BlogOfTheMoon

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Podcast Recommendations: Speculative Fiction

My first introduction to the world of podcasts came from my friend Kenny Park in the mid 2000s when he pointed me to Escape Pod, a science fiction podcast, which ran free short stories every week. I eventually worked my way through the archive as it stood then (and wrote a blog post listing my favourite stories), and also subscribed to its spin-off podcast Podcastle when it launched. I dabbled in a few others over the years, but my listening time was limited.

That changed a few years ago when the world just got too much for me and I stopped listening to the BBC radio news programmes on my commute to and from work, which opened up more time to listen to podcasts, so I expanded my repertoire. Skip to 2020 when lockdown and working from home meant that to continue some exercise I was doing long walks every day after work, which gave me even more time. My podcast collection has built up a lot in that time, so I thought I’d talk about a few that I enjoy. I say a few, I’m going to be talking about quite a lot really, so I’m going to split this across multiple posts. First up is my first love: science fiction. I’ve been an SF nerd since before it was cool, so below the fold are the SF- and general geek podcasts that I’ve been listening to.

Escape Artists

Escape Artists is the parent company of Escape Pod, the podcast that got me into this spoken word audio stuff in the first place. They’ve got four podcasts, covering science fiction (Escape Pod), fantasy (Podcastle), horror (Pseudopod) and Young Adult (Cast of Wonders). I only listen to the first two, since horror isn’t really my thing and I’m probably not exactly the target market for YA fiction.

All the EA podcasts are free and are listener funded. These days they’re a SFWA-recognised pro-paying market and they also put the full text of the stories they publish up on their websites too, which is great.

Escape Pod

Escape Pod is one of the oldest and longest running SF fiction podcasts around, running more or less continuously since 2005, with over 700 episodes to its name. As I mentioned above, my pal Kenny introduced me to it and I spent an enjoyable few years working through the archives. Original host Serah Eley was personable and her intros (later outros) were always thought-provoking and interesting. Eley left after about five years at the helm but a succession of editors have kept the ship steady since then. Eley’s original intent was to provide fun SF stories (and fantasy in the early days, before Podcastle launched). Some of the later editors have taken the show in darker directions, but that original guiding principle is still there and keeps me coming back, week after week.

Stories are run weekly, and they sometimes have flash fiction interspersed in there too, although these days, they tend to run a few flash stories together in a regular episode. Episodes are usually between 25 and 45 minutes, although some can run longer. They sometimes run even longer pieces, split up over multiple weeks.

Podcastle

Podcastle is Escape Artists’ fantasy podcast. It started a few years after Escape Pod, in 2008, and there over 650 episodes covering pretty much the entire fantasy genre. Like its siblings, it runs weekly stories, with episodes ranging from 20 minutes to about an hour. It also sometimes runs longer stories over multiple weeks.

It’s had some great editors over the years, including founding editor Rachel Swirsky and the multi-award winning Ann Leckie. Podcastle (and its siblings, to be fair) has done an enormous amount over the last few years to increase representation in the stories it tells, whether this is stories from LGBTQ+ writers, writers from around the world or under-represented minorities. This is a wider trend in SF fandom, and I’m glad to see it in my SF fiction podcasts of choice.

Robby the Robot’s Waiting

Robby the Robot’s Waiting is a pretty new discovery for me. It’s a podcast about (mostly media) sci-fi hosted by two former editors of SFX magazine (Rich Edwards and Dave Bradley) and a sci-fi journalist (Tanavi Patel). I discovered it because they had a couple of special episodes where they got together the other editors that SFX has had over the years to talk about it on its 25th anniversary. I’ve been a reader of SFX right from the start so was interested in hearing all its past (and current) editors in conversation. From there, I looked at a few of the episode descriptions of the show and was intrigued enough to listen to some. The gang obviously love their subject and enjoy nerding out together on the show, which makes it a joy to listen to, even when they’re talking about shows I’ve never seen or wasn’t that interested in.

