Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Audio File: Christmas Special part 2


Welcome back. For those of you just joining the fun, this is part two of The Audio File’s look at speculative fiction stories all about Christmas. Part one can be found over here. This time we’re taking a look at stories from The Moonlit Road, The Journey Into Podcast, The Truth, Pseudopod, StarShipSofa, Dunesteef, Edward French’s Fiction Fantastique, and LibriVox. Well, that’s enough preamble from me. Once more tis story time…



The Moonlit Road



"A Christmas Haunting" by Craig Dominey
Narrated by Thomas Fuller

This story follows a man who is spending Christmas alone for the first time in years. He’s recently become divorced and the death of his parents has left him to care for his old childhood home. He had a rough childhood, though the family dog always tried to show him affection. He’s about to find out the unconditional love can come from many places, even beyond the grave.

Have a box of tissues handy, because this story is a heartwarming tearjerker. This story especially hits close to home if you have a beloved dog, or any beloved pet in your life. There’s not too much more I can add to this, other than that Thomas does an amazing job with the narration.

A Christmas ghost story that sure to put a tear in your eye. I couldn’t recommend it more.

"The Missing Cookies" by Craig Dominey
Narrated by Babs Bagriansky

This story follows a young girl whose family has moved into a new home just south of Nashville, Tennessee. Well, it’s a historical Victorian home, but it’s new to her. Ever year the plate of cookies her family leaves out for Santa disappears, only it doesn’t seem like Santa’s the one eating them. So then who is eating the cookies?

This one’s another heartwarming Christmas haunting story. If you’ve got some family members who you haven’t visited in a while, perhaps take inspiration from this story and give them a visit. I’d tell you a bit more, but I wouldn’t want to give the story away. I can, however, tell you that Babs does a good job with the narration.

Another heartwarming Christmas story that you won’t want to miss out on.

The Journey into Podcast


 "Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry

A Full Cast Production
A Public Domain Story

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard this one before.  It's the one where the man sells his watch to get his wife hairbrushes, and the woman sells her hair to get her husband a chain for his watch. Like I said, a well-known tale, but still worth giving a listen. It isn't too long, and the narrators all do an excellent job. Though, personally, I always though the wife got the better deal. At least her hair will grow back, and it does grow fast. Not like the husband can grow a new watch. Still, the point is that it is the thought that counts.

A well-loved Christmas classic, and on that is still worthy of your time.

A Full Cast Production
Originally Published on Tor.com

This story follows a half-troll named Mel Farrelly. She's coming to terms with her father's recent death. This is getting harder as Dragon's Mass, a holiday near and dear to them both, draws near. Throughout the story we also hear of the legend of the Santaman. He is a legendary mystical hero who, when times grew dark and hopeless, lead humanity to a new home.

Okay, it didn't sound like much, but I promise that it is good. This one really stuck a cord with me. I lost my maternal grandfather several years ago a few days before Christmas. I was listening to this story not long after I lost my maternal grandmother. I originally listened over on Far-Fetched Fables, where it is narrated by Graeme Dunlop. A great narration, but I always listen to a full cast production whenever I get the chance. I'm certainly glad that I listened to this one. I thought it was interesting how the legend of the Santaman combined the secular and religious aspects of Christmas. Also, in this world, apparently hope is a physical substance than can be mined.

When I was a kid, I found a lot of my family's holiday traditions hokey and contrived. As the years have passed, I wonder if perhaps my grandparents, in their own way, trying to give my siblings and I a way to remember them when they were gone. Throughout her life, Mel fought with her father about whether or not she ought to settle down and start and family. She was always opposed, but after her father's passing, begins to reconsider. I've frequently had those debates myself. I'm not sure I'd be much good as a parent. Yet I also wonder if I might regret not starting a family when I'm older.

It is a very emotional story, and the entire cast delivers it well. A more melancholy Christmas tale, but more than worth your time.

The Truth


"Naughty or Nice" by Jonathan Mitchell and Seth Lind
A Full Cast Production
Featured on NPR's All Things Considered

This story follows an elf named Spark. He works at the Naught and Nice division of Santa's workshop. He and his coworkers sort all children onto either the Naughty or Nice list. Lately, however, more and more children are winding up on the Naughty list for misdemeanors. Something's going on, and Spark is going to get to the bottom of it.

This was a really fun story. Of course, in order to discuss it we're going to have to talk about the twist. Why are so many children getting coal? Santa is in bed with the coal industry, that's why! You'd think he'd be concerned about Global Warming, due to living in the Arctic and all. Maybe he has enough magic where it wouldn't be a problem? In any event, Santa was well-written, and seemed believably nice before the big reveal. I love these stories that give a more technological edge to Santa's workshop and its employees. Also, great sound editing to make the actors playing elves sound convincing.

A fun, slightly satirical tale that I'm sure you'll enjoy. This one is on the nice list.

"Mall Santa" by Louis Kornfeld
A Full Cast Production

This story follows a longtime mall Santa named Al. He's growing increasingly disillusioned with the cheeriness of the holidays. However, he's about to have an encounter with an amateur Santa that just might help him rediscover the magic of Christmas.

It is cliche, but true, that giving is better than receiving. There's is a certain magic that can be found in helping your fellow man. This magic isn't exclusive to the holidays. It can be found any time of the year. I think that's really the take away from this story. You don't have to move mountains to make the world a better place. Spare some time for those who need someone to talk to, and perhaps could use a few kind words.

Not much more to say here, other than that I recommend this one. 


Pseudopod


Saint Nicholas’ Helper” by D.K. Thompson
Narrated by Marie Brennan
A Pseudopod Original

This story follows a girl named Greta who wants nothing more than to have her deceased father brought back. She’s gone everywhere, even meeting Saint Nicholas himself, but to no avail. Then her sister Heike gets kidnapped by Krampus. Greta must embark on a quest to get her sister back, but it will be perilous, and not even Saint Nicholas can protect her.

I liked how this story featured the darker side of Krampus. In many ways it almost felt like Krampus could be read as a metaphor for the forces beyond our control. Specifically, those uncontrollable forces that harm our loved ones. This is a horror story, but like the song says, scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmas long, long ago. D.K. Thompson is better known as Dave Thompson, former editor and co-host of PodCastle. Dave is just as much an amazing writer as he is an editor and host. I always look forward to seeing new stories from Dave.

As far as the narration goes, I thought Marie did a great job. It’s another Krampus story that I happily recommend. 

StarShipSofa


"Tis The Season" by China Mieville
Narrated by Charles Marvin
Original Published in The Socialist Review, collected in Looking For Jake

This story is set in a slight dystopian near future in which holidays have become privatized and require special licenses to celebrate. The rich celebrate Christmas while the working class have to settle for cheaper knock-offs. The story follows a man who has finally saved up enough to buy a Christmas license, but he soon finds himself swept up in a revolution to take back Christmas from the bourgeoisie.

As you may have guess, this is a story where Mieville’s Marxist views really shine through. That being said, it doesn’t make this story any less enjoyable. I read it as satire on privatization by taking that concept to its logical extreme. And hey, it’s a story that feature an organization called The Gay Men’s Christmas Liberation Choir, it’s just crazy awesome like that. I especially like the little sound effects that go with the little badges all the characters where to remind them that Christmas is a Yule co trademark, among other intellectual property. The little high-pitched voice sounds really funny.

