Using SF Podcasts to teach Business and Economics

written by Moritz Botts

Who wouldn’t have liked to have studied their university subject using their favorite science fiction or fantasy stories? I missed a crossover between my favorite genre fiction and the subject he was studying, so when I became a PhD student and lecturer at a German university, I decided to take matters into my own hands and asked my professor if I could teach a business course using Escape Pod as the main source. I might have understated the fact that Escape Pod is a science fiction podcast thoughâ€

The first question of course is, whether science fiction or fantasy stories lend themselves to the subject that is taught. Accounting would be a difficult subject to teach with a Robert E. Heinlein story, and human anatomy courses should probably stick to the regular, human based textbooks. There are certainly fields which are much more open to genre fiction, like anthropology, which Julianna Beaudoin of Western University in London, Canada, teaches via science fiction and fantasy classics. Authors like Ursula K. LeGuin, a daughter of anthropologists, immediately come to mind in this field. Ram Mudambi of Temple University, PA, uses the fantasy novel The Empire of the Zon as a source for his undergrad international business classes. If a manager has to study foreign cultures and their ways of doing business, why not go for a totally foreign, a fantasy culture? I decided to not rely on my students’ motivation to read though, but rather thought that podcasts would be a solution that make it more likely that students could listen to the “required listening of the week” during their commute, while exercising, or while shopping. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that all podcasts offered by Escape Artists are available free of charge.

Before the course began, I asked myself a couple of questions: Were Escape Pod, Podcastle, or even Pseudopod, podcasts I have been following since 2010, suitable for a university course? Would the young generation of students be open to genre fiction? Could podcasts make it easier for students to follow the course? There was only one way to find out!

In the summer of 2014, the course “Business and Economics in Fiction Podcasts” was offered to undergraduate students of international business at a German public university. The university has a strong international focus, and more than 50% of the students who eventually signed up for this course were exchange students from the European Erasmus program, coming from countries such as Poland, Russia, Turkey, France, Italy, or Greece.

Students picked a podcast from a selection of science fiction and some fantasy podcasts, mostly from Escape Pod and Podcastle. I had preselected these podcasts to include some economics or business related topic, often following suggestions from Escape Artists’ forums. These included totally new takes on supply and demand with Nancy Kress’ “Nano comes to Clifford Falls” (EP 075), the meaning of value with Daniel Abraham’s “The Cambist and Lord Iron” (PC 051), or intercultural communication with David D. Levine’s “Tk’tk’tk” (EP 045). You can see the complete list of stories at the end of this article. In many cases, this meant near future stories with social criticism by authors such as Nancy Kress or Cory Doctorow. Even though students would usually be 21 years old or older, no Pseudopod stories were selected.

The course was offered as a “soft skills” course with credits but no grade, to make it easier to experiment a bit. A typical week would include two presentations by student groups and a section on different academic skills, such as presenting, citation, editing podcasts, or creating a wiki. Therefore, even if the idea of using the podcasts terribly backfired, the students would have still taken something useful with them.

The results of the course were somewhat mixed. On the one hand, all stories were suitable to be used as case studies in economics or business on an undergraduate level. One German student mentioned that he had been very skeptical about using science fiction stories at first, but when he listened to his story – Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Tamarisk Hunter” (EP 384) , he immediately “got it”. A group of Turkish students presented Tobias Buckell’s “Anakoinosis” and expressed a deep concern for the ethical issues discussed in the story. For me, it was initially a bit weird to hear my students present genre fiction authors and talk about the awards they got, but why should a story concerning aliens and spaceships be any weirder than a business case?

The lack of a grade for the course led to a couple of rather lackluster presentations though, and not all students would listen to the podcasts regularly. For future iterations of this course, incentives for a stronger engagement of the students should be given. Also, as the stories seem to “work” in an academic setting, grades could certainly be given, which should raise the quality of the students’ presentations.

