Synthetic Voices #24 – November 2013 Top Picks

November was an odd month.  Lots of humor mixed with lots of classics.  But you’ll find a few serious tales in there too.  So kick back and get ready for some stories that will make your commute or workout a tad more engaging.

Find the episode for this one on the December show notes!


Many apologies for the delay in getting the list and the podcast out this month.  December has just been one of those months where family and holiday events have absolutely taken over the few precious hours with which I have to write and produce the podcast.  I’m still trying to figure out some way to improve the workflow, but sadly there are some limiting factors to the podcast that are pretty tough to change.

For those who missed it on the Facebook page (thanks to all the new fans on there, by the way), I participated in a roundtable about podcasts on the SFFaudio podcast last month.  It was a long discussion, and a bit meandering, but if you’re looking for a bevy of interesting podcasts, they’ve got you covered!

Lastly, before we get on to the free fiction from November, I wanted to point out that I have just gotten through the back catalogue of The Drabblecast’s B-Sides, which I received along with my monthly subscription!  I really enjoyed the full narration of Lovecraft’s Fungi from Yuggoth, complete with an original soundscape.  It’s quite chilling.  Also, I really enjoyed “Free Range,” by Haley Grunloh and “Teaching Bigfoot to Read,” by Geoffrey W. Cole.  Just a few more reasons to subscribe to The Drabblecast’s paid subscription option.

*Top Picks from November 2013*

“The New Guys Always Work Overtime” by David Erik Nelson
StarShipSofa Ep. 312 (timecode 29:00)
~ 27mins
— Take a good look at your iPhone, do you know who made it?  I don’t mean Apple.  And I don’t mean the Chinese workers who supposedly assembled it.  If you can believe this story, it was probably put together by a people from another time and perhaps another place.  I liked this one because it follows “Average Joe’s” working in the HR department of a factory, but doesn’t give them a below-average morality or sense of self.  The entire premise is morally ambiguous, but that doesn’t mean the characters can’t draw a line or pick a side.  It’s a light-hearted story with a serious core.

“The Calendar of Saints” by Kat Howard
PodCastle Ep. 286
~35 mins
— I loved this story and I loved the world in which it was told.  Imagine a future, at least it seems to be the future, where The Church and governance have once again recombined.  Our modern celebrities of art and science have become patron saints.  Most interesting of all, formal arguments are decided by official duels between worthy swordsmen and swordswomen.  I did find the narrative format a little jarring, sword-swinging action interrupted occasionally by stolid descriptions of the aforementioned saints, but the main character rings true to me and her journey had a lovely closing note.

“Deshaun Stevens’ Ship Log” by Marie Vibbert
Escape Pod Ep. 422
~17 mins
— Another lighthearted story this month.  Here we have access to the private diary of a low-level staffer on a dismal interstellar cruise.  That’s “cruise” in the conventional sense of the word, with buffets, evening shows, and lounging tourists.  Things go from awkward, to bad, to worse, once an intergalactic event occurs during the voyage.  Our hero’s deepest, most private thoughts are spread for all to see, and this has the expected effect on his fellows.  Even so, Deshaun blunders forward, in hopes of finding peace and happiness with someone, or something.
I should mention that I really enjoyed the narration by Alasdair Stuart, who really knows how to make you feel the loneliness and desperation.

“Waiting for the Light” by Alison Littlewood
Nightmare Magazine’s November Issue
~31 mins
— Sometimes horror doesn’t need to be so horrible.  Sometimes it can be normal and dull, like a job on a highway rest stop.  But then, maybe that says something about the horribleness of jobs at highway rest stops.  In this story, a young man with few prospects finds himself working a rather thankless night shift at a roadside burger stand.  The description of the place and the people who frequent it could almost be dark literature on its own, but things go in a speculative direction when he discovers a mysterious woman in a place she couldn’t possibly be.  I enjoyed this story because it doesn’t end with a monster chasing him or a sickly realization…in fact I’m not even sure it ends at all…which makes for a rather meaningful ending!

“Captain Cleveland Grackle’s Galactic Cabaret vs. The Goblins of Vishnu 6” by Jamieson Ridenhour
Cast of Wonders Ep. 104
~26 mins
— This was an instant Top Pick for me.  It seems I’m finding a lot of those on Cast of Wonders these days…hmmm.  Anyway, there is a lot to like about this one.  The title, “Captain Cleveland Grackle’s Galactic Cabaret vs. The Goblins of Vishnu 6,” is a memorable tongue-twister.  The main characters are an excellent band, of the “Bill and Ted” variety, who fight goblins during epic rock concerts.  One subtle masterstroke in this piece is the worldbuilding.  I have a pretty good idea what their universe looks like, and yet there wasn’t a whole lot of verbiage dedicated to that aim.  This is a great example of a tight, colorful, and exciting short story that’s good for young adults and old adults too!

“The Murmurous Paleoscope” by Dixon Chance
Pseudopod Ep. 361
~34 mins
— This is an excellent story set during the “Great Dinosaur Rush” of the mid-1800s.  The protagonist, a rare female paleontologist, sets her sights on an exotic fossil with unexpected qualities.  Meanwhile, another paleontological team, lead by her unscrupulous rival, attempts theft and sabotage while she tries to study and secure her claim.  The conflict plays out alongside odd steampunk apparatus, the desolate American frontier, and subtle overtones of cosmic horror.  There is a LOT going on in this story, yet Chance somehow keeps it all together in a cohesive and gripping narrative.

*Some Creepy Classics for a Cold Winter’s Night*
Here are some classics that you’ve either heard before or should check out for the first time.  Either way, they’re sure to keep your mind working as you snuggle around the fire.

