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 Escape Pod 2018

written by David Steffen

Escape Pod is the weekly science fiction podcast, one of the Escape Artists family of podcasts.  At the beginning of 2017 it was edited by Norm Sherman, but when he stepped down from the role two co-editors have filled the positions: S.B. Divya and Mur Lafferty.

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

Escape Pod published a total of 42 stories in 2018, which is lower than usual because of a combination of longer stories that were split across multiple episodes, as well as mixing in “Flashback Friday” episodes this year, which are republications of stories published earlier in Escape Pod’s history–since Flashback Friday stories have already been considered for previous Best of Escape Pod lists here, they were not considered this time.

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

The List

1.”And Then There Were (N-One)” (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4) by Sarah Pinsker
The author Sarah Pinsker attends a convention of Sarah Pinskers from other dimensions. And then Sarah Pinsker is murdered! Dun dun DUUUUN.

2.”The Revolution, Brought to You By Nike” (Parts 1, 2) by Andrea Phillips
Nike’s new viral marketing campaign is aimed at changing the world.

3.”Caesura” by Hayley Stone
Finding ways to make an AI write poetry as a form of grieving.

4.”Beatrix Released” by Shaenon K. Garrity*
Beatrix Potter, controlling a team of clever animals.

5.”Anna and Marisol in Time and Space” by Tim Pratt
Time travel romance!

Honorable Mentions

“After Midnight at the Zap Stop” by Matthew Claxton*







The Best of Pseudopod 2018

written by David Steffen

Pseudopod is the weekly horror podcast edited by Shawn Garrett and Alex Hofelich.

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 2018, by my count.

Stories that are eligible for this year’s Hugo and Nebula Awards are marked with an asterisk (*), all of which would be credited to Pseudopod as the original publisher.

The List

1. “Emperor All” by Evan Marcroft*
What would you do if you realized you could control everything with your mind?

2. “The Good Mothers’ Home For Wayward Girls” by Izzy Wasserstein*
You don’t want to be the new girl.

3. “Fool’s Fire” by Tim Pratt
Modern day will o’ wisp tales.

4. “Beyond the Dead Reef” by James Tiptree Jr.
Classic horror from one of the masters.

5. “The Challenge From Beyond” by H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, C.L. Moore, A. Merritt, and Frank Belknap Long
An epic story written round-robin style by some of the most famous writers of their time.

6. “Free Balloons For All Good Children” by Dirck de Lint*
There’s no so thing as a free lunch.

Honorable Mentions

“The Town Manager” by Thomas Ligotti

“Mofongo Knows” by Grady Hendrix

“A Visit to the Catacombs of Via Altamonvecchi” by Joe Weintraub

 

 

 

 

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 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 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.


 

 

The Best of Podcastle 2011

written by David Steffen

Podcastle’s going strong under the continued editorship of Dave Thompson and Anna Schwind. In 2011, they published 52 feature length episodes (from episodes 138-189), and 9 flash episodes (flash episodes 58-66), as well as 4 special feature stories from the Alphabet Quartet.

Generally, it was a pretty strong year, I think. I had plenty of material to fill the list with. There was one episode that got under my skin in a bad way, that I had trouble shaking, but I want to keep these lists about the positive, so that’s all that I’ll say about it here.

1. As Below, So Above by Ferrett Steinmetz
I’m surprised this one didn’t appear on the Drabblecast. Bloodthirsty giant squid point of view character, mad scientists, all with a nice mix of theology.

2. The Parable of the Shower by Leah Bobet
Modern Biblical story that begins with an angel visit… in the shower. Fun stuff.

3. The Ghost of Christmas Possible by Tim Pratt and Heather Shaw
I’ve seen so many adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that I’d thought I’d never see another one that really seemed original. But this one pulled it off. It’s a mashup of the original and William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost Hunter who is called in by Ebenezer to investigate the strange visitations.

4. The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu
Fair warning: this is a very sad one. A son’s story about growing up with an immigrant mother. The characters in this one seemed especially genuine.

5. Abandonware by An Owomoyela
A boy finds an apparently prophetic computer program in his dead sister’s belongings.

6. Stereogram of the Gray Fort, In the Days of Her Glory by Paul M. Berger
Two perspectives on a set of events taking place after the humans have lost the war with the Fae.

7. Hart and Boot by Tim Pratt
This story is based on the known life of Wild West outlaw Pearl Hart and her mysterious partner in crime, Joe Boot. This takes the known events of her life and fills in the gaps.

