BlogOfTheMoon

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Podcast Recommendations: Honorary Mentions

In the final part of this series, I’m going to talk about podcasts that don’t make the cut. For the most part, ones that I used to listen to but for whatever reason, fell off. Maybe not for me, but others might still enjoy these.


StarShipSofa

StarShipSofa is another really early podcast for me. It started off being hosted by two Geordie lads talking in-depth about a specific SF author each episode. Authors covered included Alfred Bester, Michael Moorcock, Henry Cuttner and Charlie Stross. I enjoyed that format and it both taught me new stuff about authors I was already familiar with and introduced me to new writers. At some point, one of the duo left the podcast, and the remaining host transitioned it into more of an audio fiction magazine. I didn’t really have time for these longer episodes any more, so I dropped it. It’s still running though and if you’re looking for SF short stories, you could do much worse.

Drabblecast

I think I started listening to the Drabblecast after the host, Norm Sherman (another chap with a great radio voice) guest-hosted Escape Pod a few times. Its tagline is “strange stories, by strange authors, for strange listeners”, and it ran “weird”, often pulp-like, fiction, that was usually, but not always, SF. A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words, and each episode would have one of those, followed by a longer story. I used to enjoy this, but it went on extended hiatus, and I eventually dropped it. I understand that it’s back now, but I seem to be spending a lot more time listening to non-fiction, preferring my fiction in written format. If you want weird, often humorous, tales, give this a spin.

The History of India Podcast

I know embarrassingly little about my ancestral homeland, so when an acquaintance recommended the History of India Podcast, I jumped at it. Since the history of India is a huge subject, the host, Kit Patrick, chose to focus on the story of one city – Pataliputra and how its story weaves into the wider story of India over the millennia. Since sometimes stuff happens that inconsiderately isn’t around Pataliputra, there are also special episodes that tackle culture, art and more that’s unrelated to the focus city.

The tone of the podcast is very different to others I listen to. It often feels more like a set of lectures (without slides) than anything else, with very little in the way of razzmatazz. There’s a huge amount of information in there, but as time went on, I found I wasn’t really absorbing the material, and I never really looked forward to the next episode. So after about three series, I decided to bow out. But it’s a good solid, detailed introduction to a dauntingly wide subject.

Monster Man

Somewhat differently to the others, Monster Man is a podcast that I’m still, for the moment, listening to. It’s a podcast where the host, James Holloway, is reading through every entry in the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual, talking about each one in turn, including its real world history, culture, inspiration and suggestions for how to use it in games. This, I suspect, is a podcast that’s perhaps more of interest to a GM than a player of D&D, but the episodes are short (usually about ten minutes) and I’m half way through the Monster Manual by now, so I figure I’ll keep going until the end of that book. There’s a lot more after that, but unless something really catches my attention, I probably won’t continue beyond that.

There’s actually a spin-off podcast called Patron Deities in which the host gives the Deities and Demigods book the same treatment, except in more detail. Unfortunately, although the first episode was in the main feed, the rest is a subscription-only thing, available if you subscribe to the host’s Patreon. I actually really enjoyed that taster, particularly how it tied the deity back to its origin in the real world and the wider culture that it tied in to.

50 Things That Made the Modern Economy

This is only in the honourable mentions because it seems to be over. There have been two seasons, each encompassing 50 items or ideas that helped create the modern economy (plus a handful of extras). It’s another podcast from the indomitable Tim Harford with short episodes in mini-essay format.


And that’s your lot. That’s a whole bunch of podcasts, I hope you’ve found something in this series you like. Feel free to tell me why I’m wrong or what I should be listening to instead/as well. The other parts in the series are listed below.

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 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:

Sunday, 19 July 2020

Links to the Hugo Awards 2020 short fiction

I’ve not been entitled to vote at the Hugo Awards since I was a member of LonCon in 2014, but I still find the awards a good way to keep up with the state of the art in speculative fiction, and while I can’t read all the longer works, most of the works in the shorter fiction categories are available online. Escape Pod used to run the short story finalists every year in the run-up to the awards, but they stopped doing that on the grounds that the short fiction was now pretty widely available online.

