Synthetic Voices is a monthly audio podcast dedicated to sharing great audio fiction picks from the realms of SF, Fantasy, and Horror.
Synthetic Voices #25 – December 2013 Top Picks
Check out our double episode as we try to get caught up on the end of 2013! *Announcements* There’s gonna be some changes around here. These last couple months have been really tough in terms of podcast production. I’ve thought … Continue reading →
Synthetic Voices #22 – September 2013 Top Picks
*Top Picks from September 2013*
"Alone, Together" by Robert Kirkman
Nightmare Magazine's September Issue
-- So first off, I apologize, but it couldn't be helped. There are two whole stories on the Top Picks dedicated to zombies. This first one and the last one on the list. I spaced them out so you wouldn't be totally annoyed with me. I admit, it's a pretty hackneyed trope these days, but I found something redeeming in both of these stories.
This one is the more traditional of the two, following a group of survivors as they pick their way among humanity's ruins. In its post-apocalyptic way, it's a love story and one that will tangle you intimately into the twisted desires of the protagonist. At the end I hope you'll ask yourself if you're so different from him.
"The Drove of Maris-Charlottes" by David Turnbull
Cast of Wonders Ep. 94
-- I loved this story! This was one of those "instant Top Picks" for me. I don't want to spoil the beautiful exposition, so I'll set the hook and let you take the bait: imagine you're a young woman trying to uphold her father's name by driving a herd of potatoes across the dusty plains. This was one of the most mature stories I've seen yet on Cast of Wonders and yet I felt like it really spoke to a younger version of myself. The action and hardship were solid and the world building was novel and well-executed. Yee-haw!
"A Short Guide to the City" by Peter Straub
Nightmare Magazine's September Issue
-- Frankly I don't know what to make of this story. It's part art, part horror, part culture commentary, and almost completely devoid of any true narrative. That said, it kept me intrigued all the way through. Essentially it's a tour of the districts of a post-industrial city where these various districts have fallen each into their own forms of barbarism, as dictated by their inhabitants. There are hints and suggestions of more, but I'm hoping our Synthetic Voices discussion group can help me tease those out. If you'd like a little something different from the norm, check out this one.
"Ill-Met at Midnight" by David Tallerman
Beneath Ceaseless Skies Ep. 110
-- Here's a fun story about assassins. Real assassins probably aren't that fun, but these are the fantastic kind that belong to assassin guilds and have loads of honor. While the ending didn't floor me, I really enjoyed the personalities of the various characters. Perhaps the narration by Tales of the Left Hand's John Meagher added something not contained completely within the written word.
"Thirty Seconds From Now" by John Chu
Escape Pod Ep. 412
-- I love two things about this story. First, it opens a window on the life of a talented college student as he discovers love, pain, and what he really wants from life. By the end I think too you will be very invested in his final decision.
Second, I was happy to see that even though the protagonist is not of a heterosexual orientation, that fact does not obscure the passionate, introspective writing in the piece. Stories steeped in gay culture are fine, but it's also nice to see fiction about gay characters who aren't part of some alternative or indie counterculture. It's almost a trope as often as I see it in speculative fiction.
Oh and he can see into the future, for those wondering what tropes ARE in this one. It reminds me a bit of the movie Knowing - yes, the 2009 film with Nicolas Cage, I did see it, in the theater no less!
"Dry Bite" by Will McIntosh
Lightspeed Magazine's September Issue
-- Here's our second zombie story, but as you'll see, the author made quite an effort to deconstruct the worn-out zombie setup and take a turn at reinventing the zombie.
Synthetic Voices #19 – June 2013 Top Picks
*Top Picks from June 2013*
"The Penitent" by M. Bennardo
Beneath Ceaseless Skies Ep. 106
-- This story of a nameless prisoner will take you into a dark rabbit hole. Finding his cell door unlocked, the long-isolated prisoner finds the outside world incredibly different from what he expected. I found myself rooting for him, hoping his sanity would last the length of the story. While not all of your questions may be answered, I expect you'll find the ending as unsettling as I did. This one was a little out of character for the traditionally sword and sorcery-themed Beneath Ceaseless Skies, but I enjoyed it and hope this story heralds a more unpredictable menu of stories from the magazine.
"The Tale of the Golden Eagle" by David D. Levine
Escape Pod Ep. 402
-- This was a lovely story. I'd like to call it space fantasy with a bit of science fiction thrown in for authenticity; for example, interstellar ships piloted by cybernetic birds. The description of these ships is really beautifully done. On top of that, there is a bit of epic storytelling, a wonderful gambling scene, and an ending that I personally found quite satisfying.
