Synthetic Voices #10 – September 2012 Top Picks

September was an epic month for audio fiction podcasts.  As I sit here writing this blurb, there are 14 great stories I’d love to feature.  Plus lots of bonus stories and info.  Below I’ll choose my favorite 6…though I may sneak a few more in there…

*Welcome Capclave Listeners*
This month’s podcast is a special one!  From October 12th-14th, the Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA) is hosting Capclave 2012, a yearly celebration of speculative fiction in the DC Metro area.  I’m a member of WSFA and I’m also planning to attend the whole con.  Normally I discuss each month’s podcast picks at a monthly WSFA meeting, but because of fortuitous timing, I’ll be holding that the discussion at Capclave itself.  If you’re thinking about attending Capclave this year – the lineup of panels and special guests looks fantastic, by the way – consider attending the Synthetic Voices roundtable!  The tentative timeslot for the discussion is 4pm on Sat the 13th, but things can change, so be sure to check your con guide that day.  Also, I will have Synthetic Voices STICKERS!  How can you say no to stickers?!

*A Free Story From Yours Truly*
I won’t dwell on this plug – the second of this episode – but I thought I’d let you know why there’s an extra little blob of fiction in the feed this month.  I wrote a 100 word story, called a “drabble” by flash fiction lovers, on the Drabblecast forums.  It didn’t get picked up by The Drabblecast proper, but I couldn’t get it, or the accent I wanted applied to the audio version, out of my head.  So, I recorded it myself and asked a Drabblecast fan podcast, called The Dribblecast, to absorb my fictional scraps into it’s smaller, but no less threatening maw.  The story is called “Benjy” and you are free to love it, hate it, or not listen to it at all. If all this talk of Dribs and Drabs intrigues you, I suggest you take a gander at the aforementioned forums.  It’s been a really fun place to try out little ideas that pop into my head.

*Top Picks from September 2012*

“Roanoke, Nevada” by Edward J. Knight
The Drabblecast Ep. 256
53:03 mins
— Many writers use tropes.  Sometimes they help round out an imagined world and other times they save a writer time in explaining things.  As an amateur writer, I try to avoid trope-y things because I want to “make my mark on the world.”  All that aside, this story is a great example of how to take a trope and do something great with it.  Here, an epidemiologist is whisked off to a secret base in Nevada to investigate an alien disease.  Two things struck me.  First, the science in this story is not only spot-on accurate, but the way in which it was used really makes me feel like it’s coming from a scientist, not a well-researched writer.  Second, the underlying theme of Manifest Destiny rang realistic and true in the main character’s thoughts and actions.  I didn’t like the ending, but I mean that in the sense that I didn’t agree with it.  It’s a kind of ethical dilemma that may stick with you for a little while.

“The Cruel Sister” by James Breyfogle
Cast of Wonders Ep. 53
33:38 mins
— This story twists and turns quite a bit throughout the plot, so I’ll just give the setup and how I felt about it. It focuses on a young girl who has magical harp-playing powers.  She lives in your standard sword and sorcery castle (remember what I said about tropes) and it is the day her sister is to meet a new husband. Court intrigue ensues and we learn about the rather creative magic mechanism employed by the author.  The ending really surprised me — taking the tone of the story for a sharp turn.  It’s interesting and escapist, a great medieval fantasy tale!

“The Seven Samovars” by Peter Sursi
Lightspeed Magazine September Issue
28:10 mins
— I loved this story to death.  It’s a fairly short piece that follows a young woman on her first day of work at a bizarre little cafe.  An old woman, the proprietor of the shop, guides our narrator through the mystical potions available for dispensation to customers.  The introduction of magic is subtle and each new “samovar” adds a touch more urban fantasy excitement.  The real star of this story is Cassandra Campbell, the narrator with a great Eastern European (or maybe Russian) accent.  Listen to this story with a steaming cup in your hand for sure!

“The Seals of New R’lyeh” by Gregory Frost
StarShipSofa Ep. 255 (Timecode 10:00)
About 30 mins
— Usually I choose stories that will appeal to most readers, but this one is really for the Lovecraft-enthused.  Here we follow a thief and his partner in the heist of some rare otherworldly seals.  During the hijinks, the two thieves find themselves in the transition from our world to a post-apocalyptic world ruled by Cthulhu.  I’m not sure how I feel about the ending, but I rarely see a story that describes our world AFTER the invasion of that tentacle-bearded menace, so it was an interesting romp.