Locus usually list all the nominees and links to them, but for 2020, they haven’t linked the short fiction that is available for free. So for my own reference, and for anyone else who wants to read good, modern speculative fiction, here they are, all collected in one place.

Best Novelette

Best Short Story

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Missing Banksie All Over Again

Some time ago I found a long interview with Iain M. Banks that I didn’t have time to read at the time, so I stashed it into my bookmarks and then forgot about it.  I found it again the other day and started reading.  Early on, the famous essay A Few Notes on the Culture was mentioned and I realised that I’ve never actually read that so took a tangent that I’ve not made it back from.  It’s a really interesting essay both for fans of the Culture and for general fans of future history and worldbuilding.  I found a fantastic quote which seems very apt for the times we’re living in, which I was going to tweet, but then Bankie was never really known for being concise, was he?

The market, for all its (profoundly inelegant) complexities, remains a crude and essentially blind system, and is – without the sort of drastic amendments liable to cripple the economic efficacy which is its greatest claimed asset – intrinsically incapable of distinguishing between simple non-use of matter resulting from processal superfluity and the acute, prolonged and wide-spread suffering of conscious beings.

Given the briefings coming from Westminster about turning the UK into a deregulated tax haven, slashing workers’ rights while making corporations even more unaccountable, I fear Banks’ words are all too true.

I think it may be time to get away from it all with a Culture reread.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

That was the con that was: Satellite 4

I had a brilliant time at this year’s Eastercon, Satellite 4, in Glasgow.  There was a very strong programme, and like previous Satellite cons, there was  very strong science thread running through it, not least through having Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell (or the Queen of Pulsars, as Sacha put it) as one of the guests of honour.  I got to know a few new people, mostly thanks to dancing with them at the ceilidh, and went to a lot of panels and talks.

Some of the programme highlights for me included the privilege of hearing Dame Jocelyn discuss current and upcoming trends in astronomy; finding out more about the Historical Thesaurus developed at my alma mater; an excellent discussion of women in science and SF; a discussion of CubeSats by local boys Clyde Space; scone tasting; inadvisable rocket science; and the intersection of gynaecology and lasers (Sacha again).

The guests of honour were all delightful as well.  Juliet E. McKenna was kind enough to point me to some of her free fiction online when I twittered that I hadn’t read any of her work (after reading it, I’m afraid it’s not really to my taste, but it was still very kind of her to respond on Twitter).  I picked up several of John Meaney’s books in the dealers’ room and spent the rest of the con trying to corner him to sign one.  I eventually spotted him making a beeline for the bar at the dead dog party on Monday evening.  I approached him, and not only was he very happy to sign for me, but he offered to buy me a drink (something which I was going to offer him) and spent ten or so minutes just chatting (turns out he’s a Haskell and formal methods fan), confirming the impression that I had formed of him during the rest of the con as a thoroughly nice chap and all round good egg.  I bid on a couple of prints by (artist GoH) Jim Burns in the art auction, but was outbid on both of them.  I did attend his interview though, where I learned that he had provided some early conceptual artwork for Blade Runner, which I hadn’t known before.

Other con highlights include the aforementioned conversation with and signing by John Meaney; talking to Charlie Stross about the future direction of the Laundry series (spoiler: doooooooooom!); the ceilidh (although I felt the band themselves were a bit bland and less than engaging) and, of course, the general hanging around in the bar.  I should also congratulate the committee on wrangling cheap tea and coffee at the hotel bar.  Normally, you pay an arm and a leg for bad tea at cons, so I was very pleased to see that the bad tea was going for just £1 a cup.

The one problem with the con, that was more noticeable as the con went on, was the under-representation of women.  Fandom has worked pretty hard over the last few years to move towards panel parity, or at least an equal-ish overall number of men and women doing talks and on panels across the event as a whole, and I didn’t think that Satellite 4 managed that.  This may have been a function of the panels and events that I attended, but I did notice a few people on Twitter saying the same thing.  Hopefully this is just a blip in the process but it was a bit of a shame, I felt.

Sir Terry Pratchett was supposed to have been a special guest at Satellite 4, subject to health.  In the end, he couldn’t make it, but he did record a short video message that was shown at the opening ceremony.  And it was heartbreaking.  The video was very short, but Sir Terry was obviously struggling, and the whole thing took multiple takes to do.  My heart goes out to Sir Terry and his family and I wish them all the best.  I’ll treasure my own con memories of Sir Terry all the more now.

