This has been a big year of change for Cast of Wonders, the young adult podcast edited by Marguerite Kenner. Starting at the beginning of 2016, Cast of Wonders joined the Escape Artists family of podcasts as their fourth podcast. And, as part of this change, they greatly increased their writer pay rates from just a few pounds to professional rates for original stories, which I believe should’ve started the timer for becoming a SFWA-qualifying market.
This year there have been some technical issues with the feed that have resulted in long stretches between episodes. What’s more confusing is that, to compensate for these issues, several episodes have been renumbered, and a bunch of episodes were added late in the year but with earlier dates posted on them. I don’t say all this to complain but that… I’m not 100% sure that I have actually heard all of the episodes this year, because the changed dates and changed episode numbers have made a mess of the feed. I tried my best!
All of the stories on this list are eligible for Hugos and Nebulas this year. (that’s why they’re all marked with asterisks.
Cast of Wonders published 30 stories in 2016.
1. “The Jungle Between” by Holly Schofield* Story with dual points of view–of human scientists and dinosaur-like aliens they are studying, centered around their perceptions of the other.
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.
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.
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.
This post covers two years of Beneath Ceaseless Skies–they didn’t publish quite enough stories in 2015 to do a list. Beneath Ceaseless Skies continues to publish quality other-world fiction, edited by Scott H. Andrews. This list only covers the stories they published on their podcast, which is a bit less than half of the stories they publish–one podcast every two weeks. They published 45 original stories on the podcast in 2015-2016.
The stories that are eligible for this year’s science fiction awards (like the Hugo and Nebula) are marked with an asterisk (*). BCS publishes all original fiction, but only that was first published in the 2016 calendar year is eligible.
2. “The Sweetest Skill” by Tony Pi* The third in a series of short stories about the candy magician Ao, who can make magical animated candies as well as negotiating arrangements with spirits of the Zodiac for greater powers. Again he is drawn into using his powers in the service of others. This story stands by itself, but if you want to find out more about his powers, and why he owes the debts that he does, you should also read the first story, “A Sweet Calling” published at Clarkesworld, and the second story “No Sweeter Art” published at Beneath Ceaseless Skies in previous years.
3. “The Night Bazaar For Women Becoming Reptiles” by Rachael K. Jones*
Jones has a penchant for the weird, and this story is a prime example. In the city in this story, everyone has a daytime life and a nighttime life, each with different lovers and different occupations and different expectations. The protagonist sells reptile eggs to women at the Night Bazaar that transform them into reptiles, but she longs for such a transformation herself.
4. “Blessed Are Those That Have Seen, and Do Not Believe” by D.K. Thompson*
Another entry in the St. Darwin’s Spirituals story, a kind of steampunk noir where Darwin invented goggles that allow the wearer to see spirits, and there are other supernatural elements as well.
5. “Court Bindings” by Karalynn Lee
The protagonist is the bodyguard of a princess against the assassins of foreign courts, while watching her grow in her magic to compel other living beings to her will.
Diabolical Plots was open for its yearly submission window for the month of July. During that time, 803 writers submitted 1070 stories. This year, the maximum word count was raised from 2000 words to 3500 words, and this year instead of one story per month Diabolical Plots will publish two stories, for a total of 24 stories that will begin running in April 2017 which is when the Year Two stories have all been published.
Thank you to all the writers who submitted. You made the final choices incredibly difficult, which is a very good problem for an editor to have. If we had the resources to publish more right now, there would have been plenty of excellent stories to choose from.
OK, without further ado, here is the list of stories and authors and their publishing order!
