The Best of Podcastle 2016

written by David Steffen

Podcastle is the weekly fantasy podcast published by Escape Artists.  At the beginning of the year it was co-edited by Rachael K. Jones and Graeme Dunlop.  Partway through the year Rachael retired and her co-editor seat was filled by Jen Albert.  As well as weekly full-length feature episodes, they also publish occasional standalone flash stories as bonus episodes, as well as triple flash stories for the occasional feature episode collection.

Within 2016, Podcastle also increased their pay for flash fiction, which I believe should have started their 1-year counter for becoming a SFWA-qualifying market!  Hoping that will happen anytime soon now.

In February Podcastle once again participated in the Artemis Rising event across the Escape Artists podcasts, publishing fantasy stories written by women and nonbinary authors.

I will note, too, that this has been the hardest of the Best Of lists to make this year because there were so many stories that I was simply in love with that it was hard to weed it down to a list of reasonable length.  Everything on this list I loved, and there were some I had to make the hard decision to bump off the list that I also loved.

Every story that is eligible for Hugo and Nebula nominations this year which were first published by Podcastle are marked with an asterisk (*).

Every story that is eligible for Hugo and Nebula nominations which were first published by another publisher and then reprinted in Podcastle are marked with a double asterisk (**)–if you want to nominate them, follow the link to find out who the original publisher was to give them proper credit.

I pondered for quite a while whether I should feel free to include the #5 on the list, since I was the original editor and publisher of it here on Diabolical Plots.  I exclude my own stories from any of my lists with the reasoning that I can’t properly judge my own work, and I wondered whether I should do the same for stories that I published.  I came to the conclusion that I CAN judge stories that I published, because I already had to do so to publish them in the first place, picking those stories out of the much larger slushpile.  These stories won’t automatically make a Best Of list, but I feel it’s reasonable to consider them.  But, in case anyone would rather not see a story I didn’t published bumped off the list by a story that I did publish, I have included one more story on the list than I normally would have, so that I didn’t have to bump one off.

The List

1. “Beat Softly, My Wings of Steel” by Beth Cato*
Science fantasy story in which the souls of dead horses can be reborn in mechanical pegasus bodies, and how this is used for the war effort.  Our protagonist wants to use such a body to escape a war zone.

2. “Golden Chaos” by MK Hutchins
Different regions have different natural/magical laws, including the chaos which is constantly in flux.

3. “The Bee Tamer’s Final Performance” by Aidan Doyle*
The fleet of circus ships have been taken over by bees living in the hollowed-out corpses of clowns.

4. “Archibald Defeats the Churlish Shark-Gods” by Benjamin Blattberg*
Hilariously unreliable narrator, telling the story of a research trip with a companion in which he is always the hero, even when he obviously isn’t.

5. “Further Arguments in Support of Yudah Cohen’s Proposal to Bluma Zilberman” by Rebecca Fraimow**
Written a letter of proposal from a rabbinical student to the woman he wishes to marry.

6. “Thundergod in Therapy” by Effie Seiberg**
Zeus tries to find his place in the modern world, while undergoing therapy for some of his more problematic behaviors.

7.  “Defy the Grey Kings” by Jason Fischer
Humanity lives under the oversized heel of our elephant overlords.

Honorable Mentions

“Send in the Ninjas” by Michelle Ann King*

“Love Letters on the Nightmare Sea” by Rachael K. Jones**

“Squalor and Sympathy” by Matt Dovey**

“Tumbleweeds and Little Girls” by Jeff Bowles*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies Podcast 2013-2014

written by David Steffen

This post covers two years of Beneath Ceaseless Skies–they didn’t publish quite enough stories in 2013 to do a list.  Beneath Ceaseless Skies continues to publish quality other-world fiction, edited by Scott H. Andrews.  This list only covers the stories they published on their podcast, which is a bit less than half of the stories they publish–one podcast every two weeks.

