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.
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.