Feb 17

Top SF Audio Fiction from January 2012

I particularly enjoyed these in January.  Frankly, I didn’t think this was a strong month for audio fiction, so I only listed 4.  I think February will be stonger (or it has been thus far, anyway).

Bears Discover Fire
The Drabblecast #230
http://www.drabblecast.org/2012/01/26/drabblecast-230-bears-discover-fire/
-This will be familiar to many people, but it was my first experience with the story. Even if you’ve read it before, listening might be an interesting new way to experience the story!

The Five Elements of the Heart and Mind
Lightspeed Magazine for January
http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/the-five-elements-of-the-heart-mind/
-Another Ken Liu story that I really enjoyed. It meshes space colonization, microbial flora, and romance into a nice bundle!

The Republic of the Southern Cross
Pseudopod #263
http://pseudopod.org/2012/01/09/pseudopod-263-the-republic-of-the-southern-cross/
-Yes it’s a horror podcast, but in this case the story doesn’t really have any “scary” or “horrible” elements to it. The story is a speculative fiction short with hints of Jules Verne as humans colonize Antarctica. Let’s see what everybody thinks!

The Martian Chronicles (Parts 1-3)
StarShipSofa #220-222
http://www.starshipsofa.com/blog/2012/01/11/starshipsofa-no-220-cory-doctorow-part-1/
-This is a great story by Cory Doctorow that IS very long, but definitely worth it. With a child-focused story (think Ender’s Game, not specifically YA), this tribute to Bradbury investigates an updated view of Martian colonization. If you’re only interested in the main fiction, just check the show notes for each episode for the time code to jump to.

Dec 04

My Top 5 Podcasted Science Fiction Picks of 2011

Some people in the Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA) asked me to select some of the best podcasted fiction episodes of the year, so I have done so in this post.  Keep in mind, these are the result of MY opinions, not the club’s, but I think you’ll agree that they are pretty darn good.  FYI, I tried to avoid major fiction nominees and winners (Nebulas, Hugos, etc.).

In no particular order, The Top 5:

Clockwork Fagin – Cory Doctorow
Escape Pod Episode 315
*This story is definitely one of my favorites of the year, even though it is only from last month.  None of our participants had listened to it yet, so I figured I’d give it another chance to warm your heart!

Tying Knots – Ken Liu
Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 52
*Ken Liu is one of my favorite rising stars in SF short fiction.  This a a really interesting story that blends cutting-edge science problems with intercultural conflicts.  I was also privileged to help critique this story when Ken shared it with the Critters online workshop.

Breakaway, Backdown – James Patrick Kelly
Lightspeed Magazine February Issue
*Make sure you listen to this one with your ears.  The narrator does a fantastic job and the “one-sided conversation” format took me to new and exciting places (especially as a hobbyist writer).

Raft of the Titanic – James Morrow
StarShipSofa Episode 214
*Be aware this is a long one and to get to it, you’ll need to skip to timecode 31:55 (though I thought the previous segment was interesting too).  That said, if you listen to this whimsical story (reminded me of Gulliver’s Travels to some degree) in a few smaller chunks, I think you’ll enjoy it.  It’s another recent entry, but I think it deserves a spot in the year’s best for its micro world-building.

Epoch – Cory Doctorow
Cory Doctorow Podcast (Excerpt from With A Little Help)
*Yep, that’s two Doctorow stories out of 5.  Don’t be upset – I could have made it 5 without breaking  a sweat (he’s had a good year)!  This story stuck with me all throughout the year, and I think it contrasts fairly well with the other chosen story.

That’s the list, BUT I am weak and will include below all the runners-up that I just couldn’t leave you without mentioning: Continue reading

Aug 05

10 Great Science Fiction Audio Podcasts

The entire paradigm of science fiction literature seems to be in a state of flux.  Book publishers are being outstripped by eBook sales and new online-only publishers seems to spring up every week.  The upside of this shift is that fans of audiobooks and audiofiction have more opportunities than ever to listen to free works by professional authors.  I’ve put together this list to help you capitalize on the proliferation of great podcasts out there.

1.  Clarkesworld Magazine

You’ll notice I’ve numbered this list, and indeed, if I had to listen to one podcast first, it would be Clarkesworld.  Voiced by the soothing Kate Baker, the Clarkesworld Magazine podcast releases two stories (usually awesome ones) a month.  Their topics range across SF, fantasy, and horror, but the average reader will likely find the stories well within their own taste.  I warrant that some of the best fiction of the year comes out of Clarkesworld Magazine. One of the advantages of this podcast is that it encompasses the entire magazine, so there is no fiction in print that are not also “in voice.”  They offer subscriptions and accept donations if you wish to show your support.

2.  Lightspeed Magazine

Right up there with Clarkesworld is Lightspeed.  This up-and-coming online-only publication puts out two audiofiction episodes a month.  They don’t read everything they publish in text, but you get quality instead of quantity.  Some of the best SF narrators around show up in Lightspeed (including Stefan Rudnicki, my personal favorite and co-narrator of ALL of the Enderverse audiobooks).  I look forward to the groundbreaking stories and the exceptional voicing each time they say “Let’s take the jump to lightspeed!”  They also offer subscriptions and accept donations.

