The Best of Escape Pod 2016

written by David Steffen

Escape Pod is the weekly science fiction podcast, edited by Norm Sherman, what is I think the longest running science fiction podcast out there.

In February Escape Pod once again participated in the Artemis Rising event across the EA podcasts.

Escape Pod published 43 stories in 2016.

Every story that is eligible for Hugo Award is marked with an asterisk (*).


The List

1. “Recollection” by Nancy Fulda
A treatment is available for Alzheimer’s, but it can only restore your ability to remember–the memories that have been lost are gone forever.  A man recovering from treatment struggles to fit in with the family that loves him.

2.  “In Their Image” by Abra Staffin-Wiebe*
What do religions make us do?  Examined by looking at alien religions.  Awesome philosophical SF.

3.  “Among the Living” by John Markley*
What if first responders were equipped with power armor?

4.  “Murder or a Duck” by Beth Goder*
Humorous parallel world traveling story.

5.  “Myspace: A Ghost Story” by Dominica Phetteplace*
What happens to all those dead accounts you leave behind on old sites?

Honorable Mentions

“Brain Worms and White Whales” by Jen Finelli*










The Best of Pseudopod 2016

written by David Steffen

Pseudopod, the weekly horror podcast edited by Shawn Garrett and Alex Hofelich, has now been running for more than ten years, an incredible feat for a podcast, which often fade away after a year or two. 2016 marked some major moments in the podcast’s history–they increased their pay rate for flash stories, which I believe should have started their one-year timer for eligibility to become a SFWA-qualifying market, they ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the paying of narrators for the podcast, and also launched an anthology (which includes, among many others, my flash fiction horror story “What Makes You Tick”).

In February Pseudopod once again participated in the Artemis Rising theme across the Escape Artists podcasts, publishing horror stories by women (including some originals picked out from a special slushpile just for this purpose).

Pseudopod publishes episodes weekly, with occasional Flash on the Borderlands episodes that collect 3 similar-themed flash stories for a single episode, for a total of 63 stories published in 2016.

Stories that are eligible for this year’s Hugo and Nebula Awards are marked with an asterisk (*).

The List

1. “Like Dolls” by J. Lily Corbie*
When the story begins, the protagonist is already dead, and pretty much content to be so.  But her betrothed digs her up, disturbing her restful state, dragging her back to the land of the living.

2. “The Christmas Spirits, a Tale of the White Street Society” by Grady Hendrix
One of a series of stories in a series about the White Street Society.  The series is hard to describe without reading it, speculative stories based around a sort of “old boys club” in New England, sort of comedies based around how horrible the worldview of the members of this society are.

3. “Night Games” by Aeryn Rudel
I don’t really like baseball.  I’m kindof tired of vampires. But somehow, to my great surprise, this vampire baseball story totally works for me.

4. “The Fisher Queen” by Alyssa Wong
This is the story of Lily, who works on her father’s fishing boat whose primary catch is mermaids.  Mermaids are prized as an exotic catch, and one day in the hold, one of the mermaids talks to her.

5. “Cold Spots” by Lena Coakley*
A love story between someone who is still alive, trying to recapture the memory or the ghost of their dead love.

6. “Falling Under, Through the Dark” by Damien Angelica Walters
A story of living through the deepest of grief after the most tragic of loss.

Honorable Mentions

“Mr. Hill’s Death” by S.L. Gilbow

“The Show” by Priya Sharma

“The Masters” by Theodore Cogswell













Left off at Dermot, page 2

The Best of Strange Horizons 2016+

written by David Steffen

Strange Horizons is a freely available online speculative fiction zine that also publishes nonfiction and poetry.  Their editor-in-chief is Niall Harrison.  Their fiction editors are Lila Garrott, Catherine Krahe, An Owoyo, and Vajra Chandresekera, and their podcast is edited, hosted, and usually read by Anaea Lay.  They publish a variety of styles of stories and have regularly attracted award nominations in recent years.  All of the stories and poetry in the zine are published in the podcast.  This list covers all of the stories published since the last Best of Strange Horizons list posted here on November 9, 2015.  In that timeframe, Strange Horizons published 52 stories.

Since last year they have upgraded their website so it looks all shiny and new.

This year they added a new feature when they reached a fundraising goal to add Spanish translations.

Stories that are eligible for this year’s Hugo and Nebula awards are marked with an asterisk (*).

