“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.

 

“WorldCon 2012 Con Report” or “David Steffen Finds Fandom”

written by David Steffen

I’m beginning to write this article from the huge lobby of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Chicago. It’s 10 o’clock Monday morning, the last day of WorldCon, which this year is Chicon 7. As I sit here and watch the escalators, ambushing familiar faces to sneak in some goodbyes, I am feeling very nostalgic about the weekend already.

This is the first big SF convention that I’ve ever been to, and the only one where I came with a large number of friends I’d known ahead of time. The only convention I’ve been to besides this has been MiniCon in the Twin Cities, which is a few hundred people, and although I’ve made some friends there, I didn’t know any of them ahead of time. Here at WorldCon there are literally dozens of people whom I have met in some respect, varying from casual acquaintances from forums, to editors who have considered my stories for their magazines, to close friends who I’ve been in continuous contact with for years. I tried to write down all the names of these people I’d met, and came up with at least 60, and I’m sure I’m forgetting some, with another dozen that I would’ve liked to meet but never quite got the chance.

I think I finally understand, to a much larger extent, what fandom is all about. The greatest thing about SF fandom is how welcoming it is to everyone. No matter what race, nationality, religion, sexuality, body type, no matter what, you are welcomed with open arms. I’ve always loved that, but previously–I don’t know exactly how to explain this–although I never felt unwelcome, I don’t think I ever felt like I was a PART of the group. I felt like I was being welcomed warmly into a group but not exactly part of the group. I think that everything about it was the way I have approached MiniCon attendance. I go to MiniCon during the day, show up at the first panel that I’m interested in and leave after the last panel I’m interested in. Since so much of the programming emphasizes panels, it seemed to me like panels were what it was about (despite others telling me that that wasn’t the point at all). And I would talk to people as the opportunity arose, but since I was so panel-focused, most of the time I spent was sitting listening to other people talk without a lot of opportunity for conversation with others. But now I’m realizing that the way that I have been approaching MiniCon is all wrong. Panels are good, but they’re not the point.

I can pinpoint the moment when this became real to me. One of the first panels I went to was “Short Story as Proving Ground” with some panelists that I’ve known online, Brad Torgersen, Vylar Kaftan, and others. I arrived late, and so I didn’t get a chance to talk to anyone beforehand. After the panel, I met quite a few people that I’ve known online for a long time, shook some hands and was quite happy to be meeting them. But when I met Annie Bellet, who’s been a friend online for years, she didn’t go for a handshake, she immediately gave me a big hug. And moments later a similar greeting from another longtime friend, Laurie Gailunas. I really felt, at that moment, like these people aren’t just friends, aren’t just colleagues. These people are family, welcoming me with open arms. I realize that sounds corny. But that’s how it felt, and that feeling has persisted through the rest of the con. So, thanks Annie, Laurie, and thanks everyone else who has made me feel so welcome.

I’m not even sure where to get started with this con report.

Dude, you’re really only getting STARTED? You’ve written flash fiction stories that are shorter than that introduction.

Don’t pay attention to that italicized bit. That’s my internal critic. He’s just cranky from being ignored–I don’t know how he got out of the dungeon. Anyway, back to the topic of where to get started: I thought about splitting it up by day, but figured that would get a bit too dry of a “list” format that wouldn’t at all match how I feel about my first big con experience.

The People

There is no way that I can possibly list all of the people that I met this weekend, so I’m not even going to try. I will mention a few. I roomed with Donald Mead and Bryant Thomas Schmidt, both very nice guys. I was very excited to meet Annie Bellet, Hugo-nominated Brad Torgersen, Laurie Gailunas, and Alastair Mayer, who I’ve been in a writing group with for the last few years. There are so many others that I met that I know through various forums or publications, Brennan Harvey, Thomas Carpenter, Alex Kane, Laurie Tom, Dawn Bonnana, Christie Yant (who wrote my favorite story in years, the Three Feats of Agani), Nancy Fulda, Gio Clairval. Many others whose work I have enjoyed over the years, like Rajan Khanna, David D. Levine, Ferret Steinmetz. And I got an autograph from Mr. George R. R. Martin, while managing not to go too fanboy on him.