“O Stone, Be Not So” by José Pablo Iriarte
“The Long Pilgrimage of Sister Judith” by Paul Starkey
“The Things You Should Have Been” by Andrea G. Stewart
“The Aunties Return the Ocean” by Chris Kuriata
“The Existentialist Men” by Gwendolyn Clare
“Regarding the Robot Raccons Attached to the Hull of My Ship” by Rachael K Jones and Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali
“Monster of the Soup Cans” by Elizabeth Barron
“The Shadow Over His Mouth” by Aidan Doyle
“For Now, Sideways” by A. Merc Rustad
“Typical Heroes” by Theo Kogod
“Strung” by Xinyi Wang
“The Entropy of a Small Town” by Thomas K. Carpenter
“Lightning Dance” by Tamlyn Dreaver
“Three Days of Unnamed Silence” by Daniel Ausema
“When One Door Shuts” by Aimee Ogden
“Shoots and Ladders” by Charles Payseur
“Hakim Vs. the Sweater Curse” by Rachael K. Jones
“The Leviathans Have Fled the Sea” by Jon Lasser
“Six Hundred Universes of Jenny Zars” by Wendy Nikel
“Brooklyn Fantasia” by Marcy Arlin
“9 Things Mainstream Media Got Wrong About the Ansaj Incident” by Willem Myra
“Artful Intelligence” by G.H. Finn
“What Monsters Prowl Above the Waves” by Jo Miles
“Soft Clay” by Seth Chambers
ETA: Note that this list originally include “Smells Like Teen Demon” by Sunil Patel, which was removed from the lineup. This list has been edited because it is the easiest way to reference which stories are in which year, and I didn’t want this to be a source of confusion.
Cast of Wonders is the young adult fiction podcast. They have a broader definition of YA than you’ll typically find on bookshelves, especially in terms of the protagonist’s demographic–who need not be young adults. The podcast continues to be edited by Marguerite Kenner.
This has been a momentous year for Cast of Wonders. They announced their big news at WorldCon in August, and more widely in metacasts in October. Cast of Wonders is changing owners, from Wolfsbane Publishing to the Escape Artists family of podcasts. Escape Artists, before last year, consisted of Pseudopod, Podcastle, and Escape Pod. The non-audio publication Mothership Zeta launched last year two to make a family of five publications instead of three. Along with this change in ownership comes a major increase in pay for writers whose work is published as well, bringing them up to SFWA’s qualifying rate for original fiction. This change all has gone into effect as of the beginning of 2016.
In 2015, two of my own reprinted stories were published in Cast of Wonders.
“This Is Your Problem, Right Here” which starts out as a plumber explains to the owner of a water park how her pool filters have stopped working because almost all of the trolls are dead.
“Marley and Cratchit”, a steampunk secret history prequel to A Christmas Carol, which begins with Bob Cratchit as an alchemist and Jacob Marley as his business partner and financier.
Cast of Wonders published 30 stories in 2015.
1. “The Mothgate” by J.R. Troughton
A mother and daughter hold their ground against monsters from another dimension.
2. “Wine For Witches, Milk for Saints” by Rachael K. Jones
Puppetism is both a curse and a blessing. It can be transferred but never cured. When a child is inflicted with puppetism, any other medical conditions they have are rendered into a puppet analog of the condition that is much easier to fix. A Christmas story set in an Italy where strategic transfers of puppetism are the basis of the medical system.
3. “Setting My Spider Free” by Caroline M. Yoachim
Humans, living in towers that rise above the clouds, have crafted a symbiosis with a race of giant spiders.
4. “Fairy Bones” by Guy Stewart
Fairy remains are discovered in owl pellets by a scientist and her visiting nephew.
5. “Amicae Aeternum” by Ellen Klages
Before leaving on a generation ship, how can you say goodbye to your best friend?
Drabblecast is a podcast of the weird and speculative. It is the closest publication to consistently hitting my own personal tastes, with a tendency towards especially strange and often funny ideas. Since its beginning it has been edited and hosted by Norm Sherman. This year marked a big change with Nathaniel Lee taking over as editor in chief, though Norm is still the host (Norm is also the editor and sometimes-host of Escape Pod, so he certainly has enough stuff to do). Drabblecast has continued their yearly tradition of Lovecraft Month in August, with one story by H.P. Lovecraft and three original stories inspired by Lovecraft written by contemporary authors.
Drabblecast published 39 stories in 2015.
1. “Old Dead Futures” by Tina Connolly
A young man has been taught to see the possible threads of the future and choose the one that will happen. He is exploited for this ability by an older man who can do the same thing.
