Synthetic Voices #25 – December 2013 Top Picks

Check out our double episode as we try to get caught up on the end of 2013!


There’s gonna be some changes around here.
These last couple months have been really tough in terms of podcast production.  I’ve thought about it, gotten help from some awesome and supportive people, but when it comes down to it, I just don’t have as much free time as I used to.  Is the podcast going away…of course not!  I still LISTEN to all of the stories anyway, so it would be a shame if we just wasted all that brainpower I’m putting into it already.

Instead, I’m going to make some changes that should help with the workload. Starting in February (that’s the January Episode), I’m going to be decreasing the number of podcasts I feature each month.  The number one time-suck in production is actually the writing part, so I’m going to limit the number of “featured stories” after the Top Picks.  Usually I get done with the Top Picks in no time (they are usually the stories I’m most excited about), but then the feature sections drag on and on, until the month is half over. So, in short, expect a much leaner show and list in the future.

I still hope to convene our (until lately) monthly podcast discussions here in Bethesda, MD, as well, though not this month.  And I plan to throw the shorter episodes to Tony over at StarShipSofa, so that won’t change either. Hopefully this new year will bring a more sustainable flow of both Synthetic Voices and of excellent stories from our favorite fiction markets.  And thanks again to everyone who listens. :-)

*Top Picks from December 2013*

“Testimony Before an Emergency Session of The Naval Cephalopod Command” by Seth Dickinson
The Drabblecast Ep. 305
~29 mins
— This is the kind of story that Norm Sherman, host of the Drabblecast and head honcho of Escape Pod, was born to select and read.  It’s got an octopus of greater-than-average intelligence, it’s got Cold War overtones, and there is an undercurrent of psychological profiling.  There’s not much more I need to say, I think, for if you aren’t hooked by now, there’s nothing I can do about it!

“Scry” by Anne Ivy
PodCastle Ep. 292
~1hr 13 mins
— It’s nice to see a bit of relatively “high fantasy” that departs from Western-European medieval tropes and invokes a new type of magic system.  In fact, this tale of intrigue and class warfare strays surprising close to the border that Fantasy shares with Science Fiction.  The “scrying” system is a kind of Doctor Whovian way of seeing into the future and is used quite successfully throughout the story.  Also, the main antagonist from the story’s beginning is some kind of creature from beyond our conception of time and space.  The plot, which I’ve yet to mention, can be a little bit complex at times, but this is largely due to the complexity of the characters within it.  For me, it all hung together, despite the story’s ambitiousness.

“Resurrecting Mindy” by Joe Mckinney
Tales to Terrify Ep. 100 (timecode 0:09:59)
~47 mins
— Many stories recently have chronicled the lives of post-zombie apocalypse survivors, but this one took a slightly different direction. Imagine your strategy was not so much to avoid the zombies, but instead to take up with them and essentially become one of them, shambling along side.  One such imitator is found among a horde of zombies by her ex-boyfriend.  The question then becomes, is she too far down the path of the zombie to return to the few shreds of humanity left to the world, and to her?

“The Cardinals of Ever June” by Sylvia Anna Hivén
Cast of Wonders Ep. 108
~37 mins
— Two orphan children, a sister and a brother, inadvertently stumble from their bleak, Russian winter homeland, to a place of endless, beautiful summer.  As they discover, there are certain rules about visiting Ever June…and rules about staying.  I loved this fable because it felt so authentic to the culture which it was representing.  On top of this, it is extremely similar to one of my old favorite Twilight Zone episodes, The Bewitchin’ Pool.  A great tale for winter.

