Friday, February 27, 2015

Videos for Alternate Historians #11


Thanks to everyone who watched, commented and liked the trailer for my new YouTube channel. Of course, if you want to see more talented people make videos then I have some offerings for you today that will more than satisfy that need.

Up first, a look at one of Hollywood's most historically inaccurate film from the guys at Cinema Sins:
Seriously the history is so bad in Gladiator that it is amazing this movie is not considered an alternate history film. Next we have the world's worst werewolf hunter, McKinley:
I know this wasn't Rooster Teeth's intention, but this video certainly sums up most people's feeling about The Order: 1886. And now we end, as we often do, with a look at the newest episode from the Alternate History Hub. This week, Cody Franklin asks what if the United States manufactured a reason to go to war with Cuba:
Got any videos or YouTube channels that you want to recommend? Let us know in the comments or at ahwupdate at gmail dot com.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update and a blogger on Amazing Stories. Check out his short fiction. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Check Out the Trailer for My New YouTube Channel!

Holy crap! I created a new alternate history YouTube channel. I made a teaser trailer to celebrate:
Well that was a disturbing adventure into my psyche. I hope you guys enjoy further trips through the multiverse with me. Fans of The Update will be the first to know that my premier episode is going to be a dissection of the popular Deseret trope and I already have some ideas for an episode on airships.

Don't forget to subscribe and let me know in the comments or at ahwupdate at gmail dot com about what topics you would like me to cover next.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update and a blogger on Amazing Stories. Check out his short fiction. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Book Review: Joe Steele by Harry Turtledove

When I said I was going to review Harry Turtledove's Joe Steele (out on April 7), I never expected the reaction the news would receive. Alternate historians were really interested with this book. So I'm happy to announce that I have finished the novel and I am ready to reveal my thoughts on it.

A little background: Joe Steele is actually an expanded novel based on the short story of the same name. The story itself was inspired by a lyric from Janis Ian's "God & The FBI" that said "Stalin was a Democrat". Well Turtledove took that line and rolled with it when he created this alternate history. In this world, Stalin's parents immigrated to America shortly before he was born (along with the parents of several of his Soviet cronies coincidentally). Going by the name Joe Steele, he peruses a career in politics and manages to earn the Democratic nomination for president in 1932 after his challenger, Franklin D. Roosevelt, dies under mysterious circumstances. With vast amounts of popular support from Americans desperate to get out of the Great Depression, Steele sets about to reshape America into his own image, ignoring the Constitution and punishing anyone who gets in his way.

Steele's presidency, from his nomination to his death, is told from the point of view of two reporter brothers: Mike and Charlie Sullivan. Both react differently to the police state America is becoming. Charlie, for example, keeps his head down and rationalizes the extreme tactics Steele uses as being an unpleasant, but necessary burden if they have any chance of setting America right again. Mike, on the other hand, does not see any difference between Steele and other dictators like Hitler or Trotsky (who succeeded Lenin after his death in this timeline). Their choices set each brother down a different paths as Mike is thrown into a prison camp in Montana, while Charlie winds up as a speech writer for Steele himself. This style of story-telling means that Joe Steele does not have a plot per se. We essentially just see a slice of this alternate history from the view of these brothers, which is fine by me, but people who enjoy the more traditional story format may find this book wanting.

The plausibility of this alternate history is on the soft side. As Sam McDonald pointed out in his review of the short story, it is rather odd that the different experiences Stalin would live through growing up in America had zero effect on his personality, but then it wouldn't be an interesting story if Steele's entire political career revolved around him being a soft-spoken, but long-serving Congressman from California. Since this is a Turtledove novel, there is also a lot of paralleling going on through this history with Steele making some of the same choices that FDR made in OTL. In fact some of those moments made me a tad uncomfortable because it seemed as if Turtledove was comparing Stalin to FDR. While it has recently been in vogue to criticize FDR's presidency, even I think it is unfair to compare him to someone who is considered by many to be worse than Hitler.