The format is to start off talking about what they’ve been consuming since the last podcast, then a guest that joins for the rest of the show, starting with a deep dive into a piece of SF from the past (Buffy, Flash Gordon and New Galactica have all been done); finishing off with news about upcoming SF. It’s not been running all that long, with fourteen main episodes since July 2020, as well as a bunch of specials. The (main) episodes are released fortnightly, and are about an hour long.

The name is apparently a Bananarama reference.

Til Dice Do Us Part

I must confess that I’ve got a personal interest in Til Dice Do Us Part, it’s a podcast about tabletop RPGs run by my dear friends George and Ailsa. George has been the GM for my RPG group for over three lustra now and I’ve whiled away many an hour talking about roleplaying. And now he, and his partner Ailsa, decided that these conversations should be available to a wider audience.

It’s a pretty new podcast, with just half a dozen episodes under their belt at the time of writing, but they’ve got a varied format, with different segments that they bring in and out of episodes, including the Elevator Pitch, where they talk about a specific game system that they’ve played (well, played in Alisa’s case, more likely to be run in George’s); quizzes on deep dives into the subject matter; and Ask a GM, which is, er, exactly what it says on the tin. Topics that have come up include inclusivity in gaming; dealing with nervous players; and how to handle sex and relationships in a game.

Specific games that they’ve talked about include Night Witches, King Arthur Pendragon and Umläut: Game of Metal. Although George and Ailsa have been part of a few other groups over the years, I’m a member of what I’m egotistical enough to call their “main” RPG group, and have played in all the games they’ve talked about so far. It’s been fun revisiting those, although they’re good enough at talking about them that you don’t need to have played the games to find them interesting. Whether you’ve just got a passing interest in D&D or you’re a hardcore indie gamer, there’s a lot to enjoy in this podcast.

I especially enjoy their little fictional menagerie of podcast helpers, including Twike the social media goblin, the Inch-High Incel (more a hindrance than a helper, that one), and, my personal favourite, the Mailer Daemon. The fake adverts mid-episode are often hilarious, advertising such things as SheDice (dice for girls!), fictional game systems and dating apps for superheroes. Episodes are around an hour long and are released fortnightly.

Imaginary Worlds

Imaginary Worlds was a recommendation from my friend Matthew. It’s tagline is that it’s a show about how we create them and why we suspend our disbelief. The host, Eric Molinsky, is a former animator and radio producer and is an all-round geek. Each episode he takes a deep-dive into a particular subject within the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres, whether that’s an analysis of the uncanny valley; learning about Magic: The Gathering; the composer behind the original Godzilla films; or discovering tabletop RPG-ing and, later, LARP. There’s occasional mini-series topics for which have included looking at aspects of Doctor Who, and superheroes from the angle of sidekicks.

It’s a thoughtful podcast with Molinsky never skimping on the research for his subject that episode. Episodes are released fortnightly and are usually around half an hour. It’s been running since 2014 and there are over 150 episodes in the archive.

Our Opinions Are Correct

Our Opinions are Correct is my newest podcast, and I’m only a handful of episodes in so far, but I’ve got a feeling it’ll be a keeper. It’s presented by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders, the same duo who founded io9, and is the two of them talking about subjects within science fiction that interest them. It’s very broad-ranging, and talks more about literary SF than, say, Robby the Robot’s Waiting. The first three episodes have covered the first season of Star Trek: Discovery; mind control in SF; and SF novels that have stood the test of time.

The hosts are knowledgeable, both in terms of breadth and depth of knowledge of the genre, and their conversational style keeps it ticking over nicely. It’s been running since 2018 and has won the Hugo Award for Best Fancast for its first two years (in 2021 the hosts recused OOAC since they’d already won twice, which, I think, shows some class).

Episodes are released fortnightly, with about 75 in the bank already, and are about forty minutes long.


Next up will be a mix of podcasts that I’ve hand-waved together under the category of culture and ideas. Do you have a favourite podcast? I’d love to hear about it (although the last thing I need is yet more podcasts).

The other posts in the series are:

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