Other than that, and despite my inability to last beyond midnight for two out of the four evenings, I had a blast.  I had a lot of fun with my friends, and got to know some new people, and to cap it all, the weather was absolutely gorgeous all weekend.  I’m not sure what the next con that I’ll go to will be, but roll on Satellite 5!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Big, Dumb, but Eminently Loveable

Science fiction loves its big, dumb objects.  Although almost always macguffins, the best are mysterious, creepy and mind-blowingly awesome.  They epitomise SF’s sensawunda at its best and I love them.  So, to celebrate them, below the fold, in no particular order, are some of my favourite.  Where I’ve read and reviewed books that refer to some of these objects, I’ve linked to my review on GoodReads.

Warning: there may be some spoilers ahead.

(more…)

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Widening participation in fandom

I am a science fiction fan.  That won’t come as a surprise to most people reading this.  But beyond that, I identify as a fan, and the whole subculture of fandom.  It is a fairly large part of my personality and much of my free time is spent associating with other fans and with books and media within the genre.  I spent the Easter holiday weekend at Olympus 2012, the annual British National Science Fiction Convention (Eastercon) and had a thoroughly amazing time.  Now, it’s not unfair to say that the genre and the subculture as a whole has a reputation for being overwhelmingly male and white, but one of the things I found exhilarating at Olympus was the feeling of a culture in the middle of change – it really felt like there’s a push to bring women and feminism into fandom and it was good to be part of that.  This year’s Eastercon could proudly boast that half of its 1300 or so members were women, and there was gender parity on panels as well.  While there’s still a long way to go — I did hear about incidents this year that no woman should have to put up with in the 21st century — it does feel like the idea of diversity is starting become part of fandom.

And so it’s obvious that the next logical step to diversifying fandom is minority ethnic representation.  Just looking around the con, there were probably more BME fans that I’ve ever seen at a con before (not that that is saying much, given that I’ve only made it to about half a dozen of them so far).  Partially I imagine this was the “London effect”, and partially a function of just how big Olympus was, but I also attended a panel on widening minority representation in fandom which indicates that it’s something which is starting to be discussed within the culture itself, which I’m glad about.  At said panel, I was intrigued to hear one of the panel members, the actress Ruby Sahota, state that Indians really love SF.  That’s a very general statement, and one that I’d love see more analysis on.  However, I can’t even provide any anecdotal evidence evidence, given that I actually don’t know many Indian people.  I grew up in a small town in the heart of Northern Ireland where the Indian “community” consisted of two families.  Then I moved to Glasgow, where my friends were almost all met through science fiction, and, well, you can see the flaw in that plan :-).

Actually, on that note, I joined Io in my second year at Uni and remained active in the society for about a decade.  In that time, as far as I can remember, there were, in addition to myself, two other non-white active members (and one of those was my sister, who I introduced to the society, and would probably not have otherwise have become involved, so I’m not sure she even counts for this purposes of this discussion).  In that time, I very much noticed the lack of BME members, especially in a University with a fairly decent non-white student population and embedded in a city with a large Asian population.  University seems like a great time to bring people into fandom, with students trying out new things, but Io remained stubbornly mono-coloured during my decade’s involvement.  Perhaps I could have done more to change that, bringing it to the attention of the society as a whole, trying to appeal outside the traditional market, but I never did, which I somewhat regret now, although I’m still not really sure how to go about widening the appeal of the genre in that way.

Anyway, the point that Ruby was making was that although Indian people may love the genre, most of them would never think about about coming to a con or getting involved in fandom.  The panel didn’t really come to any solid conclusions or make any suggestions on how to change that (to be honest, it could have done with some stricter moderation and cutting off some audience members who had a tendency to ramble and go off-topic) but it’s definitely the beginning of a new conversation within my fandom.  It’s inspired me to look for new writers beyond the traditional (an appeal over Twitter has given me several leads which I intend to follow up on this year) and I’m certainly going to continue to follow the development of minority representation in fandom over the next few years, in the leadup to Satellite 4 and London in 2014.

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