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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Escape Pod Drops Into New Fiction Horizons

by Ken Newquist / June 11, 2005

A few years ago, Audible.com offered up several science fiction short story anthologies from the big names in the genre: Asimov's, Analog and the Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. For a while it looked like they were going to have annual, or perhaps even quarterly, editions, but nothing ever came of it. It's disappointing, because while there's plenty of book-length audio fiction, short fiction is rare.

Or at least it was. Short fiction's audio salvation may have arrived with Escape Pod, a new weekly magazine-style podcast. Each podcast features opening thoughts and commentary by editor Stephen Eley, followed by a short story. Eley intends to expand the podcast by incorporating 1-minute long, reader-submitted book reviews. Escape Pod is a paying market and relies on donations to fund its fiction.

Women, Children and Ascended Godlings First!

I listened to Shows #2, #3 and #4 and liked what I heard (note: as with almost all podcasts, the show can be listened to via a podcast aggregator like iPodder or by visiting the Web site and downloading the MP3 directly; an iPod is not required).

The first story, "Burger Feng" by John Aegard (Escape Pod #2) offers a fantastical take on the powers of Feng Shui, the Chinese art of improving your life by re-arranging your furniture. Normally I'm with Penn & Teller on stuff like this, but in this story -- which revolves around two people who's daydreams are supercharged while working within Feng Shui-focusing burger joints -- it works. I particularly liked how the story didn't flinch away from the consequences of living in a fantasy world full time,

The second tale, "Three Wish Habit" (Escape Pod #3) is a gritty tale about a man with a very different kind of addiction. In the world crafted by Janni Lee Simner, wishes -- the sort of thing that lets you summon up a car or a woman or any thing else imaginable -- can be bought and sold. And the main character is a wish junkie, constantly looking for a fix of "small" wishes that allow real -- but temporary gains. When he's suddenly offered the chance at a "big" wish -- the kind that could set him up for life -- he jumps at it. But the consequences maybe more than he expected. The idea of wish addiction makes complete sense when you think about it -- once you've had the chance to wield that sort of power, who wouldn't be tempted to seek it out again?

The last story I heard -- "In His Footsteps" by Paul E. Martens (Escape Pod #4) -- told the tale of a son who's trying to live up to his father's expectations. Except in this case, the father is a brilliant physicist who ascended to godhood, and now expects his son to serve at his right hand. While there have been similar stories told before (most recently Bruce Almighty) I still enjoyed this story's playful nature.

I'll admit I was surprised by how much I enjoyed these stories. My opinions may be colored by the fact that I was stuck in traffic on I-78 in New Jersey, but overall I found Escape Pod's offerings to be refreshingly different. Eley comments during one show that he's tired of the same old, same old in the major science fiction magazines and is trying to offer something different with this show. He's succeeding.

If I have a complaint about Escape Pod's fiction, it's that there's not enough science in it. When it comes right down to it, while I always enjoy fantasy, my heart's with science fiction. It doesn't always have to be hard science fiction -- I enjoy a good space opera as much as the next geek -- but send me to future worlds as often as you do fantasy ones.

Down the Hatch

Escape Pod is an excellent initial offering. Narrating a story is hard work, yet Eley (who narrates several stories) pulls it off with nary a hitch. Is it as good as the professional audio books out there? No, but it's far better than you might expect from an amateur podcast.

I have to applaud Eley for paying his authors -- I did that for several years with Nuketown, and I know how hard it can be to wade through the slush pile to find the gems and then polish those into shape. The fact that he's able to do this while being a new dad -- he's got a two-month-old son -- makes the podcast all the more impressive.

Escape Pod is looking to make the podcast more magazine like by adding book reviews, and this is definitely something it could benefit from. I'd love to see the show expand to about 45 minutes, complementing its short fiction with the sort of reviews and commentary that would make it a full-blown audio magazine.

Final Analysis

Escape Pod is off to an great start, and I look forward to listening to more of its shows. The show fills an essential audio niche, and its certainly earned a permanent place in my personal podcast line-up.

Details

  • Escape Pod
  • Edited by Stephen Eley
  • Web site
  • Free (Donations accepted