The Best of Podcastle 2019

written by David Steffen

Podcastle is the weekly fantasy podcast published by Escape Artists, which at the beginning of 2019 was co-edited by Jen Albert and Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali.  During the year Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali stepped down and now at this time the podcast is co-edited by Jen Albert and Cherae Clark. As well as weekly full-length feature episodes, they also publish occasional standalone flash stories as bonus episodes, as well as multiple short-short stories for the occasional feature episode collection.

Podcastle published 50 stories by my count in 2019.

As it happens, every story on this list was originally published prior to 2019, so none of them are eligible for Hugo and Nebula awards, but there are plenty of other great stories published there for you to consider if you like that sort of thing.

The List

1. “The Resurrectionist” by J.P. Sullivan, narrated by Wilson Fowlie
The skill of resurrecting people has fallen out of favor but there are still people who do it, it’s a matter of visiting the deceased in their dreamlike interstitial space and bringing them back across the divide by hook or by crook.

2. “The Bone Poet and God” by Matt Dovey, narrated by Eliza Chan
Every bone carries four magical runes on their body, engraved to the bone, including one that they are born with and isn’t revealed until they die.

3. “The Masochist’s Assistant” by Auston Habershaw, narrated by Matt Dovey
It is no easy job being the assistant of a magical masochist who demands he be killed at regular intervals every day.

4. “Balloon Man” by Shiv Ramdas, narrated by Kaushik Narasimhan
Whatever is true, the opposite is also true. That is the way of stories.

5. “The Deliverers of Their Country” by E. Nesbit, narrated by Katherine Inskip
Dragons are back in the world and proving to be quite a menace, which Effie only finds out when one gets stuck in her eye.

Honorable Mentions

“I am not I” (part 1 and 2) by G.V. Anderson, narrated by Tatiana Grey

A Toy Princess” by Mary de Morgan, narrated by Eleanor Wood

“When Leopard’s-Bane Came to the Door of Third Heaven” by Vajra Chandrasekera, narrated by Peter Behravesh

Award Recommendations 2018

written by David Steffen

Here are some recommendations for selected Hugo and Nebula categories. (Note that I’ve listed them in alphabetical order, rather than order of preference, and have listed more than the 5 ballot options when possible). I don’t think I’ve read any eligible novels this year, so that category is not represented.

Best Novella

“Umbernight” by Carolyn Ives Gillman, in Clarkesworld Magazine

Best Novelette

“A Love Story Written On Water” by Ashok K. Banker, in Lightspeed Magazine

“A World To Die For” by Tobias S. Buckell, in Clarkesworld Magazine

“The Last To Matter” by Adam-Troy Castro, in Lightspeed Magazine

“Dead Air” by Nino Cipri, in Nightmare Magazine

“Hapthorn’s Last Case” by Matthew Hughes, in Lightspeed Magazine

“The Fortunate Death of Jonathan Sandelson” by Margaret Killjoy, in Strange Horizons

“To Fly Like a Fallen Angel” by Qi Yue, translated by Elizabeth Hanlon, in Clarkesworld Magazine

“House of Small Spiders” by Weston Ochse, in Nightmare Magazine

“Thirty-Three Percent Joe” by Suzanne Palmer, in Clarkesworld Magazine

“Master Zhao: An Ordinary Time Traveler” by Zhang Ran, translated by Andy Dudak

Best Short Story

“After Midnight at the ZapStop” by Matthew Claxton, in Escape Pod

A Scrimshaw of Smeerps” by Shannon Fay, in Toasted Cake

“Variations on a Theme From Turandot by Ada Hoffman, in Strange Horizons

“Secrets and Things We Don’t Say Out Loud” by José Pablo Iriarte, in Cast of Wonders

“Octo-Heist in Progress” by Rich Larson, in Clarkesworld Magazine

“Hosting the Solstice” by Tim Pratt, in PodCastle

“Marshmallows” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires, in Clarkesworld Magazine

“The Death Knight, the Dragon, and the Damsel” by Melion Traverse, in Cast of Wonders

“Some Personal Arguments in Support of the BetterYou (Based on Early Interactions)” by Debbie Urbanski, in Strange Horizons

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form / Ray Bradbury Award

Ant-Man and the Wasp

The Incredibles 2

Kevin (Probably) Saves the World

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, for Nintendo Switch

A Wrinkle In Time

The Best of Podcastle 2017

written by David Steffen

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

Because of an author pay-rate change in 2016, they qualified within 2017 as a qualifying market for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, which means they have to meet certain criteria.