I don’t know if Charles was the one who did that particular voice, but I do know that he did a great job with the narration. Do I need to say that I recommend this one? 

Dunesteef 


"A Princes of Earth" by Mike Resnick
Narrated by Rish Outfield and Big Anklevich
Originally Published in Asimov's
2005 Hugo Award Finalist

This story follows a an old man whose wife has recently died. One Christmas Eve night he receives a strange visitor. The stranger claims to be none other than John Carter of Mars himself. Is the stranger just blowing smoke, or might he be telling the truth after all?

Not a Christmas story in the traditional sense, but it takes place at Christmas, so I'm counting it. There are times in our life when the world makes us grown cynical, and we lose our sense of wonder. We're so concerned about living in the gutter that we fail to look up and see the stars. As the story itself notes, many of the great innovators, explorers and thinkers were often thought to be fools or insane. Yet they persevered, and the world is better for it. Sometimes you just need to take a crazy chance. As our protagonist learns, there are wonders just waiting for you to discover them.

Once again, Big and Rish do an excellent job with the narration. A story about rediscovering your sense of wonder. I happily recommend it. 

Edward French's Fiction Fantastique 


Narrated by Edward E. French

We're changing gears slightly for this one and reviewing a poem. It's about a naughty boy who doesn't believe in Santa Claus. I can't tell you much more, but I can tell you that Santa gets the last laugh in the end. Not really much more to add on this one. I always love a poem with a good rhyme scheme, and with a good narrator. Check it out for yourself. You'll be glad that you did. 

LibriVox


"Christmas Everyday" by William Dean Howells
Narrated by Brain Hostage and Jessica Mells
A Public Domain Story

This story follows a young girl who loves Christmas very much. So much that she wishes for it to be Christmas every day. A fairy decides to grant her wish on a trail basis of one year. However, the girl soon comes to find that her wish might not be such a good thing after all.

This is another story that you might have heard before, but it is still worth going over. As I've said before, any virtue carried to an extreme becomes a vice. That's really the moral of this story. Along the way we do get some darkly comedic moments. There's mass deforestation due to everyone needing Christmas trees, everyone is in the poor house because of spending money on presents, but then get sent home after the poor house exceeds capacity. Also, turkey and cranberries now cost $1000 due to high demand. Keep in mind, this story was written over 100 years ago. Luckily, my family eats ham and finger foods for Christmas, so we'd be good in that regard. There also a particularly funny scene where everyone tries to celebrate the 4th of July, but all the firecrackers and cannons turn into candy and presents. I guess Christmas in July didn't go so well that year.

This is one of those stories that emphasis not getting caught up in the commercialism of Christmas. However, it does so without being preachy or moralizing. Both of a narrators did an excellent job, especially give that this was an amateur production.

A humorous Christmas classic that you won't want to miss out on. 

Conclusion


Well here we are at the true end of the list. These two editions of The Audio File were a long time coming, and I hope they were worth the wait. I think the greatest present of all I getting to write these articles, and to know that you guys love them so much. That’s enough for now. Up the chimney I go, and to my sleigh to fly. With a smile on my face and a twinkle in my eye, happy listening to all, and to all a good night. I will see you all next time.



Saturday, June 22, 2019

The Audio File: Christmas Special part 1


Christmas, it’s that most wonderful time of the year. As much as I tend to complain about how the buildup takes away from other holidays, such as Halloween and Thanksgiving, I still love this time of year nonetheless. Could it be the cool weather, the gift giving, the joyous spirits or perhaps all of the above? I’ve had many fond Christmas memories over the years, and hopefully many more to come. Whatever the reason I’ve got some great stories to get you in that Christmas spirit. I say Christmas and not Holidays because there’s not that many speculative fiction stories based around Hanukkah and Kwanza. Well I found one Hanukkah story, but I’m saving it for the Lovecraft special.


As you may have notice by the timing of this posting, we're having Christmas in July. Well, an early Christmas in July, but it still counts. I was able to find so many stories that I had to split this special into two parts. Don’t worry, part two will be here before you know it.

So hope in my sleight, and grip on the reigns, the time for stories tis only a short bit away…

PodCastle


Catching the Spirit” by Heather Shaw and Tim Pratt
Narrated by Big Anklevich
A PodCastle Original

It’s often said that Christmas brings out the spirit of generosity in people. In this story it literally does. People are coming down with manic bouts of generosity that cause them to give away everything they own, all while being happier than ever, and nobody knows why. Nobody, that is, save a crabby old man living in rural Minnesota with eight reindeer. In cast it wasn’t obvious, the old man is of course Santa Claus.

Every year around Christmas time PodCastle commissions a story from Tim Pratt and Heather Shaw; so expect to see their names come up a few times. I liked how this story brought a humanizing element to Santa. We get to see Santa make mistakes and double his purpose in life. Yet at the same time we also see Santa pick himself up, dust off his bruises and keep pressing on. It was also nice to see the story talk about how even the smallest act of kindness can have a big impact on someone else’s life.

Big Anklevich is one of the hosts of the Dunesteef Podcast, and he does a great job with the narration for this story. It’s a story that’s sure to lift your spirits, and get you in the spirit and…okay, I’ll stop. Anyway, it’s a story that is well worth your time.

Seasonal Disorder” by Heather Shaw and Tim Pratt
Narrated by Christiana Ellis
A PodCastle Original

This story follows the Snow Queen, the living personification of winter and the cold. She’s been living a pretty low-key life these last few centuries due to a lack of followers. All of that changes when she received a message from an ice elf. The Sun King is going to ignite the sun to speed up the evolution of life on Europa, but in the process, Earth will be destroyed. Can the Snow Queen stop him in time?

Almost all of the major symbols and traditions associated with our modern Christmas celebrations can trace their roots back to pagan religious practices. As such, it was nice to see a story that harkened back to those pagan roots in its own unique way. Though this story did make me wonder about the other seasonal royalty in its world. The Sun King’s plan for Europa kind of reminded me of a fantasy version of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010: Odyssey Two. I also really enjoyed the Snow Queen’s irreverent and laid-back attitude; in contrast with the Sun King’s pomp and self-importance.
Christiana really nailed it were her performance of the Snow Queen’s snarky and sarcastic personality. 

It tis the season, and this is a story that I happily recommend.

The Christmas Mummy” by Heather Shaw and Tim Pratt
Narrated by Rish Outfield
Originally Published in A Christmas Chapbook

This story follows two kids named Trish and Nate who sure they’re in for a great Christmas. Their supercool adventurer archeologist of an uncle has come to visit, and ninja elves have delivered presents to them. Then their uncle’s old rival, Hitler Moriarty, drops in for a visit. Can the kids save the day and find the true meaning of Christmas?

And with this story we’ve bowled a turkey of great Heather Shaw and Tim Pratt stories. I loved how this story juxtaposes various pulp adventure tropes alongside a typical suburban Christmas. This is a fun little story that is perfect to share with any kids in your life. I had to smile whenever Professor Moriarty referenced the pagan origins of Christmas, it reminded me of Christmas conversations with my own family. It’s got magic, mummies and Christmas mayhem. What more could you ask for?