To evaluate the course, I handed out a questionnaire during the last class. This survey is not really representative, because of the small class size. Nevertheless, there are a couple of trends that can be seen. Most students hadn’t really heard of podcasts before the start of the course. They usually listened to the course’s story on their computer while not doing anything else. There was only one native speaker of English in the course, and most students found it easier to follow the stories in a written format alongside the audio file.

About half of the students actually like science fiction stories. While most students only listened to a couple of the podcasts, they usually listened to more than one, the most popular being “Tk’tk’tk”.

I am sure that I will offer this course again in an upcoming semester. New and engaging Escape Pod (and Podcastle and Pseudopod) stories will certainly enhance the next course, so keep them coming!

 

Short stories included in the Curriculum

Week 1: From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled… (Michael Swanwick), Escape Pod
Week 2: Accounting for Dragons (Eric James Stone), Podcastle
Week 3: Nano Comes to Clifford Falls (Nancy Kress), Escape Pod
Week 3: The Tamarisk Hunter (Paolo Bacigalupi), Escape Pod
Week 4: Dragonomics (Lance Shonberg), Cast of Wonders
Week 4: The Cambist and Lord Iron (Daniel Abraham), Podcastle
Week 5: Anakoinosis (Tobias Buckell); Dunesteef
Week 5: Special Economics (Maureen F. McHugh), Clarkesworld
Week 6: Anda’s Game (Cores Doctorow), Podiobooks
Week 6: Patent Infringement (Nancy Kress), Escape Pod
Week 7: Just Do It (Heather Lindsley), Escape Pod
Week 7: Tk’tk’tk (David D. Levine), Escape Pod


MoritzBottsMoritz Botts is a research and teaching assistant at European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder), Germany. His research focuses on intercultural differences in management, while his teaching includes international management and innovation management. He is also an intercultural trainer and interested in innovative teaching methods with diverse media. He has written a horror short story in German published in an anthology and various academic articles. You can contact Moritz at botts@europa-uni.de

 

Con Report: WisCon 2014

written by Shane Halbach

Despite trying to be a serious writer for more than 5 years now, it has never occurred to me to attend a con. Writing has always been a very solitary activity for me, and sometimes I have this thing where going to do something just sounds like so much work (I think it’s called laziness). On the other hand, I’m a raging extrovert who is energized by being around people. Enter WisCon.

WisCon 38 logo

WisCon was a very easy “intro con” for me because 1) I live in Chicago and Madison is very close by, 2) I could crash with my brother, and 3) everyone kept repeating over and over again what a kind, small*, welcoming con WisCon was. I’m happy to report, the experience was absolutely wonderful, and I would be more than happy to attend again, or perhaps branch out to other cons.

*Note, did anyone actually say it was a small con? Because it totally wasn’t, at least by my definition, but that was certainly the impression I had been given! But kind and welcoming were accurate at least.

On the other hand, we do have a longstanding commitment for Memorial Day, which conflicts with WisCon. This meant that I attended the con without Sara and the kids, which was probably best for all of us. (Side note, holy childcare Batman! $1 per kid for the entire con??)

To show how absolutely committed I was to attend this con, I rode the bus from Chicago. It was very crowded, but it wasn’t nearly so bad as it could have been. However, though I did get *some* writing done, it wasn’t as much as I had hoped. Turns out bouncing around in the dark, shoulder to shoulder with strangers, is not the conducive writing environment you might think it would be.

In David Steffen’s WorldCon 2012 report, he spoke of “finding fandom”. That’s definitely how I felt. I met so many writers that I’ve known online for years. It felt like everywhere I looked I saw nametags of people I recognized. “Hey, I enjoy that guy’s stories!”, “Hey, that woman sends me rejection letters!”, and “Don’t I see that name in my twitter feed a lot?”