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

Podcastle has had a solid year; it was super hard to winnow the full list of 75 stories down to the necessary count.

Every short story that is eligible for Hugo nominations this year which were first published by Podcastle are marked with an asterisk (*), novelettes are marked with a double-asterisk.  If the original publisher was someone besides Podcastle, the original publisher is noted in parentheses for award-eligible fiction.

The List

 

1.  “How I Became Coruscating Queen of All the Realms, Pierced the Obsidian Night, Destroyed a Legendary Sword, and Saved My Heart’s True Love” by Baker & Dovey* (first published in No Shit There I Was)
Included in an anthology of bar-style exaggerated story, an over-the-top fun exaggerated epic fantasy.

2.  “The Chaos Village” (and part 2) by M.K. Hutchins**
Neuro-atypical man ventures into the chaotic ever-shifting area feared by most to explore.  Sequel to Golden Chaos.

3.  “Home is a House That Loves You” by Rachael K. Jones*
Everyone turns into structures of their choice when they get older.  You can live on to support your family long after your fleshy body passes away.

4.  “All of the Cuddles With None of the Pain” by J.J. Roth*
Artificial companions mimic human babies that won’t grow up and leave you behind.  But sometimes they become human…

5.  “Winter Witch” by Matt Dovey*
The witch can’t fix everything, but sometimes she can make a difference.

6.  “Zilal and the Many-Folded Puzzle Ship” by Charlotte Ashley*
An intricately built boat can be reconfigured in many different ways.

7.  “Six Jobs” by Tim Pratt
Recruited for magical work at a young age, moving from job to job.

8.  “Shadow Man, Sack Man, Half Dark, Half Light” by Malon Edwards* (first published in Shimmer)
A compelling dark story with less common monsters.

Honorable Mentions

“Blackbird Pastry” by Megan Branning*

“The Names of the Sky” by Matthew Claxton*

“A Whisper in the Weld” by Alix E. Harrow

“Maiden, Mother, Crone” by Ann Leckie and Rachel Swirsky

 

The Best of Podcastle 2016

written by David Steffen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable Mentions

“Send in the Ninjas” by Michelle Ann King*

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

“Squalor and Sympathy” by Matt Dovey**

“Tumbleweeds and Little Girls” by Jeff Bowles*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Award Eligibility Post

written by David Steffen

I know some people don’t like award eligibility posts, thinking that they’re desperate pleas for attention.  As a reader, I like them because if I am behind on my reading they are a good place to catch up on the year’s published stories of another author, and as a writer to look back  at my own.  I don’t have any illusions that anyone is going to nominate me, and that’s fine–there are so many amazing people doing incredible work every year.  But I still think an award eligibility post is worthwhile, and if you don’t think so, then you should stop reading now.

This year, since I started selecting and editing fiction for Diabolical Plots, I’ll list the Diabolical Plots work first and then my fiction writing as a separate section.  For the purposes of this list I am thinking of the Hugo and Nebula Award categories because those are the awards I’m most familiar with.  Other awards have other categories that might be suitable.

People ask once in a while whether the Submission Grinder is eligible for a Hugo or Nebula.  It is not, because there are no categories that suit it for those awards.

2015 was the year the Long List Anthology was published, but it is not itself eligible.  Neither award has a category for standalone anthology (though I believe the Locus Award does), and all of the stories were first published in 2014 so are ineligible.  As the editor I would be eligible for the Hugo Award for Best Editor, Short Form for which I edited that anthology as well as the first ten stories of Diabolical Plots.

Diabolical Plots

Semiprozine

  1.  Diabolical Plots (prior to this year I believe it was a fanzine, now it’s a semiprozine)

Editor, Short Form

  1.  David Steffen (for Diabolical Plots itself, and the Long List Anthology)

Short Stories

  1.  “Taste the Whip” by Andy Dudak
  2. “Virtual Blues” by Lee Budar-Danoff
  3. “In Memoriam” by Rachel Reddick
  4. “The Princess in the Basement” by Hope Erica Schultz
  5. “Not a Bird” by H.E. Roulo
  6. “The Superhero Registry” by Adam Gaylord
  7. “A Room for Lost Things” by Chloe N. Clark
  8. “The Grave Can Wait” by Thomas Berubeg
  9. “Giraffe Cyborg Cleans House!” by Matthew Sanborn Smith
  10. “St. Roomba’s Gospel” by Rachael K. Jones