Rish Outfield, the other half of the Dunesteef Podcast, does a great job with the narration. It’s magical Christmas fun the whole family can enjoy. I couldn’t recommend it more.

"Elf Employment" by Heather Shaw and Tim Pratt
Narrated by Wilson Fowlie
A PodCastle Original

This story follows a young boy named Alex who has decided to runaway to Santa's workshop. He did this to escape his strict and overbearing parents. Working at the North Pole isn't quite all it's cracked up to be, but he makes the best of it. He's making his way through he ranks, but is he truly happy with his new life?

At one point or another every child has thought about running away to somewhere. It could be someplace real like the circus, or someplace made up like Hogwarts of Camp Half-Blood. The point is, sometimes we think we'd be better off without our parents. That's true if your parents are genuinely abusive, but in most cases, you really might want to think twice. Parents make mistakes, and sometimes they're too strict, but it comes from a place of wanting the best for their children. Alex certainly learns this during his stay at the North Pole. At the same time, Santa acknowledges that Alex's parents do need to loosen-up. I liked how they weren't completely off the hook.

Speaking of which, let's talk about the scene during Thanksgiving dinner. Alex has decided to be vegetarian, but his parents make him eat turkey, because his uncle is a turkey farmer. Alex tires to slather it with cranberry sauce, but his dad says "Oh no you don't! You'll eat it with gravy like everyone else." I ask you, what kind of cold, cruel, heartless monster denies an innocent child delicious cranberry sauce?! I know a lot of people put emphasis on gravy, but my family never makes special gravy for Thanksgiving. We use cranberry sauce, and I never understood the emphasis on gravy, but I digress.

As for the narration, Wilson does a spot on job. A story that draws on memories of childhood, and one that I recommend.

"Hosting the Solstice" by Tim Pratt
Narrated by Brie Code
A PodCastle Original

This story follows a woman named Holly who is doing her best to lead a quiet suburban life with her husband Corey and her son Rye. This is complicated when her family decides to drop in for a visit. They're...something supernatural. Gods? Spirits? Fay? Demons? The point is, they're not human. Whatever her family really are, Holly's holiday season just got a lot more stressful.

It was nice to have another story that harkens back to the pagan roots of Christmastime. I always enjoy stories they provide a perspective flip on a familiar concept. With this story when see the familiar narrative of a young boy discovering that his is magical, and about to be whisked away on a magical adventure. However, we see it from the perspective of the parents. Sort of a Percy Jackson and the Olympians from Mrs. Jackson's point-of-view. So just what are Holly's parents? I'm inclined to say Fair Folk, as they can't drink water from metal pipes. On that other hand, that just makes things murkier. Some scholars think that the Fair Folk were originally gods, but devolved into spirits due to the influence of Christian missionaries. Well, in any event, if you're ever feeling stressed during the holidays, just listen to this story and you'll feel better.

I thought that Brie did an excellent job with the narration. A story that shows, no matter how different our families are, at the end of the day we all go through the same stress during the holidays. I happily recommend it.

Narrated by Rish Outfield
A PodCastle Original

This story is a sequel to "The Christmas Mummy," but you don't have to have listen to it to understand this one. Trish, Nate and their family are back for a Christmas vacation in Micronesia. Of course, given what story this is a sequel to, it isn't long before vacation time is interrupted by the Lovecraftian deity named Peshtiri Mobdybelig. Hey, with this family the holidays are anything but ordinary.

Just as last time juxtaposed Pulp Adventure with a suburban Christmas, this time we get Cosmic Horror thrown into the mix. It goes without saying that it all works out in the end, but it was a fun journey to get there. It is mentioned that Peshtiri Mobdybelig is placated via a ritual that involves two goats,none red and one white, that have feasted only on mint and sugar. I can't believe I didn't get the solution sooner. I also loved how Peshtiri Mobdybelig came across as rather polite and jovial at times.

I also really loved Rish's narration, as per usual. Another fun Christmas story that you won't want to miss out on.

The Drabblecast


"A Fairy Tale of Oakland" by Tim Pratt
Narrated by Norm Sherman
A Drabblecast Original

This story follows an unnamed narrator who has fallen down on his luck. He’s had a chance encounter with an old homeless man who claims to have met the actual Santa Claus. Our narrator has always hated Christmas, but he’s about to experience the holiday in a way he’s never anticipated before.

Okay, I know that really doesn’t sound like much, but I swear this is a really great story. First off, I loved how this story incorporated various myths about Santa from around the world, with special emphasis on the Krampus. Now, for those who might not know, Krampus is said to be a demon bound to the service on St. Nicholas. One night every year Krampus seeks out naughty children, stuff them into sacks and whips them with switches. His legend hails from Bavaria, Austria and Croatia. Now that we’ve had our folklore lesson for the day, let’s get back to the review.

This story felt kind of heartwarming, though in the Drabblecast’s own weird and unique way. We never find out the name of the protagonist, but I do know Norm Sherman’s name. I also know that he does a great job with the narration.

It’s unusual, weird, heartwarming and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

"On Dasher" by Jonathan C. Gillespie
Narrated by Norm Sherman
A Drabblecast Original

This story followers the reindeer Dasher. He's grown disillusioned with pulling Santa's sleigh, and wishes to do something more with his life. Santa is aware of this, and it just so happens that a qilin from China has volunteered to fill the spot. Dasher and the qilin are to compete in a race around the world, and the winner gets a spot on Santa's sleigh team.

I always love it when stories introduce me to new mythological creatures. I kind of suspected how the story was going to end. All the same, I was still rooting for the qilin to win, because the thought of one of those pulling Santa's sleigh was just too much fun. Still, Dasher does learn that his work does have value to the children of the world. So there's plenty of heartwarming moments to go with the fun and action.

As per usual, Norm's narration is spot-on. A fun and heartwarming story with a dash of mythology. I recommend it.

"Dirty Santa" by Tim Pratt
Narrated by Norm Sherman
A Drabblecast Original

This story follows a man named Kieron at a Christmas party. He receives a present from a mysterious red-haired woman named Elsie. He now has the power to grant wishes as Dirty Santa. Unfortunately, everyone's heart's desire doesn't always work out for the best. Kieran's got to find a way to break free from his curse before it's too late.

I enjoy these stories Tim makes that feature Elsie. While overall this was an enjoyable story, I didn't like that it hinted at her past. I know she's appeared in some of the books Tim has written, so maybe I'm missing something. All the same, characters like Elsie work best when they're given as little backstory as possible. We don't know much about Willy Wonka or Ms. Frizzle, but we don't need to. They're awesome just the way they are. In fact, giving them definitive backstories can often work against them. Now this isn't to say that I didn't enjoy this story. I liked it quite a bit. Kieron hold the distinction of being one of the few people to meet Elsie and live to tell the tale.

Once again, Norm does an excellent job with the narration. Another good, if a bit flawed, Tim Pratt Christmas story. I say give it a try.  

Escape Pod


Hoping for Red” by Adam Knight
Narrated by Tina Connolly
An Escape Pod Original

This story follows the reminder Vixen. She's grown jealous of all the attention Donner had gotten because of her boy Rudolph. Vixen and her husband have turned to genetic engineering in hopes that their daughter will be special. But is that really such a good idea?

