Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Damn fine short stories

I've finally (just about) caught up with the Escape Pod archive and I thought I'd share some of my favourite stories from this wonderful collection of short stories. It took quite some time to narrow the original longlist down, but here are my favourite stories from the archive, along with links to the stories themselves so you can listen to them yourself.

EP017: The Life and Times of Penguin, Eugie Foster
This was possibly the first Pod that made me fairly emotional, with a hint of a tear in one eye by the end. It's the loveliest tale of balloon animals that you could imagine. It's also read by Mur Lafferty, who has become one of my favourite EP readers.
EP020: The Burning Bush, Jennifer Pelland
The Burning Bush shows how God gets a message across in the 21st century. It's about exactly what you'd expect in this smut-filled age, and it's hilarious. It mightn't be the most artistically brilliant piece of work but it completely fulfils Escape Pod's mission of publishing fun SF stories.
EP022: Don Ysidro, by Bruce Holland Rogers
This is a quiet and fairly thoughtful piece about a death ritual. No action or even much of a plot, but it was one that was life-affirming and left me with a pleasant fuzzy feeling afterwards.
EP027: Union Dues - Iron Bars and the Glass Jaw, EP049: Union Dues - Off White Lies, EP062: Union Dues - The Baby and the Bathwater and EP080: Union Dues - Cleanup in Aisle Five, by Jeffrey R. DeRego
The Union Dues series is very well put together with excellent writing and very human characters. These stories are set in a universe where people with superpowers must join the "Union" (or be sent to a village in the middle of the Arctic to live for the rest of their lives unless they change their mind) and live apart from the rest of society in "Pyramids" that are effectively a nation within a nation. The stories are all from the heroes' point of view and how they cope with the pressure of their work and of a nation that fears them as much as it respects them. Excellent stories, all of them.
EP028: Your Corporate Network and the Forces of Darkness, by Lucy A. Snyder
Another story that's not going to win awards for art but is really fun. What if there really was a ghost in the machine (or at least ancient gods and demons)? What kind of people would sysadmins have to be to look after the networks of this world? Another one read by Mur Lafferty (and someone else, but he doesn't have as nice a voice :-)).
EP047: Poet for Hire, by Sue Burke
Another of the really fun stories. What if a poet's words really had power? Another story read by Mur Lafferty.
EP051: Is You Is / Is You Ain't?, by Michael Canfield
A strong story of an adult mind trapped in a baby's body, told in the form of his autobiography.
EP055: Down Memory Lane, by Mike Resnick
A haunting story of a couple, one of whom comes down with a senile dementia and the lengths to which her husband will go to for her.
EP066: The King's Tail, by Constance Cooper
I don't know why I enjoy this little story so much but it's fun, it's moving and its set in a nation of pacifists trying to resist invasion without breaking their principles.
EP073: Barnaby in Exile, by Mike Resnick
Resnick certainly knows how to tug on heartstrings and this story of an educated ape left me with a very large lump in my throat by the end. A beautiful and moving story.
EP078: The Shoulders of Giants, by Robert J. Sawyer
I like this fairly hard science fiction story about a sleeper ship travelling to colonise another planet and what they find when they get there. I'm sure I've read this before somewhere, maybe in an anthology, and I find it a great story of the human spirit.
EP082: Travels With My Cats, by Mike Resnick
Yet another Resnick story, this one won the 2005 Hugo award and it has the familiar Resnick writing strength and emotional power. This time a boy buys a book about a woman who travels the world with her cats and finds the woman coming alive.
EP090: How Lonesome a Life Without Nerve Gas, by James Trimarco
A touching story about a sentient war helmet who's more patriotic than the soldier who wears him.
EP093: {Now + n, Now - n}, by Robert Silverberg
A nice story about, not exactly time travel but using future and past echoes of yourself to manipulate the stock market. It's also a fine love story, although the central cause of conflict is mildly annoying, but I like it for the clever use of time manipulation.
EP095: Blink. Don't Blink, by Ramona Louise Wheeler
A harsh story of a murderer who opts for a shorter sentence by allowing himself to be manipulated by nanotechnology into becoming a living rescue vehicle, sent out to save lives and other disasters, allowing his body to be reshaped as required for the job. The end was a bit abrupt but apart from that it was a moving story with a sympathetic protagonist.
EP100: Nightfall, by Isaac Asimov
When I first found out what story they got for episode 100, I just sat around grinning and thinking, "Dude, you got an Asimov", and a damn fine story at that. This is about twice as long as the normal EPs at just under a hour and a half, but it's worth it. It's real classic golden age stuff. It has its issues: it has strong-jawed scientists oblivious to the world when they get into their work and its treatment of women is pretty much just as breeders, but, when you get down to it, the story is the Idea. Characterisation didn't really come into it, and I don't mind that, I'm a fan of that sort of golden age stuff where the Ideas came above everything else.
EP101: The 43 Antarean Dynasties, by Mike Resnick
Another Resnick. The man is a really, really good writer. This one tells the story of an alien tourist guide showing an obnoxious human family around the sites of his city, long after the golden age of his civilisation has ended.
EP105: Impossible Dreams, by Tim Pratt
I think this is my favourite EP to date. It's a wonderful Hugo-nominated story of alternative universes, romance and movies. Very geeky, very fun and lovely. Highly, highly recommended. This makes me wish I had registered to support the 2007 WorldCon just so that I could vote for it.
EP111: Mayfly, by Heather Lindsley
Read by my other favourite reader, the Word Whore, this is a memorable story about a family who really have to live in the Now.

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