Fan Writers

  1.  David Steffen (also did fan writing work for SF Signal, and for Science Fiction Book Club)
  2. Laurie Tom
  3. Maria Isabelle
  4. Carl Slaughter

My Fiction Writing

Short Stories

  1. “Thus Spake Robby” in the Overcast
  2. “Tamers of the Green” in Sockdolager
  3. “Condemned” in the Coven Anthology, edited by Andi O’Connor
  4. “So You’ve Decided to Adopt a Zeptonian Baby!” at Podcastle
  5. “My Wife is a Bear in the Morning” at Podcastle
  6. “Echoes of Her Memory” in Stupefying Stories
  7. “Closing Statement” in T. Gene Davis’s Speculative Blog
  8. “Focus” in Space and Time
  9. “We Do Not Speak of the Not Speaking” in Stupefying Stories
  10. “Red Shoes of Oz” in Evil Girlfriend Media Shorts
  11. “To Be Carved Upon the Author’s Tombstone in the Event of His Untimely Demise” in Perihelion

Interview: Ann Leckie

LeckiePhoto-160x240Ann Leckie‘s Ancillary Justice swept the awards. (See the list below.) The sequel, Ancillary Sword, is due in October 2014. The third novel in the trilogy will be titled Ancillary Mercy. Lecke is a Clarion West graduate, former VP of SFWA, founder of GigaNotoSaurus, and former slush editor for Podcastle. Her short fiction has appeared in Realms of Fantasy, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Subterranean Magazine.

CARL SLAUGHTER: YOU’RE A CLARION GRADUATE. WHAT DID YOU LEARN AT CLARION THAT MADE A CRUCIAL DIFFERENCE IN YOUR WRITING CAREER?

ANN LECKIE: I learned a *lot* at Clarion West. It would have been difficult not to. But I think there were two things that made the biggest difference.

One was something that, when I say it, maybe sounds kind of trivial. But it was so important. Which was, that before I went, I knew that I wanted to write, and I had been writing–of course, you have to send a sample of your fiction with your application. And I had written two novels (now trunked, fortunately) and several short stories, and had been submitting those short stories. But I was hesitant to say, “I’m a writer.” I would, when asked, kind of hedge. “I’m trying to write.”

After six weeks of being with people who took my work seriously, who all assumed that of *course* I was a writer, I went home feeling like I could take my own work seriously now. Not that I was holding back, or not taking it seriously before. But the “gosh should I really be doing this, am I wasting my time, what if I’m not really a writer?” part of my internal critic was gone, which psychologically freed me up to push harder and be more confident in my work. This might not be a big deal for some folks, but it was really important to me.

The second thing is maybe also a bit odd. So, our week six instructor was Michael Swanwick. Who is awesome. I mean, he read every single story each of us had applied with and also every single story we’d turned in during the entire workshop, and gave us critiques on every one of them. This is an amazing commitment, an incredible gift to us. And he’s Michael freaking Swanwick, right? So when he critiqued the story I’d turned in for week six, he gave me all kinds of fabulous advice, much of it very specific, and I noted it all down and was all set to revise the story according to his advice. Because, seriously, it was, no question, excellent advice. How could it not be?

But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that it was excellent advice for an entirely different story. Not the story I’d written, but the story he’d perceived in the shambles that was my first draft. And I said to myself, “Self, you can’t actually take any of that advice. Instead, you need to rewrite the story in such a way that Michael Swanwick would not have misread it.”

That story turned out to be my first genre sale, my first pro sale, and my first appearance in a Years Best anthology. And the vitally important lesson Michael Swanwick taught me was that sometimes you ought to ignore even the very best advice. Even if it comes from Michael Swanwick. Maybe that sounds trivial, too. But anyone who’s been faced with several, possibly contradictory critiques of a story will probably know how incredibly useful that knowledge is.

 

CARL SLAUGHTER: FROM THE FIRST DRAFT OF ANCILLARY JUSTICE AS A SHORT STORY UNTIL YOU SOLD THE NOVEL MANUSCRIPT WAS, WHAT, 10 YEARS? WERE THERE TIMES DURING THAT DECADE WHEN YOU THOUGHT YOU’D NEVER FINISH THE BOOK OR THOUGHT IT WOULD NEVER BE GOOD ENOUGH TO SELL?