Honorable Mentions

A Hunter’s Ode to His Bait by Carrie Vaughn

Balfour and Meriwether in the Adventure of the Emperor’s Vengeance by Daniel Abraham

Beyond the Sea Gates of the Pirates of Sarskoe by Garth Nix

 

 

Independent Science Fiction

written by Samuel X. Brase

Science fiction often questions the value of success and happiness in the future,usually by contrasting what it means today against unreal alien circumstances. A couple of new short stories offer traditional answers, as well as food for thought when refracted onto the medium of their publication: independent e-magazines.

“Thief of Futures” by D. Thomas Minton demonstrates value in terms of wealth and talent; the story is only concerned with characters who are either rich or possess a very certain innate skill. Everyone else is consigned to the background. “Antiquities and Tangibles” by Tim Pratt examines value through connections and luck; the more social-oriented tools of achieving success and accruing value. Those without connections and luck have no chance of exploring happiness to the extent the main characters do.

On the other hand, the stories themselves have been made available for free on the Internet, by independent publications unrelated to major publishers and the traditional approach to literary success. The medium undercuts the message.

I’ve taken value as one of my main concerns because it opens up discussion to issues that are increasingly relevant within our current political situation. How much do we value corporations and how much leverage should we allow them? The same with political parties, the same with wealthy individuals. Where do we draw these lines, and how do those boundaries influence society?

Independent art reinterprets these questions through guerilla tactics: Free availability of art, approachable artists, new venues. Each tactic challenges formal institutions, such as corporate publishing, by providing alternative means of creating and enjoying art.

Redefining the value of art is important because it helps differentiate literature. Art death occurs when one set of teachers raise generations of students to believe the same lessons and dogma about writing. Established knowledge is not a bad thing, but it is something to be resisted, because progress doesn’t come from the establishment,progress is found on the boundaries, the edge of understanding and form.

Why is progress necessary? Maybe the establishment has it right.

Old forms of art cannot address the issues of contemporary society. Outdated tools are useful, instructional, and entertaining; but they lack the scope our present times demand. Thus, while the establishment may have been “right” when it became entrenched, it has little hope of being “right” now. Is there really any question that literary methods from fifty years ago are able to dig into the issues of our present day?

Independent science fiction can slide into this role. Stories such as “Thief of Futures” and “Antiquities and Tangibles” are the very beginning of the discussion; they speak from the status quo, but are presented through the new medium. Such juxtaposition reveals the demand our present times place on literature. Once the free and immediate nature of the Internet influences stories, twenty-first century fiction will truly begin to find its stride, and will separate itself from what came before. Science fiction is uniquely poised in this regard; as genre writing, it is forced to stand on the outside to begin with,all the better to test form and content. I encourage all writers of independent science fiction to let the medium seep into their writing, to let ideas of free and immediate fiction run wild.

Samuel X. Brase is the editor of Cosmic Vinegar, a monthly e-magazine dedicated to independent science fiction and politics. You can read more about the two stories discussed here in the November 2011 issue, available for free.

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.

The Best of Podcastle

podcastle-iconPodcastle is a podcast of fantasy stories, which I’ve been listening to for the past couple of months to get caught up on their backlog. They’ve provided a whole lot of great stuff for free distribution. They do ask for donations, but they are not required to listen to their fiction. Now that I’ve listened to all of their episodes, I’ve made a list of my top ten favorite episodes (and some honorable mentions that almost made the list).

If you like this article, you might also want to check out The Best of Pseudopod, in which I make a similar list for Podcastle’s horror counterpart, and The Best of Escape Pod, the science fiction counterpart.

1. Cup and Table by Tim Pratt
Read by Stephen Eley

Superpowered agents on a quest to find the Holy Grail. You can’t get much cooler than that! On top of that, the protagonist has a confused time sense, and Pratt’s writing of the story in non-chronological order works surprisingly well. And if that’s not enough, the ending was both cool and unpredicted (by me anyway).

2. A Heretic by Degrees by Marie Brennan
Read by Paul Tevis

Worldbuilding at its best. The strange world of Driftwood is revealed to the reader bit by bit. I know from experience that this is a tough balance to strike. Too much at once and it gets boring. Not enough and it’s confusing. Parallel worlds have always been one of my favorite fantasy elements.

3. Fourteen Experiments in Postal Delivery by John Schoffstall
Read by Heather Lindsley

This one starts out relatively normal and ramps up the weird as it goes on which, for me, made it easier to digest. I don’t particularly like the protagonist of this one, but she feels like a real person and that’s more important to me than likeability anyway. If you’ve never read any surrealism you might want to give this one a try just to see what you think. There are some lewd images and swear words–they fit well within the story, but just FYI.

