The final installment of my Best Podcast Fiction of All Time List, is finally here, revealing the top ten. You can find  the individual posts as they were posted #41-50 here,  #31-40 here,  #21-30 here, and #11-20 here.  For those who just want to get to the Top Ten already I’ve listed that first.  For ease of reference, I’ve also included the entire list of fifty at the bottom of the post so if you want to refer people to the list, you can just link here.

These are (my opinion of) what is the best of the best, the most epic of the most epic.  Load them all up and have an awesome road trip, or ration them out over months of liistening.

I would love if other fiction podcast fans would comment here and say what their own favorites are and why.

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The Best Podcast Fiction of All Time (#21 – #30)

This is my third installment of my Best Podcast Fiction of All Time List, covering #21-30. You can find #41-50 here and #31-40 here.  This is the middle list of the five pack–just two more to go!  I hope some of you are tuning in and listening to them all–would make for an epic road trip (though many of the stories are not suitable for children so probably not a whole family road trip).

Please comment, follow along, share this list with your friends.
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Elizabeth Bear, author of Steles of the Sky, joins John Anealio and Patrick Hester this week on The Functional Nerds Podcast.

Listen below, or at The Functional Nerds, or subscribe to The Functional Nerds Podcast through iTunes.

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BOOK REVIEW: Steles of the Sky by Elizabeth Bear

REVIEW SUMMARY: Jam-packed with the best fantasy elements, Steles of the Sky‘s diverse characters and beautiful prose beautifully closes out the Eternal Sky trilogy.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: Re Temur, Samarkar, Edene and their companions stand against much more than just an usurping Uncle, with the fate of much more than the Eternal Sky of the Steppe in the balance.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Deep worldbuilding; rich characters; beautiful prose and dialogue that sings.
CONS: The ending brings tears; one secondary character still feels a little underdone.
BOTTOM LINE: Sticking the landing, Steles of the Sky magnificently ends the Eternal Sky trilogy

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NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from the incredible Elizabeth Bear! – Sarah Chorn

Elizabeth Bear was born on the same day as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, but in a different year. This, coupled with a childhood tendency to read the dictionary for fun, led her inevitably to penury, intransigence, the mispronunciation of common English words, and the writing of speculative fiction. She lives in Massachusetts with a Giant Ridiculous Dog. Her partner, acclaimed fantasy author Scott Lynch, lives in Wisconsin. You can learn more about her books by visiting her website. On April 8, 2014 Elizabeth Bear released the third and final book in the Eternal Sky trilogy, Steles of the Sky.

On Writing Disabilities

by Elizabeth Bear

It’s kind of funny to realize as I write this that I originally wasn’t going to submit a piece to Sarah’s blog series, because I didn’t feel like I had much to say about writing disabled people in science fiction. But after the second colleague suggested that I would be a good fit for the series, I had to stop and consider why they would think so.

And I realized that it’s probably because I write a lot of disabled protagonists. From Jenny Casey and Genevieve Castaign in Hammered and the sequel books–an amputee with neurological damage and a girl with cystic fibrosis–to the aneurotypical Michelangelo in Carnival from Matthew Szczgielniak with his maimed hand and congenital adrenal hyperplasia sufferer Lily Wakeman in Whiskey and Water to Tristen and Perceval Conn in the Jacob’s Ladder books, one of whom has albinism and the other of whom has lost the power of flight–now that I actually stop and think about it, it seems like most of my protagonists are “imperfect” in some way.

I have written characters with forms of epilepsy and characters with bipolar disorder. I have written anxiety sufferers and paraplegics and I have helped invent entirely new, science fictional syndromes. I have written more than my share of characters with post-traumatic stress disorder. That last, frankly, is because I don’t know how to write people who don’t have PTSD.

I’ve been trying to learn, though. You all are so unpredictable.
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BOOK REVIEW: The Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear

REVIEW SUMMARY: A strong continuation if the Eternal Sky series, building on the already considerable strengths of Range of Ghosts.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Prince Temur and allies seek to rescue the woman he would make Queen, who may not even need rescuing, even as the plans of a death cult threaten the fate of all of the Kingdoms on the Celadon Highway,

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Amazing worldbuilding; character growth and development from the main characters; excellent through line.
CONS: Some secondary characters get a bit of short shrift; book does not conclude so much as end.
BOTTOM LINE: Bear’s foray into Epic Fantasy continues to be a highlight of the subgenre.
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MIND MELD: Who are Your Favorite Women in Genre?