ANN LECKIE: Oh, merciful Unconquered Sun, yes. Pretty much the entire time I was working on it, plus the entire time I was querying agents. I’ve come to think of that as the normal emotional background of writing, actually.

 

CARL SLAUGHTER: YOU WERE WORKING ON THE MANUSCRIPT WHILE YOU HAD YOUNG CHILDREN IN THE HOUSE. HOW DID YOU MANAGE BOTH AT THE SAME TIME?

ANN LECKIE: With some difficulty. At first, I would write in the few hours a day that my toddler napped, while my older child was at school. When he stopped napping, I signed him up for morning nursery school and wrote then. Once both kids were in school full time it got easier, though I’d made my life a bit more complicated by taking a job as a lunch lady. I wasn’t able to finish Ancillary Justice, though, until I quit that job and had school hours to myself. It would have been a zillion times harder if I’d had a full-time day job to handle. I’ve been really, really lucky.

 

CARL SLAUGHTER: ANCILLARY JUSTICE SWEPT THE AWARDS. ANY IDEA WHAT THE APPEAL OF THE STORY IS THAT MADE IT SO POPULAR?

ANN LECKIE: I honestly don’t. Well, I did sit down to write a kind of story that I thought I’d enjoy reading. I threw in things that appealed to me–heck, I crowbarred them in. I was working the whole time with the assumption that it would never sell so I might as well please myself. I guess there are other people out there who like the same kinds of things I do!

 

CARL SLAUGHTER: YOU HAVEN’T DONE SHORT STORIES IN A WHILE. TOO BUSY WITH NOVELS?

ANN LECKIE: Pretty much, yes! Though I’d like to do more short fiction some time.

 

CARL SLAUGHTER: WHAT WAS YOUR INVOLVEMENT WITH GIGANOTOSAURUS AND WHAT WERE THE HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR TIME THERE? WHAT ABOUT YOUR ROLE AT POD CASTLE?

ANN LECKIE: I started GigaNotoSaurus because I’d inherited a bit of money, and I felt that there weren’t enough places publishing longer fiction. I’ve been really pleased with how it’s turned out: in its first year, two stories I published were nominated for Nebulas, and another one the next year. And I published some amazing work by amazing writers, like Zen Cho’s “House of Aunts” or Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s “Woman of the Sun, Woman of the Moon.” Or Yoon Ha Lee’s “The Winged City.” Or…I could go on.

Podcastle–when Rachel Swirsky became editor of Podcastle (that was before PC had even started running) she asked me if I’d like to read slush for her. And I said yes, because it seemed like it would be fun. And it was! I also did some episode intros, and narrated some stories, which was also great fun. When Rachel was ready to step down, she asked me if I was interested in editing, but I was already setting up GNS, and felt two editing gigs would be too much. So I stayed on slushing for Anna and Dave when they took over.

I enjoyed it very much, but I’ve stepped down as slusher there, and turned over my GNS editing duties to Rashida J Smith, because noveling right now is taking up a lot of brain space.

 

CARL SLAUGHTER: WHAT PERSPECTIVE DID YOU GAIN DURING YOUR TIME AS SECRETARY OF SFWA?

ANN LECKIE: There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes at a volunteer organization. Orgs like SFWA continue to exist and function because of the hard work of folks who actually have lots of other things to attend to, and they spend their free time doing that hard work. And it’s easy for members to think of the Board (or whatever the org equivalent is) as “them” to our “us” but really “they” are us to begin with. I’ve come to be a bit more patient with how slow some organizational decisions are, and how easy it is to think a particular issue or procedure is just a matter of immediately doing one particular thing, when really it’s more difficult and complicated than that, for reasons that aren’t necessarily visible to me.

 

CARL SLAUGHTER: GOT ANY ADVICE TO ASPIRING SPECULATIVE FICTION WRITERS?

ANN LECKIE: Yes! Don’t give up. Be willing to take criticism, be willing to reconsider what you’re doing, but once you’ve decided on what you’re doing, do that. Don’t worry about what someone told you editors want or don’t want, don’t worry about whether your work is marketable, don’t worry about lists of “rules” that tell you not to use second person or never to use adverbs or whatever. Just do it, and do it as awesomely as you can at that particular time in your life, and trust the universe for the rest. And when it’s done, send it out and try to forget about it, and start working on the next thing. And speaking as a former slusher–when you submit, always read and follow the guidelines!

