Header Image - Getting the words out by any means possible.

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Podcasts

And now for your listening pleasure...

Books on tape have gotten me through thousands of miles of driving and countless hours of mowing. When I started writing short fiction over the past year, I checked out the online outlets for Science Fiction and Fantasy in order to study the form.  There are a slew of podcast fiction sites, but only a handful really offer free podcasts of top-shelf fiction read by great readers.

If you’ve ever listened to books on tape or podcasts, you know the reader can make or break a story. I’ve delved into Librivox recordings of public domain works read by volunteers. It’s definitely hit or miss. But, because it’s all volunteer, I can’t complain and it gives me access to works by Lovecraft and Poe and Dickens. At the very least, Librivox makes me appreciate those sites that work at the craft of podcasting great short fiction.

The sites I feel are offering the best short fiction, both writing and reading, are:

The cool thing about PodCastle is you get two new stories each week. Authors such as Cat Rambo, Rachel Swirsky, Holly Black, and Greg van Eekhout show up at PodCastle. PodCastle is part of a trio of audio fiction podcasts. Its sister sites are Escape Pod and Pseudopod. Recommended story:  Wolves Till the World Goes Down by Greg van Eekhout

Clarkesworld features Kate Baker behind the mike. Her reading is well-polished and she does a fantastic job of conveying each story’s mood. With a consistent reader, listening to the Clarkesworld podcasts is like visiting an old friend week after week. Clarkesworld features writers such as Tobias Buckell, Catherynne M. Valente, N.K. Jemison and Lavie Tidhar. Recommended story:  A Jar of Goodwill by Tobias Buckell

Beneath Ceaseless Skies seeks out what they consider to be Science Fiction and Fantasy of a literary quality.  Here is a quote from their site that should give you a pretty good idea of what they mean:

We love traditional adventure fantasy, including classics from the pulp era and the new wave of post-Tolkien fantasy. But we also love how the recent influence of literary writing on fantasy short fiction has expanded the genre, allowing writers the freedom to use literary devices such as tight points-of-view, round characters, unreliable narrators, discontinuous narratives, and others. This sophisticated level of craft has made fantasy short fiction more powerful than ever before.

We want stories that combine the best of both these styles—adventure fantasy plots in vivid secondary worlds, but written with a literary flair. Beneath Ceaseless Skies will feature exciting stories set in awe-inspiring places that are told with all the skill and impact of modern literary-influenced fantasy.

Recommended story:  Mister Hadj’s Sunset Ride by Saladin Ahmed.

Starship Sofa bills itself as The Audio Science Fiction Magazine, and for good reason. Not only do you get great fiction–think Paolo Bacigalupi, Cory Doctorow, China Mieville, Jeff VanderMeer–but also interviews, news and other SFnal goings on. And, Tony C. Smith, your host, has a nice thick Scottish brogue that makes it even more fun to listen. Recommended story:  The Gambler by Paolo Bacigalupi.

Tor.com offers more quality authors such as Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Charles Stross, Jay Lake, Ken Scholes, and Terry Bisson. In some cases, the authors read their own material. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes not so much. Recommended story:  Catch ‘Em in the Act by Terry Bisson.

SFFaudio was created in 2003 by Scott Danielson and Jesse Willis. Their goal was similar to what I’m doing with this post, only they’ve done it way better. The site creators just want to  spread the word about great audio fiction that they’ve enjoyed. They believe audio is the best medium for Science Fiction literature and drama because of its ability to  transmit story, mood, and ideas.

And there you have it. If that’s not enough to keep you out of trouble, than there is no hope for you. If you have any recommendations you’d like to add, feel free to post in the comments. Otherwise, enjoy!

Missing Pages

Missing Pages - Photo by Diane Varner

A couple of weekends ago we had a yard sale. My Mom hauled her stuff to our house to join in the fun. In clearing out some of her stuff, she came across a book called The Short Story and Its Writer edited by Ann Charters and published by St. Martin’s Press and asked if I’d be interested in it. I flipped through the table of contents: Joseph Conrad, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Jorge Luis Borges and on and on.

I took it because the thought of such a variety of short stories at my fingertips was exciting. I recently started writing short stories and want to read as many examples from the masters as I can to learn and for the sake of the reading itself.