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

In celebration of Women in Genre Month we ask some of our favorites about some of their favorites!

We asked this week’s panelists…

Q: Who are your favorite women authors in genre? What are your favorite books written by them?

Here’s what they said…

Nancy Kress
Nancy Kress is the author of numerous science fiction and fantasy titles, including Beggars in Spain, Nothing Human, Probability Space, Stinger, and her bestselling Write Great Fiction series. She is a recipient of the Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, and John W. Campbell Memorial awards, and her work has been translated into 16 languages. She lives in Rochester, New York.

My favorite female author is Ursula K. LeGuin. I started reading her in the late sixties and have never stopped. Her best work combines genuine, multi-dimensional characters with “thought experiments” about how societies are organized, and with what consequences. My favorite of her works are The Dispossessed and the collection of related novellas, Four Ways Into Forgiveness. Brilliant, compassionate, believable, these books truly eplore what it means to be human, in human societies, striving for the things human beings care about.

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Subterranean has posted the cover art and synopsis of the upcoming Book of Iron by Elizabeth Bear, a standalone prequel to the acclaimed novella, Bone and Jewel Creatures.

Here’s the synopsis:

Subterranean Press is proud to announce Book of Iron, the standalone prequel to Elizabeth Bear’s acclaimed novella, Bone and Jewel Creatures.

Bijou the Artificer is a Wizard of Messaline, the City of Jackals. She and her partner—and rival—Kaulas the Necromancer, along with the martial Prince Salih, comprise the Bey’s elite band of trouble-solving
adventurers.

But Messaline is built on the ruins of a still more ancient City of Jackals. So when two foreign Wizards and a bard from the mysterious western isles cross the desert in pursuit of a sorcerer intent on plundering the deadly artifacts of lost Erem, Bijou and her companions must join their hunt.

The quest will take them through strange passages, beneath the killing light of alien suns, with the price of failure the destruction of every land.

[Dust jacket illustration by Maurizio Manzieri]

Book info as per Amazon US:

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Subterranean; Deluxe Hardcover edition (September 30, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1596064749
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596064744

MIND MELD: Do You Like To Re-Read?

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

Q: What are your thoughts on re-reading favorite books and what are some books and/or series you re-read or plan on re-reading?

Here’s what they said…

Elizabeth Bear
Elizabeth Bear was born on the same day as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, but in a different year. This, coupled with a childhood tendency to read the dictionary for fun, led her inevitably to penury, intransigence, the mispronunciation of common English words, and the writing of speculative fiction.

This seems like an awfully long way to go to find a controversy. There is no moral aspect to re-reading over reading something new; both are perfectly valid uses of one’s leisure time.

For writers, of course, keeping up with an at least cursory overview of what’s new in one’s field is a professional obligation, and its good to have a founding in the classics. And research often requires reading an awful lot of nonfiction–but reading for pleasure or comfort? I’d say read whatever makes you happy. You’ll get different things out of a book each time you read it–and rereading is certainly a primal human drive. Otherwise, kids wouldn’t want The Little Engine That Could twice a night every night until it becomes engraved on their DNA.

We learn and internalize via repetition, after all–and narrative are the mechanism our minds use to organize information in a crowded, chaotic, and unknowable universe.

Also, sometimes we just don’t want to be surprised. Although the best books are unavoidably surprising; they surprise us every time.
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Small Press Spotlight: Prime Books

I apologize for being two months behind on my column. It’s been a busy time. My wife and I found out we’re having our second child. We bought a puppy. I’m transitioning into a new job. All of those are excuses, but the reality is Prime Books publishes collections of short fiction almost exclusively. And between you and me, I don’t really consume short fiction with any great vigor. See, I’m one of those readers who falls into the one more chapter syndrome. Novels suck me in, they demand I keep reading them well into the night. When I finished a short story I just put down the book, satisfied and ready to sleep.

For the purposes of this column, I’ve made it a point to read two new volumes from each publisher before writing about them. In the case of Prime, that left me reading two short story collections, and it just took time for me to get through them. Or, we can blame Hurricane Sandy.

Although Prime Books doesn’t call to mind quite like Tor, Del Rey, or even Pyr and Night Shade, anyone who’s spent some time combing the shelves of their local bookstore will surely recognize their logo–the circle within a circle. They dominate the space reserved for collections between the new releases and the back list. Making their commitment to short fiction an interesting marketing decision. Despite the decline in shelf space around the country, squatting above the “A” remains a choice place to be. If readers aren’t terribly aware of Prime, they’re well regarded in the field, having won the Special Award: Professional at World Fantasy in 2006.

