Recommended Reading #6: Audio Drama Edition

I’ve been a sucker for a good audio drama ever since middle school, when my dad introduced me to the old classics. He’d bought some sort of anthology collection on tape, and took to playing it during long drives. I have a fond memory where we were driving through the mountains at night listening to Suspense and The Shadow. Later, in high school, a friend introduced me to the inestimable Nick Danger, Third Eye, which I still think about more than is probably healthy.

So I have absolutely no idea why I waited until 2019 to start listening to audio drama podcasts. It turns out there are a lot of good ones! Some are so good, I wanted to share them. They’re 100% free, so check them out at no risk to your pocketbook:

Steal the Stars (from Tor Labs, written by Mac Rogers) tells the story of Dakota Prentiss, security chief at a secret facility to study a crashed alien ship. It’s set in a recognizable near future, where such things are done by indentured servants at a defense contractor megacorporation, and the employees are forbidden to fraternize. One day, new hire Matt Salem joins the team, and you can probably see where this is going. Taped in a warehouse, Steal the Stars has the distinction of actually sounding like it takes place in its setting. Tightly-written, easy to follow, very well-executed. Available as fourteen 40-ish minute episodes. (Warning: the link contains some spoilers in its description.)

"TANIS" is filled with images of nature, on a black background.Tanis (from the Public Radio Alliance) is an odd duck. It’s told in the format of a public radio podcast, like Serial or Radiolab. In it, fictional podcast host Nic Silver investigates the fictional myth of Tanis, a legendary locale known only from a few cryptic references. Aided by a team of irregulars he picks up as he digs deeper, he aims to uncover the truth behind these bizarre stories, which seem to gravitate around the woods of the Pacific Northwest. The first season of twelve 45-ish minute episodes works as a standalone, and I highly recommend it. Each episode seamlessly blends strange real-world events with the story’s developing mythos, in a manner I would characterize as Borgesian. Recommended especially for fans of weird fiction.

If you’re looking for something lighter, check out StarTripper!! (from Whisperforge, written by Julian Mundy). This zany space opera follows Feston Pyxis, a bored bureaucrat who sells his belongings, buys a starship, and starts a podcast narrating his adventures. Each 25-ish minute episode finds him at a new locale, within which hijinks ensue. Think Buck Rogers meets Futurama. It’s an indie production, so the audio isn’t as good as the above two, but don’t let that stop you.

What sort of audio dramas do y’all enjoy? I know it’s a niche genre, so feel free to talk about books and stories, too! I’m reading This Is How You Lose The Time War and Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, both of which are great. I think the latter was a recommendation from one of these posts…

Open Thread: Time Travel As Cultural Barometer

Leon Trotsky once wrote, “Art, it is said, is not a mirror, but a hammer: it does not reflect, it shapes.” I suspect that this phenomenon is more intense in works of speculative fiction* than, say, spy thrillers. These stories are well-positioned to plumb and amplify the pressing issues and paranoias of their times; more to the point, they often offer high-concept utopian solutions, be they progressive or reactionary.

So I was amused to see the Guardian ask: Why are there so many new books about time-travelling lesbians?

In 2016, I sat down with my co-author Max Gladstone to write our novel This Is How You Lose the Time War, which follows two time-travelling female spies as they fall in love. That same year was also when I first heard people speaking earnestly and frequently about feeling as if they were in the wrong timeline, as the Brexit referendum results rolled in and Donald Trump was elected US president.

[…] But our novel is just one of several recent stories of queer women time-travelling. There is Kate Heartfield’s Nebula-nominated novella Alice Payne Arrives and its sequel Alice Payne Rides, which see two 18th-century women – lovers – become embroiled in a war. There are also Kameron Hurley’s The Light Brigade, Kate Mascarenhas’s The Psychology of Time Travel, Kelly Robson’s Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach and Annalee Newitz’s The Future of Another Timeline.

[…] I wrote to each of these authors in anticipation of this piece and it turns out we were all drafting our books in 2016.

The article is a quick and a good read. I haven’t picked up This Is How You Lose the Time War yet, but it’s near the top of my list. I did read two books last year that featured time-traveling lesbians, though, just chewing through a random pile of space opera.