You know, I never considered what gender Santa's reindeer are. I always assumed male, but I guess they could be female to. I always did wonder why a boy reindeer would be named Vixen. Female reindeer have antlers too; though theirs’s are smaller than male reindeers'. This is another of those stories that provides another side of a well-known tale. Apparently, Rudolph wasn't bullied for his nose. He's a jerk and a prima donna who gave the other reindeer plenty of legitimate reasons to hate him. So, yeah. Vixen gets her special baby, but the other reindeer also want special kids.

This has the unfortunate side effect of getting all of original reindeer replaced. Now the original eight are reduced to stage moms, living vicariously through their kids. I'd add there might be another issue. Presumably the super reindeer will have kids of their own, and who knows what their powers might be. All I'm say is that a reindeer with atomic powers might be pretty dangerous. Also, what if the reindeer don't want to use their powers for good?

I'd been listening to the podcast Toasted Cake a lot when I listened to this story. As Aristotle observed, any virtue taken to an extreme becomes a vice. I did groan just a tad when I heard Tina would be narrating. Like I said, too much of a good thing and all that. However, all things considered, she did a good job.

A satirical take on Christmas icons. This story gets presents for Christmas.

"As Solitary As an Oyster" by Mur Lafferty
Narrated by Alasdair Stuart

This story follows a trio of ghost hunters on Christmas Eve. They've been hired by a Mr. Ebenezer Scrounge to deal with some spirits that have come to visit him.

This story fails to deliver despite a potentially fun premise. The characters were bland and forgettable. I had little to no idea about any of their motivations or personalities. In fact, it invoked the eight worst words you can say to an author: I don't care what happens to these characters. Alasdair's narration only served to compound the problems. It felt like his heart just wasn't in the narration, and like he was phoning it in. He made no effort to differentiate the characters. He gave them all the same emotionless monotone voice, and it was hard to keep track of who was who. That's an issue I've had with his narrations. Even when they're good they are...well, good, but not great. He might be an excellent orator, but as a narrator, Alasdair leaves something to be desired. Still, he did improve his hosting skills with time. Perhaps he will eventually improve his narration skills as well.

This story gets coal for Christmas. Don't waste your time with this one. 

Far-Fetched Fables


"In the Late December" by Greg Van Eekhout
Narrated by Eric Luke
Originally Published in Strange Horizons

This story takes place far into the future. So far that it is almost at the end of the universe itself. It is a strange and unfathomable place, but Santa still delivers presents to children, such that they are. This Christmas, however, the number of children is at an all-time low. Santa is about to do battle with the forces of entropy itself.

Certainly one of the more unusual entries to the list, but that just makes it more enjoyable. It is comforting to think that, even as the universe grows dark and cold, some things will remain constant. In this story we see Santa not just as someone who brings joy to children, but also as a defender of children. Greg certainly has a very active imagination to come up with a story like this. Likewise, Eric certainly has great narrating skills.

A science fantasy Christmas experience bursting with imagination and heart. Of course I recommend it.

The Magikkers” by Terry Dowling
Narrated by Graeme Dunlop
Originally Published in Amberjack: Tales of Fear and Wonder

This story follows a boy named Sam who is attending a school to learn how to use magic. Sam and his classmates are magikkers, meaning they have only enough magic within them to each perform one great act of magic, and after that their magic will be all used up. Once they’ve run out of magic they’ll have to get by with slight-of-hand and optical illusions. Sam is facing a dilemma about if he ought to save his magic or use it for the sake of the school’s headmaster.

We’ll end part one of the Christmas Special with a story about the magic of giving to others. Here we have a young boy who is swept up into a tantalizingly magical world, but he only gets to have the briefest of tastes. Sam’s choice ultimately comes down to how he wants the legacy of his magic to be remembered. It’s pretty obvious that he goes on to use his one act of magic as a selfless act, but it didn’t take away from how touching this story was. Graeme’s gentle and kind voice was the perfect fit for this story.

I think that’s enough from me, go ahead and give this wonderful little story a listen.

Conclusion


Well we've had our fun, but now I must run. In this summer heat I'll surely melt away. But though I wave goodbye, you must not cry, I'll be back with part two of this Christmas Special before you know it. I will see you all for part two next time. Speaking of which, part two is now available.   

Friday, June 21, 2019

Comic Review: The Life Eaters


If you've been following this blog for a while you know that I love alternate history, and I love mythology.  So what happens when I find a comic that combines them both?  I'll save you the trouble.  Today we'll be taking a look at The Life Eaters by David Brin with art by Scott Hampton.  Also available from Comixology


The Life Eaters is an expansion of Brin's novella "Thor Meets Captain America."  No, not the ones you're probably thinking of.  The comic takes place in a world where Nazi Germany used the Holocaust as a form of mass necromancy to summon the Norse gods.  As a result, the Nazi are able to push themselves back from the brink of defeat.  They push the Allies out of Europe and succeed in conquering the British Isles and Russia.  World War II has dragged on into the 1960s.  The Nazis have their sights set on America, but the Allies continue to fight on thanks to the help of the trickster god Loki. 

The comic is divided into three parts, and part one is pretty much a straight-up retelling of "Thor Meets Captain America."  Personally, I found this to be the best part of the comic.  The artwork is done in a way that invokes the photorealistic watercolor style of Alex Ross.  The gods are all drawn reasonably mythologically accurate.  Thor has red hair and a beard.  Well, everyone except for Loki.  He's just as muscular as the other gods, even though the myths would suggest he has a more slender appearance.  He also has a long white beard, causing him to look a bit like Odin.  This leg of the story follows a man named Chris as he leads an expedition of Allie forces on a mission to Sweden.  Besides the issues with Loki's appearance, there's also the issue of how the expedition arrives in Sweden.  They take a submarine under the thinking that the Norse gods don't function well underwater.  This is simply untrue, as there are several aquatic Norse deities such as Aegir and his daughters the seven waves. 

Despite these criticisms, I did overall enjoy this part of the comic.  I liked how the gods are portrayed.  They view the Nazis as a source of sacrifices, but don't support Nazi ideology.  For example, when a black solider tries to attack Odin, and is killed by a priest, Odin immediately orders him to be given full funeral rights.  He says, essentially, "I want that brave man fighting at my side when Ragnarok comes."  It is also mentioned that the Nazi elites are losing their grip on power, and the priest of the Aesir are the ones who really run the reich these days.  The Aesir honor valor and courage even when their enemies are the ones expressing it.  Thor expresses a certain admiration for Chris's resilience. 

There's also a nice reference to the poem Old Norse poem "Grimnismal" when Odin mentions that his raven Muninn was killed when the Allies nuked Berlin.  In the poem Odin talks of his ravens Huginn and Muninn, thought and memory.  He fears the day Huginn does not return, but more does he fear that Muninn won't come back.  In other words, he's getting older, and he fears the day he will be nothing more than a senile old man who can't even form coherent thoughts. 

Brin mentioned that the whole reason The Life Eaters came to be was that he was trying to write a Nazi Victory alternate history, but couldn't think of a plausible way for it to happen.  He was also trying to rationalize the Holocaust, at least to himself.  Of course that the thing about the Holocaust.  As methodical as it was, it was also utterly irrational.  The Nazis had to ignore science to justify their slaughter.  Not to mention that the whole thing was actively detrimental to their war effort because of all the resources and manpower that were diverted. 