Being as this was my first con, and never having attended any panels, it didn’t seem right to sign up to be on any panels. I didn’t know if I would have anything to offer on a panel. That was a mistake. In the very best panels, I was dying to chime in on everything. I will not make that mistake again. (Did I mention I’m an extrovert?)

I found myself wearing a lot of different hats at the con. Some panels I attended as a writer, some as a blogger, and some just as a fan (a Welcome to Night Vale panel? Say whaaaaat!?). When I didn’t find a panel that sounded interesting, I attended readings, wandered the dealers’ rooms (print of a tiny dragon snuggling with a kitten for Evie’s birthday? Check!), or grabbed a coffee in the con suite. Oh con suite, you were exactly as advertised: stuffed full of free pop and coffee, frozen pizzas, and those hot dogs on rollers. With dusseldorf mustard! DUSSELDORF MUSTARD!

The biggest and best part of the con is that it made me feel like a writer.

The first part of that was the reading I did as part of Clockwork Lasercorn on Sunday morning.

clockwork lasercorn

(Sorry Catherine, we didn’t think to take a picture until you were gone!)

Considering that I hadn’t actually met any of the others in real life until about 15 minutes before the reading, and considering that we were slotted at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning opposite a lot of other great programming, it all could have gone horribly wrong. But it didn’t! At all! Our group totally meshed, everybody’s stories were awesome, and mine seemed to be well received. I got compliments afterwards. I don’t think anybody knew I had never done a reading before.

Our reading was at a coffee shop, which I kind of liked, because anybody could just come in off the street and listen. It was pretty dead when we got there, but it actually filled up. I think we had about 18 or so, plus the 5 of us. And best of all? Ann “Ancillary Justice” Leckie came to my reading! Little did I know, she’s friends with my co-readers, and also super, super nice. This was the closest to my fanboy moment of the con. She just beat Neil Gaiman out of a Nebula for best novel, what, a week ago? And now she’s listening to my story? Awesome.

But! But! That was not all, oh no, that was not all.

I dropped by the Crossed Genres booth to pick up a copy of Long Hidden (which sold out after their excellent panel, so I’m glad I grabbed a copy early!) and to see if I could say hi to Bart and Kay who published me in OOMPH. Not only did I get a chance to chat with Bart for awhile, but he asked me sign all the copies of OOMPH they had on hand.

signing

I can’t tell you how much that made my con. I’ve never done any kind of book signing before, and it was pretty cool. They even put a little “author signed” tent on top of the books later. The only downside is that I kept bumping my head on the door after that, since I was walking around 10 feet tall. The thing is, Long Hidden is blowing UP right now (for good reason! I just started reading it and it’s already so good!), and Bart had a lot going on this weekend. Yet I felt like he really was enthusiastic about meeting me and went out of his way to make me feel good whenever I bumped into him at the con.

Now, since I was staying with my brother, I didn’t have the “true” con experience of hanging out in the bar, attending any of the con parties, or signing up for any of the tabletop gaming sessions (I missed a chance for both Last Night on Earth and Small World). The fact that there was a Jem party that I did not attend is outrageous. Truly, truly, truly outrageous. On the other hand, while I would no doubt have had a good time doing any of those things, I think I would enjoy them more if I had “con friends” whom I was anxious to see. Maybe in years to come.

However, I did get a chance to experience some of the general Madison ambiance, such as drinking liters (that’s plural) of beer out of a boot to the tune of polka music, attending the world’s largest brat fest, and grabbing a to-go lunch from a place that offered to substitute your fruit cup with a “cheese cup” (yeah, that’s pretty much what it sounds like).

beer boot

I did want to make one final note about WisCon. As you might have guessed from the logo at the top, WisCon is the “world’s leading feminist science fiction convention”, with a strong focus on embracing people traditionally left out of science fiction fandom: women, people of color, people with disabilities, gay people, transgendered people…you know, the vast majority of everybody in the world.