 

The List

  1. “No Sweeter Art” by Tony Pi
    Sequel to “A Sweet Calling” that was published in Clarkesworld, both about a Zodiac-confectioner mage–might want to listen to the other one first.
  2. “Sekhmet Hunts a Dying Gnosis: A Computation” by Seth Dickinson
    I love stories that mix fantasy and science fiction in a big way.
  3. “The Breath of War” by Aliette de Bodard
    I can’t say I recall another fantasy quest story starring a pregnant woman as the hero.
  4. “Alloy Point” by Sam J. Miller
    Flee the terrible metalman, who comes to keep the people of base metal apart from the people of precious metal.
  5. “The Penitent” by M. Bennardo
    Number 17596 wakes in his cell.  Where are the guards?  Why is the cell unlocked?  

Honorable Mentions

“The Clockwork Trollop” by Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald
“Ill-Met at Midnight” by David Tallerman

Our Hugo/Nebula Eligible Work 2012

written by David Steffen

The SF award nomination season is here. The Nebulas (the writer-voted award) have been open for a while and close in February. The Hugos (the fan-voted award) opened on January first. Both sets cover works published in the 2012 calendar year. About this time of year, every writer and their dog posts a list of their eligible works.

I won’t tell you to nominate these works. I haven’t heard of anyone nominating us in the past and I don’t expect that to change. Of course it’s all of phenomenal quality, because we wrote it and stuff. 🙂

And don’t worry, I’ll write up a separate post in the near future to make recommendations of what I’d like to see win the awards. I figured it would make sense to separate them so that I wouldn’t have to try to objectively compare my own work to theirs. In THAT post I’ll also ask for nomination suggestions from people, but we’ll keep those out of this post.

 

Best Short Story (Nebula and Hugo)

Marley and Cratchit by David Steffen at Escape Pod (free)

This Is Your Problem, Right Here at Daily Science Fiction (free)

Constant Companion at Drabblecast (free)

Door in the Darkness at Stupefying Stories

Never Idle at Specutopia

Mysterious Ways at Uncle John’s Flush Fiction Anthology

 

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)

Marley and Cratchit at Escape Pod, read by Emma Newman

Constant Companion at Drabblecast

The Quest Unusual at Cast of Wonders

Turning Back the Clock at Beam Me Up

 

Best Fanzine Hugo

Diabolical Plots by David Steffen, Anthony W. Sullivan, Frank Dutkiewicz

 

Best Fan Writer Hugo (follow links for examples)

David Steffen

Especially notable are the “Best of” podcast lists.

Frank Dutkiewicz

Especially notable are the “Daily Science Fiction” reviews; we’re the only ones who regularly review them.

Carl Slaughter

Quite a few notable interviews.

 

Best Fan Artist Hugo

Anthony W. Sullivan, for Canny Valley comics

 

Best Related Work Hugo

The Priceless Value of that Story You Hate by David Steffen

 

Go! Nominate!

Daily Science Fiction: October 2011 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

First review of the New Year! But what about last year? We have a list of our favorites, but before we tell you which ones we liked the best, let us tell you what we thought of these.

 

A sorcerer learns the hard way the lesson of ‘ends justifying the means’ in “Wider and Deeper” by Carma Lynn Park (debut 10/3). The sorcerer seeks the energy of the dark ones deep within the earth. He intends to feed of their power but reaching them is difficult. He manipulates creatures to tunnel, but doesn’t think of the consequences of letting loose his creations.

The story is told like a parable. The creatures are tools, and tools left alone can be instruments of destruction. I confess, I was not a fan of how this story was told or how it shaped up. I’m not sure if there was a moral in it. If so, I missed it.

 

A young girl reflects on her parents in “Where Sea and Sky Kiss” by Dan Campbell (debut 10/4). The protagonist of this tale is the child of widowed parents. The two were brought together by her birth, both losing spouses in tragic accidents. The closeness the two had for each other fades, the distance between them growing wider when they move to anew home. The young lady wishes for them to be close , and with the help of items stored away , hatches a plan for them to fall in love again.

