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!