So the first third ends with Chris snapping Odin's spear Gungnir, and fatally wounding himself.  Still, it does give hope that one day mortal men will be able to rise up and defeat the gods.  Okay, so despite some minor flaws, it was a good start to the comic. 

The second part of the comic pick up the action in the 1970s.  The Nazis have conquered America and Canada, but they aren't unopposed.  The Japanese have used necromancy to summon the Shinto gods, the Indians have summoned the Hindu gods, and the various nations of Africa have summoned their gods.  The part of the story follows a young solider named Joseph Kasting has he finds himself drawn into the world of the underground Allied resistance.

I'd assumed that the Nazi's rituals worked because the Norse gods were dead.  Early Christian missionaries would claim that Ragnarok had already occurred, and that Norse Mythology was a prequel to the Bible.  However, it appears that you can create gods out of thin air by believing hard enough, and performing enough human sacrifice.  Still, it was an interesting idea to have other nations create their own gods.  We do get a taste of this as Joseph and his comrades engage Hindu gods in Cambodia.  The Norse gods don't do so well in tropical climates.  The Allies are operating for under the sea, but I've already explained why this doesn't work.  Again, flawed, but I liked how it expanded upon the initial world of the novella.  Although I did stop a horned helmet.  The Vikings did not wear horned helmets.  It is a misconception that comes from early archaeologist finding drinking horns next to helmets in burial mounds, and wrongly assume thing they went together. 

Part three is where things really start to come apart.  Joseph is tasked by the Resistance to stop Loki, who wasn't as trustworthy as he seemed, from bringing about Ragnarok.  The first flaw happens Joseph meets a coalition of Christians, Jews and Muslims.  They spend several scenes blabbering about how they've put aside their differences and love each other now.  Oh, bullshit. I highly doubt the Abrahamic Faith's would start loving each other, and stop trying to killed each other, just because pagan gods starred reappearing.  Also, the Christians use the ichthus because the Muslims find crosses offensive, which is even more bullshit.  To explain why we'd need to discuss the Crusades, and that's a conversation for another time.  The Abrahamic Coalition makes a big deal about how their faiths require no sacrifices, which is nonsense.  Judaism doesn't currently perform sacrifices, but only because of a lack of a temple in Jerusalem.  Christianity places a lot of significance on the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  Muslims sacrifice plenty of sheep of Eid. 

Anyway, moving on.  The biggest problem I have with The Life Eaters is that it bit off more than it could chew.  It came up with interesting ideas, but didn't have nearly enough space to properly develop them.  As a result, the ending comes across as rushed and anti-climactic.  Moreover, the moral of "stop waiting for all-powerful beings to save you, and instead save yourself" came across as way more heavy-handed than in the first part.  Again, this comic was way too short.  It needed more time to properly develop its plot and world.

So, what are my final thoughts on The Life Eaters?  It certainly wasn't the worst alternate history comic I've ever read.  There was a lot to love about the first 2/3.  However, there was significant room for improvement.  Despite having a very interesting premise, the comic failed to make the most of it, and needed more room to properly develop its world. 

Well, I think that should do it for now.  I will see you all next time.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Alt-Hist File: Lightspeed Magazine


Everyone buckle up, because in this edition of The Audio File we're going to lightspeed. Lightspeed Magazine that is. Lightspeed Magazine was founded in 2010 by John Joseph Adams, who continues to serve as the magazine's editor. The Lightspeed's podcast is created in association with Skyboat Road Company Inc, the largest independent audio producer on the West Coast, and is headed by the Audie and Grammy award winning narrators Stefan Rudnicki and Grabrielle de Cuir. Originally, Lightspeed only published science fiction short stories; however, in 2012 Lightspeed merged with its sister magazine Fantasy Magazine and now publishes fantasy short stories in equal quantity to science fiction.

In 2014, Lightspeed won the Hugo Award, and many of the stories published in it have won the Hugo, Nebula and Sturgeon awards. Lightspeed includes both the text and audio versions of their stories, but not all stories have an audio form. Interviews with the authors are also included with the text of the stories and I always enjoy getting the author's insight into the stories. Lightspeed has also run various special issues including Women Destroy Science Fiction, highlighting great women science fiction writers, Queers Destroy Science Fiction, featuring LGBTQ science fiction writers, and People of Color Destroy Science Fiction, featuring minority writers. Lightspeed also has a sister magazine know as Nightmare Magazine, which publishes horror and dark fantasy short stories.

Besides John Joseph Adams, Lightspeed's podcast has been hosted by Jack Kincaid, Jim Freund and featured Mur Lafferty for Women Destroy Science Fiction, Cecil Baldwin for Queers Destroy Sceince Fiction, and Rajan Khana for People of Color Destroy Sceince Fiction. John has also created several themed anthologies, many of whose stories have been featured on Lightspeed. Also, be sure to checkout Lightspeed: Year One, a collection of stories from Lightspeed's first year which was nominated for the Hugo Award.

Well, that about does it for the intro. So, everyone fold your tray tables up, return your seats to the full upright position and without further ado let's make the jump to Lightspeed.

"The Old Equations" by Jake Kerr
A Full Cast Production

This story is set in the 22nd century, but it takes place in a world where Albert Einstein died during World War I before developing his Theory of Relativity. As a result, quantum theory became the foundation of modern physics. An astronaut named Jim is embarking on a ten year mission to another planet. The story is told as series of message transmission between Jim, his wife Kate and Mission Control. At first things seem to be going well, then the message times get increasingly out of sync. Scientists search for answers and begin to wonder if those old equations of Einstein's might have had something to them after all.

In case it wasn't obvious, this was that story I hinted at in my review of "The Cold Equations". I liked how the story was presented as a series of message logs, and everyone in the full cast production did an excellent job. Now, in terms of plausibility this story is a tad shaky. Admittedly, it is rather odd that it took so long for humanity to discover relativity, but then we'd have no story if they had. Jake said that he was directly inspired by "The Cold Equations" and he certainty did a great job of capturing the themes and emotions of that story.

A modern take on a classic of science fiction. Very much worth your time.

The Aetherian Revolution series by Carrie Vaughn
Narrated by Roxanne Hernandez and Gabrielle de Cuir

I'm going to do something different with this one. Instead of reviewing a single story I'm going to review several stories set in the same world. Specifically, a world where an alien spacecraft crash-landed in Surrey in 1869. The pilots died on impact, but British scientists were able to reverse-engineer much of the alien technology. Before long the tech leaked to other nations and the Victorian era was forever change. The series follows Harry, better known as Princess Maud, and Lieutenant James Marlowe as they defend the British Empire and try to discover the secrets of the Aetherians.

You may have heard of Carrie Vaughn through her Kitty Norville urban fantasy novels or her After The Golden Age superhero duology. Carrie, however, has also written quite a few short stories and she's quickly become one of my favorite writers. As for the Aetherian Revolution stories, I absolutely love them. They're action packed adventures of machinations and alien machines; from lost Viking tribes in Iceland to mechanical insects in Paris. At the same time they don't shy away from the more unpleasant aspects of the Victorian era such as classism and the restriction placed on women.