Of course, I could just be reading too much into Joe Steele by bringing present-day politics into this review. You do get to see some major changes to history near the end of the book with Japan being divided between a communist north and capitalist south and a very odd omission of Israel which makes me think Steele was not as sympathetic to Zionism as Truman was in OTL (in fact several Jewish scientists are purged by Steele as traitors, so that could explain why no one seems interested in the Middle East). Without spoiling anything, I also feel that democracy and America are a lot worse off at the start of this alternate Cold War than in OTL. I would not be surprised if the United States actually loses in the long run if Turtledove ever decides to revisit this timeline.

Nitpicking aside, on the whole Joe Steele was an entertaining read. Turtledove took the Day of the Jackboot trope, which is often dominated by right-wing dictators, and gave us a Supreme Leader of the leftist variety. Although the book did drag in the middle, it still was a lot less flabbier than the novels in his many long-running series and the ending had a powerful emotional chord to it. Turtledove fans and people who enjoy dystopias will certainly want to pick up Joe Steele.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update and a blogger on Amazing Stories. Check out his short fiction. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

New Releases 2/24/15

You can support The Update by clicking the banner to your right or the links below if you are purchasing through Amazon!

Hardcovers

A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab

From V.E. Schwab, the critically acclaimed author of Vicious, comes a new universe of daring adventure, thrilling power, and parallel Londons, beginning with A Darker Shade of Magic.

Kell is one of the last Travelers—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes—as such, he can choose where he lands.

There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, ruled by a mad King George. Then there’s Red London, where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London, ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne—a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London...but no one speaks of that now.

The Violent Century: A Novel by Lavie Tidhar

They never meant to be heroes.

For seventy years they guarded the British Empire. Oblivion and Fogg, inseparable friends, bound together by a shared fate. Until one night in Berlin, in the aftermath of the Second World War, and a secret that tore them apart.

But there must always be an account...and the past has a habit of catching up to the present.

Now, recalled to the Retirement Bureau from which no one can retire, Fogg and Oblivion must face up to a past of terrible war and unacknowledged heroism, - a life of dusty corridors and secret rooms, of furtive meetings and blood-stained fields - to answer one last, impossible question:

What makes a hero?

Weird Belfast: A Miscellany, Almanack and Companion by Reggie Chamberlain-King

Did you know that Herr Dobler, Wizard of the World, appeared at the Victoria Hall in Belfast in 1883? Did your granny ever try Dobbin's Blood Purifier, only available at Dobbin's Chemist, North Street? And did you hear about the arrest of Jack the Ripper in Memel Street in Belfast in 1888? Drawing on newspaper articles, ballads, playbills, and advertisements as well as anecdote, hearsay, and rumor, this is a vivid and endlessly fascinating account of the weird and wonderful and wonderfully weird in Belfast.

Paperbacks

1636: Seas of Fortune by Iver Cooper

National Best Seller in Trade Paperback. A new addition to the multiple New York Times best-selling Ring of Fire series. After carving a place for itself in war-torn 17th century Europe, citizens of the modern town of Grantville, West Virginia, the up-timers and their allies take on continental America and the Japan!

A cosmic catastrophe, the Ring of Fire, strands the West Virginia town of Grantville in the middle of Europe during the Thirty Years War. The repercussions of that event transform Europe and, in a few years, begin spreading across the world. By 1636, the Ring of Fire's impact is felt across two great oceans, the Atlantic and Pacific.

Stretching Out: The United States of Europe seeks out resources -- oil, rubber and even aluminum ore -- to help it wage war against the foes of freedom. Daring pioneers cross the Atlantic and found a new colony on the wild coast of South America. The colonists hope that with the up-timers' support and knowledge they can prosper in the tropics without resort to Indian and African slavery. Then a slave ship visits the colony, seeking water.... and the colonists must make a fateful choice.

Rising Sun: In 1633, the wave of change emanating from the Ring of Fire reaches Japan. The Shogun is intrigued by samples of up-time technology, but it's a peek at what fate had in store for Japan in the old time line that has the greatest impact -- setting events in motion whose tremors are felt thousands of miles away and for years to come, as Japan pulls back from a policy of isolation and stakes out its own claim in the brave new world created by the Ring.

Elementary: The Ghost Line by Adam Christopher

Summons to a bullet-riddled body in a Hell’s Kitchen apartment marks the start of a new case for consulting detectives Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson. The victim is a subway train driver with a hidden stash of money and a strange Colombian connection, but why would someone kill him and leave a fortune behind?

