The Best of Clarkesworld Podcast

written by David Steffen

And I listen on, expanding to more and more podcasts. Now I’m caught up on the stories that have been podcast by Clarkesworld Magazine. They haven’t had a podcast for their entire history, and when it started they only published half their stories in audio form. More recently, every story is posted in audio, on the 1st and 15th of every month. If you don’t know Clarkesworld you should definitely check them out. They won the Hugo last year for the Best Semiprozine, and they’ve been nominated for that category once again this year. One of their stories was also nominated for best short story, but I’ll get to that later. Go vote for them, and for their nominated story. Both are well deserving of the honor, and I’ll be rooting for them.

Clarkesworld has published some amazing stories. Like all markets, I don’t like every one of their stories, but when they do publish a story that I like, the story’s not just good, it’s great. It was not hard to fill this list. It was so hard that the entire top 5 are equally worthy of 1st place in my opinion. But ranking them a 5-way tie for first place would be rather wishy-washy and would sort of undermine the point of having a list. So I thought about it long and hard to decide on particular aspects of each story that I liked more than the others to come up with this final ranking.

I’ve got to give kudos to the editorial staff for picking these stories, and Kate Baker for her work with Clarkesworld. She is the podcast producer, the host, and the narrator. I enjoy her intros and outros for their conversational and unscripted form, and because they also don’t go on too long (as some other unscripted podcast intros often do). It seems like she’s really a fan of what she’s reading and that makes the whole podcast seem more connected. Don’t get me wrong, I like scripted intros of other casts too, but it’s nice to have some variety of styles suited to each host at each particular cast. My only complaint, and it’s a very small complaint, is that when Clarkesworld runs a first-person story (which seems to happen pretty often), it’s often unclear for a long time whether the character is male or female. Because I’m hearing Kate’s clearly female voice, my mind tends to assume the character is female as well, and it can be a bit jarring if sex suddenly becomes important halfway through the story and I realize, oh this character is a man. Again, it’s but a small quibble, and could be helped by an author giving more clues to the sex in text (which is a good idea anyway if one is writing a first person narrated story). On to the list:


The List

1. Messenger by Julia M Sidorova
Wow, this one’s so good. For me religion and the afterlife have always been great topics of contemplation, so I love a story that can take them and go in some interesting direction I haven’t seen before. This is one of those, and from a superbly well written nonhuman POV to boot. I won’t say anything more about it, because half the fun was watching everything reveal itself.Â

2. A Sweet Calling by Tony Pi
A candy vendor with the ability to use his candies as avatars and who can use his ability to create elementals faces off against a dangerous foe. A very well developed and compelling magic system based around the Chinese Zodiac.

3. The Association of the Dead by Rahul Kanakia
Just like my first on the list, I loved this one for the religious contemplation aspect of it. This one is messed up in oh so good a way. It takes place in a future where everyone has reincarnation contracts that allow you to automatically grow a new body whenever you die which will have a full mind transfer, with the details of the reincarnation all dependent on your worldwide karma rating based on social networking. Be sure you listen to Kate’s intro for this one, because she explains important details of the nomenclature that you might have trouble following otherwise–you’ll get the hang of it before too long, but you do have to pay attention to this one to follow it properly.

4. The Book of Phoenix Excerpted From the Great Book by Nnedi Okorafor
The basic setting of this reminds me of the movie Push, which in turn had reminded me of other settings like that used in Marvel’s X-Men affiliated stories, but this story made the idea its own. Individuals are being experimented on to awaken what are basically superpowers. This is from the point of view of one of these test subjects as her powers develop.

5. The Things by Peter Watts
Remember I mentioned that other Hugo nomination? This is that one. It’s a twisted around take on the 1982 John Carpenter movie The Thing (which was in turn based on a 1951 novella “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr) about a shapeshifting monster that attacks an Antarctic research team, killing and mimicking the crew members so that paranoia runs rampant. I haven’t actually seen the movie, though I was vaguely aware enough of it to recognize the events as being related to the movie. Instead of following the humans’ POV, as the movie does, this one follows the POV of the monster. As with all the best monster POV stories, it doesn’t consider itself the monster. It considers the humans the aliens, the monsters. As told from its POV the monster’s actions are quite reasonable. You don’t need to have seen the film to get the story (like I said, I hadn’t), but I’m sure you’d probably only fully appreciate all the details if you’ve seen the other side of them in film already.

Honorable Mentions:

Futures in the Memories Market by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Perfect Lies by Gwendolyn Clare

Laying the Ghost by Eric Brown