The Best of Variant Frequencies

written by David Steffen

Variant Frequencies was a fiction podcast that ran from 2006-2010. It was run by Rick Stringer, Ann Stringer, and Matt Wallace, and was originally created as a way to help promote Ann’s and Matt’s writing. Their archives are still up on their website for all to download.

First some thoughts on the podcast as a whole. The production is very good quality, often with full cast recordings, and a good group of voice actors. Because of the fact that its original focus was promote the work of the founders, its not too surprising that the quality is sometimes… uneven. One advantage of having an impartial third party for an editor is that their purpose is to select stories of the highest quality. In self-published collections (which this kind of is) you get everything as judged by the author, which isn’t quite the same thing.

One major feature that Variant Frequencies is well known for is their Failed Cities Monologues series of episodes. Each episode is a monologue of a single character, of a cast of about 10, taking place in a dystopic pair of fictional cities. Taken all together, these episodes form a single narrative plot arc from beginning to end. This is a really neat idea. It does have its flaws, foremost being that some of the episodes contribute too little to the overall plot, but overall it’s reasonably good. The characters are pretty archetypal, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing–it can be enjoyed as an adventure story if you don’t expect anything profound and life-changing, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Because of the way its structured, none of the individual episodes are compelling enough to make it on my list of favorites overall, and the work taken as a whole is a bit too sprawling to be one of my favorites. But I did enjoy it well enough that I thought it bore mentioning outside of the list. For those who want more, there is also a somewhat shorter FCM Christmas series, though I felt it didn’t add anything to the first series.

Variant Frequencies published a total of 115 episodes, but some of those are metacasts talking about the show, and others are multi-part stories (including the many-part Failed Cities Monologues). In total, I count something around 64 stories that I’ve picked out my favorites from.

On to the list!

1. Noah’s Temple by Matthew Warner
The leader and last member of a religion is soon to executed, but a cataclysm interrupts before the sentence can be carried out. Can she have what it takes to save the world that doesn’t want her anymore?

2. The Destruction of Sennacherib by Bryn Sparks
At the beginning this reminded me a great deal of Wells’ The Time Machine, but took its own twists and turns along the way. Trying to change the past can have many unintended effects.

3. Heart of Clay: A Saint Darwin’s Spiritual by D.K. Thompson
A sequel to “Saint Darwin’s Spirituals” that ran earlier on the cast. A world where Darwin discovered the spirit world that overlays ours and this finding has spurred on many developments in a world now filled with golems and ghosts.

4. The Dead Man and the Berserk by Matt Wallace
Transhumanism has lead to various enhancements to the body and the mind, but two men with those enhancements will be hard-pressed to combat the machine singularity

5. Best in Class by Jonathan C. Gillespie
This was a lot of fun. It’s told from the point of view of an intelligent car who’s been sitting idle in a garage after a nuclear war has wiped out most of the population. Someone finds it in its garage and the car sees to its owner’s needs as best it can.

6. The Mason’s Son by Dennis Egan
A Poe-esque tale of revenge.

Honorable Mentions:

The Spoils of War by DJ Burnham
This one was very interesting, though not emotionally compelling. It tells of an arms race between two sides of a conflict, but the arms race takes directions not taken in our world.

Delve by Matt Wallace

Survivor Guilt by David Tallerman