I'm not sure if the stories are exactly steampunk, given that the changes come from alien technology, but they certainly have that aesthetic to them. As for the narration, both Roxanne and Gabrielle do excellent jobs narrating their stories. I can only hope Carrie considers expanding the series into a novel.

It goes with saying that I recommend all of them.

"The Cristobal Effect" by Simon McCaffery
Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki 

James Dean, John Lennon and Princess Diana are just a few of the many people who died before their time. They would have had such great lives and would have left such an impact on the world if only they'd survived...or would they? Our protagonist possess a device that allows him to travel to different universes. He's decided use the device to save James Dean from dying in a car accident. It works, but things don't quite go as he envisioned them.

Before listening to this story I didn't know much about James Dean, but by then end I had a great appreciation of who he was. I also liked the way that travel between universes is described; it resembles time travel, but it isn't, and some universes change more easily than others. It is not the most uplifting message, but living longer might not have meant more success for people like James Dean and I appreciate that this story didn't take the easy way out with that message.

Stefan did an excellent job with the narration. He really is one of the top narrators out there. Another story I very much recommend.

"The Cross-Time Accountants Fail To Kill Hitler Because Chuck Berry Does The Twist" by C.C. Finlay
Narrated by Mirron Willis

Yes, that's actually the name of this story. It follows two time travelers named Mabel and Harry. They come from a future ravaged by environmental damage and have been sent back to 1956 to set things on a better path. Oh, but this isn't the 1956 we know. In their world World War II has dragged on into the 1950s, the United States has allied with Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union and the United States has become fairly authoritarian. Mabel also hopes to save Chuck Berry before he gets murdered by a klansman named Elvis Presley.

Yeah, this one's probably going to be a tad controversial, but just bear with me for a minute. I didn't really know about Chuck Berry before I listened to this story, but now I do and that's always a bonus...clearly my pop culture knowledge has a few gaps. Anyway, I enjoyed how the story implied that our world is the alternate universe created as a result of the accountants changing the past. I also thought that opening and closing the story with an instrumental version of Rollover Beethoven was a nice touch. As for the whole Elvis killing Chuck Berry part, remember, it's alternate history and nothing is set in stone. People are products of their worlds, and not always in a good way.

As for the narration I thought that Mirron did a great job. It's a story with more than a few twists and I happily recommend it.

"Cimmeria: From the Journal of Imaginary Anthropology" by Theodora Goss
Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki 

This story follows a group of anthropologists as they try to envision what a modern day nation of Cimmeria would be like. Before long, however, they find that their creation has come to life, and one researcher finds himself involved with the royal family and nation's political intrigues.

The premise of a group of people believing a nation into existence brought to my mind the Tibetan Buddhist concept of tulpa; basically, it works on the same principle, but with a single entity and only experienced monks can pull it off. Back to the story, I must say that the worldbuilding is spectacular. The culture of Cimmeria is one of the most unique alternate history cultures I've encountered in quite some time. For example, blue is considered a sacred color and as many women dye their hair blue, twins are considered one soul in two bodies, Cimmerians are Orthodox Christians, but believe that cats will guide them to the afterlife.

It's mentioned another team of anthropologists created a modern nation of Scythia, which only served to intrigue me more. I really felt like I was walking on the streets of a Cimmerian city. Also, I should mention that this Cimmeria has no relation to the Cimmeria of Conan the Barbarian; it's based in the Cimmerian people of Eastern Europe. Once again Stefan did an amazing job with the narration.

An imaginative alternate history that I couldn't recommend more.

"The Case of the Passionless Bees" by Rhonda Eikamp
Narrated by Johnathan L. Howard
Featured in Lightspeed's Women Destroy Science Fiction

In an alternate Victorian England where robots with artificial intelligence, known as amalgamated, fill servant roles there is a detective who is second to none. His name is Gearlock Holmes and he is an emancipated amalgamated. A murder has been committed in Gearlock's home, and the clue point towards one of the mechanical servants...or there's always Gearlock himself.

This story did a great job capturing the style and feel of the original Sherlock Holmes stories. It was also interesting how the story incorporated Victorian attitudes with regard to the new technology of artificial intelligence. Watson considers Gearlock a friend and colleague, but at the end he ultimately views Gearlock as just another machine. In fact, the way the amalgamated are treated can be seen as an allegory for Victorian class relations.

In terms of the narration Johnathan did excellent job. A steampunk twist on Sherlock Holmes that I happily recommend.

"Willful Weapon" by Fred Van Lente
Narrated by Sile Bermingham

This story takes place in an alternate 19th century in which magic and mythical creatures have returned to the world. Several mythical creatures are immigrating to the United States via Ellis Island. The story follows a fae from Ireland named Cellach mac Rath as he and his fellow immigrants make a new life in New York City. Along the way he gets involved in a series of events that could explain why magic has returned to the world.

In many ways this was very much a magical twist on the immigrant tale. We see Cellach and his friends struggling to find a place in a nation that seems to simultaneously welcome and reject them. I liked how we had so many different mythical creatures interacting together. Among other things we've got fae and fomorians from Ireland, gnomes and dwarves from Germany and so on. Would have been nice if dragons had played a bigger role, but that my personal bias. It also made me wonder what Angel Island in San Francisco must be like with all the mythical creature of East Asia.

Fortunately, Fred has written another story set in the same world and is working on a full length novel. Now, let's talk narration. Certain podcasts only have one narrator, and with those podcasts you get used to the narrator voicing stories from the opposite gender. Lightspeed, however, is not one of those podcasts and has always had a wide selection of narrators. For what it's worth I think Sile did a pretty good job, but it still seemed odd to have a female narrator for a story with a male main character, and so many male characters in general.

All things consider it's an immigrant tale with a magic twist, and I couldn't recommend it more.

"The Litigation Master and the Monkey King" by Ken Liu
Narrated by John Chu
2013 Nebula Award Nominee 

Set in Qing Dynasty China, this story follows a litigation master named Tian Haoli. He's renown for his intelligence and resourceful thinking and he frequently receives visits from the mythical monkey king, Sun Wukong. After taking on a new case Tian soon finds himself in a plot to preserve the truth of how the Qing rose to power; a truth the emperor would rather be forgotten.

Well, if you've been paying attention to my past review you ought to know how much I love Ken Liu stories, and this was no exception. I got to learn about Qing Dynasty legal tradition and seeing Sun Wukong is always a plus. I'd alway known that the Manchurian occupation of China had disastrous consequences for the nation, but I had no idea just how brutal it was until I listened to this story. I also enjoyed the theme of speaking up about that past rather than letting it be forgotten to serve the future.

John Chu did a great job once again with the narration. Another story that I happily recommend.

"A Princess of Spain" by Carrie Vaughn
Narrated by Karesa McElheny 

This story follows Catherine of Aragon as she is sent to England to marry Prince Arthur Tudor. Catherine learns to love Arthur, but she's always felt a connection with his younger brother Prince Henry. A courtier from the Low Countries, or so she claims, has taken an interest in Arthur, and Catharine and Henry suspect she could be supernatural in nature.