The first thing I wanted to read was Sean O’Faolain’s piece How to Write a Short Story. It sounded like just what I needed. On the way to that piece I was waylaid by Borges. I had never read any of his stuff, but I’ve read that he is not to be missed. I started reading The End of the Duel. Crazy stuff. Things were moving along, I became more engaged in the story, and then, just before the climactic scene, the story ended. I was confused. It didn’t seem like the story should have ended. In fact, there was no punctuation.

The pages had been torn out.

I was going to page forward to find the other Borges story and the O’Faolain piece and wouldn’t you know, about forty pages total were missing, including those.

I couldn’t help but wonder if the pages had been taken by someone too lazy to lug around a giant anthology or if it was someone who couldn’t afford the book and needed those pages. Something tells me it’s more like the former because there are other chunks strategically missing, including a chunk of Heart of Darkness, Turgenev’s Byezhin Prairie, Kipling’s The Wish House and still others.

What an ass bite.

My hope is that whoever took the stories loved them so much that they couldn’t live without them. My fear is that those pages are in some land fill somewhere or were used to start a bonfire for homecoming.

Fortunately there are plenty of other stories in the book, so I guess I shouldn’t go complaining too loudly that the free book I got is incomplete.

This led me to wonder if anyone else ever experienced anything like this. Have you ever settled in to enjoy something only to find it was incomplete or other than expected?

Writing Short Fiction with an Eye on Long Fiction

This Photo is Reminscent of My Current Short Story in Progress

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I’m in the process of wrapping up the second of two short stories that I’ve written in between drafts of Shadow of the Black City. With each short story I write, my awareness of things grows and my writing improves.  Things blurred in the murk of my peripheral awareness are coming into focus.

Right now I’m the equivalent of a guy in a blackout who just found the circuit breaker with a weak flashlight. That may be a bit of an overstatement, but with how much I’ve learned in the space of a few weeks, I can only imagine how much I still don’t know.

I want to see the whole house bathed in light.

What I’m suggesting is by no means novel (heh). Those who’ve written for a while and have explored the short story markets know of what I speak.

For me, the appeal of the short story is summed up by a couple of quotes from Janet Burroway in Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft:

The greater the limitation in time and space, the greater the necessity of the pace, sharpness, and density.

and:

The form of the novel is an expanded short story form. It asks for a conflict, a crisis, and a resolution…

Sounds like stuff I want to do in my work whether regardless of the form. I love how the limitations of the short story force me to economize for effectiveness in plot, character and theme.

It’s also nice to take a break from the novel and explore unmapped areas of my imagination. Those forays into the unknown are great for churning up the subconscious and seeing what ideas arise. Writing begets more story ideas and better writing.

How can you lose?

The Coming Around of a Sensible Word

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And it’s slow, so slow the idea,
The coming around of a sensible word.
It hovers and shakes like a hummingbird wing
At the end of a long hot year.

Kelly Joe Phelps – Tight to the Jar

Mr. Phelps very well captures the essence of writing in the bridge from Tight to the Jar. Always the task of the writer is to make the words sensible–knowing that is easy. How to do it, well that’s a whole ‘nother deal.

After finishing my second draft of Shadow of the Black City, I’m ready to once again try my hand at the short story form. It’s been about 120 K written words since I tried it last, as well as a few hundred thousand words of reading. We’ll see how it goes.

The short story is intimidating to me because I can’t sprawl too far from the center of the story. It’s a tincture of story, a concentrated drop of emotion, a distillation of character. Hopefully it doesn’t come on too strong early and leave the reader wanting at the end.

For the past eleven months I’ve probably written somewhere around 300,000 words between two drafts of my novel, a few pieces of flash fiction, a short story that started out at 10k words that I eventually whittled back to just under 4k, and this blog. Each day of writing represents a cumulative honing of my craft.

And I can tell.

With each stringing together of words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs and so on, my writing feels less rickety. It’s kind of like a rubble trench, a hodgepodge of debris that alone is weak and useless. Pile up enough of it, and you’ve got something.

I’m chucking all kinds of stuff into the trench. Eventually it will be full and I look forward to building something strong on it, something pleasing and comforting.

If you’ve never listened to Kelly Joe Phelps and you like acoustic, slide and fingerstyle guitar (not to mention kickass songwriting), check him out on the You Tube. Seriously.