The Best of Variant Frequencies

written by David Steffen

Variant Frequencies was a fiction podcast that ran from 2006-2010. It was run by Rick Stringer, Ann Stringer, and Matt Wallace, and was originally created as a way to help promote Ann’s and Matt’s writing. Their archives are still up on their website for all to download.

First some thoughts on the podcast as a whole. The production is very good quality, often with full cast recordings, and a good group of voice actors. Because of the fact that its original focus was promote the work of the founders, its not too surprising that the quality is sometimes… uneven. One advantage of having an impartial third party for an editor is that their purpose is to select stories of the highest quality. In self-published collections (which this kind of is) you get everything as judged by the author, which isn’t quite the same thing.

One major feature that Variant Frequencies is well known for is their Failed Cities Monologues series of episodes. Each episode is a monologue of a single character, of a cast of about 10, taking place in a dystopic pair of fictional cities. Taken all together, these episodes form a single narrative plot arc from beginning to end. This is a really neat idea. It does have its flaws, foremost being that some of the episodes contribute too little to the overall plot, but overall it’s reasonably good. The characters are pretty archetypal, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing–it can be enjoyed as an adventure story if you don’t expect anything profound and life-changing, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Because of the way its structured, none of the individual episodes are compelling enough to make it on my list of favorites overall, and the work taken as a whole is a bit too sprawling to be one of my favorites. But I did enjoy it well enough that I thought it bore mentioning outside of the list. For those who want more, there is also a somewhat shorter FCM Christmas series, though I felt it didn’t add anything to the first series.

Variant Frequencies published a total of 115 episodes, but some of those are metacasts talking about the show, and others are multi-part stories (including the many-part Failed Cities Monologues). In total, I count something around 64 stories that I’ve picked out my favorites from.

On to the list!

1. Noah’s Temple by Matthew Warner
The leader and last member of a religion is soon to executed, but a cataclysm interrupts before the sentence can be carried out. Can she have what it takes to save the world that doesn’t want her anymore?

2. The Destruction of Sennacherib by Bryn Sparks
At the beginning this reminded me a great deal of Wells’ The Time Machine, but took its own twists and turns along the way. Trying to change the past can have many unintended effects.

3. Heart of Clay: A Saint Darwin’s Spiritual by D.K. Thompson
A sequel to “Saint Darwin’s Spirituals” that ran earlier on the cast. A world where Darwin discovered the spirit world that overlays ours and this finding has spurred on many developments in a world now filled with golems and ghosts.

4. The Dead Man and the Berserk by Matt Wallace
Transhumanism has lead to various enhancements to the body and the mind, but two men with those enhancements will be hard-pressed to combat the machine singularity

5. Best in Class by Jonathan C. Gillespie
This was a lot of fun. It’s told from the point of view of an intelligent car who’s been sitting idle in a garage after a nuclear war has wiped out most of the population. Someone finds it in its garage and the car sees to its owner’s needs as best it can.

6. The Mason’s Son by Dennis Egan
A Poe-esque tale of revenge.

Honorable Mentions:

The Spoils of War by DJ Burnham
This one was very interesting, though not emotionally compelling. It tells of an arms race between two sides of a conflict, but the arms race takes directions not taken in our world.

Delve by Matt Wallace

Survivor Guilt by David Tallerman


Published by

David Steffen

David Steffen is an editor, publisher, and writer. If you like what he does you can visit the Support page or buy him a coffee! He is probably best known for being co-founder and administrator of The Submission Grinder, a donation-supported tool to help writers track their submissions and find publishers for their work . David is also the editor-in-chief here at Diabolical Plots. He is also the editor and publisher of The Long List Anthology: More Stories From the Hugo Award Nomination List series. David also (sometimes) writes fiction, and you can follow on BlueSky for updates on cross-stitch projects and occasionally other things.

6 thoughts on “The Best of Variant Frequencies”

  1. Thank you for taking the time to review Variant Frequencies, and create this list. We had a blast creating all of those stories. It is great to know that someone still cares enough about it to write a review this many years later.


  2. Rick,
    Yup, you still have listeners out there! I got started listening to podcasts with Pseudopod and the other Escape Artists podcasts, but as I’ve gotten caught up on podcasts I asked other people what podcasts they’d recommended and Variant Frequencies was often mentioned.

  3. I liked it a lot, Dennis. It had a very “classic lit” feel to it in its style and material, very much the sort of thing that would fit right in with Poe’s story’s in old magazines. 🙂

  4. I will take this opportunity to say thank you all for the best tales I have ever listened to.
    The Failed Cities Monologues is #1 in my list. I have told many friends about this amazing ‘cast. I loved the sound and tones of the voices in the stories, it felt like being alive inside the Cities. I have listened to the tale 3 times and think that I will go for another round.

  5. Just wanted to say that this podcast was great. It was one of my first experiences with audio drama and it was amazing. Thanks for all the great stories rick and Anne.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.