The List

1. “The First Confirmed Case of Non-Corporeal Recursion: Patient Anita R.” by Benjamin C. Kinney*
Story of hauntings from the point of view of the ghost, who in life had been a researcher, as she tries to research her own non-corporeal state.

2.  “Das Steingeschöpf” by G.V. Anderson*
A story of a new member of a sculpting guild, sent to repair one of the ancient living sculptures known as Steingeschöpf.

3.  “The Witch’s Knives” by Margaret Ronald*
The story begins as a woman ends a long quest to rid her husband of a curse that has made him into a beast.

4.  “We Have a Cultural Difference, Can I Taste You?” by Rebecca Ann Jordan*
Non-human POV as an alien (the last of its species) that’s primary sense is taste.

5.  “Water, Birch, and Blood” by O Horvath and Sara Norja*
A woman abruptly remembers her childhood trip to a portal world, and tries to find her way back.

Honorable Mentions

“Tigerskin” by Kurt Hunt

“Dragon-Smoked Barbeque” by M.K. Hutchins*

“Timothy” by Philip Schweitzer*



BOOK REVIEW: Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

written by David Steffen


The Welcome to Night Vale book, published by Harpin Collins, goes on sale tomorrow.

Night Vale is a mysterious small town in the American Southwest, a place of monsters, alternate worlds, angels, and any other manner of goings-on.   This book tells the tale of two women living in Night Vale. The first woman is Jackie Fierro, a nineteen-year old owner of the town’s pawn shop.  She has been nineteen for a long time, as long as she can remember.  One day she is visited by an utterly forgettable man in a tan jacket and carrying a deerskin briefcase who pawns a piece of paper that says “KING CITY”.  Jackie can’t let the piece of paper go.  Literally, she can’t make the paper leave her hand–she can drop it, burn it, soak it in water, and it will always be in her hand again entirely intact.  What does the paper mean?  What is it for?  Who is the man in the tan jacket?  The second woman is Diane Crayton, PTA treasurer and mother of  shapeshifting son Josh.  Lately Diane has been seeing Josh’s estranged father everywhere she goes, and at the same time Josh has started to voice interest in this man he’s never met.  Diane and Jackie both go searching for answers, and cross paths with each other in their search.

The book is based in the world of the popular Welcome to Night Vale podcast, which is formatted as a community radio show that takes place in this weird desert town (I wrote up a podcast spotlight for this a couple weeks ago).  The book is both similar and very different.  Similar in that it has the same weird feel to it, the same tendency to be very appealing not only in strange events but in odd turns of phrase in the narrative.  And there are characters that you may recognize from the podcast as well as references to past events from the podcast.  The community radio show that is the podcast is mentioned more than once, as well as being represented in short inter-chapter sections that are radio transcripts.  But overall it is also very different because, unlike the podcast, the book is structured as a narrative rather than a news program.   Since the podcast takes a form that wouldn’t translate very well directly to a full book, this was the main thing I was wondering about when I heard about the book release, but the authors pulled off the different format very well while maintaining the same feel.

You can pick up the book as a standalone and read it, and you will be able to understand it.  Without the three years of the podcast’s history in your mind, you will miss some in-references, but I don’t believe there’s any point in the book where the plot hinges upon an unexplained reference.  If you think that you might want to listen to the podcast, keep in mind that the book will contain spoilers for the events of the podcast– this might or might not be a big deal to you, as much of the appeal of the podcast is not plot-centered, but if you do want to be surprised by new developments in the podcast as they happen, just keep that in mind.

I am a big fan of the podcast. I only picked it up last year, but I’ve caught up on the three-year backlog in the meantime.  I love the podcast, so much weird good fun.  And I love this book for all its similarities and differences.  There is so much here to love: sympathetic characters, oddball ideas, humor.  I highly recommend picking up the book.  If you want a taste of the kind of writing first, listen to some of the podcast episodes for free to get a taste.  I hope this books is a huge success so that there will be more books to follow.



The Best of Nightmare Podcast

written by David Steffen

Nightmare Magazine is the sister magazine of Hugo-winning Lightspeed Magazine, launched by editor/publisher John Joseph Adams just in time for Halloween 2012. If you don’t know who John Joseph Adams is, you haven’t been paying much attention to short SF in recent years. Besides Lightspeed, he’s probably best known for his themed anthologies.

Nightmare publishes four stories a month–two original stories and two reprints. Half of those stories are published on the podcast. My list here is only taken from the podcast, so if you like what you hear, there’s twice as many stories as I made this list from in text on the website or in ebook format.

