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Diabolical Pods: Today I am Paul; When Your Child Strays From God; Nothing is Pixels Here

David SteffenThis marks the inaugural post of a new column on the subject of podcast fiction:  Diabolical Pods.   This is a progression from my past podcast fiction related content, the Best Podcast Fiction of All Time list and Podcast Spotlight articles that have been running on a monthly basis for more than a year.

The constant content of the column every month will be Story Talk, wherein I will talk about a couple of podcast fiction episodes that I thought were particularly stellar, most often they will probably be recent episodes but might be older ones from time to time, talking about what made them stand out from other dozens of stories I listen to every month.

There will also be a Podcast News section whenever there is something to talk about–to mention the launch of new podcasts, the closing of existing podcasts, special submission calls for podcasts, and the like.

And there may be other subsections as appropriate.  This month, recognizing that there is much more podcast fiction out there than what I can listen to and thus be able to spotlight, I’m also including a list of sources of podcast fiction including those that I have not spotlighted in the previous Podcast Spotlight columns and including podcasts which are dead but whose archives can still be found.

STORY TALK

“Today I am Paul” by Martin L. Shoemaker, published in Clarkesworld August 2015

The protagonist of this story is a medically specialized android filling the role of home caretaker for Mildred, an Alzheimer’s patient able to live at home because of its assistance.  Besides the standard medical services it provides, it also has optional features to allow it to empathize and analyze the behavior of everyone around it, as well as personality emulation and some limited physical modifiability to alter its appearance to look like particular people.  Mildred doesn’t know that her caretaker is an android.  She thinks she is being visited by her son Paul, or his wife, or Paul’s daughter Anna, depending on the moment, and the caretaker does his best to emulate the person Mildred thinks he is at any given time.

My favorite science fiction stories are those that use some kind of plausible scientific advancement and use it to examine something about the human condition.  I can see why a caretaker like the one in this story would be a popular consumer product.  Being a caretaker is hard.  Even more so if the person you’re caring for has Alzheimer’s and may not remember anything you do or maybe even remember who you are.  And, from Mildred’s point of view, she always has visitors and is never alone.  But there’s still an interesting ethical question here.  Mildred’s son has purchased a gadget to take care of her-is it good that he has taken steps to ensure that she is happy and cared for, or is it bad because he has used this tool to absolve himself of guilt of abandoning his mother.  The abandonment of patients with advanced Alzheimer’s by their family is a real life situation, but the SFnal approach gives a great way to explore it in further depth.  On top of that, the android’s point of view is extremely interesting in its own light, multi-faceted as it is–and aren’t all humans so multi-faceted, only less transparently so?  Great work.

“When Your Child Strays From God” by Sam J. Miller, published in Clarkesworld July 2015

Formatted as an entry for the church bulletin by the pastor’s wife, this story begins as she takes a leap into the unknown to find out what has happened to her missing teenage son.  She learns that he has taken to spiderwebbing, the new trendy drug that psychically links all the users who take drops from the same batch so that thoughts bleed across the barrier from one to another, changing everyday things into hallucinatory visions.  It comes with dangers–each webworld has its own boogeyman, and if you have a bad enough trip you can be trapped in that bad trip forever. Understanding the risks, and understanding that if her son is okay he might not take kindly to her tapping into his mind by using his drug stash, she decides to take a dose of her son’s web in order to find him.

I loved this story.  The point of view character was often less than sympathetic, with some viewpoints that I don’t agree with.  But no matter what her differences from me, no matter anything else, she was incredibly brave to take that dive, and I felt like I was riding along with her.  She knows it’s going to be a rough ride. She knows she’s going to see things she doesn’t want to see, understand things she doesn’t want to understand, and she takes the dive anyway, charging into the underworld to try to do her best to protect her son.

“Nothing is Pixels Here” by K.M. Szpara, published in Lightspeed June 2015 (Queers Destroy Science Fiction Special Issue)

Ash and his boyfriend Zane, like many people, live in the SimGrid, a virtual version of the world.  They’ve lived there for a long time.  The artificiality of the world is a constant distraction to Ash, who feels compelled to pick at the glitches he can find in the world, always trying to test those boundaries.  He raises the question with Zane–maybe they should try unplugging from the SimGrid, explore the real world, where everything just is as it is instead of however it was programmed to be.

I found the relationship between these two very compelling, and their choice to visit the “real” world together, the real world where they have never known each other, the world which is so foreign to them, made a great basis for a story.  What I loved most about the story I can’t really talk about with spoilers, so I’ll just leave it at that–the arc and ending of the story followed through in spades.

PODCAST NEWS

Feel free to give pointers for future news points.  In the absence of pointers, they will mostly have to do with podcasts that I personally follow–I’m not opposed to posting things about other SF/F/H fiction podcasts–editor changes, big anniversary episodes, closing or opening pods, etc.

Artemis Rising
The three Escape Artists podcasts (Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and Podcastle) have a special submission call for the month of September, their second annual Artemis Rising event to celebrate women and nonbinary writers in the fields of science fiction, horror, and fantasy.  Last year produced some really good stories, including one that I’ll likely talk about in more depth in another installment of this column–“Boris’s Bar” by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali.  The stories will run in March.

Pseudopod Flash Fiction Contest
The 4th iteration Escape Artists flash fiction contests have begun.  This time Pseudopod is kicking off the fun.  Authors can submit up to two stories of up to 500 words each until September 15th.  The stories will be posted without author names being the login of the Escape Artists forum (so it won’t use up first publication rights), and the winners are voted by forum members.  Anyone can register to participate.  The top three stories (and optionally others if the editors love more of them) will be published on the Pseudopod podcast.  The most fun part, in my opinion, is interacting with the stellar Escape Artists forum community as part of the contest.  The forum is very active and well-moderated place to discuss the stories on the podcasts, and the same community is also very active in the flash fiction contests–giving feedback or critiques for the stories, or just chatting and having fun.  I highly recommend it.  If you do stop by, I will be there under the name Unblinking.

Welcome to Night Vale Book
Good news for fans of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast–the first novel based in the Night Vale universe, also titled Welcome to Night Vale is going to be released in October.  I have read an advance reader copy of it, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Since it is structured as a narrative rather than a community radio show it has a somewhat different feel than the podcast but has the same weird funny writing, and rewards fans of the podcast with in-jokes and characters targeting listeners of the show, but is also easy to pick up for someone who has never listened.

LIST OF SF/F FICTION PODCASTS

This is surely not an exhaustive list.  It includes podcasts that aren’t producing new episodes anymore but whose episodes can still be downloaded.  It includes both podcasts I’ve listened to and those I haven’t.  It includes both publications that define themselves primarily as podcasts, as well as those that have podcasts as a secondary feature.  Feel free to suggest podcasts to add.

About David Steffen (64 Articles)
David Steffen is a writer and editor and software engineer and a voracious consumer of podcast fiction. The first piece of fiction he's edited is now available, "Taste the Whip" by Andy Dudak on Diabolical Plots(http://www.diabolicalplots.com/dp-fiction-1-taste-the-whip-by-andy-dudak/). David is also the co-founder and administrator of the The Submission Grinder(http://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com/), a tool for writers.
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