Synthetic Voices #21 – August 2013 Top Picks

The audio podcast portion of Synthetic Voices is back with a vengeance, delivering TONS of excellent fiction from August.


*Announcements*

First of all, yes, I’m back.  The move knocked me on my heels a little bit, but almost all of the moving boxes have been emptied and I’m back in the podcasting saddle again.  If you missed us last month, there were still Top Picks and featured stories, just check out ScienceIsMagic.com for all the links and descriptions.

Speaking of moving, those of you who attend the monthly podcast discussion, that’s moving too!  We’ll be at La Madeleine in Bethesda, MD, on Mon, Sept 23rd from 7:30pm-10pm.  If you haven’t come before, please listen to a few stories and come on by.  It’s always an excellent time!  We’ll be in the reserved section known as “The Library.”

Here’s the Facebook link with more info on the podcast discussion.

*Top Picks from August 2013*

“The Lovers” by Eleanor Arnason
Clarkesworld Magazine’s August Issue
~1 hr
— A lot of stories nowadays use fantastic worlds to explore gender, sexuality, and other topics that were largely hidden away by previous generations.  Often these stories bug me because they feel like required reading in a women’s studies class, not engaging fiction with a solid plot, characters, and, in this case, world-building.  This story bucked that trend, however.  In it, a female protagonist in an alien culture must navigate her duty to her family, her life goals, and the difficulties of consorting with MEN.  I say this last because her society generally keeps men and women separated except during “breeding.”  Reading back on these last few lines, it does sound like a pretty dull women’s studies text…but somehow this story is fantastic instead.  The culture was perverse but believable and her experiences and decisions felt genuine.  You may just have to take my word on this one until you read it for yourself.

“Face Value” by Sean Williams
Lightspeed Magazine’s August Issue
~33 mins
— It’s been a while since we’ve had a nice detective story, so here ya go!  In this futuristic tale, we follow a couple of cops as they investigate a death threat on an inventor.  They live in a world where rapid fabrication and matter assembly/disassembly has affected the culture on almost every level.  This inventor’s creation threatens to unhinge that whole paradigm…or does it?
If you enjoy the story, there is at least one more of these detective stories in the same universe.  “The Missing Metatarsals” was reprinted in Lightspeed Magazine back in May of this year.  The “d-mat universe” is apparently the setting for Williams’ larger “Twinmaker” series.

“The Call of the Pancake Factory” by Ken Liu
The Drabblecast Ep. 293
~35 mins
— This story contains no dead parents and only a brief mention of Asia…so how could it be a Ken Liu story?  Well, it is, and it’s a fantastic one at that.  There is a significant humorous vibe throughout, which is nice, because it offsets the Lovecraftian overtones splendidly.  Essentially a crafty corporate spy on the run hides out on a strange tropical island.  There he meets a cult worshiping a familiar elder god.  The direction this one takes may catch you off guard and perhaps make you laugh.  Whether farce or homage, I cannot tell, but I love seeing an author put their own spin on the Cthulhu mythos.

“The Easily Forgotten” by Philip M. Roberts
Pseudopod Ep. 348
~28 mins
— This is a harsh story so be warned.  When people fall through the cracks, bad things can happen to them, especially violent things like those seen in this story.  The speculative element in “The Easily Forgotten” is downplayed to the point where it might not have happened at all, but I liked the way the protagonist, a woman living under the protection of a rich halfway house operator, takes the weirdness in stride along with the rest of the madness in the house.  I’ll be eager to hear what people think of this one.

“Open 28 Hours” by Darin Ramsey
Cast of Wonders Ep. 91
~12 mins
— On a lighter note, this YA story about a convenience store out in space should make you smile.  A hapless cashier must make the best of his situation as a number of potentially hostile aliens crowd into his establishment.  It’s a quick one, so think of it as a palate cleanser between two tougher stories.

“Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” by Eugie Foster
Tales to Terrify Ep. 86
~1 hr
— This is a trippy story.  I think that’s the best word for it.  Too much introduction would ruin the gradual exposition, but I’ll say what I liked about it.  I liked the conflict in the protagonist between its biological imperatives and its desire for independence and happiness.  I liked that one day might be dreadful and brutal and the next so superfluous as to be devoid of any substance at all.  I liked the final reveal and the conundrum left for our protagonist.  There are some harsh moments in this one as well, be warned.

*Three Completely Different Stories*
Usually I try to stick a few stories together with a common theme…these I just liked, but they couldn’t be more different!

“Nutshell” by Jeffrey Wikstrom
Escape Pod Ep. 410
~31 mins
— In this story, the characters are kept in a cold-sleep while traveling over a vast distance to a colony planet.  The travelers are completely conscious, if not lucid, existing in an endless world of their own creation.  Predictably there comes a time for the journey to end and for those worlds to dissolve.  Puttering happily in his own world, the main character is greeted by a goofy AI avatar attempting to stabilize the passengers and prepare them for terrestrial life.  Things don’t go quite as planned and the plot follows a circuitous path from there.  I especially enjoyed the last line of the story.

“Breathless in the Deep” by Cory Skerry
Lightspeed Magazine’s August Issue
~35 mins
— Ghosts seem all the more ghoulish when they appear on the high seas.  Here we follow a young pearl diver who has almost earned her freedom from her boss and owner.  Set in an interesting spirit mythos, the story takes a magical turn as she learns a grisly secret that could become her own fate.  The world and the magic particularly captured me in this one.

