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SFF Podcasts

I listen to a lot of audio fiction. My commute is only about 20 minutes each way, but it’s astonishing how much you can get through over time. Moby Dick, for example, and Crime and Punishment, and most of the Ender series, and all of Lord of the Rings with the Silmarillion thrown in. I’ve been doing it for twenty years. That’s a lot of fiction.

Recently I’ve been listening to short story podcasts, especially in SFF, and I thought I’d share the ones I’m listening to regularly and what I like about them.

  • The triumverate of Escape Pod (SF), Podcastle (Fantasy) and Pseudopod (Horror) (all run by the umbrella organization Escape Artists) has to start any list like this. They’re well-established and high quality. EP and PC typically prefer to broadcast previously-published stories, while PsP is more open to new ones. I can’t say much about Pseudopod because I’m not much of a horror fan, but I have enjoyed the Grady Hendrix stories they’ve done. I love the editorial decisions made by Escape Pod and Podcastle; there are several wonderful authors to whom I was first introduced by one of these podcasts, notably . Both Escape Pod and Podcastle brought in new Editors in Chief recently, but I see no indication of any change in their editorial policy or quality; things continue to go splendidly. My only quibble is that the recording quality is sometimes uneven. These podcasts use volunteer readers, which means that sometimes they get trained actors like  to read, using good equipment, and then it’s gorgeous; but sometimes they have people who don’t know what they’re doing, and then it’s painful. (It’s a lot of fun when the editors themselves read.) Still, if I could only listen to two podcasts ever, it’d be Escape Pod and Podcastle. Right now Escape Pod is doing a series of broadcasts of all the Hugo-nominated short stories.
  • The Drabblecast is a blast. It specializes in shorter SF-F-H pieces. The best thing about Drabblecast is Norm Sherman’s voice. Norm reads most of the stories himself: picture a more velvety version of Jack Nicholson. By the time he’s three sentences into a story I’m grinning ear-to-ear. (He sometimes reads on Escape Pod etc. too.) Each episode contains a longer piece, a 100-word drabble, and a 100-character twitterfic. I think of Drabblecast as a bit more sly than the Escape Artists, more inclined to wicked plot twists and digging in the ribs, but that may be an illusion.
  • Clarkesworld has been podcasting one story per issue for some time now. Assistant Editor Kate Baker has a clean, clear reading style that adapts itself well to most stories; she doesn’t try vocal histrionics as some readers do, but lets the writer’s voice come through. Of course these are all stories that appear in the current issue of the magazine, and that’s even more fun, because it means you’re hearing the state of the art. Kij Johnson’s "Spar" and N. K. Jemisin’s "Non-Zero Probabilities," both Hugo/Nebula nominees, appeared on this podcast. I just listened to Kate reading Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s "Futures in the Memories Market," one of those stories that irritates me because I wish I’d written it. (Without giving any spoilers, NKH excels at surprising the reader with things the reader should have seen coming.) I felt the same way about Matt Kessel’s "The History Within Us."
  • John Joseph Adams’s new online SF magazine Lightspeed will include a regular podcast. Normally I wouldn’t comment on something this new, but holy moly, JJA got Stefan Rudnicki to come onboard as Audio Editor! I think this means that Rudnicki himself, as well as some of his commandos at Skyboard Road such as Gabrielle de Cuir and Scott Brick, any of whom could make a laundry list sound compelling, will be the readers on these stories. As I said above, it makes a big difference when the reader is a pro, and these cats are the biggest pros in the business. For that reason alone, this is a podcast worth catching. I just heard Rudnicki’s rendition of Jack McDevitt’s "The Cassandra Project," which is a clever homage to Clarke’s "The Sentinel" — the story’s good, the podcast is great.
  • I just started listening to the podcast on Beneath Ceaseless Skies. BCS has had consistently high-quality secondary-world fantasy since its inception, and the podcasts are no exception. Unlike Clarkeseworld, BCS doesn’t podcast from the current issue, but from a recent one. Presumably this lets them take more time with the podcast. These are all read by the same person, who I presume is editor Scott Andrews himself; he too has a clean, simple reading style, which lets the story come through. The horses-and-swords introduction may be a bit over the top, but who cares? My personal favorite of the last few months is thereinth‘s The Alchemist’s Feather.\
  • It might be misleading to call Starship Sofa a "podcast" in the same sense as the others. SSS is a full-fledged fanzine (nominated for a Hugo this year!) and contains a lot of material that’s not fiction. Most of it, indeed, is Tony C. Smith’s delightful north-of-England accent holding forth on his opinions of the genre. Tony is such a dynamo of enthusiasm that one can’t help smiling when listening. It’s like getting a phone call from a friend who just read something terrific and can’t wait to share it with you. But stay with Tony long enough, you’ll get to hear a story, maybe two, read aloud. Usually these are not very recent stories; they’re classics, read often by professional actors, which means that the quality is good. (Tony did use his dad as a reader once, which was a hoot.) The current podcast includes Stan Robinson’s "Mercurial." 

That’s it for my own list of podcasts. But I’m sure I’ll start listening to more after you make comments to this post!

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