As I have been sitting here writing this article, others have come and gone around me. I have been sitting next to a woman for the last hour as I type away, and moments ago realized that the woman is LaShawn Wanak, whom I have had many a discussion about fiction on the Escape Artists forums over the last few years! Man this is a crazy place, to meet so many people I know digitally.

The Editors

Wait, wait, aren’t editors people? What kind of stupid categories are these, anyway?

I concede that editors are people. Many of them might even be entirely human. Not John Joseph Adams, clearly, because he regularly violates causality by sending rejections from his Lightspeed EVEN BEFORE the story has been sent to him and somehow he does this without unraveling spacetime. On top of that, no flesh and blood human being could possibly juggle all the anthologies that he puts together all at the same time. Regardless of his superhuman state, he seems to be a very nice guy, even though he’s rejected my stories more than any other editor on the planet.

Also met Gordon Van Gelder, who was one of the first editors I submitted to at Fantasy & Science Fiction. And Stanley Schmidt, the current editor of Analog who has seen all the SF stories I’ve written, as well as Trevor Quachri, who will soon be inundated by my stories in Stan’s stead. Jason Sizemore. And Mur Lafferty, who has the unique distinction in my mind of being the only magazine editor I’ve met who has bought a story from me (for Escape Pod).

It was fun meeting these people, whom I’ve corresponded with so often, if in only the most spare and businesslike way.

Those dulcet tones

What kind of stupid category is that? “Those dulcet tones”. Sheesh.

There was one very small category of people whom I was especially excited to meet.

Wait, wait, so you had a category called “The People” followed by two categories which are subsets of people. Your Software Engineer’s license is going to be revoked if anyone ever founds out–

Ah, that’s better. I found my handy dandy internal critic club that I’d left in my other pants, and put it to good use. He’s back in the dungeons where he belongs. Anyway…

So this very small category is but a category of two, podcast hosts who have been keeping me company in a unidirectional fashion on my daily commute. Mur Lafferty, editor and host of Escape Pod, and Kate Baker, host and narrator of the Clarkesworld podcast. I have talked to both of them before this convention. Mur has bought one of my stories. I’ve talked to Kate before, both as part of her work as a staff member of SFWA, and to share my Best of Clarkesworld lists. Corresponding with them via email was one thing, but easy enough to separate from the podcast because of the different medium. Talking to them in person, though, was very strange (in the best possible way). I have listened to both of them for SO many hours, I felt like I was talking to best friends of many years. They both have such beautiful reading voices.

It sort of reminded me of those times when I’ve gone to a play with incredibly good actors, and then greeted the actors afterward. Theater can establish such a perceived intimacy that it’s easy to feel like you know the person as a close friend, and so if I follow my instinct and greet them as a warm friend without thinking, it’s very confusing for both parties. I think in this case it was more so, because I have listened to them both for so many hours. I kept waiting for Kate to say “Let me tell you a story.”

It was really, really surreal, as if I talked to my iPod and it suddenly started responding to me. And, so far, I haven’t been served a restraining order, so at the very least I think I managed not to creep either of them out with one-sided over-familiarity.

The Parties

Every night, parties. Usually I don’t like parties much, but these are writer parties. Many familiar faces, and you can stand around and talk about writing. There’s not really anybody in real life that I talk to about writing without them getting bored after a few minutes, so this was a lot of fun. Tor and Baen both hosted big parties, but one of the highlights of the weekend was the “Pink and Blue” release party of Cat Rambo and Stina Leicht. Cat Rambo just released an anthology of her short stories titled “Near + Far” (she’s the pink) and Stina Leicht (she’s the blue) something as well, I think it was her book “Of Blood and Honey”. This was a highlight of the weekend, a good turnout with lots of people I wanted to meet.

Panels/Events

I’ll just list the ones I went to briefly, for anyone who’d like to know more than I said, ask in the comments.