This article reminded me of a fun piece on Doctor Who**, which found that the Doctor was significantly more likely to overthrow the government during the Thatcher era. Read more

Recommended Reading #5: Armageddon, With Social Justice & Rock Wizards

Welcome back to Recommended Reading! I hope your Sunday is going well. I woke up to a short story rejection, so I lopped off 350 words and sent it in to another place. Excelsior!

To some, today’s trilogy needs little introduction. Each book won the Hugo Award, three years running, the first time an author had accomplished this feat. And the author, N.K. Jemisin, has been central in the fight to get the vocal alt-right trolls in the speculative fiction* community to shut the fuck up**.

In an acceptance speech that’s being hailed as one of the best ever made at the Hugos, Jemisin defiantly raised a “rocket-shaped finger” (a reference to the rocket-ship design of the massive Hugo statue) to the racist rhetoric that positions the recognition of her work as being about identity politics rather than her own talent.

“It’s been a hard year, hasn’t it,” she began. “A hard few years, a hard century. For some of us, things have always been hard. I wrote the Broken Earth trilogy to speak to that struggle, and what it takes to live, let alone thrive, in a world that seems determined to break you — a world of people who constantly question your competence, your relevance, your very existence.”

The Broken Earth trilogy takes place in a world called the Stillness, where geological cataclysms periodically decimate the population, through both the initial events and the ensuing nuclear winters. Some people, called orogenes, are born with the power to harness and redirect the earth’s energy. They are hated and feared, and the dominant imperial power collects them as children, to break them and train them to serve the empire.

One day, after deciding such a civilization is unfit to continue, an orogene of immense power rips the continent in half. Read more

Recommended Reading #4: 2018 in Review

Good afternoon and welcome back to Recommended Reading! I’ve been putting this post off all month. Now, my current short story is resting between drafts; I’m going to be hiding at home from a cold front for twenty-four hours; and I’m making myself do some writing before I start playing Octopath Traveler. It’s the perfect moment to talk about the best books we read last year.

According to Goodreads, I read around thirty-two novels last year. Here are the titles that stood out to me, in no particular order. (Many of them were recommendations by y’all, so thanks!)

  • The Player of Games, Iain M. Banks

This was my first foray into the Culture books. Interesting universe, great starship names, fun story.

  • The Quantum Thief, Hannu Rajaniemi

Many authors fail to find the line between telling you just enough and being too obscure; Rajaniemi is not one of them. The Quantum Thief is a richly imaginative and wonderfully-wrought heist story.

  • A Deepness in the Sky, Vernor Vinge

This was one of the best attempts I’ve read at writing from the perspective of an alien.

  • The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester

A science-fiction classic for a reason; incidentally one of William Gibson’s favorite novels.

  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Becky Chambers

Absolutely brilliant characters. Looking forward to my next foray into this universe.

What did you read last year that you loved?

Recommended Reading #3: Revenge, Served Satanic

Hello and welcome to Recommended Reading, the feature where we talk about books! In honor of October, and the impending election, I would like to recommend a book about clawing your way out of Hell to exact revenge on the people who sent you there: Sandman Slim (Sandman Slim #1), by San Fransiscan Richard Kadrey.

It tells the story of Stark, a sorcerer brut and member of Southern California’s hidden, magically-attuned society. His erstwhile friends banish him to Hell, and after ten years of gladiatorial combat, he murders his way out seeking vengeance.

But he wonders: are Los Angeles, and this mission, really all that different from his last decade?

It’s a bloody good read, with some of the best hard-boiled imagery that I’ve ever come across.

When I was Downtown, I learned a lot about making threats. Make them big. Make them outrageous. You’re never going to kick someone’s ass. You’re going to pull out their tongue and pour liquid nitrogen down their throat, chip out their guts with an ice pick, slide in a pane of glass, and turn them into an aquarium.

Oh, and there’s loads of old movie references, if that’s your thing. (More quotes, the kind that might make even certain commenters blush, can be found at Goodreads.)

I’m usually loath to recommend the first book in a series, but it works as a standalone. Four out of five stars, seasonally appropriate. Content warning, extreme violence and Satanism.

What are some of your favorite pieces of revenge porn? What else have you been reading? I’m on book 1.5 of Peter F. Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy.

As always, if you’re going to buy anything, go through the Balloon-Juice Amazon Affiliate link (or support your local bookstore)!