 

Ancillary Justice won the following awards:

2014 Hugo Award for Best Novel
Golden Tentacle for best debut novel of 2013.
Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction novel of the year.
British Science Fiction Association BSFA Award for Best Novel of 2013.
Nebula Award for Best Novel.
Locus Award for Best First Novel.

The novel was also nominated for the following awards:

Shortlisted for the Philip K. Dick Award.
Tiptree Award Honor List for 2013.
Finalist for the 2013 Compton Crook Award.

 

Carl_eagle

 

Carl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

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

 

The Best of Podcastle 2013

written by David Steffen

Podcastle, 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.

Podcastle published 57 stories in 2013, here are my favorites.

The List

1. Scry by Anne Ivy
Seeing the future, like time travel, is one of those story elements in which it’s hard to find new permutations which some other hasn’t already thought of. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use it for stories, but most attempts at using these elements novelly will result in something much like another existing story. This story managed to feel novel despite all that, giving interesting limitations to the main characters ability to scry the future, ways to make it both a strength and a weakness. She has been captured by a creature incapable of lying who has vowed to kill her, but she makes the most of what seems to be a bleak situation. Very cool.

2. Wuffle by Chantal Beaulne
Beard humor! A wizard rids himself of his beard that has soaked up so much magic it has become sapient.

3. Mermaid’s Hook by Liz Argall
A great nonhuman POV, a mermaid rescues a man who’s been thrown off a ship and does her best to try to understand his perspective.

4. The Sunshine Baron by Peadar O Guilin
An unlikeable narrator done extremely well. Cool worldbuilding, and even though I hated the POV character, I wanted to see how it turned out, and I could understand his decisions even if I hate him for them.

5. Excision by Scott H. Andrews
I’ve heard time and time again that there is a conflict between magic and science. But there really isn’t–science is the study of the universe through measurable and repeatable tests. If magic exists, science would strive to understand it and catalog it. This story embraces that concept, trying to rigorously find new methods of healing magic.

6. The Discriminating Monster’s Guide to the Perils of Princess Snatching by Scott M. Roberts
I don’t much care for the title of this one, making it seem like it will be a whimsical lighthearted adventure story for children, but the story is very good, voiced by Dave Thompson, a perfect choice. The POV character is a monster who abducts people with great destinies to steal away their destinies as a source of energy, but this time he’s abducted the wrong princess.

 

 

Honorable Mentions

The Red Priest’s Vigil by Dirk Flinthart

Rumor of Wings by Alter S. Reiss

Beyond the Shrinking World by Nathaniel Katz

 

 

The Best of Podcastle 2012

written by David Steffen

In 2012 Podcastle published 51 feature stories, with 8 miniatures. This is the one of the Escape Artists podcasts that I haven’t managed to get a story into yet, but I listen on! Dave Thompson and Anna Schwind continue their tenure as editors, and there were plenty of good stories to pick from.

1. In the Stacks by Scott Lynch
A full cast recording, unusual for Podcastle. A story about magicians-in-training going into a violent magical library as a test of their abilities.

2. Recognizing Gabe: Un Cuento de Hadas by Alberto YaÃ’ ez
This one surprised me. I felt like I knew where it was going, but it surprised me in a very good way.

3. The Tonsor’s Son by Michael John Grist
“I knew from the moment I saw him that his beard was full of evil.” There’s one scene that many of the forumites found hard to take, but I think everyone who kept listening was okay with it in the long run.

4. Another Word for Map is Faith by Christopher Rowe
There are few things more frightening than religious zealotry.

5. Accompaniment by Keffy R.M. Kehrli
A kickass dark flash.

6. Destiny, With Blackberry Sauce by David J. Schwartz
I’ve seen stories before where someone tried to avoid their destiny, but never as hard as in this story.

 

Honorable Mentions

Fable From a Cage by Tim Pratt

A Window, Clear as a Mirror by Ferrett Steinmetz

Machine Washable by Keffy R.M. Kehrli

 

 

 

 

The Priceless Value of That Story You Hate

 

written by David Steffen

Every fan of literature has read stories that they love and stories that they hate. It’s not hard to understand the value of the stories you love. Entertainment, inspiration, passing of the time, and so on.