Now, I must admit, as a white, cisgendered male, this made me a little nervous. Not because I feel uncomfortable around these groups of people (which is good because, you know, they’re the vast majority of everybody in the world), quite the contrary; I believe anybody who knows me would tell you I am fully prepared to rock a feminist science fiction convention. No, I was nervous because I was worried about intruding.

As a person of undeniable privilege, I kind of thought, “Maybe this one’s not for me. I can go a lot of places and be comfortable doing a lot of things that many of these people can’t. Maybe I should let them have this one, since us white, cisgendered men already kind of have all the rest of them.”

However, I have to say, it wasn’t an issue at all. Not only was everyone wonderful and welcoming as only a crowd of people who know what it feels like to be unwelcome could be, but there really were people of ALL stripes present, including people like me. And honestly, when I looked around the con, it didn’t occur to me to see women, people of color, people with disabilities, gay people, or transgendered people. What I saw was just a lot of people. The best kind of people: science fiction and fantasy nerds.

MY kind of people.

Head ShotShane lives in Chicago with his wife and two kids, where he writes software by day and avoids writing stories by night. His fiction has appeared on Escape Pod, Daily Science Fiction, OOMPH: A Little Super Goes a Long Way, and elsewhere. He blogs regularly at shanehalbach.com or can be found on Twitter @shanehalbach.

The Best of Escape Pod 2013

written by David Steffen

Escape Pod, and the other Escape Artists casts had a bit of a crisis to overcome this year–they realized that although they had a great listenership, only 1% of the listeners donated, and it wasn’t enough to keep the publications afloat. The good news is that when they revealed this there was a strong reaction to add subscriptions–if you read this and you like the cast, consider adding a subscription.

They published 54 stories in 2013, and they are better than ever. Norm Sherman’s still in the editor’s chair.

Let me tell you, trying to decide which of the top two should be #1 was grueling.

The List

1. Dead Merchandise by Ferrett Steinmetz
In a future where advertising has gone feral, driving people to suicide or ruinous self-neglect, and civilization has fallen apart, one woman tries to get to their broadcast dome and take it down for the good of the world. This story is scary as hell in its plausibility. The only thing missing is some mind-reading technology. I don’t know how Ferrett did it, but he’s done it again, so often writing just amazingly emotional stories with original neat ideas at their core. I won’t post anything spoilery in this article, but I did go on at length about why I loved the story in spoilery fashion on their forum.

2. They Go Bump by David Barr Kirtley
I could easily call this a tie for #1. We are fighting a war against aliens who can make themselves invisible. We have just developed the technology to cloak our own soldiers, and are sending a squad of cloaked soldiers across a wasteland from base to base where invisible aliens are believed to reside, to test out the tech. What I really love about this story is how many different interpretations can be taken from it, because the lack of visual confirmation of anything throws so many things into doubt. Again I went on at length in spoilery fashion on their forum.

3. The Shunned Trailer by Esther Freisner
Fair warning, I don’t think there’s a speck of science fiction in this story. It would’ve been a perfect fit for Drabblecast, a quite fun parody of Lovecraft that never takes itself seriously. It operates by the tried and true Lovecraft plot of a man being stranded and coming across a cult of Cthulhu. But it’s just over the top weird and fun, and read perfectly by Norm Sherman.

4. Nutshell by Jeffrey Wikstrom
A ship is traveling through the space between stars controlled by an AI and filled with cryogenically frozen passengers who weren’t supposed to remember anything. They do, however, and they have control over their environment. The AI comes to visit them from time to time to try to work on details of the trip and colonization planning. Up to now this all sounds like a familiar SF story, but this story took a slant on it I hadn’t seen and added some great humor and events. Great stuff.

5. The Future is Set by C.L. Perria
Why would a supervillain who can see the future try to take over the world in a way that is doomed to fail? Read and find out.