3.  Escape Pod

For a bit of variety, Escape Pod is a good choice.  Their stories are largely audio “reprints” from other sources (though they do publish the occasional original fiction).  Unlike the previous two entries, the authors aren’t always “name brands” and sometimes the stories don’t hold up to the same standard.  The podcast often makes good use of the audio medium by playing with multiple narrators and the like.  The reason I keep coming back to Escape Pod is the uncertainty over whether the story will be fantastic or disappointing: I like the surprise.  At the end of each episode, they read listener comments to previous stories, so I if you didn’t like a story, you might find that you’re one of many who posted angrily on the forums.  There is a greater sense of community with Escape Pod than most on this list.

As an added note, Escape Pod is part of the Escape Artists family of podcasts.  I haven’t listened to them yet, but you might want to check out Podcastle for Fantasy and Pseudopod for Horror if those tickle your fancy.  You can support Escape Artists with donations.

4.  StarShipSofa

Oh, man!  What can I say about StarShipSofa other than “climb aboard!”  Tony C. Smith captains this lengthy podcast, which features segments on recent science, science in liturature, interviews, deep studies of the genre and, of course, original fiction.  It is audio’s answer to Analog.  The segments are all done by various contributors, but they are neatly stitched together by the gregareous Captain Tony, whose Scottish accent and ultra-positivity will have you grinning from minute one.  Overall, the fiction is very good and sometimes Tony snags an interview with the author.  It’s a long podcast, so I’ll keep this blurb brief and let it speak for itself!  StarShipSofa accepts donations.

5. The Drabblecast

If you have a hankering for weirdness, this podcast is for you.  Each week, narrator Norm Sherman offers up a great piece of short fiction.  One of the interesting aspects of The Drabblecast is its use of music.  Each original story comes complete with background music that really accents the story being told.  I’ve listened to other podcasts that used music before and always found it distracting.  With The Drabblecast, each piece is custom composed for the fiction, so it sounds great!

Beyond the main fiction, each episode includes a drabble (100 words) and a twabble (a twitter-sized 100 character story).  Some weeks, the episodes begin with a silly audio serial full of puns and strange adventures.  The Drabblecast takes a little getting used to, but I say it’s well worth the effort.  You can support the podcast through donations or merchandise.

6.  Tor.com Audio Podcast

This podcast is almost completely defunct, as they haven’t published anything since February of this year.  I bring it up because the archives are fairly extensive and Tor.com publishes a lot of great stories.  The episodes themselves are pretty spartan, but the fiction is good, so check it out!

7.  Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Why is a fantasy podcast on here?  Well, your mother always told you it was good to have variety in your diet!  In all seriousness, I’m not a great aficionado of fantasy, but this podcast does a good job of presenting a story with no “world of fantasy” news and such.  Also, they tend to lean toward “adventure fantasy,” so it makes for a nice half an hour of escapism.  Not every issue publishes an audio story, but you’ll receive about two a month.  Beneath Ceaseless Skies accepts donations for support and offers payed Kindle subscriptions.

8.  Cory Doctorow’s Podcast

This podcast is a little odd because it’s the only personal podcast on the list.  If you’re familiar with Cory Doctorow and you like his work, I probably don’t need to convince you of this podcast’s quality.  If you haven’t heard of him, he’s one of those guys with a finger in every pie.  Doctorow is an editor of BoingBoing.net, former member of the EFF, and has written a ton of interesting, cutting-edge SF over the years.  His most famous work is probably the posthuman novella, Down and Out In the Magic Kingdom.

His podcast generally includes updates about his life and career, calendar of events, and recordings of various things.  This latter category can range from original fiction he’s yet to put in print, Mark Twain stories (which he reads excellently), and speeches/interviews he does in other places.  Like everything Doctorow does, the podcast is free and can be supported by buying anything he has produced over the years.

9.  SF Signal Podcast

If you’re a big SF nerd like me, you’ve probably followed a link or two pointing toward SF Signal.  They take on the wide world of SF, reviewing books, posting the news, and generally geeking out.  Their podcast alternates between roundtable discussions (mostly “What is your favorite ______?”) and interviews with authors who have recently published.  As of this publication, I am listening to their interview with the esteemed William Gibson.  There is no audio fiction on this podcast, but after a given episode you’ll probably find yourself nose-deep in a new book/show/movie/podcast they have recommended.

10.  Notes from Coode Street

“Good morning Gary!”  Notes from Coode Street is last, but certainly not least.  Each week (or so), Gary K. Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan sit down for a cross-ocean chat about books, authors, genre, and even more esoteric topics within SF.  Both are professional reviewers and anthologists, so they process an enormous number of works at the same time.  We the listeners benefit because they can share their fairly unique understanding of the SF field on the show.  They also get into more than a few friendly debates over the merits of a book or a shift in the field.  Notes from Coode Street doesn’t seem to take donations, but I bet they’d love it if you told a friend!