The search for the truth will lead the sleuths deep into the hidden underground tunnels beneath New York City, where answers—and more bodies—may well await them...

What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton

As any reader of Jo Walton's Among Others might guess, Walton is both an inveterate reader of SF and fantasy, and a chronic re-reader of books. In 2008, then-new science-fiction mega-site Tor.com asked Walton to blog regularly about her re-reading—about all kinds of older fantasy and SF, ranging from acknowledged classics, to guilty pleasures, to forgotten oddities and gems. These posts have consistently been among the most popular features of Tor.com. Now this volumes presents a selection of the best of them, ranging from short essays to long reassessments of some of the field's most ambitious series.

Among Walton's many subjects here are the Zones of Thought novels of Vernor Vinge; the question of what genre readers mean by "mainstream"; the underappreciated SF adventures of C. J. Cherryh; the field's many approaches to time travel; the masterful science fiction of Samuel R. Delany; Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children; the early Hainish novels of Ursula K. Le Guin; and a Robert A. Heinlein novel you have most certainly never read.

Over 130 essays in all, What Makes This Book So Great is an immensely readable, engaging collection of provocative, opinionated thoughts about past and present-day fantasy and science fiction, from one of our best writers.

To fans, authors and publishers...

Is your story going to be published in time for the next New Releases? Contact us at ahwupdate at gmail dot com.  We are looking for works of alternate history, counterfactual history, steampunk, historical fantasy, time travel or anything that warps history beyond our understanding.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update and a blogger on Amazing Stories. Check out his short fiction. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Map Monday: Turtledove's "Les Mortes d'Arthur" by Bruce Munro

I have become increasingly nostalgic in my old age. I keep going back to a lot of alternate history and science fiction works I first read in high school that started me on this long and geeky road across the multiverse. Take Harry Turtledove for example. Although it was his alternate history that inspired me to write, I still enjoyed his more mainline science fiction, like hisshort story "Les Mortes d'Arthur".

Set in an obsolete future after a limited nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union, the space-based events of the sixty-sixth Winter Olympic Games are being held on the Saturn moon of Mimas, but they are interrupted when someone starts murdering the athletes. It was a fun bit of SF murder mystery and if you can get a hold of a copy of Departures you can read it. What caused me to reread that same story, however, was the appearance of several large federations and other nation-states that had enough wealth to go to space in this future. I always wondered what would have happened if someone made a map of this Earth...
Bruce Munro makes his return to the Map Monday spotlight with one of his classic overly annotated maps. Here we see his vision of the nations that not only participated in the games on Mimas, but also those still stuck on terra firma. As usual you can get even more details about this retro-SF on AlternateHistory.com, but what I liked most of this map was the feelings of nostalgia that coursed through me when I first laid eyes on it. Perhaps I too tried to visualize what this Earth looked like when I was younger, but I lacked the patience (more likely talent) to make that vision a reality. You have to treasure moments like this and I hope I am not the only one studying this map while comparing it to the notes inside your own head.

Honorable mentions this week go out to DPKdebator's World War III map, Noravea's map of Saratoga and Lynn Davis' The Great Northern War. Don't forget to check out the funny 27 hilariously bad maps that explain nothing on Vox (thanks to @m_blind on Twitter for pointing that out to me). If you want to submit a map for the next Map Monday, email me at ahwupdate at gmail dot com with your map attached and a brief description in the body of the email.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update and a blogger on Amazing Stories. Check out his short fiction. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

Weekly Update #181

Editor's Note

Well Lent has begun and so has my exile from YouTube. So far I haven't seen much benefit to my writing from my self-imposed ban. Real life events continue to intrude on the solitude necessary to get some real writing done, although I did manage to get a lot of work done on my Sideways in Time paper on Sunday. I just have to keep telling myself that no once cares how much time I had to relax or how much sleep I got (I only really need 6 or 7 hours, right?). They only care what I could have been doing during that time.

And now the news...

Check out King of the Cracksmen by Dennis O’Flaherty

Want to read a bizarre steampunk alternate history? Then you should check out King of the Cracksmen by Dennis O'Flaherty. Here is the description from Amazon:

How far will the luck of the Irish stretch?