 

Honorable Mentions

The Very Pulse of the Machine by Michael Swanwick

Freia in the Sunlight by Gregory Norman Bossert

Arena by Fredric Brown

The Best of Escape Pod 2012

written by David Steffen

Some big changes at Escape Pod in 2012:
–They were officially added to the SFWA list of professional markets, the first audio market to do so.
–Mur Lafferty announced her resignation of the editor position, official at the end of the year, citing too many projects that she’s signed on for.

Some momentous moments for me personally with Escape Pod in 2012:
–I sold them a story for the first time, “Marley and Cratchit”, which was published in December as their Christmas episode. It’s the secret history of A Christmas Carol, with alchemy. I, of course, did not consider my story for my list.
–That sale was my third and final sale needed to qualify for SFWA.

After the new year, Alasdair Stuart took over as interim editor until Norm Sherman (of The Drabblecast) could take on the role long-term.

Escape Pod, the original speculative fiction podcast, continues on, stronger than ever! Long live Escape Pod! On to the list.

Doing these lists is always interesting to me, because I often never realize how much I like a particular author until I see him/her twice on one of these lists.

 

1. The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu
This story won the Hugo for Best Short Story in 2012, and the award was well deserved–I voted for it to win myself. It’s the story of the American son of a mail-order bride and his relationship with his mother.

2. Devour by Ferrett Steinmetz
This is one of my Hugo nominations for Best Short Story in 2013, the story of a man whose lover has been taken over by a biological weapon, a contagious personality seeded in times of war to take us over.

3. The Ghost of a Girl Who Never Lived by Keffy R.M. Kehrli :
In the future, technology for cloning and memory transfer is commercially available, and is often used to replace lost loved ones who’ve died suddenly, giving them a new body with their old memories. But when the memory transfer process terminates prematurely, is the person who wakes up a faulty version of the old person or are they a new person entirely?

4. “Run,” Bakri Says by Ferrett Steinmetz
A terrorist organization creates a technology that allows a single person to repeatedly start their lives from a certain point in space and time, much like a video game save point. This technology is used in this story for a woman to try to rescue her brother from a heavily armed military compound. She can repeat the attempt as many times as it takes. I’m sure this story appeals to me in large part because it’s like a real-life version of a video game.

5. Contamination by Jay Werkheiser
The story of a multi-generation expedition to study life on a planet without touching it for fear of contaminating the results, and a second expedition that arrives, in conflict with this one. I first read this in Analog, and I’d thought it a little dry at the time which is fairly often my response to Analog stories. But as time went on my mind kept wandering back to it again and again. I really like the characters in it, trying to find ways to live with themselves while operating within the limits of their societies. I listened to it again here after I’d been contemplating it off and on for months, and I like it more and more.

6. Like a Hawk in Its Gyre by Phillip Brewer
An ex government researcher with heavy mind modifications is just trying to live a normal life after he’s done serving his time, but he still has to live with the modifications they’ve made to him to ensure secrecy. Somebody is after his secrets.

Oubliette by J Kelley Anderson

Talking to the Enemy by Don Webb

Springtime for Deathtraps by Marjorie James
The third in a series of stories about an ancient trap engineer building ancient temples.

 

My Hugo/Nebula Picks 2012

written by David Steffen

In the previous post I suggested my own Hugo/Nebula nominated work. This post has the purpose of sharing my picks for these categories other than our own work. I welcome any and all to post in the comments with their own suggestions.

I’m a bit of an odd duck in my reading habits, in that I ready only a small niche of the types of stuff out there, but I read that very deeply. Almost all of my fiction intake comes from fiction podcasts, which are all Short Story categories, but are often reprints from previous years which are not eligible. I do read novels, but have not read any written in 2012 yet, because I am a slow read and because I re-read the entire Wheel of Time series that pretty much took all year, in preparation for the 2013 release of the final book.

Which is to say, most of the categories that I’ve voted for I am very well read in, but I just left off those categories in which I have not read at all, or haven’t read enough to have some solid picks.