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Here’s the cover art and synopsis of the upcoming novel Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear, due to be released in March 2013.

The Shattered Pillars is the second book of Bear’s The Eternal Sky trilogy and the sequel to Range of Ghosts. Set in a world drawn from our own great Asian Steppes, this saga of magic, politics and war sets Re-Temur, the exiled heir to the great Khagan and his friend Sarmarkar, a Wizard of Tsarepheth, against dark forces determined to conquer all the great Empires along the Celedon Road.

Elizabeth Bear is an astonishing writer, whose prose draws you into strange and wonderful worlds, and makes you care deeply about the people and the stories she tells. The world of The Eternal Sky is broadly and deeply created – her award-nominated novella, “Bone and Jewel Creatures” is also set there.

Book info as per Amazon US:

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; First Edition edition (March 19, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0765327554
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765327550

REVIEW SUMMARY: Editor Jonathan Strahan buttresses his core argument about the next generation of SF with a strong set of Solar System-set Science Fiction stories

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: 18 stories from the likes of Elizabeth Bear, Alastair Reynolds and James S.A. Corey, all based around the idea of up to date views about living in the Solar System

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong writing, a dream line up of authors
CONS: A couple of the stories skate the boundaries set out by the editor
BOTTOM LINE: A book that effectively lays down a marker for Fourth Generation Science Fiction.

In the 1960’s, Science Fiction, already having gone through a couple of changes in the century but seemingly running a bit long in the tooth, runs into the New Wave, where authors like Harlan Ellison and Michael Moorcock bring new sensibilities and wonders and points of view to the genre. In the 1980’s, science fiction, again seemingly moribund and worn out, was transformed by William Gibson and the Cyberpunk movement.  In 2012, I see plenty of articles and chatter that science fiction is insular looking, more concerned with the past, unwilling to engage a future. That science fiction is getting “tired”, and science fiction authors are getting tired, or horrors, are fleeing into the kingdoms of fantasy. Sounds like awfully familiar rhetoric to me.  Are we due for another change? Jonathan Strahan and a host of heavyweights in the genre say ‘yes’.

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REVIEW: Ad Eternum by Elizabeth Bear

REVIEW SUMMARY: An accidental dip into the New Amsterdam series that turned into a pleasant discovery.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A wampyr returns to an alternate history New York in 1962 and must decide his own future.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Excellent world building; sympathetic protagonist and interesting characters; the pensive mood; the stylish writing; although this was a welcome introduction into the series…
CONS: …allusions to earlier stories probably means this isn’t the best place to start.
BOTTOM LINE: Even not having read any of the other books in this series, I can tell that Ad Eternum is a story that gives its protagonist some much-needed closure.

If I’m going to start a new book series, my OCD dictates that I start at the beginning. There exists an irrational fear that doing otherwise will reveal spoilers for the earlier stories, thereby destroying the experience of reading those stories. This is, of course, a silly notion. Even if I could remember any spoiled events by the time I got around to reading them, books are enjoyable in a number of ways aside from the specifics of plot. Still, the only way I will start a series in the middle or end is accidentally.

And so it was that I picked up Elizabeth Bear’s novella Ad Eternum. I realized after I had already started reading it that the numerous allusions to the protagonist’s history probably meant I was late to the party. Sure enough, I learned that it’s the latest (final?) story in her New Amsterdam alternate history series where vampires (here called wampyrs) and magic coexist. By all rights, my OCD should have compelled me to stop reading it. But it was too late; I was already hooked.
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MIND MELD: The Non-Genre Influences of Genre Authors

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

Usually when ask genre authors about the influences on their work we are expecting, and usually get, responses that name other genre authors. This week’s question, as suggested by an SF Signal reader, explicitly asks about non-genre influences. We asked our panelists this question:

Q: Which non-genre writers have influenced your work? How?
Kay Kenyon
Kay Kenyon’s latest work from Pyr is a science fiction quartet with a fantasy feel: The Entire and The Rose. The lead title, Bright of the Sky, was in Publishers Weekly’s top 150 books of 2007. At her website, she holds forth on writing, the industry and other curious pursuits.