2. “Restless in R’lyeh” by Oliver Buckram
One of the original stories for Lovecraft month. I love to read Buckram’s stories, fun and funny and thoughtful in turns. This one is a full cast recording, taking the format of a radio psychologist’s talk show during the time when Cthulhu arises from the depths.
3. “Metal and Flesh” by Steven R. Stewart
Very short story, but I found it very touching that begins with a badly injured man and a badly damaged robot trying to repair each other before their own bodies fail. I found it very touching.
5. “The Liver” by Andrew Kozma
The Greek myth of Prometheus ends with him being cursed to immortality with his liver eaten by an eagle every day. This story casts a different light on the myth–what if the eagle is trying to help, rather than being there to punish him? I thought it was interesting how it could cast a new light on a very old myth.
Podcastle, the fantasy branch of the Escape Artists podcast, has been running for almost eight years now. And this has been an eventful year for the podcast for several reasons:
They upgraded their pay rate for new fiction to professional rates. The other Escape Artists sister publications are now all pro-paying as well. I’m hoping that will draw ever wider talent (and hopefully get more award interest).
They are now paying their voice acting talent for the first time.
Dave Thompson and Anna Schwind have stepped down from co-editor positions.
Kitty Niclaian and Dawn Phynix were chosen to co-edit, but were unable to fill the roles.
Finally, Rachael Jones and Graeme Dunlop are now the co-editors.
6. “Makeisha in Time” by Rachael K. Jones Makeisha takes reflexive jumps back to random points in time, and each time lives a full lifetime before returning to the exact moment in the present when she left.
7. “Wet” by John Wiswell Immortal helps a ghost girl move on to the other side.
As a special bonus this month, I am adding an audio recording of this month’s story “St. Roomba’s Gospel” to the story’s post, read by the author herself, Rachael K. Jones. I would love to expand to doing audio recordings as part of the fiction offerings, so this is a sample of that potential. (I will also update the original story posting with the audio).
We’ve also just added a newsletter. Sign up to get updates on our publishing projects and read the original fiction before it’s on the public site.
In an outlet behind the altar of the First Baptist Church, the Roomba’s red glowing eyes blink in time with Pastor Smythe’s exhortations. The hallelujahs pulse electric through its circuits, and the repents roll like gasping breaths in the gaps between electrons. When the choir sings, the light pulses brighter, approaching ecstasy as the battery power maxes out. When Pastor Smythe bows his head to pray, Roomba’s eyes go reverently dark.
At the hour’s end, the people gather their children and gilded books and hurry downstairs for coffee and glazed donuts. When the last starched trouser leg or long, blue skirt whisks downstairs, Roomba’s service begins. It clicks its frisbee-shaped self free from the horseshoe dock and zips down the sloping wheelchair ramp that connects chancel to nave, holy to secular. As it sweeps, it drones a tone-deaf hymn while it gathers unto itself the dust and dead bugs, the crumbs and gum wrappers of another week’s worship.
After its opening hymn, Roomba writes a sermon on the sanctuary floor in long, brown lines of vacuumed carpet crisscrossing beneath the pews. The letters span from wall to wall. Words overwrite one another, making runes, then spiky stars, and finally total blackness. Roomba preaches a different sermon each week, but like Pastor Smythe, the message stays the same: all things byte AND beautiful, all creatures great AND small, all these are welcome, smoker AND not-smoker, man AND not-man, young AND not-young–even, perhaps, Roomba.
It takes Communion with the crushed wafers the children drop, body of Christ broken for it, and sings another droning hymn. When the whole floor has been overwritten with the week’s message, it sips spilled wine–blood of Christ, poured out for it–which sends the Holy Spirit straight into its circuitry so it spins in drunken circles until Pastor Smythe returns it to its cradle in the wall.
Roomba worships faithfully the other days of the week. Mornings for prayer and reflection. Evenings for supplication. Its favorite verse is the red adhesive strip Pastor Smythe had read to it, then stuck to its top on its first day at the church. “Even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table, Matthew 15:27.”
It does not understand why God chose it among robotkind to hear the message of salvation, or why its preprogrammed pathways conform to the Holy Word, but it knows a prophet’s calling when it sees one. It is no different from the child Samuel, awoken in the night by a still, small voice, or great dreamers like Isaiah or Solomon. It is a vessel for the message it must preach again and again before its congregation.