The year is 1877. Automatons and steam-powered dirigible gunships have transformed the United States in the aftermath of the Civil War. All of the country’s land west of the Mississippi was sold to Russia nearly fifty years earlier, and “Little Russia,” as it’s now called, is ruled by the son of Tsar Alexander II. Lincoln is still president, having never been assassinated, but he’s not been seen for six months, and rumors are flying about his disappearance. The country is being run as a police state by his former secretary of war Edwin Stanton, a power-hungry criminal who rules with an iron fist.

Liam McCool is an outlaw, known among other crooks as “King of the Cracksmen.” But his glory days as a safecracker and the head of a powerful New York gang end when he’s caught red-handed. Threatened with prison unless he informs on his own brethren fighting a guerilla war against Stanton’s tyranny, McCool’s been biding his time, trying to keeping the heat off him long enough to escape to San Francisco with his sweetheart Maggie. But when she turns up murdered, McCool discovers a trail of breadcrumbs that look to lead all the way up to the top of Stanton’s criminal organization. Joining forces with world-famed lady reporter Becky Fox, he plunges deep into the underground war, racing to find Maggie’s killer and stop Stanton once and for all.

King of the Cracksmen is an explosive, action-packed look at a Victorian empire that never was, part To Catch a Thief, part Little Big Man, steampunk as you’ve never seen it before.

Last week Dennis was promoting his new novel at some prominent SF sites. He did an interview over at The Qwillery and the first chapter of the novel was posted at Bibliotropic. If you get a chance to read King of the Cracksmen, let us know. We would love to post a review.

Videos for Alternate Historians

This week I have an older video to showcase. It was originally published in 2010, but it goes along nicely with my recent review of Baxter's Voyage:
Its a computer simulation of Baxter's proposed Mars mission. It is actually pretty cool to watch and the musical accompaniment makes it an intense video. The channel, Rseferino Orbiter Filmmaker, appears to show computer animated simulations of various space-based missions, including several proposed missions, meaning there is a lot of alternate history content to this channel. I highly recommend you go check it out.

If you know of any other alternate history videos or YouTube channels, don't forget to share them with me at ahwupdate at gmail dot com.

Links to the Multiverse

Books & Short Fiction

Five Books About the Perils of Education by Ian Macleod at Tor.
For Steampunk Hands 2015: The Raj Revised: Steampunking History at Steampunk India.
John Mierau Explores What Happened After “War of the Worlds” in ASUNDER at SF Signal.
On My Radar: The Suicide Exhibition, Razorhurst and Bone Gap at SF Signal.
Review: The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford at Fantasy Literature.
Review: The Janus Affair by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris at Bibliotropic.
Review: The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis at Pat's Fantasy Hotlist.
Review: Wild Cards: Aces Abroad edited by George R R Martin at The Little Red Reviewer.
Steampunk…. Seriously? by Professor Elemental at Airship Ambassador.
Table of Contents: The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth Edited by S.M. Stirling at SF Signal.

Counterfactuals, History & News

5 Uprisings Cut from U.S. History for Being Too Successful at Cracked.
10 people who very nearly became President at Yahoo!
Oklahoma lawmaker seeks to do away with AP history courses at News Channel 4.
The UK government wants to get this massive airship back in the air at The Verge.
Why ISIS Isn’t Medieval by John Terry at Slate.

Film & Television

10 Time Travel Books That Need To Be Movies Right Now (If Not Sooner) at io9.
10 YouTube Channels That Actually Make Learning Fun at Learning Lift Off.
12 Monkeys 1.6: Can I Get a Witness? at Paul Levinson's Infinite Regress.
Alternate history? Shanahan says 2 game-changing QBs were in play at CSN Washington.
Frank Spotnitz Takes Us Inside Amazon's The Man In The High Castle at TV Fanatic.
J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions is Developing a Thomas Edison Biopic at Best Movies Ever.
Review: Agent Carter Ep.6 at Geek Syndicate.