I admit my knowledge of Catherine of Aragon is a bit sketchy, besides that she was the wife Henry went on to divorce, but I think this story did a good job humanizing her. I really felt for Catharine as she tried to find her place in an unfamiliar land. I also liked how the story brought that same humanizing quality to Henry and the person he was before becoming king.

I know this is a fantasy story, and (minor spoil) the courtier turned out to be a succubus, but based on the dialog came across more like a time traveler or that there's something bigger we're not seeing. Not sure if Carrie intended that, but it was something that stuck out to me.

Karesa handled the narration quite well. Another Carrie Vaughn story I happily recommend.

"Second Hand" by Rajan Khanna
Narrated by Phil Gigante
Featured in Dead Man's Hand anthology 

This story is a sequel to Rajan Khanna's "Card Sharp", which I reviewed in the post about PodCastle. You don't have to have read/listened to "Card Sharp" to enjoy this story, but it does add something to the experience. This time the action is moved west of the Mississippi and into the Wyoming Territory. Quentin Ketterly is training his old master's son, Hiram Tetch, in the art of being a card sharp. They've come to Wyoming in hopes of tracking down a fellow card sharp and learn how to better utilize the magic within their playing cards.

As you know I enjoy "Card Sharp" and this story was even better. I liked how this story expanded the mythos of the card sharps. I also enjoyed seeing some of the ways the other card sharps made use of their cards and how they were able to bend the rules of the cards in their favor. The change of setting to the Wild West was another welcome addition.

Phil Gigante is another of those top quality professional narrators, and he did a great job here. An even better sequel to a great story. Very much recommended.

"None Owns the Air" by Ken Liu
Narrated by Paul Boehmer

This story is a prequel to Ken Liu's Dandelion Dynasty trilogy, the first book of which, The Grace of Kings, is out now. The story is set on the fictional archipelago of Dara. Our protagonist Kino is from Xana, the poorest and most looked down upon of the seven islands of Dara. Kino is determined to do something to prove not only his own worth, but also Xana's worth to all of Dara. Soon the answer becomes clear; he's going to invent a flying machine, but what will be the consequences of such an invention?

Okay, this story isn't alternate history or historical fantasy, so why did I include it? I included it because it is an excellent example of silkpunk. What is silkpunk? Silkpunk is a fairly new punk, so new it might have just been invented. It incorporates materials and technologies common to East Asia; so we're talking things like armored whales, battle kites, hot air balloons and airships made of silk and much more. Many of the machines are usually based on living creatures and the natural world, and it gives them an organic feel.

I don't know if Ken Liu invented silkpunk, but he's certainly helped raise awareness and might even do much to popularize it. As for the story itself, it wetted my appetite and I'm hungry for more. Ken intended the series to be a retelling of the founding of China's Han Dynasty. However, rather than being a fantasy China, Dara is a blend of many different cultures that combine to create a setting unlike anything I've encountered before. You see bits and pieces of various cultures, but none that are 100% recognizably based on preexisting civilizations. It was nice to see a fantasy story that broke from the standard European-esque setting.

I liked how the story asked a lot of tricky questions, especially with regards to science and religion, but didn't give any solid answers. I also thought that Paul did and excellent job with the narration.

It's a great silkpunk story that I couldn't recommend more.

"The Battle of York" by James Stoddard 
Narrated by Vikas Adam
Originally Published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

During the mid 21st century a shift in the Earth magnetic poles caused all electrical technology to be destroyed. America collapsed, but hundreds of years later humanity has recovered and pieced together a history known as the Americana. It tells of the great General Washington, wielder of the battle-axe Valleyforge, as he seeks redemption following humiliation in battle against the Gauls and American Natives. Waynejon, also know as The Pilgrim, tells him that to achieve redemption he must travel to Mount Rushmore to attain the Words of Power as that he can defeat the wizard Cornwallis and his legions of frost giants. Along the way he is joined by Arm Strong, with hair like custard, the eagles E Perilous Unum and Apollo Leven, Eisenhower Iron Hewer and even the Star Weaver Betsy Ross. Together they must make America a land of freedom and second chances.

Okay, it's not exactly alternate history, but still plenty of fun. Obviously, the history the future humans established is laughably off the mark, but yet it still retained an essential Americaness. I liked how a lot of the names were purposefully misspelled, suggesting the writers were guessing based on oral accounts or than language had changed. It might seem a little crazy and off the rails at time, but I liked how the story embraced it's insane mishmash nature.

Of course, a story like this needs a good narrated to keep it entertaining and heartfelt, and Vikas did a spot on job in that regard. It's a fun and mythologized take on American History that I happily recommend.

"Crazy Rhythm" by Carrie Vaughn
Narrated by Gabrielle De Cuir


This story is set during the Golden Age of Hollywood. It follows a woman named Margie Stewart who is the assistant to a director. During the filming of a movie about World War I she meets Peter Jeffries. He's a set designer, but he's also a World War I veteran. Peter's about to bring the Great War to life in a way Hollywood has never seen before.

Those of us with an interest and passion for history are all too keenly aware of how often Hollywood warps and distorts history. Peter is also keenly aware of this, especially given the time period this story takes place in. The Golden Age of Hollywood was not the sort of place that made movies that captured the raw experience of war. You certainly didn't see anything on the level of Saving Private Ryan or Full Metal Jacket, and not just because World War II and the Vietnam War hadn't happened yet. As for how he accomplishes this, I'll leave that for you to discover. On an unrelated note, I founded it interesting that the director compared the movie they're making to Gone with the Wind in terms of budget. As in, they don't have nearly as much money. I've noticed several stories set in this era use Gone with the Wind as a unit of measurement.

Once again, Gabrielle does a great job with the narration. A story about the crossroads of history and Hollywood. I give it a thumbs up.

"The Cassandra Project" by Jack McDevitt
Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki


This story takes place in the near future. America and Russia have teamed up for a joint mission to the Moon. While there the astronauts discover a giant metal dome. The inside of the dome is covered in Ancient Greek writing. So who built the dome, and what where they trying to say?

It is impossible to discuss this story without giving away the ending, do I'm afraid I'll have to spoil it. It turns out that the dome was created by aliens who visited Earth during ancient times; hence so why it was written in Ancient Greek. The aliens discovered that societies tend to completely eradicate themselves 1000 years after industrialization occurs. This unless the societies can revert to a pre-industrial state of being. This is presented as the explanation for why humanity hasn't encounter other intelligent lifeforms. There's also the implication that the aliens are dead now. It's a very thought-provoking story. What would you do with that sort of information? I'm not sure what I would do.

I do know what Stefan did a great job with the narration. A story that is sure to keep you thinking long after it is over. I give it a thumbs up.

"Delhi" by Vandana Singh
Narrated by Vikas Adams
Featured in Lightspeed's People of Color Destroy Science Fiction


This story takes place in Delhi, India. It follows a man named Aseem. He has the ability to peer through time and interact with echoes of the past and future. He sees emperors of the Mughal Empire, soldiers of the British East India Company, but lately he's been focused on a girl from the future. She enraptures him, but also seems to come from a dystopian India. Aseem must find a way to help her, but how?

