Speculative fiction has a number of fiction podcasts going on. Clarkesworld is an online magazine that podcasts a couple of stories each month, read by Kate Baker. The magazine and podcast are free, but Clarkesworld encourages an N.P.R. style
citizenship. In other words, donations. Like N.P.R., different donation levels get slightly more recognition and gifts. The highest level accords you the status of
Worshipped and Feared by Many.
February’s podcast stories, all read by Kate Baker, consist of:
Torquing Vacuum by Jay Lake
I have very mixed reactions to Jay Lake‘s stories. When they haven’t worked, they really haven’t worked. But sometimes he gets really inventive and I’m just suckered right in. You know, like a tentacle just grabbed me.
But oddly, while
Torquing Vacuum wasn’t particularly inventive, I still liked it. A starship mechanic working on a job for a V.I.P. is forced to take a rest after zoning out on the job. During his break, he gets a little nooky from a hot young pretty but not too bright boy toy on the station. But on waking up in the morning, he’s got a call from high mucky mucks and is in trouble for reasons he doesn’t know but suspects have to do with his late night dalliance.
I won’t spoil the cause of the trouble, but you’ve probably seen it told before. I didn’t actually figure it out until the revelation, but at that point I thought
Ah! This all fits! It’s a comforting plot because it’s so familiar.
The Language of the Whirlwind by Lavie Tidhar
One nice thing about listening to fiction podcasts is that I can learn how to pronounce authors names correctly. I own Lavie Tidhar‘s anthology The Apex Book of World S.F. and read the Tidhar co-edited World S.F. News Blog because I’m trying to read more diversely (though I haven’t yet gotten to the anthology, a curse of owning 900+ unread books). His name is one of the more buzzed about names in the last year or two, but it isn’t Anglo-Saxon enough for me to intuitively know how to pronounce it. Kate Baker saves me from putting my foot in my mouth (in one way at least) if I ever meet the man.
The Language of the Whirlwind is set in a post-apocalyptic Tel Aviv, cut off from the rest of the world by black mountains or a wall of some sort. A volcano of some sort has arisen in the center of the the city, and people are killed when they try to ascend. Possibly sentient giant dust devils periodically sweep in from the Mediterranean and carry people away. People scrabble by on rats and scavenged food and goods, while some assemble into gangs that enslave anyone unfortunate enough to be unable to fight back. Among the ruins, one man copes by becoming a priest of a new religion revealed to him alone. This is his story and the story of a boy who follows him with a whistle.
I liked this story more than I did Tidhar’s story in Interfictions 2, but it was still out there enough that I was really confused as to what was going on. There’s so many moving parts, and most of them have little explanation. I was constantly trying to figure out in my head what each of these things
really was. Is that a volcano that appeared? possibly not. Who is this fireman that the priest keeps talking about? What are these whirlwinds? What’s happened to the rest of the world? The questions might not even really be that important, but I couldn’t stop wondering about them. Sometimes I like stuff that has unanswered questions, but in this case they seemed to pull me in so many different directions that I never really got a point from the story.
Non-Zero Probabilities by N.K. Jemisin
Ms. Jemisin has received a lot of buzz recently as well. Orbit Books just released her debut novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. And
Non-Zero Probabilities made the final ballot for the Nebula Awards in the short story category. It’s the first time I’ve read Jemisin, and I love the story. I have a copy of her novel and am looking forward to reading it after hearing this.
Adele lives in New York City. It’s a New York City almost exactly like our current New York City, except that sometime in the recent past probability was altered so that unlikely events became much more likely. Basically, the bell curve has been flattened somewhat. Just in New York City.
One of my fascinations is how people respond to statistics, numbers and risk. Bruce Schneier, for instance, constantly harps on how people overvalue the risks involved with unlikely but specific events. For instance, we (as an American society) are much more scared of a terrorist attack like at the World Trade Center than we are of car accidents. Yet Americans living in the U.S. are at least 12 times more likely to die in a car accident than they are of dying in an incident of terrorism.
So here we have a New York City where dice roll double ones repeatedly, trains derail, and people win the lottery out of proportion. Some people can’t handle it; they leave. Others flock to the city hoping for a one in a million miracle cure. Others, like Adele, adjust. She carries lucky items with her for protection, and avoids one in a million events. But unlikely things aren’t all bad (such as the miracle cures), so she stays in the city. Also, it’s New York City.