This question is almost impossible to answer; I wonder if we ever know, or whether literary critics with a little bit of distance from the subject could best intuit how admiration for certain works inevitably leads to unconscious imitation. I doubt anyone writes novels thinking they will write like someone else. But you’re asking for influences, which is more subtle, and all the harder. This is especially a tough task since fantasy and sf books have always been my focus. However, here goes:

I remember reading Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing and feeling a sharp ache for what she had accomplished with language. The novel remains seared in my mind, but this was well before I thought that I would be a novelist. Still, I admire her work so thoroughly that I would be surprised if she were not an influence. I value wordsmithing. She is a master at this. Her environmental motifs went straight to my heart. Also: Early on Marge Piercy was a favorite of mine. Gone to Soldiers. Woman on the Edge of Time–although that last one must be considered science fiction; still, she is primarily a literary writer. Her feminism appealed to me, and the woman’s point of view presented with such stark emotion. The emotional dimension is a focus of my work. Writers like these likely showed me the depth that was possible. I’m always aiming for that depth.

I’ve been equally impressed with the big storytellers, especially James Clavell. Some of his books I wished would never end: Tai-Pan and Shogun, especially. The exotic locales of these books tied in to my love of strange worlds in science fiction. As it happens, worldbuilding is the feature most critics mention about my work. I always wonder at that, because I thought I did characters best. It’s a goal of mine to do both, like Clavell, but of course you always fall shy of your heroes.
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Book Review: Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

SYNOPSIS: On the steppes of a secondary world similar to ours, a former princess-turned-wizard and the grandson of the Khan team up to deal with a threat to all the Kingdoms of the Celadon Highway.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW
PROS: Engaging, three dimensional characters; deep and immersive worldbuilding; Top-notch writing.
CONS: The lack of a proper ending is the only major flaw that I can cite.
VERDICT: The Trope Codifier for Silk Road Fantasy and proof that Elizabeth Bear is one of the best writers in genre today.

In my recent review of The Emperor’s Knife, I talked about fantasy that is inspired not by traditional medieval European motifs, but rather “Silk Road Fantasy“. To the list of books on that book review, I have found the book that is the trope codifier for Silk Road Fantasy, the book that shows you really how its done. The author is Elizabeth Bear, and the book is her newest, and her first dip into Epic Fantasy: Range of Ghosts.
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[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

A lot of recent science fiction appears to take place on Earth, and only a minority of space-based science fiction taking place outside the solar system. Novels and stories involving travel to the stars and interstellar travel seems to be out-of-date or out-of-fashion, and even Hard SF treatments of interstellar travel seem as realistic as Star Wars.

We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: Is interstellar travel (and space empires, etc.) now considered Science Fantasy? What does that say for the state of the genre?

Here’s what they said…

Elizabeth Bear
Elizabeth Bear was born on the same day as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, but in a different year. This, coupled with a childhood tendency to read the dictionary for fun, led her inevitably to penury, intransigence, the mispronunciation of common English words, and the writing of speculative fiction.

I think that like everything else, fads in science fiction run in cycles, and lately there’s been a big ol’ dystopian wave going on. But it’s not as if deep space science fiction, or SF featuring far-flung space civilizations isn’t still being written. Charlie Stross, Iain Banks, Dan Simmons, Greg Bear, Chris Moriarty, C.J. Cherryh–heck, I’ve written a couple of books dealing with far-flung space travel myself.

If you were to nudge the focus of the question over to whether near-future and near-earth SF has been getting more *awards* attention lately, I think you’d be more accurate.

But there are fads in criticism the same as everything else.

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Continuing our theme of science fiction tropes, we asked this week’s panelists:

Q: What are some of the coolest robots in science fiction? Why?

Here’s what they said. Are your favorites listed?

Mike Resnick
Mike Resnick is the author of 50 novels, 200 short stories, a pair of screenplays, and the editor of 50 anthologies, as well as the executive editor of Jim Baen’s Universe. According to Locus, he is the leading award winner, living or dead, of short fiction. His work has been translated into 22 languages.

The single most memorable robot:

  • Jenkins, from Cliff Simak’s City. Simak made you care for Jenkins at a time when Asimov was creating scores of robots that only Susan Calvin cared about.