4. Captain Fantasy and the Secret Masters by Tim Pratt
Read by Matthew Wayne Selznick

Clearly Tim Pratt’s style is well suited to my reading tastes! This is a very long one, one of the Podcastle “Giant” episodes, and one of the few Giants that I’ve liked. Most stories this long are much longer than they need to be–they could benefit by cutting their length in half and they seem to be padded for word count. This one is worth every word, every second. I do love superheroes, and this story gives nods to old-school superheroes alongside more modern styles, and has some unique ideas I haven’t seen in any other superhero stories (which is hard to do in this day and age). Lots of good rip-roaring action, as well as some good mystery elements.

5. Come Lady Death by Peter S. Beagle
Read by Paul S. Jenkins

This is an oldie but a goody. First published back in 1963, it tells the story of Death in human form who attends a party. The setting is similar to Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, but the style and plot are all their own. It’s not the first time I’ve seen a female Death figure (Susan Bones from Pratchett’s Discworld series, for instance), but this incarnation is distinct and provides an enjoyable experience.

6. Nine Sundays in a Row by Kris Dikeman
Read by Kane Lynch

I have a lot of respect for anyone who can do a nonhuman point of view well, and Kris Dikeman has done that with this story. It’s the tale of a deal with the devil with the point of view of the devil’s dog, sent to watch over the supplicant who must spend every Sunday night at a crossroads for nine weeks in a row in order to earn a meeting with the devil. The characters are great, and the ending is fitting. A great story.

7. Komodo by Tim Pratt
Read by Cat Rambo

Yes, another one by Tim Pratt! Apparently I’m a huge fan, though I made the list on the stories without thinking much about the authors. His style and subject matter must just be particularly well-suited for my tastes. So I’ll definitely be watching for more from Pratt. This is the tale of a very powerful sorceress living in the modern day, when she comes up against something that seems to be beyond her abilities. She’s a well fleshed-out character, and the magic system in this is really good, not like anything else I’ve read.

8. Colin and Ishmael in the Dark by William Shunn
Read by MarBelle

Usually I don’t like omniscient point of view, where the narrator is an apparently corporeal third party in the room, unable to affect, only to observe. But it works well in this story, describing an encounter between a prisoner and a guard in a pitch black jail cell. The story is told almost entirely through dialogue between the two, and because the scene is dark, the actual events that are occuring are not always straightforward to interpret. This helps keep the story as disorienting for the reader as it is for the characters, which is quite a trick.

9. The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change by Kij Johnson
Read by Heather Lindsley

The premise of this story is very interesting, with domesticated animals suddenly gaining the ability to speak, and it focuses on the interaction between dogs and their former masters. As the dogs develop a lingual culture, they develop (as the title states) trickster stories, which are interspersed with the narrative itself. I actually liked the trickster stories better than the main narrative, despite their short disconnected nature. I wish the world had been fleshed out a bit more, animals gaining the ability to speak didn’t have nearly the effect that I would’ve expected, but there’s still a lot to love about this story, and the trickster stories themselves made them worth the listen.

10. Castor on Troubled Waters by Rhys Hughes
Read by Alasdair Stuart

This is a ridiculous tale told by a character who has quite a story to tell in the time honored tradition of making stuff up to get out of paying people money. This is clear from the very beginning, which just makes his tale all the more funny.

Honorable Mentions

It was hard to pick out just ten, so here’s a few that were strong contenders to make the list.

The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe
Read by Cheyenne Wright

I know, it’s nearly a crime for Poe to be on the honorable mentions and not on the actual list. I’ve loved Poe’s writing since I first read them in English class, and this is one of my favorite authors. I love Cheyenne’s voice, and he narrated this quite well, except for one detail. The word “Amontillado” is mispronounced throughout, which drove me to distraction. One mispronunciation isn’t the end of the world, but since the word is used many times within the story, is in the title itself, and is in fact the central motivation for one of the characters, I found it hard to ignore. Even if it had been pronounced phonetically, it would have been better. In any case, Poe is one of my favorite authors of all time, I still wanted his story to be mentioned.

In Ashes by Helen Keeble
Read by Marie Brennan

The Twa Corbies by Marie Brennan
Read by Elie Hirschman

In Order to Conserve by Cat Rambo
Read by Mur Lafferty