Friday, June 26, 2015

The Audio File: Lightspeed Magazine

Guest post by Sam McDonald.
Everyone buckle up, because in this edition of The Audio File we're going to lightspeed. Lightspeed Magazine that is. Lightspeed Magazine was founded in 2010 by John Joseph Adams, who continues to serve as the magazine's editor. The Lightspeed's podcast is created in association with Skyboat Road Company Inc, the largest independent audio producer on the West Coast, and is headed by the Audie and Grammy award winning narrators Stefan Rudnicki and Grabrielle de Cuir. Originally, Lightspeed only published science fiction short stories; however, in 2012 Lightspeed merged with its sister magazine Fantasy Magazine and now publishes fantasy short stories in equal quantity to science fiction.

In 2014, Lightspeed won the Hugo Award, and many of the stories published in it have won the Hugo, Nebula and Sturgeon awards. Lightspeed includes both the text and audio versions of their stories, but not all stories have an audio form. Interviews with the authors are also included with the text of the stories and I always enjoy getting the author's insight into the stories. Lightspeed has also run various special issues including Women Destroy Science Fiction, highlighting great women science fiction writers, and Queers Destroy Science Fiction, featuring LGBTQ science fiction writers. Lightspeed also has a sister magazine know as Nightmare Magazine, which publishes horror and dark fantasy short stories.

Besides John Joseph Adams, Lightspeed's podcast has been hosted by Jack Kincaid, Jim Freund and featured Mur Lafferty for Women Destroy Science Fiction. John has also created several themed anthologies, many of whose stories have been featured on Lightspeed. Also, be sure to checkout Lightspeed: Year One, a collection of stories from Lightspeed's first year which was nominated for the Hugo Award.

Well, that about does it for the intro. So, everyone fold your tray tables up, return your seats to the full upright position and without further ado let's make the jump to Lightspeed.

"The Old Equations" by Jake Kerr
A Full Cast Production

This story is set in the 22nd century, but it takes place in a world where Albert Einstein died during World War I before developing his Theory of Relativity. As a result, quantum theory became the foundation of modern physics. An astronaut named Jim is embarking on a ten year mission to another planet. The story is told as series of message transmission between Jim, his wife Kate and Mission Control. At first things seem to be going well, then the message times get increasingly out of sync. Scientists search for answers and begin to wonder if those old equations of Einstein's might have had something to them after all.

In case it wasn't obvious, this was that story I hinted at in my review of "The Cold Equations". I liked how the story was presented as a series of message logs, and everyone in the full cast production did an excellent job. Now, in terms of plausibility this story is a tad shaky. Admittedly, it is rather odd that it took so long for humanity to discover relativity, but then we'd have no story if they had. Jake said that he was directly inspired by "The Cold Equations" and he certainty did a great job of capturing the themes and emotions of that story.

A modern take on a classic of science fiction. Very much worth your time.

The Aetherian Revolution series by Carrie Vaughn
Narrated by Roxanne Hernandez and Gabrielle de Cuir

I'm going to do something different with this one. Instead of reviewing a single story I'm going to review several stories set in the same world. Specifically, a world where an alien spacecraft crash-landed in Surrey in 1869. The pilots died on impact, but British scientists were able to reverse-engineer much of the alien technology. Before long the tech leaked to other nations and the Victorian era was forever change. The series follows Harry, better known as Princess Maud, and Lieutenant James Marlowe as they defend the British Empire and try to discover the secrets of the Aetherians.

You may have heard of Carrie Vaughn through her Kitty Norville urban fantasy novels or her After The Golden Age superhero duology. Carrie, however, has also written quite a few short stories and she's quickly become one of my favorite writers. As for the Aetherian Revolution stories, I absolutely love them. They're action packed adventures of machinations and alien machines; from lost Viking tribes in Iceland to mechanical insects in Paris. At the same time they don't shy away from the more unpleasant aspects of the Victorian era such as classism and the restriction placed on women.

I'm not sure if the stories are exactly steampunk, given that the changes come from alien technology, but they certainly have that aesthetic to them. As for the narration, both Roxanne and Gabrielle do excellent jobs narrating their stories. I can only hope Carrie considers expanding the series into a novel.

It goes with saying that I recommend all of them.

