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Video Killed the Podcasting Star

 

          So, I’ve been writing about podcasts for about a year now and I’ve realized that there has been something missing: Video. Sure, audio recording is fun, but video adds a whole never dimension to the experience. Most amateur video producers don’t have the budget to compete with Hollywood or even to match the low-budget genius of Joss Whedon’s “Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog”, but with some care, good writing, and enthusiastic performances, a number of vidcasters or Youtubers have put some entertaining products.

          A good webisode (Side note: You’d think Microsoft Word would be up on these web-based neologisms, alas, no) series generally runs between five and ten minutes per episode, so the writing has to be crisp and lean. There’s no room for any fat, as the total length a typical webisode “season” may be only as long as one or two episodes of a TV sitcom. So, in many ways, writing for web-based series is much more challenging. Instead of having a commercial break, each segment ends the episode and it may be a week or more before the next episode is put up, so a good writer has to make the viewer want to come back to find out what’s next.

          The top player in the webisode universe is The Guild (http.watchtheguild.com). Created and written by Felicia Day, aka Doctor Horrible’s tragic love interest Penny, The Guild revolves around a group of six socially awkward players of a multiplayer online game. The group is so addicted to “The Game” that they refer to each other by their character names even when they meet in “real life”. The members of The Guild run in age from high school to early fifties and represent a cross-section of ethnicities. They have little in common with each other except the game and yet have somehow become friends thanks to the prodding of Day’s character.

          Currently, The Guild is midway through airing their fifth season, which revolves around a visit to a gaming convention. Steampunk fans in particular will get a kick of a particular sequence where one of the characters tries to get involved in “the Euro-trash of nerdom”. The highlight of this season, however, has been watching the Guildies interact with the various guest stars who have made cameos this season. This season alone has seen appearances by stars from Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, Mythbusters, and well, just about anyone who has ever worked for Joss Whedon. New episodes drop on Thursdays and the previous four seasons are all up on Youtube.

          Another webisode series that has made the leap from niche to internet meme is Chad Vader. This is a parody website that takes a relatively simple premise: Imagine Darth Vader has a brother named Chad who works as an assistant manager at a grocery store. Chad crashed his bicycle (yes, bicycle) into a pool of lava and now wears the same cyborg suit his brother. Chad also has the same force powers as his brother and the same penchant for speaking in over-the-top dialogue. The difference is, while his brother his risen to a high-ranking position in the empire, Chad is relegated to supervising produce clerks.

          Chad’s greatest ambition is to be promoted to general manager and get a date. Unfortunately, his human resources skills leave something to be desired. His typical response to an employee engaging in inappropriate behavior with a female co-worker is to force choke him. Three seasons of Chad Vader have been posted on Youtube and the fourth is in pre-production. Chad is also a regular attendee to Dragon Con where he makes a running commentary on the many cos-players.

          Check both The Guild and Chad Vader out. I guarantee either will be more entertaining than any episode of Two and a Half Men.

By D.C. Wilson

Short Fiction Podcast Part II

This month, I’m continuing my discussion of short fiction genre podcasts. Last time, I talked about the three behemoths produced by Escape Artists. Escape Artists is a company producers only podcasts, though they very often purchase stories that were first published in print. This time around, I’m going to feature three podcasts from publishers who offer a mix of podcasts, print, and online publications.

Clarkesworld Magazine (http://www.clarkeworldsmagazine.com) is an online magazine that publishes at least two stories every month, both in text and audio form. While most anthology podcasts use a variety of voice actors, Clarkesworld takes a different approach. All of the stories are read by Kate Baker. Also, while most podcasters will often read through the story several times before recording, Ms. Baker records her stories cold, without any preparation. One might suspect that this would make the reading seem disjointed, but Baker manages to give a fresh delivery while maintaining solid and consistent character voices.

Fantasy Magazine (http://www.fantasy-magazine.com) is a publication that should be familiar to at least one member of the Watch the Skies reading group. Edited by John Joseph Adams, Fantasy Magazine publishes stories online as well as in a monthly e-magazine format for reading on devices such as the Kindle or the Nook.

In addition, Fantasy Magazine publishes a twice monthly podcast featuring one of its published stories in audio form. As the same implies, Fantasy Magazine specializes in fantasy. I’ve found that the stories on this podcast are bit more varied than the ones chosen by Podcastle (http://www.podcastle.org)., with choices ranging from steampunk to sword and sorcery and more urban fantasy with a cybernetic twist, like the recent episode, “You Have Been Turned Into a Zombie by a Friend” by Jeremiah Tolbert.

