes or raking leaves. So I listened to all of the Pseudopod stories, and then wrote a Best of Pseudopod list. I did the same for Best of Podcastle. And now, to complete the Best of Escape Artists trifecta, this is the Best of Escape Pod list.

I’ve listened to every single Escape Pod story that’s been published to date, 239 full length episodes and many flash fiction extras. iTunes estimates 6.5 days of audio for all of this. And from all of those stories, I’ve picked my top 10 ranked favorites, along with 6 more that almost made the list. In truth, there were a lot more that I would’ve liked to put on the list, but I really wanted to keep it at a top 10, not a top 100 or 200. Trimming it down to just these 16 was extremely difficult, but these are what I consider the cream of the crop and I hope you agree. And the good news is that there are plenty more quality episodes to listen to after this.

By the way, Escape Pod is on hiatus for the moment because Steve Eley’s second child was born a couple months ago. He’s resigning from his position as editor of Escape Pod, but EP will be returning with new episodes and a new editor on May 12th.

Okay, I’ve rambled on long enough, on to the list!

1. Sinner, Baker, Fablist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast by Eugie Foster
Read by Lawrence Santoro

Another world very different from our own, where masks define who you are. The worldbuilding in this is among the best I’ve ever seen, easing you into this strange world at just the right pace so that it’s neither boring or too confusing. The first section or two are a little hard to grasp, but just keep listening, it should start to come together. This one is nominated for this year’s Hugo award, and I really think it deserves it. And, as if that weren’t enough, this is one of those cases where a narrator transforms a great story into something even more outstanding. Lawrence has a very versatile and emotional voice and it fits perfectly with this story.

2. Friction by Will McIntosh
Read by Stephen Eley

There’s some great philosophy on this one and some great characters as well. Told from an alien point of view, I really felt for the characters and this story left me pondering long after it was done, about finding a purpose in life.

3. Exhalation by Ted Chiang
Read by Ray Sizemore

Another great philosophical one. Another alien point of view, this story leans more toward the hard science fiction side of things than I usually care to go, but manages to tie in the science in such a way that it’s interesting to hear about, it’s relevant to the plot, and makes me sink into a delightful philosophical stupor.

4. Connie, Maybe by Paul E. Martens
Read by Wichita Rutherford

The funniest Escape Pod episode, this one had me rolling. This is another case where the perfect choice of narrator made the story transcend above the words it contained. Wichita Rutherford’s exaggerated backwoods accent fits perfectly with this story about identity and alien abduction.

5. Lachrymose and the Golden Egg by Tim Pratt
Read by Stephen Eley

Don’t look so surprised. You knew that Tim Pratt had to be on the list after he got 3 spots in the Best of Podcastle top 10. I don’t know how he does it, but with every story he manages to create an interesting and unique setting and populate it with compelling characters and keep me on the edge of my seat up until the end. A great story about parallel worlds and the ties between them, and the price you’re willing to pay to help others.

6.ÂÂ I Look Forward to Remembering You by Mur Lafferty
Read by Daisy Ottman, Anna Eley, and Stephen Eley

A great example of a time travel story done right. A woman hires a time-traveling consort to travel back in time to help herself lose her virginity in the hopes of improving her current life. Heartfelt and wonderfully done. Also includes a mention of Ranma 1/2, which was a great show.

7. His Master’s Voice by Hannu Rajaniemi
Read by Peter Piazza

A tale of cyberhumans and clones as told by cyborg dog. Can it get any better than this? Yes it can–the cyborg dog also has a cyborg cat friend! The first few minutes can be a little confusing as you try to sort out the setting, and I’m not entirely sure that I understood everything that happened. But whether or not I did, I enjoyed the ride!

8. Barnaby in Exile by Mike Resnick
Read by Paul Fischer

Resnick has a reputation on the Escape Pod forums for writing tearjerkers, and this is definitely one of those. Barnaby the ape talks to his handler about various and sundry things, all filtered through his very limited point of view. If this doesn’t make you feel any emotion, then you may very well be a robot.

