I've been catching up with Podcastle audio fiction podcasts lately, so I thought I'd do some very brief reviews of everything (or at least everything I can remember listening to) since the last batch of Podcastle reviews. I tend to listen to this podcast fairly consistently, if often in clusters. Not all the stories hit anywhere near my sweet spot, but I'm usually listening on a drive or while working in the yard, so there's an incentive to finish them even if they aren't quite to my taste. This is rather different from my print-story consumption, where each story has to make a strong case for a place in my reading queue. I think it's good for me, in a way, to have at least one venue where I consume a cross-section of material that I might not otherwise try. These reviews cover about the last three months of the podcast.
I’m skipping the two “Miniatures” because I really don’t remember them well.
410: The Saint of the Sidewalks by Kat Howard
A piece of inventive urban folklore about how new gods come into being, and the relationship between them and their worshippers. That isn’t nearly a good enough description of the vivid gritty realism of this fantasy. A woman invokes the Saint of the Sidewalks and is answered by achieving a burdensome divinity. Strongly recommended.
411: Hands of Burnished Bronze by Rebecca Schwarz
Something very roughly in the King Midas vein, where a king commands his wizard to perform a terrible deed that then returns to haunt him and destroy his victory.
412: For Honor, For Waste by Setsu Uzume
This one is starting to fade in my memory. Once, every cycle of time, one life, one talent is sacrificed to a god-like figure in return for the city’s luck and prosperity. This time, three comrades and warriors are set into competition for the right to be the sacrifice. Can they trust each other enough to do what is truly best for the city? Some intricate characterization and adventure, though most of the plot twists were telegraphed.
413: This is Not a Wardrobe Door by A. Merc Rustad
There seems to be something of a fashion for meta-fiction about portal fiction. This is one of those stories exploring the hidden supernatural mechanics behind secret portals, imaginary childhood friends, and the desperate need to reclaim a sense of belonging that might never have been real in the first place. Haunting and incisive.
414: The Men from Narrow Houses by A. C. Wise
It’s been a while since I listened to this one, but the excerpt on the website brings it all back, so it must have been memorable. The story begins with a repetitive oral-storytelling style that suggests deep mythologies and traditions, but with a contemporary-feeling setting. It’s one of those stories that does a long, slow pulling back to reveal more and more of what’s really happening. In the end, memories get rearranged (or correctly arranged) and things aren’t at all what they seemed at first. Creepy, but not scary.
415: Responsibility Descending by G. Scott Huggins
This is a continuation of the characters and setting of a previous story, involving vast sea-going empires ruled by dragon and human partners, and most especially a story of one of their human-dragon hybrid offspring who has grown up in ignorance of her heritage. The previous story was an interesting mystery of the “discovering your origins” type, with a lot of ambitious worldbuilding. This second story, to my mind, falters and flounders a bit. Too much time is spent having the protagonist explore and come to grips with her new home and culture. There is an awkwardly inserted duel-for-the-sake-of-justice that seems little more than an excuse for an extended training montage and consequent aerial battle.
416: Braid of Days and Wake of Nights by E. Lily Yu
A story of mortality and the desperate rage against death, told with a magical-realist atmosphere involving unicorns and the many different New York Cities that coexist. In the end, despite the fantastic trappings, it’s a story of human relationships and conflicts, brought into sharp focus by one character’s impending death. Whether it’s uplifting or depressing will probably depend on the listener’s own relationship to mortality.
417: Archibald Defeats the Churlish Shark-Gods by Benjamin Blattberg
Don’t recall listening to this one.
418: James and Peter Fishing by Anaea Lay
If, as I did, you find yourself expecting some sort of apostolic reference, you too may find yourself charmed by the slow reveal of exactly who James and Peter are, and why they are fishing together. To say more would be to spoil the surprise. I found this story of the meaning of life to be charmingly philosophical (or perhaps philosophically charming) in the way it reveals layer after layer of the characters’ backstories and motivations. It did seem to go on perhaps a smidge longer than I might have had patience for in a non-audio format.
419: Giants at the End of the World by Leena Likitalo
Huh. Must have somehow hit “mark as played” because I don’t remember this one at all.
420: The Bee Tamer’s Final Performance by Aidan Doyle
This was a completely bonkers piece of hallucinatory nightmare masquerading as a tale of resistance. The imagery kept starting out about 37-degrees aslant from reality, then snicked into place in a configuration even more removed. I doubt I would ever have finished it on the page. Which isn’t to say it isn’t a good story. It’s just...really really strange, and leans more on imagery than plot. Do not read or listen if you have phobias about clowns or bees: contains bee-filled clowns.
421: Hatyasin by Rati Mehrotra
A dark and violent tale of occupation, oppression, and being driven to the breaking point. Also of loyalty, bargains, and love. There’s some rich world-building in a small space, with names that evoke India and ancient alien presences that evoke a touch of Lovecraft. The tone ranges from sisterly squabbling to heroic battle. This story was darker than I usually like, but I was drawn in. The protagonist was far more sympathetic than her actions might suggest.