Nightmare ran a Women Destroy Horror Month in October 2014, featuring all women staff and all women authors–this was a stretch goal of the supremely popular fundraiser Women Destroy Science Fiction project.

Like its sister magazine, Nightmare is produced by Skyboat Media Company Inc which is spearheaded by the superb voice actors Gabrielle de Cuir and Stefan Ridnicki


The List

1. “Centipede Heartbeat” by Caspian Gray
Woman is certain her wife’s insides are crawling with invading centipedes. But what to do about it?

2. “We Now Pause for Station Identification” by Gary A. Braunbeck
A broadcast from a station after the end of the world, sending out just a little bit of civilization to… probably nobody. One of those episodes where the voice acting turns it from a good story to really incredible, voicework by Stefan Ridnicki.

3. “Spores” by Seanan McGuire
This one could bring out the OCD in anyone.

4. “The Black Window” by Lane Robins
Mysterious opaque attic portal. Nuff said.

5. “Property Condemned” by Jonathan Maberry
Haunted house story linking childhood to adulthood–format kind of familiar, but well done.

6. “It Was Never the Fire” by Martin Cahill
Another one with great voice acting.



Honorable Mentions

“Bones” by Bones
There are some self-referential in-jokes in this one that you might only get if you’re a submitting writer or at least know some submitting writers–it probably wouldn’t be on my list if I weren’t one.

“10/31: Bloody Mary” by Norman Partridge

“Blackbirds” by Norman Partridge

The Best of Journey Into…

written by David Steffen

Journey Into… is one of the newer fiction podcasts out there, its first episode running in June 2011. It is the brainchild of Marshal Latham, who I’d mostly known as one of the staff members over at Escape Pod (a forum moderator, among other things). But just because it’s new doesn’t mean that it isn’t quality. He’s had prior production experience as one of the volunteer episode producers for the Dunesteef podcast.

Journey Into… is a little different from the other podcasts I listen to in that mixed in with newly produced fiction, he also mixes in episodes from old time radio fiction like X Minus One and Suspense. Part of the reason he does it is to help with time budgeting so that he doesn’t have so many stories to produce from scratch, but it gives the podcast a unique feel and gives me a chance to listen to some of those old shows that were before my time.

Good work, Marshal, and keep it up!

1. Red Road by David Barr Kirtley
Usually I’m not a big fan of stories with talking animals taking human-like roles. At least not in adult stories–in kid stories they’re fine. I just find them very hard to take seriously. But this story is a strong exception. I first read this in Intergalactic Medicine Show some years ago, and it is very powerful. A good quest with a solid emotional core and solid characters. Parts of this leave me with chills.

2. The Machine Stops (Part 1 and Part 2) by E.M. Forster
A very interesting story of a future world where we have become over-dependent on a network of machines that has joined together into one massive world-spanning machine that makes all of our decisions for us. The world society all but treats it as a deity, but without saying so. But some members of the society are bothered by this.

3. Dream Engine (Part 1 and Part 2) by Tim Pratt
Tim Pratt is my favorite short story author, so it’s no surprise that his story would end up here. This story takes place in the Nex, a city that exists in a hub of parallel worlds, with other worlds constantly rotating around it in near reach. The economy and well-being of this world depends on the engines that grab goods from these nearby worlds, but now a monster threatens the Nex and everyone in it.

4. The Trial of Thomas Jefferson by David Barr Kirtley
Time travel is possible, but you can’t change history because it takes huge amounts of energy to keep the reality on the other side in existence. What you can do is open a portal to the past and pull something back through to your time. In this story, prominent figures from history are pulled through to stand trial for their crimes. No one balks when this is Adolf Hitler, but what about those members of history that most see in a more positive light?

5. Zero Hour by Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury does creepy children stories extremely well, as in this story where children claim that invisible aliens are communicating with them.

6. The Last Days of the Kelly Gang by David D Levine
Australian steampunk with a steam-powered armor suit coming into the hands of a legendary outlaw.


Honorable Mentions

Hop Frog by Edgar Allen Poe
Never heard of this one by Poe, but it is very good, very dark.

The Fog Horn by Ray Bradbury
You’ve got to love a story that makes you sympathize with a monster.

The Roads Must Roll by Robert A. Heinlein
Instead of developing a highway system for transport, this world creates moving conveyor belt network that covers the country.