"The Cristobal Effect" by Simon McCaffery
Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki 

James Dean, John Lennon and Princess Diana are just a few of the many people who died before their time. They would have had such great lives and would have left such an impact on the world if only they'd survived...or would they? Our protagonist possess a device that allows him to travel to different universes. He's decided use the device to save James Dean from dying in a car accident. It works, but things don't quite go as he envisioned them.

Before listening to this story I didn't know much about James Dean, but by then end I had a great appreciation of who he was. I also liked the way that travel between universes is described; it resembles time travel, but it isn't, and some universes change more easily than others. It not the most uplifting message, but living longer might not have meant more success for people like James Dean and I appreciate that this story didn't take the easy way out with that message.

Stefan did an excellent job with the narration. He really is one of the top narrators out there. Another story I very much recommend.

"The Cross-Time Accountants Fail To Kill Hitler Because Chuck Berry Does The Twist" by C.C. Finlay
Narrated by Mirron Willis

Yes, that's actually the name of this story. It follows two time travelers named Mabel and Harry. They come from a future ravaged by environmental damage and have been sent back to 1956 to set things on a better path. Oh, but this isn't the 1956 we know. In their world World War II has dragged on into the 1950s, the United States has allied with Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union and the United States has become fairly authoritarian. Mabel also hopes to save Chuck Berry before he gets murdered by a klansman named Elvis Presley.

Yeah, this one's probably going to be a tad controversial, but just bear with me for a minute. I didn't really know about Chuck Berry before I listened to this story, but now I do and that's always a bonus...clearly my pop culture knowledge has a few gaps. Anyway, I enjoyed how the story implied that our world is the alternate universe created as a result of the accountants changing the past. I also thought that opening and closing the story with an instrumental version of Rollover Beethoven was a nice touch. As for the whole Elvis killing Chuck Berry part, remember, it's alternate history and nothing is set in stone. People are products of their worlds, and not always in a good way.

As for the narration I thought that Mirron did a great job. It's a story with more than a few twists and I happily recommend it.

"Cimmeria: From the Journal of Imaginary Anthropology" by Theodora Goss
Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki 

This story follows a group of anthropologists as they try to envision what a modern day nation of Cimmeria would be like. Before long, however, they find that their creation has come to life, and one researcher finds himself involved with the royal family and nation's political intrigues.

The premise of a group of people believing a nation into existence brought to my mind the Tibetan Buddhist concept of tulpa; basically, it works on the same principle, but with a single entity and only experienced monks can pull it off. Back to the story, I must say that the worldbuilding is spectacular. The culture of Cimmeria is one of the most unique alternate history cultures I've encountered in quite some time. For example, blue is considered a sacred color and as many women dye their hair blue, twins are considered one soul in two bodies, Cimmerians are Orthodox Christians, but believe that cats will guide them to the afterlife.

It's mentioned another team of anthropologists created a modern nation of Scythia, which only served to intrigue me more. I really felt like I was walking on the streets of a Cimmerian city. Also, I should mention that this Cimmeria has no relation to the Cimmeria of Conan the Barbarian; it's based in the Cimmerian people of Eastern Europe. Once again Stefan did an amazing job with the narration.

An imaginative alternate history that I couldn't recommend more.

"The Case of the Passionless Bees" by Rhonda Eikamp
Narrated by Johnathan L. Howard
Featured in Lightspeed's Women Destroy Science Fiction

In an alternate Victorian England where robots with artificial intelligence, known as amalgamated, fill servant roles there is a detective who is second to none. His name is Gearlock Holmes and he is an emancipated amalgamated. A murder has been committed in Gearlock's home, and the clue point towards one of the mechanical servants...or there's always Gearlock himself.

This story did a great job capturing the style and feel of the original Sherlock Holmes stories. It was also interesting how the story incorporated Victorian attitudes with regard to the new technology of artificial intelligence. Watson considers Gearlock a friend and colleague, but at the end he ultimately views Gearlock as just another machine. In fact, the way the amalgamated are treated can be seen as an allegory for Victorian class relations.

In terms of the narration Johnathan did excellent job. A steampunk twist on Sherlock Holmes that I happily recommend.

"Willful Weapon" by Fred Van Lente
Narrated by Sile Bermingham

This story takes place in an alternate 19th century in which magic and mythical creatures have returned to the world. Several mythical creatures are immigrating to the United States via Ellis Island. The story follows a fae from Ireland named Cellach mac Rath as he and his fellow immigrants make a new life in New York City. Along the way he gets involved in a series of events that could explain why magic has returned to the world.