Lightspeed Magazine (http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com) is the sister publication to Fantasy Magazine. Also helmed by John Joseph Adams, Lightspeed specializes is on Science Fiction. As with Fantasy Magazine, Lightspeed offers stories in online and e-magazine formats and a twice weekly podcast. Stories can be varied from deep space adventures or humorous, like the recent “Transcript of Interaction Between Astronaut Mike Scudderman and the OnStar Hands-Free A.I. Crash Advisor” by Grady Hendrix.  Both Lightspeed and Fantasy Magazine have a taste for the experiment, such as stories like “Snapshots I Brought Back from the Black Hole” by K. C. Ball, which is written as if it were a series of stage directions or the aforementioned story by Jeremiah Tolbert, which manages to pull off successfully the very difficult use of second person narrative.

Files from the Realm of Shameless Self-Promotion:

I’m planning on launching my own short story anthology podcast and I will need some voice talent, especially female voices, since any attempt by me to sound like a female would be ridiculous. If anyone is interested in contributed their voices, please let me know. I’ll accept recordings in whatever format you can give me. This is a “for the love” project as I have no money.

By D.C. Wilson

PODCAST REVIEWS

Science!

So far, I’ve focused on fiction podcasts, so I decided to jump over to the other side of the aisle and talk about some science podcasts. The first one is called, appropriately, The Science Podcast (http://www.sciencemag.org/site/multimedia/podcast/index.xhtml) and is produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This weekly podcast consists of thirty to forty minutes recapping three main stories and often a few short stories, relating to scientific topics. Expect to hear topics as wide ranging as dolphin intelligence, nanomaterials, and carbon dioxide on Mars.

 

Next, we have 60-Second Science ( http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast) from Scientific American Magazine. As the name implies, this is a short, minute long (with intros it’s slightly longer) stories about a single science topic. The nice thing about 60-Second Science is that it’s quick and you never know what you’re going to get each day. No matter what, you’re sure to learn something.

 

Finally, we have the 365-Days of Astronomy Podcast (http://365daysofastronomy.org/). This another daily podcast focused on astronomy issues. It’s about ten to fifteen minutes long and each one will teach you something about earth and space science. Plus, it’s got an awesome theme song by George Hraab.

 

Don’t worry, I haven’t given up on fiction podcasts. Take a listen to the novella Marco and the Red Granny (http://www.murverse.com/marco/) by Mur Lafferty. In future where people can wear poetry (just go with it), struggling artist Marco is about at the end of his rope. The only way artists in the future can make a living is to get a patronage from the aliens who now control the moon. Just when he thinks his career is over, he gets “the call” to go up to Sally Ride Moonbase, aka “Mollywood” to work for one of the alien houses. There, he the meets the Red Granny, a kindly old lady who just happens to be the champion of The Most Dangerous Game, a battle to the death on the surface of the Moon.

 

Seriously, that hasn’t gotten your interest? What the hell is wrong you? Go listen to this creation by one of the most fertile imaginations in the podisphere.

 

D.C. Wilson

Short Fiction in Podcast Form

 

One of my pet causes these days is to save short fiction, since every month someone seems ready to pronounce it dead. Podcasting, then, seems like the perfect vehicle to keep the form alive. A short story can be read in twenty minutes, so it can be listened to during the average American's commute. So, this month, I'm going to review the podcasts produced by the group that has pioneered short fiction podcasts, Escape Artists, Inc.

Their first podcast was Escape Pod (http://escapepod.org/). Founded by Steve Eley, Escape Pod began as a weekly podcast featuring a variety of genre stories. With the spinning off of the two sister podcasts, Pseudopod and Podcastle, Escape Pod has since focused almost exclusively on science fiction. Recently, Eley has stepped away from operations of Escape Pod and turned the editorial reigns over to Mur Lafferty. Under Ms. Lafferty's leadership, Escape Pod has continued to flourish as one of the premier places to find short science fiction.

The first to be spun off from Escape Pod was Pseudopod (http://pseudopod.org/). Featuring horror stories, Pseudopod began in 2006 hosted by Mur Lafferty. However, Alasdair Stuart quickly took over the hosting duties. Bringing a British accent and sensibility to introductions. Ben Philips assumed the role of editor. The stories of Pseudopod range from supernatural to the psychological.