But what about the stories that you hate? Was the time you spent reading or listening to those stories just a complete waste? I’ve been thinking about this lately, and about one story in particular. I’ve decide that, maybe, if you approach it with the right state of mind, you can learn something from the experience. Even if what you learn isn’t what the author was aiming for. Even if what you learn is about yourself.

So, I had a particular story in mind, one which I hate. This story made me very angry. In my anger I decided to not read other works by this author, and I even avoided that publication for several months thereafter. I pondered for a very long time whether I wanted to write this article at all. And I pondered whether I should call out the story specifically. I decided that I would be okay with posting this article as long as I made it clear that I don’t think the author is untalented or wrong, and I don’t think the story is objectively bad. Or even subjectively bad, if I make a concerted effort to consider it rationally. This isn’t meant to tear that author down, but I found the process of self-examining my reaction to this story very enlightening, and I don’t think I can share that in any other way.

Okay, so here goes. The story is “The Ghosts of New York” by Jennifer Pelland, originally published in the Dark Faith anthology, and reprinted in Podcastle. I understand that by the time you read this sentence, many of you will have followed the link to read it. Others will have bookmarked it for later. That’s what I would do, were I reading this. And that’s great–like I said, I’m not trying to tear Pelland down here. Since I’ve come to the conclusion that my opinion of the story isn’t coming from an entirely rational place, I think it’s only fair to encourage more people to read the story and draw their own conclusions.

If you have read the story, your first thought might be that I object to the use of the September 11th terrorist attacks on New York. That was my first guess, too. I wouldn’t be surprised if other people disliked the story for that, and I’d say that reaction is reasonable. It is a touchy subject at best, especially considering the widows, orphans, family, and friends of those killed are still around to possibly come across the story. I’m sure Pelland knew she was taking a risk in writing this.

One of the most common questions asked of writers is where they get their ideas. Even though the question is asked way too often, it’s still interesting at it’s core. I find it amazing that all the science fiction out there was pulled out of thin air by the writers who created it. An explanation for this that I’ve found appealing on a philosophical level is that writers don’t actually make it up out of their own heads. Rather, they somehow chronicle events from alternate worlds that already exist somewhere out there. Though I find this appealing, I don’t actually think that’s what happens. The human brain is an extraordinary object, and I don’t think an outside explanation is necessary for its oddities and wonders. And even if I did believe this is what happens, I don’t find this is an ethical problem–even if you do affect existing worlds, there’s nothing to say that they wouldn’t already be affected that way by other forces.

One of my favorite topics for my short stories, and for general philosophy, is the contemplation of a higher power and the existence and details of an afterlife. So, the central focus of this story is right up that alley. As the story unfolds, it appears that the main character is the ghost of one of the victims of the September 11th attacks, who is enduring the apparently endless torture of constantly repeating the last painful and terror-filled moments of her existence. Over and over and over. I found this endless torture, described in detail, decidedly unpleasant, but that still wasn’t exactly what I hated, though it was getting closer to the heart of it.

I think that I’ve more or less sorted it now. What I hate about this story is not a single thing, but a combination of things. The story was written in such a way that this torturous afterlife existence fits very closely in with historical events, without any deviation from actual events. In other ways, it isn’t provable that the story isn’t an accurate depiction. Because the protagonist is one of the victims of the attack, she is a member of a very real subset of very real people. We don’t know exactly which person it is, since she’s not named, but it’s still a much more specific mapping than most stories. If it is true that fiction-writing connects to other worlds, and if stories can affect the worlds they connect to, then this story in particular is bothersome. As I said, I don’t really believe that, or at least not in a way at the upper levels of my conscious brain, but somewhere deep down in my gut, it appears that I do. Because this story is so closely rooted in our world, and has a protagonist that comes from a specific and small real-life group, the writing and publication of this story can conceptually shift our own world so that the real dead of the attack have been subjected to the ongoing torture of the story.

I know that doesn’t make any rational sense. It’s not fair to blame an author for violating a philosophical theory that is not widely held, and which I only appear to believe in in some gut-level lizard-brain kind of way. I can recognize this, and I can appreciate the opportunity it has given me for self-examination. It does bother me that my opinions can be influenced by a belief system I didn’t even realize that I had, but I would rather know this about myself than to not know.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t hate the story, of course, but if I can learn about myself from it, then it hasn’t been a waste of my time.