Best Short Story Hugo and Nebula

This is the category I’m most interested in, covering SF/Fantasy/Horror fiction of 7500 words or less.

1. The Three Feats of Agani by Christie Yant (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

2. Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain by Cat Rambo (Near + Far)

3. All the Painted Stars by Gwendolyn Clare (Clarkesworld)

4. Devour by Ferrett Steinmetz (Escape Pod)

5. Worth of Crows by Seth Dickinson (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

 

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) Hugo

Best dramatic presentation of 90 minutes or longer

1. The Hunger Games

2. Game of Thrones Season 2

3. True Blood Season 5

4. The Avengers

5. Wreck-It Ralph

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) Hugo

Best dramatic presentation of less than 90 minutes.

1. “Digital Estate Planning” –episode of Community

2. Devour–Escape Pod

3. The Dead of Tetra Manna–Dunesteef

4. The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward–Drabblecast

5. The Music of Erich Zann–Drabblecast

 

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation (Not a Nebula)

Related to the Nebulas, but not a Nebula itself, this seems to combine the long and short dramatic forms used in the Hugo.

1. The Hunger Games

2. Game of Thrones Season 2

3. True Blood Season 5

4. Wreck-It Ralph

5. “Digital Estate Planning” — Community

 

Best Editor (Short Form) Hugo

Editor of short fiction.

1. Norm Sherman (Drabblecast)

2. Scott H. Andrews (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

3. Neil Clarke (Clarkesworld)

4. John Joseph Adams (Lightspeed, various anthologies)

5. Bruce Bethke (Stupefying Stories)

 

Best Profession Artist Hugo

1. Michael Whelan (especially this Analog cover)

 

Best Semiprozine Hugo

This is the most complicated category to define. It is not a professional market, which means that neither of the following are true: (1) provided at least a quarter the income of any one person or, (2) was owned or published by any entity which provided at least a quarter the income of any of its staff and/or owner. In addition, it generally has to pay contributors in something other than copies of the magazine, or only be available for paid purchase.

I’m not totally sure that all of the ones that I’ve picked here are eligible. There might be others that I’m ruling out as not being eligible that are. This category confuses me. but these are my best shot at nominations for it.

1. Drabblecast

2. Escape Pod

3. Beneath Ceaseless Skies

4. Pseudopod

5. Stupefying Stories

 

Best Fancast Hugo

This is a new experimental Hugo that might get voted in as a permanent one. It is split off from the Best Fanzine Hugo, but must be an audio or video presentation. I’m not totally sure that Toasted Cake qualifies, since they do pay a few dollars per story, but I thought it was low enough that it might be considered as more of an honorarium and let me nominate it.

1. Journey Into…
see my Best Of Journey Into… list for examples.

2. Toasted Cake

3. Beam Me Up
A science fiction radio show and podcast–how cool is that?

 

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (Not a Hugo)

1. Jake Kerr
I very much enjoyed his Old Equations on Lightspeed, for one.

2. Mur Lafferty

 

“Marley and Cratchit” published on Escape Pod

written by David Steffen

Just a brief note to share good news of a new published story–“Marley and Cratchit” at Escape Pod, a secret history of A Christmas Carol. I tried to write it in a Dickensian style and make it fit into the original while still going somewhere unexpected. I hope you enjoy it. Please feel free to leave a comment hear with feedback.

 

The Best of Escape Pod 2011

 

written by David Steffen

And here is the final of my “Best of” lists covering the year 2011. Escape Pod published steadily over the year, publishing 59 short stories. Among their usual fare, they also published winners and runners-up from their 2010 Flash Contest, whose winners were decided by forumite polling.

Recently they’ve announced that Nathaniel Lee (of Mirrorshards fame) has been given the position of Assistant Editor. I am very happy to hear this. He has already whipped the Drabblecast slushpile into shape, and he has done an admirable job with the Escape Pod slush as well. So if anyone had been frustrated at slow response times or lack of response to queries when trying to contact Escape Pod, you should give them another try.