In many ways this was very much a magical twist on the immigrant tale. We see Cellach and his friends struggling to find a place in a nation that seems to simultaneously welcome and reject them. I liked how we had so many different mythical creatures interacting together. Among other things we've got fae and fomorians from Ireland, gnomes and dwarves from Germany and so on. Would have been nice if dragons had played a bigger role, but that my personal bias. It also made me wonder what Angel Island in San Francisco must be like with all the mythical creature of East Asia.

Fortunately, Fred has written another story set in the same world and is working on a full length novel. Now, let's talk narration. Certain podcasts only have one narrator, and with those podcasts you get used to the narrator voicing stories from the opposite gender. Lightspeed, however, is not one of those podcasts and has always had a wide selection of narrators. For what it's worth I think Sile did a pretty good job, but it still seemed odd to have a female narrator for a story with a male main character, and so many male characters in general.

All things consider it's an immigrant tale with a magic twist, and I couldn't recommend it more.

"The Litigation Master and the Monkey King" by Ken Liu
Narrated by John Chu
2013 Nebula Award Nominee 

Set in Qing Dynasty China, this story follows a litigation master named Tian Haoli. He's renown for his intelligence and resourceful thinking and he frequently receives visits from the mythical monkey king, Sun Wukong. After taking on a new case Tian soon finds himself in a plot to preserve the truth of how the Qing rose to power; a truth the emperor would rather be forgotten.

Well, if you've been paying attention to my past review you ought to know how much I love Ken Liu stories, and this was no exception. I got to learn about Qing Dynasty legal tradition and seeing Sun Wukong is always a plus. I'd alway known that the Manchurian occupation of China had disastrous consequences for the nation, but I had no idea just how brutal it was until I listened to this story. I also enjoyed the theme of speaking up about that past rather than letting it be forgotten to serve the future.

John Chu did a great job once again with the narration. Another story that I happily recommend.

"A Princess of Spain" by Carrie Vaughn
Narrated by Karesa McElheny 

This story follows Catherine of Aragon as she is sent to England to marry Prince Arthur Tudor. Catherine learns to love Arthur, but she's always felt a connection with his younger brother Prince Henry. A courtier from the Low Countries, or so she claims, has taken an interest in Arthur, and Catharine and Henry suspect she could be supernatural in nature.

I admit my knowledge of Catherine of Aragon is a bit sketchy, besides that she was the wife Henry went on to divorce, but I think this story did a good job humanizing her. I really felt for Catharine as she tried to find her place in an unfamiliar land. I also liked how the story brought that same humanizing quality to Henry and the person he was before becoming king.

I know this is a fantasy story, and (minor spoil) the courtier turned out to be a succubus, but based on the dialog came across more like a time traveler or that there's something bigger we're not seeing. Not sure if Carrie intended that, but it was something that stuck out to me.

Karesa handled the narration quite well. Another Carrie Vaughn story I happily recommend.

"Second Hand" by Rajan Khanna
Narrated by Phil Gigante
Featured in Dead Man's Hand anthology 

This story is a sequel to Rajan Khanna's "Card Sharp", which I reviewed in the post about PodCastle. You don't have to have read/listened to "Card Sharp" to enjoy this story, but it does add something to the experience. This time the action is moved west of the Mississippi and into the Wyoming Territory. Quentin Ketterly is training his old master's son, Hiram Tetch, in the art of being a card sharp. They've come to Wyoming in hopes of tracking down a fellow card sharp and learn how to better utilize the magic within their playing cards.

As you know I enjoy "Card Sharp" and this story was even better. I liked how this story expanded the mythos of the card sharps. I also enjoyed seeing some of the ways the other card sharps made use of their cards and how they were able to bend the rules of the cards in their favor. The change of setting to the Wild West was another welcome addition.

Phil Gigante is another of those top quality professional narrators, and he did a great job here. An even better sequel to a great story. Very much recommended.

"None Owns the Air" by Ken Liu
Narrated by Paul Boehmer

This story is a prequel to Ken Liu's Dandelion Dynasty trilogy, the first book of which, The Grace of Kings, is out now. The story is set on the fictional archipelago of Dara. Our protagonist Kino is from Xana, the poorest and most looked down upon of the seven islands of Dara. Kino is determined to do something to prove not only his own worth, but also Xana's worth to all of Dara. Soon the answer becomes clear; he's going to invent a flying machine, but what will be the consequences of such an invention?

