Friday, May 2, 2008

PERSONAL- Christmas in May

In honor of the coming of spring and in the spirit of renaissance I’m going to have Christmas in May this month. Every day I’m going to give you a little gift of something I find dear in this world. All will be either accessible on the net or through the net. Some will cost a little money but they were wrong when they said that money can’t buy happiness. (It can, but only for about 20 minutes. Then whatever you’ve bought is just another possession and becomes, at best, a part of the environment or, at worst, kipple. This explains the Christmas Afternoon Refractory Period, the letdown you feel after the presents are opened.)

Yesterday my gift was Jonathan Coulton and his wonderful song FIRST OF MAY. Today I give you another treat that is free on the Internet.

I got turned on to ESCAPE POD quite by accident several months ago while doing a search on iTunes for science fiction content. I expected to find a few dozen (hundred, thousand, million) podcasts about science fiction or a few (dozens, hundred, thousand, million) authors self-publishing. I didn’t expect to find a science fiction magazine with the kind of editorial standards you would expect from Astounding or Asimov’s.

ESCAPE POD is the brainchild of Steve Eley, a science fiction author himself who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Every week it publishes a short science fiction story, usually read by a group of regulars, with introduction and closing comments by Eley himself. Eley is also pseudo-famous for a post to alt.atheism many years ago about invisible pink unicorns:

"Invisible Pink Unicorns are beings of great spiritual power. We know this because they are capable of being invisible and pink at the same time. Like all religions, the Faith of the Invisible Pink Unicorns is based upon both logic and faith. We have faith that they are pink; we logically know that they are invisible because we can't see them."

I’ve been reading SF for just about as long as I’ve been reading anything and I have to say that the genre is like a pile of garbage with diamonds in it. The last bastion of pulp fiction publishing, monthly SF magazines have published piles of mediocre stories over the years. The last monthly I subscribed to was Science Fiction Age over a dozen years ago. It was a magazine sized text publication with pictures and I was lucky if one story per issue caught my fancy. Eley has managed to cull truly interesting stories from the slush pile for the most part and, after hearing over 130 of the 156 stories as of today, I have to say that the clunkers are so far between that I don’t even feel that my time is wasted on them. In addition to his regular fare, he presents most of the HUGO nominees for BEST SHORT STORY every year- a service I have waited a lifetime for. He also has the distinction of making truly interesting comments for the introductions (his metaphor for Windows Vista is astounding, as are his comments on online gaming and the joys and fears of being a new parent). To add to all of that, the stories are read wonderfully. I have long been an aficionado of the spoken word and was always astounded that so many books on tape (or CD or .mp3) are read so badly. Somehow Steve had surrounded himself with a number of readers who are actually able to read aloud without it sounding like they are reading.

Check out ESCAPE POD, and its sister podcasts PSEUDOPOD (horror) and PODCASTLE (fantasy). And send some money to EscapeArtists. They pay their authors and publish under the Creative Commons license so you can share what you’ve found freely as long as you don’t charge money for it or alter it in any way.

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