I confess, the moral and deeper meaning of this piece was lost on me. A second reading did not help. Perhaps others will find the appeal of it, but I must say, it was not a tale for me.

 

Silence is the canvas of magic in “Canvas” by M. K. Hutchins (debut 10/5). The protagonist is part of a very talented family. They are capable of wonderful magic, but a deadly plague threatens to take them and all in the land. The protagonist cannot reach the silence to save his nephew. Desperate measures may be the only way out of these desperate times.

“Canvas” is set within a difficult to grasp premise for me. It is a solemn and distant tale told without clear parameters of what is possible.

 

The author contemplates “If Wishes Were Fishes” by Amanda M Hayes (debut 10/6), and brings a quite cute story to life. A goldfish at a Chinese restaurant swallows a coin tossed into its pool and takes on the wish that accompanies it.

“If Wishes” is a novel take on this common phrase. The reader follows the fish, now transformed into the coin, and sets about making the wish a reality. Well told for such a brief tale.

Recommended.

 

A man’s hopes and dreams rest on the outcome of a concert in “A Concert of Flowers” by Kate O’Connor (debut 10/7). William Reis is a planet surveyor when he encounters a species of flower that sings when it blooms. He envisions a potential moneymaker, but the risks are high. The music the flowers make is beautiful. If only he can get others to believe in him.

“A Concert of Flowers” is written in series of flashbacks. The story starts at the beginning of the concert, the moment William has been working toward. Each flashback is set as a potential setback for William, yet he perseveres, betting on himself and his idea.

I must say I liked the idea of flowers that sing. Ms O’Connor did a nice job of making them believable to me. However, the story was really about William and fulfilling his dream. As a story about perseverance, it kind of works, but I’ve read better tales of inspiration. But, for a self-described new writer, I must admit this tale is one any writer would be proud to write.

 

An alien race plays host in “The Human Guest” by Marge Simon (debut 10/10). The alien race tells of the coming of men. At first, they tolerate the new arrivals, then a single human inserts himself into their collective just as mating season commences. The aliens are too polite to refuse. To do so is anti-social.

“The Human Guest” is a distant and dark tale. The nameless human is the worst humanity has to offer. The aliens come off as very human but with a different culture. Details in the story are vague (which was for the best). I found it well-written, just don’t expect an uplifting tale.

 

Vincent reflects on his life on his deathbed and takes pity upon his robot servant, Jonas, in “The Farthest Coast” by Jeremy Lightner (debut 10/11). Vincent has led a good life but knows his death will mean the end of Jonas. He tries to convey his feelings to his servant, wishing Jonas could have a life as fulfilling as his own. But Jonas has a different idea on what makes a life fulfilling.

“The Farthest Coast” is a moral told as a story. The touching moment of Vincent having pity upon Jonas reverses as the tale progresses. I found myself resenting Vincent’s feelings getting turned to mud. The point of the story was taken but I felt as if the author was making a commentary of what makes for a ‘good’ life.

 

Sir Hugh stops to ask peasant Matthew directions to his Lord’s Castle in “The Quest Unusual” by Dave Steffen (debut 10/12 and reviewed by James Hanzelka). He wants to hunt dragons for him. This is unusual since Sir Hugh is a dragon. Now Matthew has a problem does he put his Lord in danger, or deny Sir Hugh and endanger his own life

One of my favorite stories is Ray Bradbury’s “The Dragon”. This is a lighter look at the same subject, with a similar wry twist at the end. Very well done.

 

The main character in “California Gurls” by S. A. Rudek (debut 10/13 and reviewed by James Hanzelka) is trying to convince his partner of the value in music, specifically Katy Perry. His partner is more concerned with dwindling resources in the post apocalyptic world. The bigger question is “will the pair find what they need to survive?”

I didn’t care for the voice in this story, but that’s a personal taste thing. Aside from that, I thought the author did a pretty good job of creating the setting and developing the story in a short format.