Others:

  • Joe, from Henry Kuttner’s “Robots Have No Tail”. Kuttner was another writer who had no interest in the Three Laws, and created a charming robot.
  • Roderick, from John Sladek’s Roderick and Roderick at Random. Roderick was a perfect vehicle for Sladek’s sardonic commentary.
  • Adam Link, from Eando Binder’s I, Robot (sic) and others; he’sthe missing link between clanking metallic monsters and positronic robots.
  • Sisto Settimo, from Robert Silverberg’s “Good News From the Vatican”. He’s only onstage for one paragraph, but the notion of a robot pope is as memorable as they come.

And if I can suggest three totally non-Asimovian robots that made major ballots:

  • Sammy, from my “Robots Don’t Cry”.
  • Jackson, from my “Article of Faith”.
  • Mose, from my and Lezli Robyn’s “Soulmates”.

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“Best of the Year” lists start appearing as early as November, so we are perhaps a little late in asking folks around the community:

Q: What were the best genre-related books, movies and/or shows you consumed in 2009?

[Also added was this note: They don't have to have been released in 2009. Feel free to choose any combination of genres (science fiction/fantasy/horror) and media (books/movies/shows) you wish to include.]

Read on to see their picks (and also check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3)…

Elizabeth Bear
Elizabeth Bear was born on the same day as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, but in a different year. This, coupled with a childhood tendency to read the dictionary for fun, led her inevitably to penury, intransigence, the mispronunciation of common English words, and the writing of speculative fiction.

I was totally blown away by Robert Charles Wilson’s book Julian Comstock, which is about a post-peak-oil future in which Canada and the USA are ruled by a totalitarian family of religious fanatics, and the black sheep scion of a discredited branch of the family wants to–

Well, make movies, actually.

Other than that, my genre reading has been kind of sparse this year. I very much enjoyed Nisi Shawl’s Filter House and Christopher Barzak’s The Love We Share Without Knowing. I also like Margaret Ronald’s Spiral Hunt, which is light but satisfying

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I hated being force-fed books in school because they rarely suited my tastes in speculative fiction reading. Today’s generation, however, has a much better chance of being assigned genre books in school. The following question was asked of this week’s panelists:

Q: If you were teaching a high school literature class, which science fiction or fantasy books first published within the past 10 years would you include on your syllabus?

Read on to see their what books should be on every high schooler’s radar…

Elizabeth Bear
Elizabeth Bear was born on the same day as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, but in a different year. This, coupled with a childhood tendency to read the dictionary for fun, led her inevitably to penury, intransigence, the mispronunciation of common English words, and the writing of speculative fiction.

The trick, of course, is finding books teenagers will love, which also reveal the diversity of the genre and its literary aspirations. And “high school” is a broad range–what’s appropriate for an eighteen-year-old is not always what’s right for a fourteen-year-old. But assuming for a moment we’re talking about a senior-level AP class, I’d want Nalo Hopkinson’s The Salt Roads (which I imagine would be challenging to get past the parents, with its discussions of syphilis and slavery, but well worth it); Ted Chiang’s Stories Of Your Life And Others; Justine Larbalestier’s Liar (I’m going on rep for that one, as I have not read it yet, but it’s on my list); Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother (Which I would use, among other things, to talk about didactic literature, and I’d want to assign it in concert with Black Beauty, frankly); Christopher Barzak’s One For Sorrow; and a nice anthology in which there are a lot of fun stories in which stuff blows up, because this list is way too damned depressing already.

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INTERVIEW: Elizabeth Bear

[Editor's Note: A while back, SF Signal published a Mind Meld feature on Tomorrow's Big Genre Stars. Patrick at Stomping on Yeti has been profiling these writers and has agreed to cross-post them here.]

It’s Monday and that means another edition of Keeping An Eye On…. This week we are keeping one of the prominent female authors on the list, Elizabeth Bear. Now Elizabeth somehow manages to write novels as fast as Jay Lake writes short fiction. Don’t ask me how, just know that I’m jealous. Since 2005, she’s published more than 10 novels and that’s not even counting her spectacular short work. Like so many of the authors of the SF Signal Watchlist, she is a recipient of the Campbell Award for Best New Writer and unlike many of our authors she already has 2(!) Hugos to her name for her 2008 short story “Tideline” and her 2009 novelette “Shoggoths In Bloom.” Bear was nominated to the list by the likes of Paula Guran and Gardner Dozois but many more people suggested in the comments that she shouldn’t be eligible. Not because she didn’t deserve it, but because she was already considered one of the genre’s best.

I tend to agree with that assessment but I’m not arguing with the list, I’m just interviewing it. Anyway, let’s get on with it.

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