Games

Airship Q Coming Soon To PlayStation 4 and Vita at Geek Syndicate.
Civilization Players Are Sending The Entire World To War at Kotaku.
The Great Gatsby Nintendo Game at Dieselpunk.
Review: The Order: 1886 at PlayStation Universe.
YouTube Leak Derails Launch Of Big PS4 Exclusive at Kotaku.

Graphic Novels & Comics

The 19XX Dieselpunk Epic Concludes Its First Trilogy In Shining Skull: 1936 at Bleeding Cool.

Interviews

Elizabeth Bear at My Bookish Ways.
VE Schwab at Fran Wilde.

Theater

Musical on alternate EDSA history to feature Eraserheads composition at Phil Star.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update and a blogger on Amazing Stories. Check out his short fiction. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Audio File: PodCastle

Guest post by Sam McDonald.
So it seems my last article about free audio alternate history proved rather popular and now I'm back for more. I promised to cover PodCastle, sister podcast to Escape Pod, and I'm going to make good on my promise in this installment of The Audio File. PodCastle is the youngest of the three Escape Artists podcast. It's amazingly talented staff dedicate themselves to bringing you the best audio fantasy week after week. Said staff included (but is not limited to) Dave Thompson, Anna Schwind, Anne Leckie, MK Jemisin, LaShawn Wanak, and Rachael Swirsky. Their hauntingly beautiful theme music at the beginning and ending of each podcast is courtesy of Shiva in Exile.

Unlike Escape Pod, the original text of the stories isn't on PodCastle's website, but it is usually linked to. I've got quite the haul of stories this time, and in my research I even found a few I missed in my article on Escape Pod.  Don't worry, I'm sure they'll appear in a future article, but for now, settle in because it's story time...

The Calendar of Saints by Kat Howard
Narrated by Amal El-Mothar
Originally published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

This story has multiple departures from our history.  First, Ignatius of Loyola founded a religious order known as the Sacred Blades. Whenever there is a dispute in Catholic doctrine the two debating sides will supply their own duelists, the aforementioned as Sacred Swords, and whoever wins is considered the one in the right (it is believed that God will guide the victor's hand). It also appears that Catholic history is considerably different than our world. There are several saints of science such as Galileo Galilei and Tycho Brahe. Also, God is referred to as a women and the Church is more gender egalitarian than in our world.

The story focuses on a Sacred Blade named Jeanne. Though she doesn't exactly believe in God, Jeanne does believe in the Truth and the rules of the Sacred Blades. Jeanne has been chosen to wield the sword of Ignatius himself, and she'll need it more than ever for a duel that could decide the future of the Catholic Church.

When I first saw the word saints I admittedly wasn't sure this was going to be the story for me. I'm happy, however, to report I couldn't have been more wrong. The glimpses we get of the alternate history of this Catholic Church are tantalizing, and ever so often we get little fact files on different saints to really help flesh out the world. As for the narration, Amal did an excellent job bringing the story to life and capturing all of the emotions present in the story.

The fact that this story could make someone like me, never the biggest fan of religion, care about its characters and hang on its every word shows Kat's skill as an author. A unique take on alternate religious history that I very much recommend.

Biographical notes to "A Discourse on the Nature of Causality with Air-Planes" by Benjamin Rosenbaum
Narrated by Graeme Dunlop
Originally published in All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories

Our story takes place in a world where India, China, Gabon, Japan and Malaysia are the dominate world powers, North America is balkanized and airships are the only means of air travel.  Our protagonist, Benjamin Rosenbaum, has been commissioned by a wealthy Rajah to write an alternate history story set in a world where something other than airships is used for air travel.  Benjamin, however, soon finds himself caught in an assignation plot against the Rajah and must rise to the occasion.

If ever there was a story that needed a sequel it was this. India as the dominate world power?  Jesus considered an avatar of Vishnu?  An Irish-Iroquois hybrid nation?  There's so many details about this world that are just begging to be elaborated on and that I'm desperate to know more about. I liked how we get shown little hints at the impact India had on Western culture, like how people with otherwise Western names sometimes have Sri in front of their names. The Eastern cultural dominance is also apparent in the philosophical discussions throughout the story.  If you're only experience is with Western Philosophy it can be a little confusing, but not too much so.

