Synthetic Voices is a monthly audio podcast dedicated to sharing great audio fiction picks from the realms of SF, Fantasy, and Horror.
Synthetic Voices is a monthly audio podcast dedicated to sharing great audio fiction picks from the realms of SF, Fantasy, and Horror.
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, being in space and all, but no - the author does a nice job conveying just how vexing low-res video fee
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
-- 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)
-- 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
-- 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 f
Synthetic Voices #23 – October 2013 Top Picks
*Top Picks from October 2013*
"Flying On My Hatred of My Neighbor's Dog" by Shaenon Garrity
The Drabblecast Ep. 298
-- This is just the kind of genius I expect to see on The Drabblecast. You may have felt burning, seething rage at someo...
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. I liked not being able to guess exactly what the creatures would do next. Essentially, a woman discovers her zombified family among the ruins of society, just ab
Synthetic Voices #21 – August 2013 Top Picks
*Top Picks from August 2013*
"The Lovers" by Eleanor Arnason
Clarkesworld Magazine's August Issue
-- A lot of stories nowadays use fantastic worlds to explore gender, sexuality, and other topics that were largely hidden away by previous generations. Often these stories bug me because they feel like required reading in a women's studies class, not engaging fiction with a solid plot, characters, and, in this case, world-building. This story bucked that trend, however. In it, a female protagonist in an alien culture must navigate her duty to her family, her life goals, and the difficulties of consorting with MEN. I say this last because her society generally keeps men and women separated except during "breeding." Reading back on these last few lines, it does sound like a pretty dull women's studies text...but somehow this story is fantastic instead. The culture was perverse but believable and her experiences and decisions felt genuine. You may just have to take my word on this one until you read it for yourself.
"Face Value" by Sean Williams
Lightspeed Magazine's August Issue
-- It's been a while since we've had a nice detective story, so here ya go! In this futuristic tale, we follow a couple of cops as they investigate a death threat on an inventor. They live in a world where rapid fabrication and matter assembly/disassembly has affected the culture on almost every level. This inventor's creation threatens to unhinge that whole paradigm...or does it?
If you enjoy the story, there is at least one more of these detective stories in the same universe. "The Missing Metatarsals" was reprinted in Lightspeed Magazine back in May of this year. The "d-mat universe" is apparently the setting for Williams' larger "Twinmaker" series.
"The Call of the Pancake Factory" by Ken Liu
The Drabblecast Ep. 293
-- This story contains no dead parents and only a brief mention of Asia...so how could it be a Ken Liu story? Well, it is, and it's a fantastic one at that. There is a significant humorous vibe throughout, which is nice, because it offsets the Lovecraftian overtones splendidly. Essentially a crafty corporate spy on the run hides out on a strange tropical island. There he meets a cult worshiping a familiar elder god. The direction this one takes may catch you off guard and perhaps make you laugh. Whether farce or homage, I cannot tell, but I love seeing an author put their own spin on the Cthulhu mythos.
"The Easily Forgotten" by Philip M. Roberts
Pseudopod Ep. 348
-- This is a harsh story so be warned. When people fall through the cracks, bad things can happen to them, especially violent things like those seen in this story. The speculative element in "The Easily Forgotten" is downplayed to the point where it might not have happened at all, but I liked the way the protagonist, a woman living under the protection of a rich halfway house operator, takes the weirdness in stride along with the rest of the madness in the house. I'll be eager to hear what people think of this one.
"Open 28 Hours" by Darin Ramsey
Cast of Wonders Ep. 91
-- On a lighter note, this YA story about a convenience store out in space should make you smile. A hapless cashier must make the best of his situation as a number of potentially hostile aliens crowd into his establishment. It's a quick one, so think of it as a palate cleanser between two tougher stories.
"Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast" by Eugie Foster
Tales to Terrify Ep. 86
-- This is a trippy story. I think that's the best word for it. Too much introduction would ruin the gradual exposition, but I'll say what I liked about it. I liked the conflict in the protagonist between its biological imperatives and its desire for independence and happiness. I liked that one day might be dreadful and brut
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.
Customer ReviewsSee All
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.