I had a birthday recently. I'm trying to sell a house. My baby is teething and also itchy. I have not been writing much of late, including blog posts, but I've still been listening to stories when I can. It's been a pleasant bank holiday weekend, and I'm feeling pretty good right now.
I'm working my way through Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky, it's a large book and I'm not reading loads at the moment so I'm about three quarters of the way through; it's really good so far.
All Them Pretty Babies by Alex C. Renwick (Cast of Wonders 299, narrated by Laura Hobbs)
This story is kinda bleak and grim, but somehow a bit charming too. The narrator really catches character's voice, written in a strong US accent/dialect (I don't know enough about accents to know which). The character is ignorant about words and certain concepts, but her knowledge and experience of her post-cataclysmic world is strong, and her empathy and kind nature shine through. The story raises many questions, but doesn't feel incomplete.
Anna and Marisol In Time and Space by Tim Pratt (Escape Pod 622, narrated by Amy H. Sturgis)
Time travel where someone uses it to save a lost love is a thing I have definitely encountered before, but not like this, where certain tropes are subverted. I don't want to say much about the story, but it's very well done. Each character succeeds, though not necessarily as one expected, and they end up on equal footing, which is often not the case in time-travel/rescue romances.
What Is Eve by Will Mcintosh (Lightspeed Magazine, audio version narrated by Stefan Rudnicki)
This story is so weird and interesting, taking the emotions of school-age insecurity and being/feeling othered or outcast, then making it extreme in a new way. I kinda guessed what the school was about early on, but didn't see where rest of story would go. It's good when a story meets some expectations but also does something different or unexpected. There's definitely plenty to examine in the lack of emotional understanding of institutional 'asshole' adults, who try to force children to show empathy and kindness by rote, when they can do it naturally much better than adults (especially most of these adults). The stakes are hinted at early on, but though the reveal of these a major motivator for the adults of the story, the kids view on things makes it all feel very personal. The big, external implications are background to the more intimate character story.
Podcastle recently celebrated their 10th anniversary, which is excellent. Of the Escape Artists podcasts it's the one I've been listening to the longest, although I've probably only been listening during about half their run. I've always loved fantasy as a genre because of the wonder and the feeling that you can do anything. That promise of possibly is a magic all it's own. It's therefore sometimes a bit disappointing that the genre gets viewed, and sometimes expressed, through a fairly narrow lens. Podcastle showcases the breadth, scope and reach of fantasy. There are so, so many different types of story, of fantasy sub-genre, of worlds and possibilities that it's actually pretty breathtaking. Listeners were asked to choose their top 5 stories for the 10th anniversary and they were released across a week. Here are the ones I enjoyed most.
In the Stacks by Scott Lynch (Podcastle 516b, Full cast recording: Norm Sherman, Peter Wood, Dave Thompson, Wilson Fowlie, M.K. Hobson, Graeme Dunlop, Anna Schwind, Ann Leckie, Alasdair Stuart, Rachel Swirsky and Marshal Latham)
I hadn't heard this one before, it was very impressive. A group of student magicians go into the Living Library, guided by the intrepid and knowledgeable Librarians who risk their lives daily in that place of chaotic magic and danger. As a ex-library staffer (who's also married to an assistant library manager) the premise tickled me, shelving a book as a very dangerous quest. The premise is fairly epic, but it didn't feel particularly tropey, and there was plenty of ingenuity in the creation of the library and the beings inhabiting it. The ending was something I'd guessed was coming, but was still satisfying. The narrators all did excellent work, they're all heavily involved in PodCastle/Escape Artists (or were when the episode first aired), and I recognised everyone in the main cast by voice. A full cast is always a treat to listen to. The work that must go into them is impressive, both on the part of the narrators and especially the sound engineer, who in this case was also doing one of the main roles.
Makeisha in Time by Rachel K. Jones (Podcastle 516d, narrated by K. Tempest Bradford)
I had heard this one before, but thought it was definitely worth a re-listen. It's a fascinating story about a woman who lives multiple lives across history, and how she reconciles that with trying to live a normal life in the present. Then she comes to realise that the present doesn't want to acknowledge what she knows to be true. It's a strong story and the narrator conveys Makeisha's resolve, her passion and her determined struggle really well.
Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu (Podcastle 516e, narrated by Rajan Khanna)
I had not heard this one before, it first aired before I started listening (I should go back through the stuff I missed some day). It was voted the best Podcastle story in 10 years, and this anniversary episode was introduced by a friend of mine who tried to prepare the audience for what they were about to hear. It was such a powerful story. It covered identity and family of someone who had parents from two different cultures. It covered prejudice and acceptance and how you can easily take parents for granted and know very little about them as people. The fantasy elements seemed simple, the kind of thing that might be in a quaint children's story, but that's not what this was. The feelings provoked by the story were so strong, the character's regret and the re-framing of his life through his mother's eyes. I didn't cry on a public bus, but it was a near thing, and I definitely choked up a bit later when I thought about it.