There's certain narrators who are always associated with certain stories to some people. For me, Graeme will always be Conan the Barbarian, but he still did a very good job narrating this story. Words fail to properly convey the sense of awe and wonder this story provided me with.

A swashbuckling alternate history that leaves you hungry for more.

Wane by Elizabeth Bear
Narrated by Marguerite Kenner and Alasdair Stuart
Originally published in Interzone #203

This story is set in the same world as Elizabeth Bear's New Amsterdam series.  In this world Native Americans were able to mostly repel European colonization thanks to the use of magic.  By the 19th century the European settlements, huddled along the coastline, have yet to gain their independence; and obviously New York is still called New Amsterdam.

I've been interested in the New Amsterdam series for quite some time, and I was very eager to give this story a try. I can honestly say this story was...meh. That's not to say I thought this story was bad, but I didn't quite care for it either. As stated before, this story had a really interesting setting, and a surviving Aztec Empire is always a bonus. As for the story itself, well it didn't quite capture my attention.

Let's talk about the narrators. Marguerite did an excellent job voicing her characters, but as for Alasdair...I find myself questioning if he was the best choice for this story. When he's paired with the right story Alasdair can work absolute wonders. Here, however, he kind of dropped the ball. There were a lot of characters Alasdair needed to make sound distinct, but they all sounded so similar I had trouble keeping track of who was who.

This might not exactly be my cup of tea, but maybe you'll enjoy it. I'll say it's at least worth checking out.

Nor the Moonlight by Andrew Penn Romine
Narrated by Cheyenne Wright
Originally published in Broken Time Blues: Fantastic Tales of the Roaring 20s

Set in a dieselpunk 1920s Paris, this is the story of two lovers dealing with the effects of the First World War.  Several former soldiers are seeking treatment for the wounds they received in the war. Many have found hope in the surgeries of Pablo Picasso. He claims that his surgeries will make the wounded whole once again, but his patents are often turned into bizarre and gruesome living sculptures.

Andrew captured the cynical and disjointed style of the great writers of the 20s, such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald, perfectly. Cheyenne did as excellent job of conveying that feeling as well. I liked how even though the story featured a gay romance at its center it wasn't treated any differently than a heterosexual romance. I know I said that this is a dieselpunk story, but the descriptions of Picasso's surgeries does add in a few biopunk elements as well. Speaking of which, if you pay attention you can probably pick out a few references to Picasso's paintings in his surgeries.

It's dark, cynical and haunting. Definitely worth checking out.

The Osteomancer's Son by Greg van Eekhout
Narrated by Ben Phillips
Originally published in Asimov's Science Fiction

Some of you are probably familiar with Greg van Eekhout though his novel California Bones.  This is the story which inspired that novel.  Magic in this world, known as Osteomancy, involves drawing power from the bones of prehistoric and mythic creatures. This can be accomplished a number of ways, but is most effective when the bones are eaten. After this the Osteomancer takes on an aspect of the creature. Of course, if you eat a fellow Osteomancer's bones you get all of their accumulated powers.

Our protagonist Daniel is the son of a well known black market Osteomancer. California is an independent nation and is ruled in the iron fist of a dictator known as the Hierarch and he's taken Daniel's daughter hostage.

This story really spoke to the paleontology nerd in me, and I loved how the La Brea Tar Pits played such a central role to the story.  I also liked how the powers generated by eating bones aren't always what you think they might be. For example, eating kraken spine apparently grants the power to summon lightning. It was a nice touch that the bones of Osteomancers are said to be brown, the color of bones in tar. Daniel's relationship with his father came across and complex and nuanced; overall very well written on Greg's part.

As far as narration goes I think Ben did a spot on job. This story does a good job of standing on its own merits, but I'm intrigued, and I'm definitely going to check out California Bones at some point.

I've been hooked by this story and you will too.

On Bookstores, Burners and Origami by Jason D. Wittman
Narrated by Brian Rollins
Originally published at SciFi.com

This story takes place in a world where the Civil War dragged on slightly longer than in our world, but still ended in a Union victory. A media mogul named Tobias Hornbee contributed lots of money to the rebuilding effort, and was able to use this to launch a presidential campaign.  Most people focus more on his help rebuilding than on the fact that he holds a near monopoly on the nation's printing presses. President Hornbee has been trying to suppress most literature on the grounds that it doesn't conform to his ideas of optimism.