Podcastle (http://podcastle.org/) is Escape Artist's fantasy podcast. Edited by Anna Schwind and Dave Thompson, Podcastle often rotates hosting duties and features stories ranging from steampunk to tales based on folk tales from around the world. Strangely, it's often light on high fantasy, however, which may simply be because high fantasy is often as much about the setting as the characters, and setting-based stories take thousands of words just to build the stage. Instead, the podcast is often heavy on what I would call “feminist fantasy”, tales about clever young women who outwit the oppressive patriarchal society keeping them down.

Each of the podcasts features a large stable of story readers, each one chosen according whose voice matches the tone and style of the story. This makes each week's installment a unique listening experience. The podcasts are free and supported by donations. So, whether you're a fan of science fiction, fantasy, or horror, Escape Artists has something you might want to check out.

 

 

Philippa J. Ballantine

This month, I am not going to talk about a specific podiobook. Instead, I'm going to update all of you on the career of an author that long term members of Watch the Skies should be familiar with: Philippa J. Ballantine. Ms. Ballantine holds the distinction of the author who has journeyed the farthest to visit our book club, having traversed the globe to come all the way from New Zealand. Just a few years ago, Pip paid us a visit at Barnes and Noble to promote the print release of her two books from Dragon Moon Press, Chasing the Bard and its sequel, Digital Magic. She even managed to get some words in edgewise around that force of nature known as Tee Morris.

Since her visit to us, Pip has been quite prolific, having graduated to a major press with the publication this October of her novel Geist through Ace press. And next year, she will debut the first of a series of steampunk novels, The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, that she co-authored with Morris. This book will be published by Harper Voyager.

Pip had also been been busy podcasting. In addition to her ongoing fan-driven podcast, Erotica a la Carte, she podcasted Chasing the Bard in 2008 and is currently producing Digital Magic as a podcast. If you haven't checked out either of these, you really should. Chasing the Bard is set in Elizabethan England and features the adventures of William Shakespeare as he experiences a real-life version of A Midsummer Night's Dream. While, nominally a sequel to Chasing the Bard, Digital Magic is set in the near-future, blending cyberpunk with faerie magic.

In 2009, Pip podcasted my personal favorite, Weather Child. Set in New Zealand just as World War I, this novel follows the adventures of Jack and Faith, two “Awakened” who unravel a conspiracy to use their magic for nefarious purposes. It features one of the most imaginative magic systems I've seen in recent years: After experiencing some kind of physical trauma, the Awakened become bonded to a seraphim, which a kind of inter-dimensional parasite that grants their host magical powers. The hosts have to then contend with the prospect of sharing their bodies with an alien creature and with dealing with those who would put their powers to use.

Sadly, Pip will not be podcasting either Geist or The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. The big publishing houses haven't quite accepted podcasting as a marketing tool. Instead, she is currently podcasting Chronicles of the Order, an anthology series set in the Geist universe and in 2011, she will be producing a similar anthology podcast for The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences.

I've listened to the first half dozen of stories in Chronicles of the Order. While they are not written by Pip, they do illustrate one of her greatest strengths as a writer: World building. In the world of Geist, the Order is a quasi-religious institution that recruits people with psychic potential to serve as pairs of “actives” and “sensitives” to battle malevolent spirits. The quality and tone of the stories vary with each author, but they do give you a taste of the world Pip has created.

To check out all of the Philippa Ballantine's podiobooks as well as get updates on her print releases, visit pjballantine.com.

D.C. Wilson

PODCAST REVIEW—GALAXYBILLIES

            Picture The Beverly Hillbillies meets The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

And I mean the good version produced by the BBC, not that disaster Disney inflicted on us a few years ago. What you would get could look a lot like Michell Plested's GalaxyBillies podcast. The setup is pretty simple. An alien spaceship needs a new crew, so it snatches up five humans from Appalachia.

          Once Bobby Joe, Betty Sue, Jim Bob (and I'm not making these names up) wrap their heads around the idea that they're traveling through space, they have confront immediate issues, like the difference between a grocery store and a nursery school. Along the way, they trigger an interstellar war and uncover some deep,

buried secrets in the galactic government. Will our heroes find their way back to Earth before they inadvertently cause its destruction? Check out the podcast at http://www.michellplested.com/tag/galaxybillies/ to find out.

          Galaxybillies is a full cast audio fiction podcast and the influence of the works of Douglas Adams is readily apparent. As the audience continues down the rabbit hole, they will discover references to such varied science fiction movies as Star Wars, Predator, and Disney's The Black Hole. The plot isn't all that deep, but who cares? It's just pure fun. Check it online or subscribe to the feed.

D.C. Wilson