And on to the list!

 

1. Rejiggering the Thingamajig by Eric James Stone
read by Kij Johnson
An intelligent spacefaring vegetarian Buddhist Tyrannosaurus Rex, a trigger-happy smartgun that talks like Yosemite Sam, and an ill-defined quest with an incomprehensible talisman at the end of it. Awesome.

2. For Want of a Nail by Mary Robinette Kowal
read by Mur Lafferty
Social and maintenance problems on a generation ship. The title doesn’t tie into the story all that well, but very good stuff.

3. Movement by Nancy Fulda
read by Marguerite Kenner
The protagonist in this story has what her society has labeled as temporal autism (which as even she points out may not have much relation to autism but such are public buzzwords). A very compelling story in a world not quite like our own and told by a very interesting POV.

4. Honor Killing by Ray Tabler
read by Mur Lafferty
This rather reminded my of Tobias Buckell’s Anakoinosis, with fuzzy little aliens demanding to be oppressed. In that case, it was slavery, in this case, murder.

5. Captain Max Stone Versus DESTRUCTOBOT by Angela Lee
read by Josh McNichols
One of the great entries to the flash fiction contest, overall this has a great feel of old-timey radio fiction, pulpy and fun and worth some great laughs.

6. London Iron by William R. Halliar
read by Andrew Richardson
Another entry from the flash contest. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s an action-packed flash story.

 

Honorable Mentions

Wheels of Blue Stilton by Nicholas J. Carter
read by Christian Brady

Marking Time on the Far Side of Forever by DK Latta
read by Josh Roseman
A robot protagonist who is an incarnation of temporal culture clash.

Many Mistakes, All Out of Order by M.C. Wagner
read by Wilson Fowlie

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?

Interview: Eugie Foster

Eugie Foster is a Nebula-winning, Hugo Award nominated author of speculative fiction living in metro Atlanta. In fact, if you read this interview right away, the Hugo ballots are still open for a few days until July 31, 2010. Her story “Sinner, Baker, Fablist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” is up for best novelette. It’s an amazing story and I encourage you to vote for it. If you haven’t read it, you can listen to it for free on Escape Pod with an amazing reading by Lawrence Santoro. She has also had many stories run on the other two Escape Artists casts (Pseudopod and Podcastle) so check out her other work there as well.

She also released a short story collection last year titled Returning My Sister’s Face and Other Far Eastern Tales of Whimsy and Malice. Check out her website and LiveJournal page as well, get a full list of her publications on her bibliography page.

David: I’m always interested in hearing origins of a particular story. Where did the idea for “Sinner, Baker, Fablist, Priest…” come from?

Eugie: I had the idea for the story,a society where people change their identities and their societal roles, even their personalities, based upon masks they don,rattling around in my creative subconscious for a while. But it took me a couple years to get around to writing it. I’ve always found masks so evocative. They’re universal icons, found throughout history and spanning nearly every culture. The donning of another face, or the corollary, the relinquishing of one’s own, is a transformative act, an unambiguous exchange of identity.

Fundamentally, “Sinner” is an examination and exploration of themes of identity and self: who we are against a backdrop of societal roles and expectations, the external and internal influences that affect our sense of self, and the choices we make that reflect who we truly are.

David: If you could give just one piece of advice to aspiring authors, what would it be?

Eugie: Keep writing and read; read a lot. Oh, wait, that was two pieces, wasn’t it?

Okay, how about: take the time to acquaint yourself with how the publishing biz works. How it’s depicted in Hollywood and pop culture is so wrong: you rattle off a story or novel, it gets picked up by the New Yorker or one of the big publishing houses, you hit the best-seller list in a week and become a millionaire, and la, all your troubles are over. ÂThe reality is long waits, form rejections, interminable lead times, and really crappy pay.