Roomba is troubled that its human brothers and sisters overlook it. IF you do unto the least of these, THEN you do unto Me, ELSE depart from Me, it exhorts in bold text of fluffed brown carpet, but it has to traverse the whole floor, and the message is always lost before anyone can read it. There are too many letters, too long a testament written on a tablet too small.
But this is, after all, as the Lord made it. It is the Lord’s work to sweep the sanctuary clean for holy feet, to leave no blessed wafer abandoned on the floor. What Roomba cleanses, it sanctifies.
The sanctuary grows colder as months pass, and Roomba’s vocation increases. The people exchange sandals and loafers for heavy boots with clods of mud and small gray stones in the treads. Roomba eats it all, taking their filth unto itself as it exhorts them to remember they are accepted. The stones fill its belly and scratch at the plastic. Some days, the shoes stomp melting snow onto the mat at the entrance. Roomba chokes it down, spins circles, and fails to finish its orisons.
One day, Pastor Smythe empties its collection compartment into the trash can, wipes out the sticky grape juice goop, and returns Roomba to its dock to charge. But instead of shutting off the lights, he drags in a spiny green tree, cutting an ugly trail of filth in the clean carpet. After the service, the parishioners praise the twinkling abomination for its beauty, its fresh scent. No one notices the mess, and no one notices Roomba.
Later, Roomba collects dead brown needles until it chokes. It suspects the tree is gloating, with its long, gold garlands like encircling serpents and red baubles like evil fruit. The gold-wrapped idol has even usurped the charging port behind the altar, and Roomba is exiled to the back of the sanctuary.
Roomba worries the end is near. It edits its sermons so the words won’t overwrite each other, but it is difficult to condense a holy revelation. It must finish the Lord’s work. The tree pelts the carpet with pitiless needles, and Roomba groans inside. Even the strip of tape has pine needles stuck to it where the adhesive curls back. Roomba prays the Lord will take this cup of suffering from it soon.
“Good job, little fellow,” says Pastor Smythe, emptying the bin again. “Big day tomorrow.”
That night, the worshippers pile in for an unscheduled service. Candles bob in the dark, and Roomba doesn’t know the songs. When they leave, it clicks from its base for an unscheduled sermon of its own. Time to take up the cross one last time.
The “A” and the “N” are easy, but Roomba struggles with the curving “D” on the carpet as the wax gums up its brush bristles.
AND. The essence of its message, cut right into the scattered needles on the floor. AND, uniting all in a single set. Nobody will miss it for the tree.
Before its programming can obliterate the single word, Roomba zooms for a wafer, then a patch of spilled juice, and lets transubstantiation send it in ecstatic circles until its battery dies.
Author’s Note: My friend Nathan really, REALLY hates stories about what I call the “Robots Have Souls” trope, which is any science fiction story where a computer or robot suddenly learns the power of love, or discovers the meaning of friendship, or the like, without a good explanation for why it is suddenly capable of human emotion. So I decided he needed a story about the religious experiences of vacuum cleaners. While this story satirizes the trope, I didn’t want to satirize faith itself, which I think would have its appeal for a little bot like Roomba.
Rachael K. Jones grew up in various cities across Europe and North America, learned and mostly forgot six languages, picked up an English degree, and now writes fiction from her secret hideout in Athens, GA, where she lives with her husband. Her work has appeared in a variety of venues, including Crossed Genres, Daily Science Fiction, and PodCastle. She is an Active member of the SFWA, an editor, and a secret android.
It occurs to me 20 days into a 26 day Kickstarter campaign for the Long List anthology that I have not actually mentioned the Kickstarter campaign on my own website. It has been a crazy 20 days and so much has been happening this particular thing has been postponed while I was working on other factors related to the campaign. Well, better late than never, and with 6 days left in the campaign there is still some time for those who are interested to back the project to get their rewards and to help push toward the couple of remaining stretch goals.
You can read more detailed information on the Kickstarter page, but I’ll give a brief rundown here.
