Now that my Best Podcast Fiction of All Time list is out in the public, it’s time to kick off my next series of podcast fiction features: The Podcast Spotlight. Each month I’ll focus on a single podcast, talking a bit about the origins and history of the podcast, the editor(s) and host(s) the podcast has had, and will give a list of my favorite episodes of that podcast since it began to give you a good place to start listening.
In its early days Escape Pod published both fantasy and science fiction stories. Since the launching of the sister Podcastle, Escape Pod has focused exclusively on science fiction. The flavor and subgenre of the science fiction varies greatly from episode to episode, from dark to light, humorous to serious, deeply philosophical to silly. If you don’t care for the story one week, odds are the next will be completely different. Some of the stories verge on the fantastical, some verge into SF horror, but SF is the main focus. The taste is very eclectic and has retained a similar feel through changes in staff.
Escape Pod also has an amazing fan forum that it shares with Pseudopod and Podcastle where they post story threads for all of their episodes. That is my favorite place to hang out on the Internet. The discussions are lively, both positive and negative feedback about the stories are welcome as long as you are respectful of people. It’s well-moderated at just the right level, so you can say your mind as long as you’re respectful of other people, but don’t need to worry about personal attacks from others as the moderators will take care of that promptly. If you decide to stop by because of my recommendation, you could certainly mention where you came from, and you can say hello to me while you’re there–my forum name is Unblinking.
To kick off the list is none other than the granddaddy of SF podcasts, the original, Escape Pod. It’s the oldest of the fiction podcasts I’ve come across, and was the direct inspiration of many of the other podcasts and podcasters out there today. It was launched by Steve Eley in 2005, during a time when most people didn’t know what podcasts were and online SF publications hadn’t gained the widespread acceptance they have today. If you recognize the name Steve Eley is also known for inspiring the Invisible Pink Unicorn religion (kind of like the Flying Spaghetti Monster but fifteen years older).
Steve Eley’s motto for the podcast, which he said in every episode, was “Have fun.” In those early days Escape Pod published both fantasy and science fiction. The first episode featured the story Imperial by Jonathon Sullivan and was read by Steve Eley (as all the stories in those early days were). Steve Eley also did all the editing and sound production, the hosting, the slushreading, the promotion, the website setup, and anything else. He was a one man production team for the fledgling podcast.
In 2006 he launched the Pseudopod horror podcast and created Escape Artists Inc. to manage the two. Podcastle, the fantasy branch of the organization, was launched in 2008 (after which Escape Pod focused exclusively on science fiction). Pseudopod and Podcastle will have their own podcast spotlights, so I won’t say anything more about them for now.
In 2010 Steve Eley announced his retirement as host and editor of Escape Pod. Jeremiah Tolbert filled the role of editor for a brief period of time before Mur Lafferty (who had hosted Pseudopod in its early days and became well known for both her writing podcast I Should be Writing and her podcast novels) settled into the position for several years. She, in turn, retired from the editor position in 2013 to focus more of her attention on her other projects, and Norm Sherman has been the editor ever since. Norm is simultaneously the editor of the Drabblecast, but Escape Pod had been the direct inspiration for the Drabblecast and he was thrilled to be at the editor’s chair of Escape Pod. Despite editing both podcasts, each still has its distinct feel.
When Steve Eley retired and Mur Lafferty took the helm, she took up some hosting responsibilities while Alasdair Stuart (who had been hosting Pseudopod for years by that time) took up the rest. Alasdair brought his usual wit and philosophy to the table, and it was fun to rotate his thoughts with Mur’s to mix it up some. When Norm took over the editor position from Mur, he also rotated in as the host as she had.
Escape Pod has always been a weekly podcast, and that rate has been kept up with remarkably steady frequency, apart from the occasional longer break. The staff has expanded to include a team of slushreaders led by associate editor Nathaniel Lee. Last year there was a brief period where it looked like Escape Pod and its sister podcasts would not be able to keep running due to lack of contributions, but the announcement was enough to kick donations into high gear and it now looks like it will operate for the foreseeable future.
THE BEST EPISODES
In case some of these look particularly familiar. Four of the top ten my Best Podcast Fiction of All Time were from Escape Pod, and nine of the overall list of fifty.
- “Sinner, Baker, Fablist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” by Eugie Foster
- “Friction” by Will McIntosh
- “Exhalation” by Ted Chiang
- “Dead Merchandise” by Ferrett Steinmetz
- “They Go Bump” by David Barr Kirtley
- “Devour” by Ferrett Steinmetz
- “The Ghost of a Girl Who Never Lived” by Keffy R.M. Kehrli
- “‘Run,’ Bakri Says” by Ferrett Steinmetz
- “Rachel in Love” by Pat Murphy
- “The Shunned Trailer” by Esther Freisner
- “Rejiggering the Thingamajig” by Eric James Stone
- “That Other Sea” by William Ledbetter
- “His Master’s Voice” by Hannu Rajaniemi
- “Cruciger” by Erin Cashier
- “Kumara” by Seth Dickinson
MY OWN WORK
While I would never consider including my own work in a Best Of list that I compile, I will mention that my story “Marley and Cratchit” was published in Escape Pod, which is its exclusive publisher at this time. It’s the secret history of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, with alchemy, and it remains one of the publications of my stories that I’m most proud of.
Now that we’ve covered the granddaddy of SF podcasts, the next logical step would be to shift the spotlight to the other podcasts under the Escape Artists umbrella. Pseudopod is the older of the two, so next time I will tell you about the premier horror podcast.