Thursday

Opening Ceremonies–formatted like a late-night talk show with the entertaining John Scalzi as host, he interviewed all of the major guests of the con.
Mike Resnick Reading
Nancy Fulda Reading
The Short Story as Testing Ground–This was the first panel I went to that I’d mentioned previously, with Brad and Vylar as panelists. Good content, but especially exciting to meet a bunch of people after.

Friday

Mark J. Ferrari Reading–I’ve critiqued some book chapters of Mark’s upcoming book, was nice to meet him
George R. R. Martin Autograph Session–Got a copy of “Game of Thrones” autographed
John Joseph Adams Reading–Fiction reading of stories bought by JJA, including by Christie Yant and David D. Levine. Very enjoyable, especially Levine’s clever parody of Superman from a Lex Luthor point of view justifying his seemingly evil actions.
Filling the Magazines–Great panel of editors, Gordon Van Gelder, Stanley Schmidt, John Joseph Adams, Jason Sizemore, Ellen Datlow
Ferrett Steinmetz Reading–I think Ferrett’s really hit his stride lately, I like each story more and more.
Open Mic Reading–Ferrett inexplicably was scheduled for another 90 minute session and he opened it up for volunteers. I was very happy about this since I registered for the con much too late to be in any programming. So I read my favorite of my own work, the unpublished “Hungry Void”. I had a lot of trouble keeping my voice steady because that story always makes me want to cry.

Saturday

Codex Breakfast–Great fun to meet dozens from my favorite online writer’s forum
George R. R. Martin Interview
Effective Habits for Aspiring Authors–
A panel with Annie Bellet and Brad Torgersen
Critique Session–My sole programming commitment, Deirdre Saoirse Moen and I lead a critique session of 3 authors who signed up. A very enjoyable experience. I like critiquing anyway, was enjoyable to do this in person for a change.
Escape Pod Meetup–I showed up very late for this due to the critique session commitment, but was happy to find some people still hanging around. Met some great people involved in one of my favorite podcasts.

Sunday

The Future of Analog–Panel including Stanley Schmidt (editor until Friday), Trevor Quachri (editor after Friday), Brad Torgersen and Richard Lovett to discuss the editorial change and just generally the future of the magazine.
Podcasting 101–Okay, so I have little interest in starting a podcast (though I’d like to try some voice acting). I mostly went to hear Mur Lafferty and Kate Baker talk.
Neil Gaimain Theatre–One of four plays performed at this convention written by Neil Gaiman, this one a reimagining of the Snow White story with the stepmother as the hero and Snow White as a vampire. It feels entirely more real than the original story.

The Hugos

The Hugo award ceremony was a lot of fun. John Scalzi made a very entertaining host. This was an odd experience too, because it had a feel very much like the major award ceremonies you see on TV (but without the upstaging and with half the runtime), but I KNOW some of these people. I was particularly rooting for Brad Torgersen, Mur Lafferty, and Nancy Fulda to win in their respective categories. They didn’t, but I hope they’re not too disappointed about it–to be voted by fandom to be one of the top 5 favorite in any category is an amazing accomplishment.

I won’t list all the winners here, because those have been published for days. I was excited to see Jim C. Hines win for Best Fan Writer. If you haven’t read his blog posts about female and male poses on fantasy covers, you should–he actually reproduces all of the poses he discusses, to both thought-provoking points and comic effect. I was disappointed that the “Remedial Chaos Theory” of Community didn’t win for Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form, because that category is always dominated by Dr. Who. Game of Thrones Season 1 on HBO won Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form, against a tough field. Ken Liu‘s “Paper Menagerie” for Best Short Story, a well deserved win, that story is so good.

Wrap Up

I’m wrapping this up in my office at home on Wednesday, having hopped a plane home on Monday and gone back to my engineering work yesterday. I still feel a bit disoriented, culture-shock I guess, at being back in my daily life instead of this brief but intense visit into the convention scene.

This has been a really great experience for me, which I’m having trouble finding just the right words to describe. I feel like I’ve found fandom, after never quite being able to see quite where or what it was, and when I finally got here someone had saved a seat for me. Thank you to everyone who has made me feel so welcome–even just the little things added up to a great experience.

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 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.