"The Urashima Effect" by E. Lily Yu
Clarkesworld Magazine's June Issue
-- I've always enjoyed the conundrum of what to do while waiting around in a "sleep ship," that is a ship where the occupants are put to sleep for an extended period of travel. In this story, our sole passenger awakes ahead of landing (I believe in order to fully recover from sleep), and begins paging through pre-recorded messages from home. In those messages he discovers a shocking truth about the nature of his voyage. The "psychological action" of the story takes a little while to get going, but I think you'll discover that all of the pieces eventually weave together into a massive decision for our lonely sojourner.
"Turning Point" by Poul Anderson
The Drabblecast Ep. 284
-- Here, through the eyes of a few explorers, we meet an alien race on their home planet. They turn out to be quite adept at our language and it seems that the more our explorers learn about the clever, but simple race, the more unsettled they become. There are no secrets with these alien people, but there is a frightening realization, and subsequently a devious plan on the part of the humans. I'll leave you to judge the ethics of our protagonists' actions.
"Neighbourhood Watch" by Greg Egan
Pseudopod Ep. 340
-- As soon as I heard this story, I knew it would be a top pick this month. First of all, the narration by Ron Jon Newton was fantastic, beautifully capturing the essence of an instinct-driven villain. The writing, too, is spectacular, weaving in and out of various scenes easily. To sum up as much as I dare, the story follows a monster, who lives underground in a planned community. There is a deadly deal, an overconfident homeowners association diva, and an irascible little boy. This story has a LOT going for it already, and I guarantee there's more in store.
"Dead Men Walking" by Paul J. McAuley
Clarkesworld Magazine's June Issue
-- Sleeper agents, secret assassins, and subterfuge abound in this far-future story. Many stories ask, "What would you do if you found out you were a sleeper agent?" Well, this one dispenses with that, instead asking, "What's it like to have always known you were a sleeper agent? And what will you do after your mission is complete?" It's a smart story, and while I found the non-linear organization a bit taxing, it was done with purpose and I found the ideas at work in the fictional world kept me interested through the ending.
Synthetic Voices #18 – May 2013 Top Picks
This month's top picks are a little on the WEIRD side, so get your out your crazy hat and dive in!
Synthetic Voices #17 – April 2013 Top Picks
*Top Picks from April 2013*
"The Queen And The Cambion" by Richard Bowes
Podcastle Ep. 257
-- This was a delightful story of Merlin and a queen of England. I have always enjoyed historical fiction, but I have recently discovered how much fun a fantastical twist can add to such fiction. In this story, we follow a Benjamin Button-esque relationship between the young queen and wizened Merlin. While Merlin's backwards aging is a well-known trope, this is the first time I've ever seen it used in quite this way.
"For Love’s Delirium Haunts the Fractured Mind" and "Tethered" by David Mercurio Rivera
StarShipSofa Eps. 286 and 287, respectively
~45 mins/sec and ~1 hr, respectively
-- These two stories kept me thinking about them long after they finished, always a good sign. "For Love’s Delirium Haunts the Fractured Mind" sets up the world in which both stories take place. We see an alien people that is not only foreign to our biology and our customs, but that grows even more bizarre as they come into contact with us. Not giving away the clever idea behind the aliens, suffice it to say the story invokes questions of class, morality, and self-delusion. "Tethered," a somewhat more relatable tale, focuses on the close relationship between one of the young female aliens and a human girl. Their story not only shares more about the aliens' physiology, but also lets us into their psychology, and how they might choose to interact with foreigners. Overall, these two stories kept me engaged throughout and ended with sufficient power.
"Making My Entrance Again With My Usual Flair" by Ken Scholes
Escape Pod Ep. 391
-- Need a bit of lighthearted fun in your podcast lineup? Well look no further than this roadtrip story, starring an underweight clown and a strange monkey in a box. This farce has a witty, yet deadpan humor that made me laugh out loud repeatedly. There is a bit of gratuitous sexual humor mixed in, but I believe the thoughtful listener will find it only enhances the story's bizarre sensibility.
"Deep Blood Kettle" by Hugh Howey
Lightspeed Magazine's April Issue
-- I have to admit that this story did not "stay with me" as do others I mention on here. In fact, "Deep Blood Kettle" revved up, did its thing, and then left me with a sense of futility and emptiness Then again, bucking the recent trend of "post-apocalypse" stories, this is an "apocalypse-only" story, plain and simple. I found the perspective of the narrator, a rifle-toting country boy, engaging, and I think it might be a nice story to listen to as you rock on your porch with a tall glass of lemonade (or maybe a flask of whiskey).