“Whispers in the Dark” by Andrew Marinus
Pseudopod Ep. 365
~20 mins
— I have been excited to share this story from the moment I heard it.  This was one of the scariest, most innovative horror stories I’ve listened to all year.  The point of view is myopic and isolating.  The monster is essentially the embodiment of sensory deprivation.  With only a few brief lines, the characters came together.  Here’s my recommendation: find a dark room, some headphones, and listen to this one.  Then again, I listened to it in a moving car on a sunny day and it still got to me!  Oh and listen for the screams…

“Why Don’t You Ask the Doomsday Machine?” by Elliott Essex
Strange Horizons’ December Issue
~34 mins
— Here is a bizarre story, something that I’m learning to like more and more because of Strange Horizons.  Many stories involve a doomsday machine, but very few provide a sentient point of view for that machine.  As an eternal source of death and destruction (in a sort of comic book universe), this big red button develops a personality and eventually decides to take matters into its own “hand.”  It’s an interesting look at the pettiness and homogeneity of galactic civilizations.  Hopefully we’ll reread this story before we take our first steps as a starfaring race.

*A Few Zany Stories*
…to keep things weird and light.

“Significant Figures” by Rachael Acks
Strange Horizons’ December Issue
~43 mins
— From aliens to waffle irons, this story has everything.  Hurl yourself into a great planetary invasion as a reluctant alien is forced to make some hard decisions about his place in the universe.  It’s a very silly story at its core, but I found it both diverting and clever throughout.

“Seasonal Disorder” by Heather Shaw and Tim Pratt
PodCastle Ep. 291
~30 mins
— Many stories attempt to anthropomorphize forces of nature.  Personally, I prefer it when they do so in a tongue-in-cheek way, rather than taking the idea too seriously.  It is unsurprising, then, that I wanted to share this story with you this month, which portrays a rather anti-climactic duel between the lady of Winter and the Sun.  That is, the battle is an anti-climax, not the story itself, which is quite charming!

“The Radioactive Etiquette Book” by Marissa Lingen
StarShipSofa Ep. 316 (timecode 29:00)
~1 hr 4 mins
— Does your life lack a certain level of high-complexity bureaucracy and alien intrigue?  If so, this story will certainly fill a hole in your existence.  Follow three representatives of Earth at a space station for intergalactic cooperation, where there is more kidnapping, misunderstanding, and theft than cooperation going on.  I found the snarky voice of the protagonist and the unique personalities of the people around her to be a major feature of this one.  Think of one of the more chaotic episodes of Babylon 5 and you’ll have the right idea.

*Strange Societies*
Two utopias and a deadly secret.

“Paradise Left” by Evan Dicken
EscapePod Ep. 428
~26 mins
— The utopia most often put forward in modern times is that of the post-singularity world, where machines solve all of our problems with advanced Artificial Intelligence.  In this story, things have worked out too well for one woman, who feels stifled by perfection without progress.  It’s a clever story with an instructive ending about utopias.

“Herland” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The SFFaudio Podcast Ep. 242
~7 hrs 2 mins
— This was quite a find for me.  The second of Gilman’s lost feminist utopia novels, I was not exactly prepared to like, or even finish, the book.  I have to admit, however, that the writing alone pulled me along.  There is tight pacing, engaging language (not as flowery as you might expect a book from 1915 to be), and the central premise is interesting, if a bit dated here and there.  Essentially, a group of men discover a lost valley civilization of women who have survived for thousands of years with no men present.  The biology is not really worth worrying about, but the viewpoint of these women definitely stands apart from other fictional societies I’ve read.  I won’t make an extensive job of describing the book, because the SFFaudio crew already did a nice job of that in their next episode after this one.  I do recommend you skip the introduction to the book and save it for later, as it basically spoils all three of the books in Gilman’s body of utopian work.

“The Hanging Stranger” by Philip K. Dick
Protecting Project Pulp Ep. 71
~38 mins
— This is an excellent story about a normal, easy-going town that has something terribly wrong with it.  A man gradually realizes that no one around him is concerned about a grotesque figure hanging in the busiest intersection in town.  As things spiral further and further (as so many of Dick’s stories do), pastoral serenity gives way to panic and terror for our protagonist.  The whole thing wraps up in a lovely bow, demonstrating just why we venerate Philip K. Dick’s stories so much.

Our closing quote for the week:
“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”  –Oscar Wilde


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