 

Phoebe reconnects with her mother after the collapse in “Free Lunch” by Will McIntosh (debut 10/14). The story opens with Phoebe finding her husband having sex with a fourteen-old student of hers, in their bedroom, while her mother-in-law sits in the kitchen. Her decision to leave immediately seems like a no-brainer, but a collapsed civilization makes her pause. She has only one place to go, to parents who disowned her 19 years before. But the journey to her childhood home is an eighty-mile hike through a bamboo forest, and information of what life is like beyond her town is skittish.

“Free Lunch” is a prequel to McIntosh’s novel “Soft Apocalypse.” The story is set in a Georgia twenty years after an economical collapse. Rogue scientists have unleashed bio-engineered bamboo and tailored viruses to quell an upcoming nuclear war. The bamboo has choked the land. Life has gotten harder and people are living a life under siege. But the collapse isn’t complete. There is some form of commerce that still exists. Cars (rare that they are) still travel on the roads. Farmer markets survive but it is clear there are less people around and opportunities are slight.

Early in Phoebe’s trek, she comes across a man named Rumor offering a free meal. Suspicious, yet hungry, she accepts his offer. Rumor is recruiting others to join his tribe. They appear to have everything they need. The catch? Phoebe must allow herself to be infected with the Happy virus. Sensing a cult, she politely refuses, but Rumor’s offer is an open one.

The mood of “Free Lunch” starts off dim and gradually becomes darker. Phoebe finds her mother, alone and starving. Food has become scarce and money has lost its value. At first grateful to find her mother alive, it doesn’t take long for old tensions to resurface between the two. Without many valuables, Phoebe is left with the only thing she has worth trading. Life in a cult, infected with a mood-altering virus, doesn’t seem so bad now.

If you are a fan of Will McIntosh, or have bought , or plan to , a copy of “Soft Apocalypse”, this story is a must read. His writing is smooth and premise intriguing. The story is a lesson on how desperation can dismantle a person’s self-respect. If you are after an uplifting tale, steer wide of this one. Phoebe has no good choices to make in this depressing piece. If you do read it, try not to get too immersed into her character. You’ll want to take a shower if you do.

 

The children of colonists on a new world love hearing the Spidersong by Alex Shvartsman (debut 10/17). The spiders of the alien world are large, hunting and killing the people from Earth. Only the children can hear their songs. They have become the early warning system to the adults, saving them from harm’s way. Only the children can hear the spiders and know what they think. They share a telepathic ability with them, and a kinship the adults aren’t aware of.

“Spidersong” has a twist I won’t dare reveal. The tale is a deceptive tease into the perspective of children who have an ability the adults aren’t privy to. The story is a set up for the reader. Nice piece, I enjoyed it. Keep an eye on those kids.

 

The protagonist writes a letter to her sister on life in the country in My Dearest Miranda by Jamie Lee Moyer (debut 10/18). The letter describes how she and the staff endure trolls, pixies, goblins, and like. Her husband soothes the help and the widow next door in his private parlor for hours at a time (it is difficult to calm down excitable, and lonely, women, after all). Life in the country is much harder than the city.

This work of humor (written as a letter) follows the exploits of a very naÃ’ ve woman. Admittedly, I chuckled a time or two. This delightful tale was indeed funny.

 

An angel appears before Amy, just as her friend said it would in Amy’s First by Henry Szabranski (debut 10/19). A small angel greets Amy in her bedroom. The corporeal being has an important message for her, just as her friend predicted. Thanks to her friend, she knows just what to do.

“Amy’s First” is a delightful little tale. The twist caught me completely off guard. Well executed.

Recommended.

 

A man must decide which sword to choose in Selecting by John M Shade (debut 10/20). A bloodthirsty prince is waiting outside while the protagonist searches the armory, contemplating on his choice of magical sword. Based on the names of the blades, most would be useless, but the sword of Vengeance calls to him.