Several booksellers have been subversively selling banned books in defiance of Hornbee. Hitomi, our protagonist and an immigrant from Japan to Minneapolis, is involved in such an operation. Besides the President, the booksellers also face Burners, a movement to destroy all written works. Fortunately, Edgar Allen Poe has recently come out of hiding to help the bookseller cause.

This story has steampunk elements to it such as airships and pneumatic tubes, but on the whole I'd classify this as more of a Gaslamp Fantasy. Now as far as the narration goes, while I think that overall Brian did a very good job, I find myself questioning why a story with a female protagonist would have a male narrator. PodCastle has always had a wide selection of narrators so the choice struck me as a bit odd.

As for the story itself, overall I found it very enjoyable, though I'm not sure I exactly buy Edgar Allen Poe being a Confederate sympathizer. I liked the way that Jason presented the booksellers and the Burners as ultimately having the same goal, but just very different methods of achieving it.  For that matter, I liked how the Burners were depicted sympathetically and as misguided rather than truly evil. It was also nice to see a somewhat steampunk story with such a diverse cast as this had.

All in all an excellent Gaslamp Fantasy. I say give it a shot.

Titanic! by Lavie Tidhar
Narrated by Ian Stuart
Originally published in Apex Magazine

Dr. Jekyll is on the run from the authorities.  They haven't discovered his dark secret yet, but it won't be long, so he's decided to journey to America aboard the Titanic. The ship, however, is going have a fateful run-in with a kaiju, the most famous kaiju of them all in fact.

Okay, in case you haven't figured it out, this story is basically Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde meet Godzilla while on the Titanic.  There really isn't much to say about this story except that it was a lot of fun. Ian did an excellent job narrating, and if you're a fan of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen this story should appeal to you. For that matter, this story will probably appeal to most people.

It goes without saying that I heartily recommend this one.

Enginesong (A Rondeau) by Nathaniel Lee
Narrated by Bob Eccles
Originally published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

The is the point where we transition away from alternate history and move towards Historical Fantasy. Case in point, this story is set in the Old West where trains have gained sentience, grown legs and walked away. With so many town dependent on the trains for survival it isn't long before a posse is assembled to capture the trains. Yet our protagonist Bose begins to wonder, if a train can walk like a man, can a man haul like a train?

On the surface the story sounds like it has no right to work, but it absolutely does. I guess that just show's Nathaniel's skill as a writer, and yes, this is the same Nathaniel Lee who is assistant editor of Escape Pod. The central theme of this story is about change and making sacrifices for a great good. The story as a whole does an excellent job of presenting these themes, and the final lines are especially memorable and haunting. Bob Eccles' narration perfectly captured the emotional depth of this story.

For a Weird Western that packs an emotional punch, checkout this story.

The Hooves and Hovel of Abdel Jameela by Saladin Ahmed
Narrated by Rajan Khanna
Originally published in Clockwork Phoenix 2

Set during the Golden Age of Islam, or thereabout, this story follows a physicker who has received a call for aid by a hermit named Abdel Jameela. He has fallen in love and married a ghoul, which in this case refers to a human-goat hybrid creature of sorts. He wishes to move to the country of his wife's people, but to do that he must become part goat, and he'll need the professor's help.

This is another of those stories whose summary sounds crazy, but I swear that it works. One of the things I like about Saladin's writing is that he asks a lot of though questions about issues of faith and spirituality without pretending to know the answers. I liked that the professor was cool, rational minded and asked for evidence before agreeing to help Abdel. At the same time, I could sense the conflict the professor felt when confronted with Abdel's wife. Here is something that shouldn't exist, and that legends describe as evil, but appears not to be any worse than a typical human.

On that note, I liked how ghouls were presented as morally no worse than humans or any other race of creatures. I guess Abdul and his wife go to show that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. As for Rajan's narration, well, I think you can guess by now that I thought he did a great job. I also thought that effects accompanying the wife's speaking added a perfect supernatural feeling.

If you're looking for a good spiritual noir then give this story a shot.