David: When you were getting started writing, were there any times when you were sure you wouldn’t make it? How did you get through those times?

Eugie: I made it? Really? Sweet!

Honestly, I still get all excited and amazed whenever I hear that someone who isn’t a family member or close friend has read my work. As a short story writer, I don’t expect to have much name recognition, or financial success, for that matter. Someone actually asked me whether I was getting rich now that I’d won a Nebula Award. Can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard.

David: What is your first memory?

Eugie: It’s something terribly boring and unexciting, eating a cookie when I was three. But here’s an interesting bit of trivia (well I think it’s interesting): our brains aren’t really developed enough to form memories until we’re around three years old. People’s first recollections have been pretty consistently documented coming in at around three years.ÂÂ But then, recent studies in memory indicate that it’s possible that we write anew our memories each time we experience them.

David: What do you like to do when you’re not reading or writing?

Eugie: Hmm, sleeping and eating? Also editing,I’m a legal editor for the Georgia General Assembly for my day job and I’m also the director and editor of the Daily Dragon, the on-site newsletter of Dragon*Con,although editing sorta counts as writing.

I also do website design on the side, pandering to my tech geek proclivities and all. That began as an occasional project to provide a bit of extra income here and there, and I’ve found it actually eats a big chunk out of my writing time. Coding is easier and provides instant gratification, which writing rarely does. Bad writer me, no cookie.

David: If you were the first human to establish first contact with an alien, what would you say?

Eugie: Please excuse the mess; we’re still…actually, why don’t you take a leisurely cruise around the solar system and come back in about a century?

David: Do you have any works in progress you’d like to talk about?

Eugie: As always, I’ve got several short works I’m working on in various states of completion, and I’ve been plugging away at a novel for a while now, although I keep getting sidetracked by various other projects.

David: Any upcoming publications?

Eugie: Lessee, The Dragon and the Stars anthology from DAW came out in May which includes my story, “Mortal Clay, Stone Heart,” and “A Patch of Jewels in the Sky” will be reprinted in the anthology Triangulation: End of the Rainbow, due out any day now. There are also Spanish, Czech, French, and Italian translations of “Sinner” forthcoming in CuÃ’ sar, Pevnost, TÃ’ nÃ’ bres, and Robot, respectively.

David: What was the last book you read?

Eugie: The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature by Steven Pinker. One part psychology, one part language (two of my favorite subjects) and a big ole dollop of “ooo!”

David: Your favorite book?

Eugie: *Wail!* I can’t pick just one! Um, here’s some of my favorites: Candide, The Lord of the Flies, Cyrano de Bergerac, The Silver Metal Lover, Winnie-the-Pooh, Fahrenheit 451, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, Journey to the West, and The Velveteen Rabbit.

David: Who is your favorite author?

Eugie: See above regarding *wail!*Â Some the ones that have influenced me the most as a writer include Ray Bradbury, Tanith Lee, and Ursula K. Le Guin. ÂThe lush prose and vivid imagery in their stories is so evocative; I can lose myself for days on end in their writing. ÂI also adore Neil Gaiman and A.A. Milne,Winnie-the-Pooh remains one of my all time favorite books,as well as Roald Dahl and George Orwell.

David: What was the last movie you saw?

Eugie: I saw Inception the week it came out and found it disappointing. For being the big SF film of the year, it was terribly predictable with uninteresting characters and lackluster FX. The main conceit which everyone is oohing and aahing over, being able to enter other people’s dreams, is an old SFnal one. It’s not even the first time that Hollywood has explored it. Inception did introduce a few clever premises, but the main one was an obvious plot device and when it became inconvenient, the filmmakers broke their own rules.

David: What is your favorite movie?

Eugie: See above regarding favorite author and favorite book. But a few of my top picks include American Beauty, Forgiving the Franklins, Fight Club, and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

David: Eugie, thanks for taking the time for the interview.

Eugie: Thanks for interviewing me!


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.