“Selecting” has the flavor of Fred Saberhagen’s Swords series. In fact, you could call it a parody of the late author’s work. I rather liked it, and loved how the author chose to end this great piece.

 

Sea Charm by Ann Chatman (debut 10/21 and reviewed by Dustin Adams)

When a story ends, and I don’t get it, I figure there’s something I missed. Being a fairly smart guy, I believe I should get every story, so when I don’t, I feel a general washing away of the entire tale. After reading the author comments, and thinking hard about the tale, I believe I’ve pieced together what happened.

A young girl is saved by a merman who so captivates her, she seeks the aid of an old sorceress to assist her in being united with her savior. The old woman leads us to believe this is a common occurrence. Or at least, that young girls seeks her wisdom. This portion of the story trails off as the old woman visits a seal creature in order to inquire of the merman’s intentions. Seems like a lot of trouble to go through for “this latest girl”.

I won’t reveal the ending, in case I’m off with what happened. However, I did appreciate this story as I read along. I gave “Sea Charm” three rocket dragons.

 

Junk Silver by Michael Canfield (debut 10/24 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) is an interesting story, worth four rocket dragons, but it suffers one major flaw, which is I’m unable to picture what is going on.

Taken purely at word for word value, it’s nifty, and intrinsically ironic, which is always a fun combo in a story. However, if you’re looking for a traditional story from which you can picture the characters and surroundings, this isn’t it.

To sum up: Two custodial engineers are on earth cleaning the seemingly physical vestiges of the internet wasteland and various other garbage. The conversation, which is the bulk of the plot, is inane but interesting with various factoids throughout.

 

A woman continues to construct paper animals for her vanishing boyfriend in Like Origami in Water by Damien Walters Grintalis (debut 10/21). Johnny is losing digits. They are disappearing and no one knows why. His girlfriend is his only comfort. He craves her origami and displays them about their apartment.

“Like Origami” is an emotional tale. The story is told from Johnny’s girlfriend point of view. She holds her feelings in, not daring to let them free. She endures, as she watches her dear Johnny waste away.

It is only the mysterious illness that makes this tale a work of speculative fiction. Any person, who had a loved one that succumbed to a long illness, could identify with this story. It is the protagonists attempt to withhold her feelings that make this tale such a strong emotional one. The origami figurines her Johnny loves so much, stand as objects of indictments to her character.

The editors of DSF announced that this tale was nominated for the prestigious (?) award. I hope it wins. It will take an outstanding story to beat it.

 

Tomorrow’s Dawn by Milo James Fowler (debut 10/26 and reviewed by Anonymous) focuses on a man traveling on a lunar tube and sitting opposite him is a member of a subjugated alien race. The man remembers an incident where an alien suicide-bombed a lunar-tube when he was a child, killing many and he picks up clues that the alien in front of him is going to repeat this act in only a few moments…

I found this story a little predictable. I guessed how it would end mostly because of the effort put in to sustain the perceived threat level. That said the message of the story is clear and important and I think that side of things was handled well.

 

In Radical Therapy by Edward Gary Kratz (debut 10/27 and reviewed by Anonymous), a young man is referred to a specialist for his problem–namely he believes himself to be a shapeshifter. More than that, he is a shapeshifter who is having difficulty controlling his shifts. It is his hope–and protected by therapist/patient confidentiality–that the man he is seeing will be able to help him. First however, he must convince the man that he is in fact a shapeshifterâ€

If the guy has this problem, and there is a shapeshifting community (suggested by the story) then surely he would seek help via them?

The story was written with a fly-on-the-wall point of view (POV) and avoids dipping into anyone’s thoughts. The whole emotional side of the story is dialogue and facial expressions and for two good reasons. If you dipped into the head of one of them specifically you’d reveal the twist that happens near the end too early, and if you dipped in the head of the other you’d have some terminal POV problems at the end. The problem with handling the POV such is that it doesn’t really draw you in–at all.