Side Note:
You’ll notice that we have two stories from both The Drabblecast and Lightspeed Magazine this month.  Normally I like to spread out featured stories among different markets if I can, but my primary mission is to find the most impactful, interesting stories, and these two markets knocked it out of the park this month.  In fact, if I had my way, I’d feature ALL of this month’s Lightspeed stories if I had the space.  Check um out if you need more audio candy.

“Judgement Passed” by Jerry Oltion
The Drabblecast Ep. 257
1:05:56 hrs/mins
— This story follows the *trope* of a “left behind” story.  That is, for those unfamiliar, a story that chronicles the plight of people left behind after the Christian Rapture.  All of the living and dead are taken up to heaven and only a select few are left behind.  The characters in this story, the crew of a near-c colony ship voyage, find that just this scenario has happened and they are alone on Earth.  The next few months are very interesting and I found myself engaged the whole time with both the philosophical debate and the desperate acts of the characters.  Whatever your view on heaven, you’ll get your voice heard in this one.

“The Streets of Ashkelon” by Harry Harrison
Lightspeed Magazine September Issue
49:03 mins
— This last featured story also deals with religion.  Here, however, the topic is missionary indoctrination.  A backwater trader on a backwater world finds himself on the opposing side of a gung-ho missionary who wants to convert a planet of highly logical creatures.  The philosophical show-down that occurs steps outside of a purely theological argument and focuses it’s sights on the question of organized religion and the power of ideas.  The ending goes a little gruesome, but I wonder if the outcome wasn’t the most logical for the author to choose.  I’d love to hear feedback on either of the last two stories.

*Glorious Back Issues*
Did you enjoy last month’s feature “The Wreck Of The Charles Dexter Ward Pts. 1 and 2” by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette?  My Synthetic Voices discussion group enjoyed the story so much, I thought I’d post links to the other two stories featured on The Drabblecast in the past.  I won’t leave a summary, but both stories are well-written and will give you much-needed tidbits about the Bear-Monette universe…

“Mongoose” by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette
The Drabblecast Ep. 170 and 171

“Boojum” by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette
The Drabblecast Ep. 202 and 203

*Now And Again*
A while ago, I listened to a story collection listed on called “Voices: New Media Fiction.”  There are a number of good stories on there, so feel free to take a listen.

Anyway, one of the stories on there is called “Barry Koleman, Hero,” and was written by the collection’s editor, Mur Lafferty.  It follows a man who was left out of a great generation of super heroes, only to find his own power at long last.  Now I enjoyed the story and the world it built (apparently it’s part of a larger book by Lafferty), but like most short stories, it faded in my memory.

Enter the Journey Into… Podcast.  This podcast typically features archival radio plays and serials.  For example, I’ve enjoyed some of their recent episodes of Horatio Hornblower’s adventures.  Last month, however, they also featured:

“Barry Koleman, Hero” by Mur Lafferty
Journey #45 of the Journey Into… Podcast
35:53 mins

This story is NOT the same one as its previously titled sibling.  First, the original story ENDS with an entrance into a bar called “Keepsie’s” and this new story BEGINS there.  Second, the new story is told backward, recapping the events in the first narration.  Finally, this particular production was done with a full cast of narrators, plus background sound effects.  I enjoyed both stories quite a bit, but the comparison of Mur’s initial reading and composition with this new cast recording makes the experience just a little deeper.

*A Bit of Flash*
Some flash fiction for those with a short attention span…

You Can’t Go Home Again” by Chris Munroe
The Drabblecast Ep. 256 (Timecode 00:56)
— This artful drabble (a 100 word short story) is possibly my favorite from The Drabblecast to date!  There’s something to be said for finding a thread in ancient lore and running with it.  Here ends the episode-long love letter to The Drabblecast — it’s not my fault if they put out so much great speculative fiction!!

Our closing quote for the week:
“I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter.”     –Blaise Pascal


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