Synthetic Voices Episode #7 – Selections from July 2012

I have to admit that July wasn’t the strongest month for short audio fiction. That said, I guarantee that there were at least six interesting ones! Check them out below…

Take a listen to the episode here:

Subscribe via iTunes!

*Featured Stories*
There will be an extra story on the list this month.  My podcast wires got crossed at some point last month and I omitted a fabulous story that I had intended to feature.  I’ll put it here first to make up for that!

“The Way of Cross and Dragon” by George R. R. Martin
Lightspeed Magazine June Issue
52:02 mins
— You may not believe this, but this short story was my first introduction to the writing of George R. R. Martin.  I have been fervently watching the “Game of Thrones” HBO series, but I hadn’t experienced any of his written work.  To me, the quality of this piece demonstrated why Mr. Martin is revered among today’s greats.  The story is set in a futurist, humans and aliens universe where the Catholic church sends its forces out to bring down heretics wherever they crop up.  The protagonist is a battle-scarred commander of this force.  He is sent to investigate a brand new heretical sect and finds a great deal more than he expects.  I won’t spoil any of the masterful plotting, but I personally think this story is great example of how short fiction can still tell complex and nuanced tales without sacrifice.

“Astrophilia” by Carrie Vaughn
Clarkesworld Magazine # 70
53:40 mins
— Did you enjoy “Amaryllis” published last year by Lightspeed Magazine and nominated for a Hugo award?  I should also mention that it won my own club’s WSFA Small Press Award that year, too.  Well Carrie Vaughn has written another story in the same universe and it lives up to its predecessor.  If you’re not familiar, the story takes place in a future where resources are scarce and people must live in a kind of neo-communist collective in order to maintain civilization.  Astrophilia tells a smaller tale of a girl in transition from her old household to a new and strange one.  While it does maintain some of the “strong but good people under hardship” theme, it also asks deeper questions, like “is status quo good enough?”  Vaughn interrogates the balance between safe survival and following the promptings of human imagination.  Also, if you like astronomy, the story takes on the age-old question of relevance.

“Jimmy’s Roadside Cafe” by Ramsey Shehadeh
The Drabblecast Ep. 249
31:34 mins
— Post-apocalypse stories abound these days.  Even so, authors always seem to be able to find new ways of playing with the medium.  In this story, we visit three lonesome souls who find themselves huddled under one man’s bizarre and forced reality.  The action isn’t groundbreaking for this genre, but the message feels original.  It’s the shortest story this month and I think it’s worth a listen.  Also, if you enjoy this story, I recommend “Creature,” also by Shehadeh, from Drabblecast Ep. 206.

“Ours is the Prettiest” by Nalo Hopkinson
Podcastle Ep. 215
1:11:15 mins
— Not many of the stories I recommend are those read by their own author.  This is usually because many authors lack the skills that professional narrators have spent years developing.  Even so, sometimes the author’s voice is the appropriate one.  Hopkinson’s lovely accent takes this story, originally part of the Welcome To Bordertown story collection, to a whole ‘nother level.  The tale takes place in a small town between our own world and that of the elves.  Relationships, transitions, and metamorphoses are explored during a wild New Orleans-style festival.  If you enjoy this one, I recommend “Shannon’s Law” by Cory Doctorow (a runner up for my Best Podcasted SF of 2011).  The voice is totally different, but it’s the story that made me fall in love with Bordertown in the first place.

“The Caretaker” by Ken Liu
Escape Pod Ep. 354
33:07 mins
— A disclaimer, I’m a sucker for a Ken Liu story.  He tends to find a delightful interplay between social commentary and technological advances.  This story, one of robots, immigration, and old age, is no exception.  Following Liu’s style, he will lead you down a garden path…and then deck you with a sucker punch…at least that’s what happened to me.  By the way, If you’d like something lighter (and less tear-jerking), I also suggest “Food for Thought,” a comedic piece also featured in Escape Pod’s July lineup.

“Digging” by Ian McDonald
StarShipSofa Ep. 247 (timecode 34:25)
~50:00 mins
— What if your life, and the life of everyone you ever met, was dedicated to a single, resolute purpose?  In this story, that purpose is digging a giant hole on Mars.  We follow a very young girl as she faces her very first adventure outside of the digging machine that supports her whole world.  You’ll probably either like or dislike this one based on whether you buy into the world presented to you, but I think the subtle tension underlying the massive project adds a lot to what might otherwise be a rather run-of-the-mill coming of age story.  Let me know what you think in the comments!

*For Those Who Miss Creative Writing Class*
Two stories last month will remind you of writing prompts and all those literary devices you had to memorize at one time or another in school.  They both happen to be Lightspeed stories.

“Requiem in the Key of Prose” by Jake Kerr
Lightspeed Magazine July Issue
19:22 mins
—  The author of this story takes a suspenseful narrative and breaks it into its component literary elements. It’s really quite an interesting way to tell a story, it turns out!

“Four Short Novels” by Joe Haldeman
Lightspeed Magazine July Issue
23:49 mins
— Here, the prompt is “tell a story about how immortality would impact the world.”  The author shares four different takes on four different types of potential immortality.

*The Classic Fiction Corner*
Classic fiction streaming into your ears!

“Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves” on Podcastle (Ep. 216-217)
Part 1 – 35:16 mins
Part 2 – 51:59 mins
— I probably don’t need to introduce this classic story, as you have probably heard references to “Open Sesame” throughout popular culture.  Even so, it’s nice of Podcastle to narrate this story for the aurally-inclined.  I won’t go into the history of the story, as Podcastle’s host does a nice job outlining the origins of Ali Baba’s adventure.  Oh and the narration is excellent on this one.

*A Bucket of New Podcasts*
Looking for some new podcasts to freshen up your weekly fiction listening?  I suggest checking out the District of Wonders podcast family.  You’re already familiar with StarShipSofa for science fiction, but now there is Crime City Central, for crime stories, Protecting Project Pulp, for pulp fiction, and Tales to Terrify, for, you guessed it, horror.  Now I haven’t spent an enormous amount of time vetting these new audio magazines, but sometimes trying something blind is the best way to discover a new passion.  Plus, I’m sure these new endeavors will be just as interesting to listen to as Tony Smith’s already fantastic audio magazine.

Our closing quote for the week:
“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” –Mark Twain


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