Card Sharp by Rajan Khanna
Narrated by Wilson Fowlie
Originally published in Way of the Wizard

I've got another Weird Western for you. This one follows a young man named Quentin who has been trained to be a Card Sharp. Card Sharps are people who draw magic from decks of playing cards, but each Card Sharp only gets one deck in their entire life, so they must choose their cards wisely. Quentin's going to need all the magical help he can get because he's on a mission to avenge his father's death.

This story had some great worldbuilding. I loved how the card's suits corresponds to different kinds of magic and their number corresponds to strength. The plot of a son getting revenge against the man who killed his father and married his mother gave this story a bit of Wild West Hamlet feel, and that's not a bad thing. Without giving too much away, though, I can assure you this story has a happier ending than Hamlet. It is always a joy to hear a story narrated by Wilson Fowlie, and he did a great job here as well.

Another Weird Western I reckon you'll like.

Maxwell's Demon by Ken Liu
Narrated by Aki Gibbons
Originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

You didn't really think I wasn't going to find a Ken Liu story for this list did you?  This story follows Takako Yamashiro, a woman sentenced to the Japanese interment camps during World War II. Fortunately, she's been given the chance to get out of the camps and work as a spy to infiltrate a secret Japanese military program. Said program turns out to be an attempt to use the spirits of the dead to create perpetual energy machines, and it's up to Takako, a spirit medium, to to spot that from happening.

Wars are rarely completely black and white, and World War II was no exception.  While not anywhere near as bad as the Nazi concentration camps, the Internment Camps were certainly not one of the better moments in American history. Ken did an excellent job depicting the attitudes and mentality of the era, and the sense of injustice felt by Japanese-Americans. Aki did a perfect job of delivering the emotional punch this story packs.

As with most Ken Liu stories I got to learn something new.  In this case I learned about the traditional cultures of Okinawa as well as the Maxwell's Demon thought experiment.  Without giving too much away I can say that the ending is tragic, but also with a bit of hope as well. Wouldn't have expected any less from a Ken Liu story.

Do I really need to say how much I recommend this story?

After October by Ben Burgis
Narrated by Eric Luke
Originally published in GigaNotoSaurus

We end our list with a story leans more on the historical than the fantasy, but is still an excellent story, so I chose to include it.  Our story follows the Soviet Union from the beginning of the October Revolution to the height of the Stalin regime. It also tells the coming of age story of a young revolutionary named Fyodka. He's been trained in the magic of Old Russia since he was young, but he has abandoned that in favor of joining the revolution. Fyodka's uncle Grigor has been trying to research a way to magically defeat death. The question is, which of them will truly bring revolution to the world?

Like I said before, this is the coming of age story not just for Fyodka, but for Russia as a whole.  We see them go from wide-eyed optimism at the begin of the revolution to deep cynicism and despair under Stalin. I'd like to add that if you're looking for an epic Zombies vs. Soviets showdown then I'm sorry to say you'll probably be disappointed.  Having said that, this story is nonetheless an excellent depiction of the early years if the Soviet Union.

This story really give me a new perspective of the harshness of the Stalin regime. That's not to say I necessarily think Leon Trotsky would have been better, but the story really conveyed the sense of shattered dreams felt by the Soviets. Here were a people who threw off the chains of oppression and dreamed of bringing liberation to other nations; yet now these same people soon witnessed their nation crumbling at the seems.

For a new look at Soviet history I recommend this story.

Conclusion

So we've reached the end of the list and I hope I've peaked your curiosity. This is usually the point where I'd remind you that if you like what you listened/read to not be shy about dropping a donation to PodCastle. You should still do that, but I'd also like to call attention to one of the authors mentioned on this list. Saladin Ahmed is, as I've mentioned, an amazingly talented writer. He's also going to through some major financial hardship due to struggling with depression and flood damage over the last few years. He's recently released a collection of short stories, and every one of them is available totally for free on PodCastle.  Any amount you can donate will be a major help, both for Saladin and PodCastle.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this list.  Happy listening and I'll see you next time.

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Sam McDonald is a college student from Shreveport, LA.  When not involved with his studies he can be found making and posting maps across the web and working on short stories that he hopes to have published in magazines such as Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, and the Escape Artists Podcasts.