Okay, this story isn't alternate history or historical fantasy, so why did I include it? I included it because it is an excellent example of silkpunk. What is silkpunk? Silkpunk is a fairly new punk, so new it might have just been invented. It incorporates materials and technologies common to East Asia; so we're talking things like armored whales, battle kites, hot air balloons and airships made of silk and much more. Many of the machines are usually based on living creatures and the natural world, and it gives them an organic feel.

I don't know if Ken Liu invented silkpunk, but he's certainly helped raise awareness and might even do much to popularize it. As for the story itself, it wetted my appetite and I'm hungry for more. Ken intended the series to be a retelling of the founding of China's Han Dynasty. However, rather than being a fantasy China, Dara is a blend of many different cultures that combine to create a setting unlike anything I've encountered before. You see bits and pieces of various cultures, but none that are 100% recognizably based on preexisting civilizations. It was nice to see a fantasy story that broke from the standard European-esque setting.

I liked how the story asked a lot of tricky questions, especially with regards to science and religion, but didn't give any solid answers. I also thought that Paul did and excellent job with the narration.

It's a great silkpunk story that I couldn't recommend more.

"The Battle of York" by James Stoddard 
Narrated by Vikas Adam
Originally Published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

During the mid 21st century a shift in the Earth magnetic poles caused all electrical technology to be destroyed. America collapsed, but hundreds of years later humanity has recovered and pieced together a history known as the Americana. It tells of the great General Washington, wielder of the battle-axe Valleyforge, as he seeks redemption following humiliation in battle against the Gauls and American Natives. Waynejon, also know as The Pilgrim, tells him that to achieve redemption he must travel to Mount Rushmore to attain the Words of Power as that he can defeat the wizard Cornwallis and his legions of frost giants. Along the way he is joined by Arm Strong, with hair like custard, the eagles E Perilous Unum and Apollo Leven, Eisenhower Iron Hewer and even the Star Weaver Betsy Ross. Together they must make America a land of freedom and second chances.

Okay, it's not exactly alternate history, but still plenty of fun. Obviously, the history the future humans established is laughably off the mark, but yet it still retained an essential Americaness. I liked how a lot of the names were purposefully misspelled, suggesting the writers were guessing based on oral accounts or than language had changed. It might seem a little crazy and off the rails at time, but I liked how the story embraced it's insane mishmash nature.

Of course, a story like this needs a good narrated to keep it entertaining and heartfelt, and Vikas did a spot on job in that regard. It's a fun and mythologized take on American History that I happily recommend.

"Get a Grip" by Paul Park
Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki
Originally Published in Omni Online

This story follows a fellow by the name of Paul Park. He's a lawyer living in New York City with a pretty good life. That is until his friend Boris beings to suggest that the world as Paul knows it is in fact a lie. At first Paul brushes it off, but then he begins to wonder if Boris might be onto something.

Okay, that's not much of a explanation, but there is a huge twist in this story and it's next to impossible to talk about this story without mentioning the twist. That being said, I will try my best. This story is technically alternate history, but that isn't apparent until the end so I can't give too many details. I can, however, say that I thought that the writing was excellent. I also thought that Stefan did a great job with the narration.

Even if I can't give away to much I can at least say it's a good story well worth your time.

Conclusion

Well we've reached the end of another great list of stories. However, I feel that there needs to be a few changes around here. Matt has been putting emphasis lately on letting the readers decide how things go on this blog and I think that The Audio File ought to do the same.

So, this is where we stand. There's a lot of really good podcasts out there, but for next time we have two options that are ready for launch. I had originally scheduled next month to feature StarShipSofa, and if you'd like that then that's what we'll do. However, I'd also scheduled us to return to Escape Pod and see all those stories we didn't get to see the last time. Either one would make an excellent choice, and don't worry, whatever you pick we will get to the other. It's just a matter of who comes first.

Perhaps I ought to let you know what each has to offer. If you choose StarShipSofa we will see a story set in the Xuya universe, an alternate fate for the passenger of Titanic, some Harry Turtledove stories, a story from Jigsaw Nation I actually liked and much more. Should you pick Escape Pod we'll see a world where the Aztecs have taken to the stars, a world where wars are mated with living chess pieces, a world where an astroid struck in the Bronze Age, a world where the oceans are being colonized and much more.

Like I said, it all up to you guys. Let your voices be heard here, on Facebook and Twitter. Whatever happen I promise it'll be great. 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.

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