"The Exchange Officers" by Brad Torgersen
StarShipSofa Ep. 285
-- One genre of SF I've always had a hard time connecting with is military SF. This isn't to say that I don't like it, but I often find the grit and determination a little too forthcoming from the protagonists. Either that or they are portrayed as spineless weasels. This is why I was pleasantly surprised by "The Exchange Officers," as I greatly enjoyed both the military aspects and the characters involved. In this one, we meet two military officers used to flying remote aircraft such as UAV drones. In their new role, they are assigned to play human puppeteers to humanoid robots working up in space. When an unexpected attack occurs, the action picks up quickly and doesn't stop until nearly the end of the story.
"Melt With You" by Emily C. Skaftun
Clarkesworld Magazine's April Issue
-- Normally I think of Clarkesworld for their grandiose literary fiction, but this story could easily fit into the weird section of The Drabblecast. Maybe Clarkesworld's April silliness,
Synthetic Voices #26 – January 2014 Top Picks
*Top Picks from January 2014*
"Utriusque Cosmi" by Robert Charles Wilson
Clarkesworld Magazine's January Issue
-- Here is an epic story that reminds me a lot of Rapture of the Nerds (for which there is STILL no audiobook). It's the end of the world, and our female protagonist is swept up into a technological construct. She explores artificial intelligence, post-singularity time dilation, and some of the unfathomable types of existence that live beyond our conception of the universe. A beautiful story with a reasonably approachable character (not always so in this genre), and a grandeur that will leave you in awe.
"The Thing About Shapes to Come" by Adam-Troy Castro
Lightspeed Magazine's January Issue
-- Here is a bit of weird fiction if ever there was. A girl finds herself in the increasingly common position of carrying a child to term and discovering it is little more than a solid polygon. The feelings of the girl, and her parents, about the new child are interesting and we get a nice view of world events. I do feel that the story lacks a little in the action department, and it might drag if it wasn't such a bizarre tale. Fortunately the very end is quite a head-turner, completing the circle of the plot. I'd love to hear thoughts about this one in the comments...
"Ill Met In Ulthar" by T.A. Pratt (aka, Tim Pratt)
PodCastle Ep. 296
-- This short story, a side tale from Pratt's "Marla Mason" series of novels, follows a snarky, spell-slinging sorceress as she endeavors to free the mind of a delusional author. She must battle his monsters and try to reach him before his madness escapes a magical asylum. I enjoyed the dialogue and almost pulpy sensibilities in this one, but like some pulps, it never felt like Marla had much chance of losing the battle. In fact, I'm not entirely sure there was really any conflict throughout the story. Even so, if it's fluff, it's an enjoyable piece of fluff, so pick it up when you need an hour away from the world.
"Flash Bang Remember" by Caroline M. Yoachim and Tina Connolly
StarShipSofa Ep. 320
~42 mins (timecode 00:41:00)
-- The term "vat-grown clone" gets thrown around a lot in science fiction, but rarely does a story spend as much time on the psychology of those clones as this one does. Drilling down into the center of this trope, we find a young girl surrounded by the vat-grown. All of them are adults, but few are very much older than she is. They do have one major advantage over her: a flash-baked childhood. In fact they all have the same childhood. Now the pressure is on her to model a new childhood for the next generation and she's feeling the strain.
I really enjoyed a lot of elements in this story. The plot is surprising in most of its twists and turns, the characters are well-defined (unless they are intentionally two-dimensional), and the details of the place and culture are quite good. It's a well-rounded piece for lovers of deep-space adolescent drama.
"The Serial Killer's Astronaut Daughter" by Damien Angelica Walters
Strange Horizons' January Issue
-- Many perverse situations have been dreamed up by authors over the years, so that characters may be set into them and watched as they squirm. As already hinted by the spoiler-y title, our astronaut protagonist finds herself in a bit of an awkward situation when a death row inmate turns out to be her father. This story reminds me of "The Master Conjurer," which was a Top Pick back in October. In both, the hero finds his or herself in the center of a media typhoon that pounds relentlessly on their privacy and their sanity. Now in "The Master Conjurer," the unhappy magician is hounded continuously by the press. You would think our astronaut would have an easier time of it,
Great way to find good podcasts!
There's a lot of audio fiction out there. Some of it's amazing and some of it isn't. This podcast is a great place to go if you are trying to find the best science fiction, fantasy, and horror podcasts out there. There's also good commentary about the world of fiction podcasts and what's working and what's not in this rapidly growing arena.
This is a great podcast for those who are just discovering the world of speculative fiction and/or podcasts. I just discovered both of these things this summer, and Synthetic Voices has been enormously helpful in finding good stories to listen to. I simply don't have enough time to listen to every episode of every podcast that iTunes recommends, so I've used this as a starting point. Through it, I've found a number of short story podcasts that I really like - Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, Drabblecast, etc, etc. Even if you already know about these, it seems like every month there is at least one story from a podcast I've never heard of. And there's also commentary about the art of podcasting itself. Very interesting, especially for someone who would like to make their own podcast one day.