9. Reparations by Merrie Haskell
Read by Mary Robinette Kowal

A worthwhile use for time travel! I dug this story mostly for its premise. The story’s compelling as well, but just the idea itself had me so in awe of Merrie Haskell’s creative powers that I was too awestruck to nitpick the story much. I’d like to think that I would volunteer for this program if such a program existed.

10. How I Mounted Goldie, Saved my Partner Lori, and Sniffed out the People’s Justice by Jonathon Sullivan
Read by Stephen Eley and Jennifer Bowie

Another canine point of view. What can I say, I like dogs! Told as a debriefing of a K-9 cop. Steve Eley outdoes himself with the voice on this one, sounding like a perfect dog. Keep in mind while you listen to this one that Pixar had not yet release UP when this story was published, so he is not just copying Dug. I like to think that someone at Pixar heard the story and that Dug is a copy of Steve Eley’s voice. Also, for anyone who’d like to get a peek behind the scenes of podcasting, EP also released an unedited version which includes multiple takes, and just BSing between Stephen and Jennifer. I wouldn’t listen to it before the final cut, but I got some laughs out of it listening to it after.

Honorable Mentions:

Impossible Dreams by Tim Pratt
Read by Matthew Wayne Selznick

A hugo winner, and perfect for media lovers.

Cinderella Suicide by Samantha Henderson
Read by MarBelle

Full of weird slang, a little hard to follow at times, but fun.

Pennywhistle by Greg van Eekhout
Read by Anna Eley

Flash fiction. Dark, very dark, but oh so great.

When We Went to See the End of the World by Robert Silverberg
Read by J.C. Hutchins

A bit dated, written decades ago. A vision of the future that had me laughing for odd reasons.

Save Me Plz by David Barr Kirtley
Read by Mur Lafferty

A world where monsters are commonplace, people carry swords, but knights and pirates never existed. Fun!

Off White Lies by Jeffrey R. DeRego
Read by Scott Sigler

Just one of the many Union Dues superhero stories by Mr. DeRego that ran on EP. I like most of them to some extent, but this one has some actual action.

The Best of Podcastle

podcastle-iconPodcastle 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.

Honorable Mentions

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

The Best of Pseudopod

PseudobanSince I was a kid I’ve always enjoyed reading fiction, but for some reason I’d never really considered audio fiction a very intriguing offering. But when I sold my story “The Disconnected” to Pseudopod (due out some time this mont), it was as good a time as any to try out this whole audio thing. I love it! Now I wonder how I ever did without it. I listen to stories on my commute, which transforms the drive into something I look forward to.

For those of you who don’t know, Pseudopod is a horror fiction podcast. Every week they post a new story to their site, usually somewhere between 20 and 45 minutes long. It’s free to download, and you can share it with whoever you want as long as you don’t alter it or sell it. Audio fiction has a whole new dynamic because the reader can add or take away so much. Some stories are much better in audio, and some are better in print, it just depends on the way the story is laid out. Besides the great stories, each week has an intro and outro, usually done by the excellent Alasdair Stuart. These are worth the download alone, as he talks about the themes of the week’s story and relates it to other things in pop culture or his own life.

And for those of you who don’t like horror, you also might want to consider the other fiction podcasts published by Escape Artists, the creators of Pseudopod. Escape Pod is for science fiction and Podcastle is for fantasy. I’m just starting to listen to Podcastle’s backlog, so I expect I’ll do a “Best of Podcastle” article when I finish. <EDIT: I’ve now down a Best of Podcastle and a Best of Escape Pod>

Since July I’ve been plumbing the depths of Pseudopod’s backlog and now I’m sad to say I’ve listened to everything they’ve offered to date. Now I only get one new Pseudopod a week like the rest of the world (released every Friday). But now that I’ve listened to all of Pseudopod’s offerings, I feel qualified to make a list of the Best of Pseudopod, my top ten favorite stories that have been posted to the site (and a few that ALMOST made the list). If you think you might want to give this audio fiction thing a try, these stories are a great place to start. If you like them, I encourage you to help Pseudopod’s continued success by donating, writing a blog post about it, buying an archive disc, or sharing the file with potential fans.