“Exhibit Piece” by Philip K. Dick
The SFFaudio Podcast Ep. 224
~1 hr 33 mins (including post-discussion)
— Do you know what’s real?  That’s what this pulp era story asks the reader.  We see a futuristic world (at least futuristic to Philip K. Dick) that vilifies individuality and the study of anything that goes against the ways of the overwhelming world government.  Our hero is a historian who has created an exact replica of a 1950’s neighborhood, the time when this story was originally published.  He finds himself drawn inside it and cannot be sure if he is from the future or the 50’s.  The existential crisis framed at the end of the story is classic Dick, and I really enjoyed how the SFFaudio crew broke it down after all was said and done.

*A Couple of Fantastic Podiobook Series*

Over the last few months I have been pleased to discover a couple of wonderful podiobooks.  What are podiobooks, you ask?  Popularized by author Scott Sigler, a podiobook is novel-length book which has been broken up into podcast episodes (usually corresponding to its chapters) and strung together on a standard podcast RSS feed.  Essentially you can subscribe to the book or books and the chapters will flow into your player as they are posted to the feed.  There is a website dedicated to such feeds, podiobooks.com.

I have to admit that MOST of the podiobooks I’ve come across are pretty poor (just like most podcasts), but I was very happy to discover two solid podiobooks out there with expert speculative world-building.  I point out this world-building aspect because short stories often lack the verbosity to fully flesh out a new world, so podiobooks are a great medium for audio representations of speculative worlds and universes.

But enough byplay, let’s get to the books!

“Tales of the Left Hand” by John Meagher
TalesOfTheLeftHand.com
As of this recording, in the midst of Book 3
— Join the author/narrator as he explores “The Frees,” a vast archipelago where merchant ships and traders rule the day.  This sword and sail adventure series (with a touch of magic) follows the “Left Hand” of a duke of one of the islands.  The name comes in opposition to the “Right Hand,” the duke’s political advisor.  Where the Right Hand is a visible puppeteer, the Left Hand stays hidden and can cut the strings of any of the duke’s enemies.  The world is engaging, the sea lore is believable, the characters will steal your heart, and the combination of mysterious magic and court intrigue has me downloading excitedly whenever a new episode pops up.  I definitely recommend this one for download; though, I also recommend catching up on the story so far, as there is a lot of subterfuge at work.  If you love adventure fantasy, I can’t imagine you won’t like this one.

“The Leviathan Chronicles” by Christof Laputka
LeviathanChronicles.com
As of this recording, in the midst of Season 2
— This full-cast “audio adventure,” complete with the most impressive sound effects I’ve ever come across on a podcast, will take you down a rabbit hole of conspiracies, shadowy organizations, and perhaps a bit of Arthur C. Clarke-style magic.  The characters are extremely well-acted, if not quite as loveable as those in Tales of the Left Hand, and the twists and turns in the plot have kept me engaged for over 30 lengthy episodes.  I can’t give away too many details about the story, as the listener begins completely in the dark and must gradually learn about the world of Leviathan.  This is another series that you will need to start at the beginning in order to understand the story so far, but again, listening to such wonderfully creative stories should never be a chore.

*Three Bouts of Intense Horror*
Each story grows more bizarre until we reach a crescendo of death and gore.  None of these are for the feint of heart.

“The Tree Of Life” by C.L. Moore
Podcastle Ep. 272
~1 hr 20mins
— This is another mind-blowing story.  Travel to Mars with a human refugee as he discovers strange secrets of the ancient Martians.  He then finds himself magically transported to a strange twilight world populated with bizarre creatures and a god which will summon remembrances of Lovecraft and Bloch.

“Calls From My Girlfriend” by Jon Comics
The NoSleep Podcast Season 3 Ep. 8 (timecode 21:40)
~26 mins
— Creepy stories like this one don’t often make it onto the podcast.  There are few outlets that really publish such campfire stories, so I thoroughly appreciate NoSleep for doing so.  I’ll set you up with the premise and see if I can hook you.  What would you do if you receive a phone call from your girlfriend…while she was sleeping right next to you?  Not only does the author deliver on this premise, but he then takes that terror and runs with it, crafting a truly nightmarish scenario.

“The Red Empress” by Mike Allen
Tales to Terrify Ep. 85
~1 hr mins
— A boarded-up riverboat, ghoulish banquets, and cannibalism are the major motifs in this story.  That’s either going to appeal to you or not.  I did enjoy both the plotting and the reading of this one, but it definitely will have you on the edge of your chair throughout a large part of it.  There is a looming brutality throughout that I found both intimidating and captivating.

*Some H. P. Lovecraft for Dessert*
One more thing….on a number of podcasts, August is Lovecraft Month (I believe it’s his birthday month?).  I already featured one such story from The Drabblecast, but there two more that are probably worth a mention.

Tales to Terrify did a 3 part rendition of “At the Mountains of Madness,” beautifully read by Bob Neufeld.  This work is one of Lovecraft’s most famous and was a great introduction to the work for this newbie cosmic horror fan. [Part 1, Part 2, Part 3]

Also, The SFFaudio Podcast played a reading of “The Dreams in the Witch House.”  This latter piece did not thrill me nearly as much, but it is a bizarre thing and the discussion afterwards was quite enlightening, so I strongly recommend listening to it for the post-mortem.

Our closing quote for the week:
“I never ask a man what his business is, for it never interests me. What I ask him about are his thoughts and dreams.”  –H. P. Lovecraft

*Credits*

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