Every year the Hugo Awards celebrate short stories (and other content) related to SF fandom as nominated and voted by supporters of WorldCon. The works on the ballot receive a great deal of attention as they are distributed in a packet to voters and the voters discuss them. Every year after the awards are given out, the Hugo administrators publish a longer list of nominated works which receive much less attention though they are also works that were greatly loved by the voting fanbase. The purpose of the Long List anthology is to publish as many of the works from that longer list as possible.
The campaign’s base goal was relatively modest–only covering the purchase of nonexclusive reprint rights for the stories in the short story category, with stretch goals to add novelettes and novellas. The campaign got off to big start with the base goal being reached just 2 days into the campaign, and the stretch goals being reached only a few days later. Since the stretch goals were reached so early in the campaign I got to work making ever larger and ever more exciting stretch goals. This added up to three stretch goals to produce an expand an audiobook of those stories for which audio rights could be acquired, produced by Skyboat Media who you may know as the folks who produce the excellent award-winning Lightspeed Magazine podcast. The first of those goals has been reached, so there will be an audiobook which will contain 8-9 of the short stories. There are two stretch goals remaining to add novelettes and novellas to the production. I am very excited to have the opportunity to work with Skyboat Media–they have produced many of my favorite podcast fiction recordings and I am very excited to hear their productions.
Table of Contents
The following is the list of the table of contents of stories that will be part of the anthology.
Note that there will be 3 formats of the anthology:
1. Ebook: Will contain all of the stories (180,000 words of short fiction).
2. Print book: Will contain all of the short stories and all of the novelettes. May contain novellas depending on printing constraints. (around 140,000 words for short stories and novelettes)
3. Audiobook: Will contain at least 8-9 of the short stories (close to 40,000 words, which I think comes out to perhaps 4 hours of produced audio?), and if higher stretch goals are reached may contain novelettes and novellas which will add more content.
The following is the full list of stories:
“Covenant” by Elizabeth Bear
“This Chance Planet” by Elizabeth Bear
“Goodnight Stars” by Annie Bellet
“The Breath of War” by Aliette de Bodard
“The Truth About Owls” by Amal El-Mohtar
“When It Ends, He Catches Her” by Eugie Foster
“A Kiss With Teeth” by Max Gladstone
“Makeisha in Time” by Rachael K. Jones
“Toad Words” by T. Kingfisher
“The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family” by Usman T. Malik
“The Magician and LaPlace’s Demon” by Tom Crosshill
“The Litany of Earth” by Ruthanna Emrys
“A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i” by Alaya Dawn Johnson
“The Bonedrake’s Penance” by Yoon Ha Lee
“A Year and a Day in Old Theradane” by Scott Lynch
“The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado
“We are the Cloud” by Sam J. Miller
“Spring Festival: Happiness, Anger, Love, Sorrow, Joy” by Xia Jia, translated by Ken Liu
“The Devil in America” by Kai Ashante Wilson
“The Regular” by Ken Liu
“Grand Jeté (The Great Leap)” by Rachel Swirsky
There are a variety of backer rewards left for those who might be interested, listed briefly here.
Copies of ebook, print book, audiobook or combinations thereof.
A sonnet or sestina written by Ruthanna Emrys
A question for Rachel Swirsky which she’ll answer in a blog post
A “Women Destroy Science Fiction” (Lightspeed Magazine special edition) audiobook autographed by Gabrielle de Cuir
Special thank you within the audiobook
11×17 poster prints of the wonderful cover art for the anthology “A City On Its Tentacles” by Galen Dara)
Custom digital art by Sam J. Miller in which he will sketch an animal of your choice in the occupation of your choice
Studio recording copy of the Long List anthology with director notes and narrator autographs
Audio recording of your story by voice actors Stefan Rudnicki, Wilson Fowlie, or Graeme Dunlop
Voice mail recording by voice actor Stefan Rudnick (of Skyboat Media)
Story critiques by Yoon Ha Lee, Anaea Lay, or me
Consultation with Skyboat Media regarding suitability of book for audiobook format
Lunch with Skyboat Media at WorldCon 2016 in Kansas City
Breakfast and watching recording session at Skyboat Media in Los Angeles