The story didn’t really work for me.

 

Robbie fights his own war against the great menace of creatures adults never see in I Kill Monsters by Nathaniel Matthews Lee (debut 10/28). Robbie is one kid exterminator. Monsters are everywhere; in the closets, under beds, hiding in the basements (always in the basement). They are menacing, scary, and in Robbie sights. With his trusty baseball bat, he bashes the creatures whenever he sees them. Adults are blind to them but aren’t about Robbie’s odd behavior. Robbie doesn’t care, but when a new kid comes to town and offers Robbie a chance to make two bucks, the monster killer discovers the world is a lot scarier than he thought.

“I Kill Monsters” is humorous horror action tale. Mr Lee plays on the childhood fear that monsters are indeed real. The story has a tone that reminded me of the classic Bill the Galactic Hero. I found myself grinning at it throughout. The story is just plain fun.

 

A teacher’s once living students drag him back into the Classroom of the Living Dead by James Van Pelt (debut 10/31). The protagonist’s former pupils have forcibly shoved their teacher into their class. They are now zombies and ask for one thing from him, “brains.”

Mr Van Pelt has taken a new spin on the zombie trend with a unique usage of a pun. Pretty clever, even for a teacher.

 

The Best of the Best Publication Out There

In one of their daily emails, DSF provided a link to one of their reader’s blog with his top ten list of his favorite stories from DSF. Mr Anonymous thought we should do the same so here is our favorites, dating all the way back to DSF’s first issue.

Frank Dutkiewicz

1)ÂÂÂÂÂ Buy You a Mockingbird by Eric James Stone
The most powerful flash fiction I ever read

Â2)ÂÂÂÂÂ Questions by Jacob A. Boyd
A wonderful tale of the afterlife

Â3)ÂÂÂÂÂ A is for Arthur by The Alphabet Quartet
Merlin meets Shakespeare. I don’t know which author wrote it, but they deserve an award for their efforts

 

And to round out my top tenâ€

Flint’s Folly by J Chant

Blivet for the Temporal Lobes by Dave Raines

Y is for Yellow by the Alphabet Quartet

Grinpa by Brian K. Lowe

Ten Speeds at the End of the World by Gunevere Robin Rowell

Her Majesty’s Guardian by Donald S. Crankshaw

Rinse or Repeat by Sylvia Hiven

Â

James Hanzelka

1) The Quest Unusual by Dave Steffen

2) Paying the Tab by Brian K. Lowe

3) Outer Rims by Toiya Kristen Finley

Deathbed by Caroline M Yoachim

Still Life by A. C. Wise

Writing on the Wall by Vaughan Stanger

Imaginary Enemies by Colum Paget

Barb the Bomb and Imaginary Boy by Julian Mortimer Smith

Vision, Values and Mission by James Van Pelt

Shark’s Teeth by T. A. Pratt

 

Anonymous

1) Shroedinger’s Outlaw by Matthew W. Baugh

2) If Wishes Were Fishes by Amanda M. Hayes

3) Starlight Cantata by Brian Lawrence Hurrel

Palindrome by Will Arthur

The Artwork of the Knid by John Parke Davis

Our Drunken Tjeng by Nicky Drayden

The Girl Who Asks Too Much by Eric James Stone

The Wish Writer’s Wife by Ian McHugh

Exit Interview by Patrick Johannsen

 

There is a reason why I gave Dave Steffen’s story The Quest Unusual to reviewer James Hanzelka. James is an avid reader of Daily Science Fiction but rarely keeps up with what’s going on here at Diabolical Plots. He wasn’t even aware the author of that piece was the same person who runs DP. But just to make sure, I asked if he was familiar with the author and wanted to know what made Dave’s story special. His explanationâ€

”â€the main reason I chose the piece is it reminded me of one of my favorite stories, “The Dragon” by Ray Bradbury.”

ÂSo Dave’s piece was chosen by preference and merit alone. For that, we deserve to see that smiling face, again.