Synthetic Voices Episode #6 – Selections from June 2012

This month’s SF stories are a bit… eclectic!  Plus, a big passel of gruesome horror stories for those with darker tastes.

Take a listen to the episode here:

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*New Synthetic Voices Logo*
Over the last couple months, I’ve been working with the creative and artistically gifted Thomas Woldering. He has been kind enough to design a logo that is far superior to the ugly one we’ve used until now.  You can see it now on the show notes or as the album art embedded in the episode’s audio file.  If you like the new design, share your thoughts in the comments!

*Editorial on Audio Quality*
I’d like to mention something that has been bothering me ever since I began this podcasting thing.

The quality of a print book is typically second to the content inscribed on its pages.  Not so with audio fiction.  Many things can go wrong in the narration of a fantastic story.  Two such stories were published this month by fiction markets that frequently earn a mention on Synthetic Voices.  One story had an absolutely ear-splitting “EEEEEE” noise that overrode the entire recording.  To make it through the whole thing, I had to listen in my car with the fan turned all the way up (as a source of white noise).  I wanted to include it in the lineup of horror stories this month, but alas, I decided at the beginning to judge a piece as a whole, audio aberrations included.|

The other story that tweaked my ears a bit this month was even more inaudible (for lack of a better word).  It was a duet recording where each part had clearly been recorded in a different location.  There is nothing wrong with that premise (Podcastle just did a very nice cast recording a few months ago), but the difference in sound quality between the two speakers was so dramatic that I had to stop listening after only a few minutes.  The effect was probably enhanced by the fact that one of the speakers was using a very thick, affected accent.

I don’t point fingers without recognizing that I, myself, am an amateur podcaster.  I don’t always enunciate as well as I’d like.  I’m aware of a faint echo in the sound of the show (this recording is the first in a number of experiments to reduce that).  That said, if I, as a hypothetical editor, had heard either of these two episodes prior to publication, they would have been sent back to either the narrators or a capable audio editor.  Podcasted fiction is a joyous and expanding genre of literature entertainment and we should treat it with the respect it deserves!  Ok, that’s my little rant, let’s get on with the featured stories!

*Featured Stories*

“Origin” by Ari Goelman
Escape Pod Ep #249
42:58 mins
— This month Escape Pod ran a whole lot of super hero stories.  This one caught my eye because it cleverly mixed the wacky with the serious.  The story focuses on a female crime fighter with thermodynamic super powers (think fire and ice) who finds herself “in the family way.”  Her boyfriend is a Superman knock-off who becomes distant and she has to decide the next steps on her own.  The end gets a little silly (like most of the super hero stories on Escape Pod), but it made for some nice escapism.

“A Nice Jewish Golem” by Ao-Hui Lin
The Drabblecast Ep #245
14:46 mins
— This story is one of those that improved 10-fold as a result of a fantastic narrator.  Sondra Harris reads the tale in the voice of a worried, meddling, but ultimately loving Jewish mother.  The story follows a Hebrew golem and his adoptive mother as he navigates the world of interfaith dating. This story strikes me as a good example of “weird” fiction.  It inserts a bizarre, archaic monster into the modern day and then completely accepts that weirdness as everyday and ordinary.  It’s delightful!

“Renfrew’s Course” by John Langan
Lightspeed Magazine June Issue
48:41 mins
— This wasn’t my favorite story of the month, but had an interesting narrative style and I think some listeners might get something out of it.  The story follows two men, a couple, hiking through a park and discussing the legend of Renfrew, a wizard rumored to have lived nearby.  As they walk further down the path, one of the men finds himself jumping back and forth through his past, future, and present, always in the midst of his tumultuous relationship with his companion.  He gains a greater perspective on their shared life…only to find an unsettling surprise (and a wizard) at the end of their path.  I didn’t really enjoy the ending, but maybe that’s what the author intended.

“The Bee Charmer of Beckett Falls” by Patty Templeton
Pseudopod Ep #286
39:55 mins
— This was one of my favorite stories this month.  I love the mythos of the carnival and traveling shows (if you’re still in a Bradbury frame of mind, check out Something Wicked This Way Comes).  Here, the protagonist and his apiarily talented lover lay sucking their last breaths at the beginning of the story.  Told backwards, this love story takes on a deep and tragic tone, even during moments of levity, of which there are many.  I won’t go into too much of the delicious detail, but the tone, voice, and events all match that wonderful carnival ethos.

“We Never Talk About My Brother” by Peter S. Beagle
Podcastle Ep #214
1:05:08 hrs/mins
— I’ve saved this story for last because I’m not sure whether is a good story or a bad one.  I LOVE the rustic vernacular of the main character, but I’m ambivalent about the premise (and lengthy exposition describing that premise).  The story reminds me of many drafts I’ve reviewed on, the online speculative fiction writing group.  It has a nice style, but lets the idea drive the story, not the characters.  This is very common among rookie writers (myself included).  That said, I can’t tell whether I’m just jaded from having read so many of those or if it’s just not a winning strategy overall.  Also, I wasn’t too thrilled with the Yin and Yang analogy that is already so widely used in fiction about siblings.  Why is it on the list? Because it stuck with me, and maybe it will stick with you too!

*A Block of Gruesome Stories*
This month there was an absolute TROVE of dark, twisted stories.  I didn’t want to fill up the main list with nightmares, as I know some listeners avoid horror altogether, so I’ve put together a special mini-list for you here.  All of them are from Pseudopod, except for one featured in Lightspeed.  Be warned, these are closer to “true horror” stories than those that I usually present on the podcast.  Not for the squeamish or faint of heart!

“She Said” by Kirstyn McDermott
Pseudopod Ep #284
40:12 mins
— A very twisted story about a painter and the effects his dark inspiration have on his lovers.

“Kill Screen” by Chris Lewis Carter
Pseudopod Ep #285
26:35 mins
— Don’t listen to this if you’re all alone.  By far the scariest story of the month, made more so by very nice audio cues that will put your directly into the protagonist’s shoes.  This legitimately freaked me out!

“My Teacher, My Enemy” by Kelsey Ann Barrett
Lightspeed Magazine June Issue
33:31 mins
— This story isn’t really true horror like the others, but there is enough “people dissecting” (think The Most Dangerous Game, not The Silence of the Lambs) to warrant an extra advisory.  The story really revolves around finding your power and individuality and was an interesting listen.

*Some Audio Bradbury*
This month, to honor his passing, the podcast Journey Into… featured three public domain audio dramas based on Ray Bradbury’s fiction.  The first two, “There Will Come Soft Rains” and “The Earthmen,” are complete adaptations, where the text has been converted into a kind of audio play.  The stories are still interesting, but if you’re a Bradbury purist, you’ll notice some subtle differences (“The Earthmen” actually has a slightly different ending).  The third story, “Kaleidoscope,” was read verbatim, as far as I can tell.  All three are classics and it was fun to listen to his work in another format.

*A Bit of Flash*
This segment features flash fiction in podcast form.

“I Flunked Kindergarten” by Douglas Hackle
The Drabblecast Ep #247
1:41 mins
— I enjoyed the tone of this story, though some of that might have been from Norm’s reading.  The story is a drabble, 100 words exactly.

Our closing quote for the week:
“Carnies built this country, the carnival part of it anyway.” –Homer Simpson


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