There is history all around you; you only need to look in the right places. For example, certain streets in Broadmoore, the neighborhood of Shreveport I live in, are extra wide because they were where trolleys used to drive. In fact, if you dig deep enough, you'll eventually find trolley tracks dating back to the 1920s. I've been to cities such as Rome, Florence, Paris and London, but it was only after I got home that I really appreciated that I'd walked the streets as countless other people from hundreds and even thousands of years in the past. Delhi has been around since before the Romans conquered England. I've always thought that it must really be something to live in a place that has existed for thousands of years.

It would potentially be amazing to have Aseem's power. I'd get to see countless individuals from the past and future, and get to interact with them. On the other hand, I'd be powerless to help them too much, so it might get depressing after a while. Still, as you can tell, I very much enjoyed this story. I also really enjoyed Vikas' narration.

A story about the history that surrounds us all. Very much recommended.

"From the Root" by Emma Törzs
Narrated by Gabrielle De Cuir


This story takes place in 18th Century London. Our protagonist is a Regenitrix. Regenitrix are reasonably similar to humans, but they can regenerate lost body parts, and are exclusively female. The only way they die are either by old age or childbirth. The protagonist has caught the attention of a doctor who has been studying regenitrix, and hopes to alleviate their birthing issues. Our protagonist, having always wanted to go into medicine, agrees to help.

Childbirth has claimed the lives of quite a few women over the years. During the Middle Ages, one out of every four pregnancies resulted in the death of either the mother, the child, or both. One of the first things women knitted were their own burial shrouds. Even up until the 1930s and 1940s death by childbirth was still fairly common. So I see this story as giving a fantasy twist on all of that. I also liked how the protagonist was able to figure out the solution to the problem, but I'll leave that for you to discover. I will say that I can't believe that I didn't think of it. Though regarding how the protagonist meets the doctor. She donates her teeth on a regular basis, but wouldn't that hurt? Regeneration doesn't necessarily mean freedom from pain. Still, not like a single woman has many other sources of income in 18th Century London.

In any event, Gabrielle does a great job with the narration. A story of hope and survival, and one that I recommend.

"Ghost Days" by Ken Liu
Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki and Gabrielle De Cuir


Attention readers, our next story is a three-for-one special. The first part of the story takes place in Hong Kong in 1905. William is a Chinese man who has studied in Britain, and has grown somewhat ashamed of how his father sells knock-off antiques. The second part takes place in East Norbury, Connecticut in 1989. Fred is the son of two Chinese parents who came to America to flee political oppression. He wants nothing more than to fit in and be a typical American kid. The third part takes place on the planet Nova Pacifica. Ona is one of the many genetically engineered children of the colonist who have been cut off from the portal network of Earth. The adults want her and the other kids to be interested in Earth culture, but she wants to know more about Nova Pacifica's original inhabitants. Though separate, these all interconnect via a Chinese candle holder.

The structure of this story was very reminiscent of Cloud Atlas. This is good because I absolutely adore Cloud Atlas. We start out in reverse chronological order, each story only being told in half, and then move forwards chronologically to get the other half. The central theme of these stories is how we deal with our heritage. William comes to embraces his heritage as he learns that his father is creating counterfeits to preserve real Chinese artifacts. This is something that actually happened in the parts of China that came under European occupation. He also does this when he sees how badly the British treat the Chinese.

Fred chooses to reject his heritage, and with it, the weight and baggage of history. It's implied, but never outright stated, that William is Fred's great-grandfather. Fred's family has a whole lot of history and baggage, but he's considers himself an American first and foremost, and that's all that matters in the end. Ona discovers the remains of the aliens who used to inhabit Nova Pacifica. They knew they were doomed to die, but they left behind a testament to their memory in hopes that some other intelligent species should remember them. In the end, she choses to make her own new identity, composed of both human and alien heritage. It is mentioned that she and the other children were created by combining human DNA with genetic samples of the local lifeforms. So, in a sense, the aliens live on through her and the other kids. Nova Pacifica is much hotter than humans consider comfortable.

Hey, it's a Ken Liu story. It's almost guaranteed to be well-written, thought provoking, and packs and emotional punch. I can also guarantee that both narrators do and excellent job.

Another excellent story from Ken Liu. Do I need to say that I recommend this one.

"The Horror of Party Beach" by Dale Bailey
Narrated by Norm Sherman


This story is told as the reminiscing of a older man named Mike about his youth in the 1950s. He fell in love with a beautiful girl named Elaine. Her father was an ichthyologist known for his eccentricities. In particular he was obsessed with the use of radiation to accelerate and/or reverse evolution.

Not much of a summary, but you know the drill. This is part of a series of stories that Dale has done. He takes these various B-Movie tropes and uses them to make emotionally compelling stories. This time the trope is the mad scientist and his beautiful daughter. We also get the trope of radiation being, essentially, magic, but it is played both ways. Radiation does mutate certain characters into monsters, but for others it realistically causes cancer. Usually, with these sort of stories Dale provides within them a bit of a commentary about how the 1950s were a rather repressed time. Here, however, he takes a more wistful, almost nostalgic approach to the era.

This story shares its name with a movie that...well, it's often considered one of the worst ever made. Like I said, I love how Dale is able to take these various B-Movie tropes and use them to make something wonderful. Norm's narration was also wonderful.

Another great Dale Bailey story that I'm sure you'll love. I give it a thumbs up.

"Power Armor: A Love Story" by David Barr Kirtley
Narrated by Norm Sherman
Originally Published in Armored 


This story follows a man named Anthony Blair. He's a time traveler from a repressive future, and he's doing his part to ensure the terrible future never comes to pass. He's constantly paranoid about assassins, so he never takes off his trusty suit of stolen power armor. He's met a woman named Mira Valentic at a recent gala, and he's smitten with her. The two soon begin to date and fall in love, but Anthony just can't shake the feeling that something is a bit off about Mira.

This is a special story for me, because it was the one the really sold me on the concept of Lightspeed. In fact, it was one of the very first Lightspeed stories I ever listened to. I could kind of tell where the story was going, but it was a fun ride to get there. The story revels in the silliness of a man wearing futuristic power armor to everything. For example, Anthony eats and drinks via a top in the fingers of the armor that leads to a tube in the helmet. Still, the ending is heartwarming. Norm's narration was also a joy to listen to.

One of my first Lightspeed stories, and still one of my favorites. Very much recommended.

"Get a Grip" by Paul Park
Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki
Originally Published in Omni Online

This story follows a fellow by the name of Paul Park. He's a lawyer living in New York City with a pretty good life. That is until his friend Boris beings to suggest that the world as Paul knows it is in fact a lie. At first Paul brushes it off, but then he begins to wonder if Boris might be onto something.

Okay, that's not much of a explanation, but there is a huge twist in this story and it's next to impossible to talk about this story without mentioning the twist. That being said, I will try my best. This story is technically alternate history, but that isn't apparent until the end so I can't give too many details. I can, however, say that I thought that the writing was excellent. I also thought that Stefan did a great job with the narration.

Even if I can't give away to much I can at least say it's a good story well worth your time.

Conclusion


So we've made it to the end of the list once again. I hope you've had a good time, and found some new stories to discover and enjoy. If you enjoy what you read be sure to share this and my many other fine posts on the social media venues of your choice. So that's all for now, see you next time, I'm Sam McDonald wishing you cheers and happy listening from The Alt-Hist File and The Audio File.