I hope this list gives you a nice starting point if you’re new to SF podcasts.  If you’re already a podcast veteran, maybe one of these can help flesh out your subscriptions.

This article was also published by permission in the Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA) Journal.

Jun 08

My Thoughts on iPhone 4

Today, I want to share my enthusiasm for the new iPhone.  I don’t think it’s as revolutionary as the original device (despite Apple’s claims), but I definitely it allows the iPhone and its platform to move to the next level.  The details and specs are all described well by Engadget, so I’ll leave you to read up on them if you want that level of knowledge.  Here are the highlights though:

The phone has a new shape. With square sides and its antennas wrapped around its edge, it is the first significant form-factor change we’ve seen in a while.  Also, both sides are made of a super-hard glass that is (as always) resistant to scratches.

The screen is SUPER high quality and has a level of detail above that which can be recognized by the human eye.  Essentially they claim to be approaching the appearance of “ink” instead of “dots.”  For me, this is definitely one of the most impressive feats, as picture quality is becoming much more important in this generation of smartphones.  I’ll have to see it in person to really know if it’s better, but first-hand accounts seem to generally support Apple’s claim.

The iPhone now has TWO, count um TWO, cameras. One on the face, one on the back.  This was expected based on leaks and such, but even so, it’s a big step for Apple’s golden device.  The video chat/video call function doesn’t really exist outside of Skype and enterprise users, so it’s fairly uncharted waters.  Personally I expect very slow adoption of video calling, primarily because people are so used to doing other things while talking on the phone.  You can’t really carry out a video chat while grabbing your groceries or doing household chores.  Even so, much like the iPad, maybe people will find a place for it in their lives.

I don’t really need a new iPhone at the moment, as I have the 3GS and that is getting a lot of the new software perks for FREE, but if I DID I’d definitely pick the iPhone 4 over any Android out there at the moment (even though The Incredible is very compelling).

[iPhone image from The Guardian’s PDA Blog]

Jun 07

Two Movie Reviews: The Prince of Splicia

Well today was a pretty tiresome day for me personally.  Where I would have rather have been researching and obsessing over WWDC’s iPhone launch (look for my take on that later), I was instead trapped in a body shop and then a auto repair garage getting all of the many things that are wrong with my car fixed.  Even so, here’s my take on two recent movies:

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Review)

A few weeks ago, I saw Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.  I have to say I was very impressed. While it was certainly not the greatest movie of all time, for a video game movie it did very well.  I’ve never played the game upon which it was based, but I found the plot very interesting and approachable.

The action sequences were great and many of the chase scenes mirror (some very closely) the chases in the animated Aladdin movie of yesteryear.  As a child of that time period, these chases had a very strong appeal.  Think throwing apples at bushy-bearded guards with scimitars and you’ll generally get the idea.  Oh and it always helps when the leading man and lady are both fairly attractive!

I would have to say there is some complexity in the plot, but only from the mystery and sharp turns in the plot, not from any deep philosophy.  That being said, it’s nice to have a fun action/adventure movie unburdened by the dark overtones or deep psychology that has become some common among modern movies.  Also, it’s family friendly without losing its edge.  Definitely see it with friends or family before it leaves theaters!

Splice (Review)

Also in the theaters this week was Splice, starring Adrien Brody.  I saw it with @jbrown915 on Friday and it’s hard to even describe this one.  The story follows a couple of scientists (both in the plural and dating sense of the word) who are working on creating new life forms.  This iteration of “artificial life” (which might be better described as “synthetic life” because it just borrows from nature) combines the genes of several different organisms to form these gelatinous blobs.  These early creations don’t look very good, but they produce proteins important for pharmacology.  Things go awry when they add in human DNA and all of a sudden things get out of control.

My first big problem with this movie is that ALL of the science is essentially a distillation of public misconceptions about genetic science.  They make most of their discoveries over the course of a busy week (which pushed forward the idea that “scientists just need to work harder!”) and it also proposes that there is something magical about human DNA.  For some reason splicing in DNA from people is WAY harder than DNA from closely related mammals, and once they succeed, it turns into a horrible humaniod monster!

The real reason NOT to see this movie is the middle to second half of it.  I don’t want to give away too many spoilers to the poor souls who subject themselves to this film, but essentially the female lead develops this VERY creepy maternal complex that her boyfriend (husband?) never notices.  After this, the plot begins to follow the same lines of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, only with graphic detail where the cult classic leaves much to the imagination.  The circumstances, stupidity of the characters, and the incestuous suggestions really take the more visceral scenes way beyond the pale of a normal scifi thriller and into the realm of “why did I pay to watch this?”  Overall, unless you’re needing a feature film that feels like two B movies crammed together, skip Splice and don’t even rent it.

Hope you enjoyed my doling out reviews and general wisdom.  Let me know if you agree OR disagree in the comments!

[Prince of Persia image from Walt Disney Pictures | Splice image from Gaumont]