1. Deep Red by Floris M. Kleijne
Read by Ben Phillips
Very few suspense stories actually make me feel the suspense. Not that I don’t enjoy them as entertainment, but they don’t really get me going. This story is the exception. By the end of the story my heart was pounding and I didn’t even take the time to analyze the plot to death as I was listening because I was just so enthralled. This story works really well as an audio tale, as the reading really adds to the experience.

2. Suicide Notes, Written by an Alien Mind by Ferrett Steinmetz
Read by Phil Rossi
This is a dark science fiction tale. In this future, there is an interplanetary war between humans and an alien race with powerful psychic abilities. How can you fight something that can warp your mind and turn you into a weapon against your allies?

3. Stockholm Syndrome by David Tallerman
Read by Cheyenne Wright
Though this story takes place in a post-apocalyptic zombie-filled world, the zombies are not the scary part.

4. Come to My Arms, My Beamish Boy by Douglas F. Warrick
Read by Phil Rossi
No two ways about it, I am scared shitless of Alzheimer’s. The protagonist in this one is an Alzheimer’s sufferer, which is compelling enough as it is, but there’s much more to this tale than that.

5. The Button Bin by Mike Allen
Read by Wilson Fowlie
I would never have thought that buttons could be an element of horror, but this story is simply amazing. The beginning is a bit slow, and the 2nd person is off-putting, but if you stick with it there’s a lot of original ideas in this, and some really vivid imagery.

6. Last Respects by Dave Thompson
Read by Scott Sigler
In a post-Twilight world saturated with fanpires and Stephenie Meyer copycats, it’s really hard to find a vampire story that isn’t just everyone else’s vampire story rehashed. This is a vampire story that breaks past all the stereotypes and succeeds. The protagonists are vampires and the story occurs after the vampires have won the war against the humans. But the vampires themselves have their own humanity. They are sympathetic despite what they are. The horror of this story does not scream for you to pay attention to it. The horrific elements are presented with such a nonchalance and everyday language that they become that much more horrific because of it.

7. Hometown Horrible by Matthew Bey
This one starts off slow, but give it a chance, it’s well worth the time. The story is told as a writer sets out to tell the story of Hellmut Finch, a Wisconsite writer who wrote dark tales. The tales all have a common thread which each other, which begins to become clearer as the story goes on.

8. Stepfathers by Grady Hendrix
Read by Elie Hirschman
Horror comedy is a very tricky subgenre to tackle, but this story manages it perfectly. An Elder God is summoned, but is a little different than he’s expected to be.

9. The Music of Erich Zann by Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Read by BJ Harrison
This is an oldy but a goody, which Pseudopod posted for their 100th issue. This is the one and only H.P. Lovecraft story that I’ve heard (or read for that matter). It starts very very slowly, without much of a hook, but I attribute that more to the style of the times than to any actual failing on Lovecraft’s part. I was expecting tentacled Elder Gods, but I was pleasantly surprised at the turns this took. Despite a plot hole or two, and a slow beginning, the imagery and conclusion of this story were just fantastic. A must listen.

10. Garbage Day by Russell L. Burt
Read by Elie Hirschman
This one’s a fun little flash fiction. It’s a short and sometimes humorous trip following the reasoning of an irrational mind.

Honorable Mentions

The following stories were all close competitors for the top ten, but didn’t quite make it. I could expand it to a top 15 instead, but 10 is such a nice number. Every one of these is well worth your listening time.

Oranges, Lemons, and Thou Beside Me by Eugie Foster
Read by Paul S. Jenkins

Bottle Babies by Mary A. Turzillo
Read by Ben Phillips

Clockwork by Trent Jamieson
Read by Ben Phillips

Geist by Chandler Kaiden
Read by Richard Dansky

What Dead People Are Supposed to Do by Paul E. Martens
Read by Ben Phillips

Counting From Ten by Michael Montoure
Read by JC Hutchins