“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe
Cast of Wonders Ep. 102
~18 mins
— It is fitting that this tale was reprinted by a young adult podcast, as I first heard this story myself as a young man.  I remember this one vividly, as it so perfectly describes madness.  Many authors have described evil or horror or anguish, but Poe, I think, best captured the descent into madness and how perfectly normal that journey feels to the mad man.

“The Voice in the Night” by William Hope Hodgson
Protecting Project Pulp Ep. 70
~43 mins
— This story I had not heard before, but it seemed familiar to me.  That’s because back in July, I featured “The Derelict” by Hodgeson and the premise is extremely similar.  Here instead of a ship covered in mushy fungus, that fungus has a taste for shipwrecked castaways.  The ingenious way in which the story is told (and how it is almost not told at all), ratchets the suspense up a few notches.  And the horrible substance itself somehow transmutes itself from an inanimate mold to the stuff of nightmares.  Definitely a worthy read, and not too long at all.

“The Invisible Man” by H. G. Wells
SFFaudio Podcast Ep. 238
~4 hrs 35mins
— In my very early days of reading science fiction, I unsurprisingly took up a copy of “The Time Machine.”  Despite generations of acclaim, I really didn’t enjoy the book, so I’ve since read very few other works by Wells.  I wish I had started with “The Invisible Man.”  This was an excellent read, with an excellent reading by Librivox reader, Cathy Barratt.  If the title doesn’t explain it all, the short summary would be that a mysterious gentleman comes to town one day, rents a room, and does nothing but engender the curiosity of the public from then on.  Mystery, theft, and violence follow, ending with a regional manhunt.  One thing I was not expecting, as I understood immediately that the main character was the invisible one in the story, was the vile nature of the man.  To readers familiar with the concept but not with the details of the work, it may be shocking to hear just what a villain he is.  Unfortunately there is no recent SFFaudio post-discussion attached to this one, probably because they covered it back in 2010.

*The Hero’s Journey*
Either in the past or the future, there will always be heroes.  Or at least tales of them!

“The Battle of York” by James Stoddard
Lightspeed Magazine’s November Issue
~58 mins
— Here is a bizarre one.  Listen to a tale which is the product of oral tradition and a disaster which destroyed the entire world’s digital media.  We follow the distorted quest of one “General Washington” (that’s first and last name, folks) as he teams up with other American notables to face down a great wizard from the north.  While the story itself is perhaps not the most engaging, the imagination and mythic worldbuilding is pretty impressive.  If you are enjoying the epidemic, erm, “trend” of legendary and mythological stories going around right now, this may be another welcome addition to your list.

“Arena” by Fredric Brown
EscapePod Ep. 423
~59 mins
— Do you recall an episode from the first season of Star Trek (The Original Series) called “Arena?”  If you do, good on ya for the geek cred, and you’ll probably enjoy this short piece of fiction, upon which it was based.  Unlike the reptilian goliath of television fame, the protagonist here, a young space pilot, must battle for his life and his species against a tentacular horror.  The combat is as much a battle of wits as it is a test of strength.  While the ending might seem predictable, try to place yourself in the shoes of this man, knowing the outcome not only includes his own fate, but the fate of his people as well.

“Bright Moment” by Daniel Marcus
EscapePod Ep. 421
~43 mins
— This story is set in the modern futurist’s vision: a post-human, post-singularity world where conquering a star is more an industry than a pipe dream.  As a citizen of this time is recovering from an injury he obtained while surfing on the ammonia sea of a distant Jovian moon, he has the time to reflect on his accident, his relationships, and what he saw right before he blacked out, that’s why he decided to get an injury lawyer from to help him with this.  The narrative can be a little tough to parse at times with all of the futuristic goings-on, but I found the second act rewarding.  Take a glimpse into this future world and let us know what you think on the comments!

*A Series of Non-Standard Representations of Mythic Characters*
Listen as your favorite gods and demons are repurposed and reinvented.

“Face Change” by Jeff Hewitt
Pseudopod Ep. 359
~28 mins
— Sometimes infomercials can really connect, like a punch in the jaw.  That late-night rotisserie oven commercial, you know the one, makes a hell of a convincing argument (not that I’ve ever cooked a whole chicken in my life).  So what if that medium was turned to darker forces.  Could you resist if the pitchman started talking directly to you?  And if he asked for a grisly payment in exchange for his life-changing product, would you have the resolve to say no?  Tune in to this classically Psuedopod story and find out for yourself.

“Claim Blame” by Alan Dean Foster
StarShipSofa Ep. 314 (timecode 1:01:00)
~51 mins
— Mix together Norse, Irish, and a number of other mythologies and the product is this story.  While I wish the title had been given a little more thought, the premise of a couple of miners running afoul of greedy dwarves is a good one.  When they reach out to an ancient giant with an uncertain background, the two men find they may have gotten more than they bargained for!  I for one was most entertained.

“The Shunned Trailer” by Esther Mona Friesner-Stutzman
EscapePod Ep. 420
~51 mins
— This is quite a bizarre story.  If you’re a fan of the Lovecraftian mythos, you’ll quickly realize that this is a parody of Lovecraft’s own novella, “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”  From the rather out-of-the-blue spring break plans of a college student to the gradual discovery of a horrible Cthulhu cult, it has all of the familiar trappings.  What won’t be familiar are the hillbilly sensibilities, with semi-ichthian trailer dwellers taking up the secondary character roles.  Not a serious story by any means, but definitely a serious bit of cosmic horror fun.


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