I've still got backlogs of Pseudopod and Escape Pod, but I can keep PodCastle moving faster. Except that it turns out that when I write reviews sooner after listening to them, I have more to say.
- No. 28. "The Tanuki-Kettle" by Eugie Foster (read by Tina Connolly). A tanuki disguises itself as a kettle and some other people fall in love. There's very little to this story, and I zoned out through most of it; it was simply not my (ahem) cup of tea.
A special note that the episode rating is inaccurate. While it's true that the story is "rated G," the introduction goes into great detail about aspects tanuki lore that were left out of the story to preserve that rating (viz., magic testicles). This raises the rating of the episode back to an approximation of "rated PG."
- Miniature 15. "The Voices of Snakes" by Karina Sumner-Smith (read by Rachel Swirsky). I was disappointed by the story. Though atmospheric, it persisted in raising questions without any regard for answering them. I understand that there's not much time to answer questions in a flash story, but there's still a certain responsibility not to overload the reader with the burden of fleshing out your ideas. Though the protagonist seems to resemble Medusa, the specifics of her history as told in this story diverge from the myth (at least so far as I am familiar with it) so much that neither can shed much light on the other.
- No. 29. "Dead Languages" by Merrie Haskell (read by M. K. Hobson). A fat chick becomes a vampire slayer. Only a few words into the story, I hit pause. I could feel in my bones where this was headed, and it was headed into a realm of unwitty dialogue and expected surprises played for laughs without turning out to be funny. I was tempted to leave it off, but I gave the story the benefit of the doubt. I mean, how could I judge the story based on the performance of a few words?
I don't know how, but apparently I did, because my opinion was backed up by the anti-banter that followed in the story until I turned it off. I could go on for paragraphs about all the ways the story failed. I know because I spent most of twenty minutes cataloguing them in my brain. Maybe it's partly the transition from text to speech; I don't know what kind of criticism would be laid upon the story as fiction, but I know how it would be ripped apart as part of a playwrighting course.
I kept listening to the episode trying to make up my mind about the performance. On the one hand, Hobson had perfectly captured my opinion of the story in the opening line. On the other hand, she'd convinced me I hated it. The general voice of the narrator reminded me of Sandra Tsing Loh; but the best friend had a transient "lisp" that was offputting. Ultimately, I made the decision to stop listening when it became clear that the file that was initially put on the RSS feed had several errors in it.
- Miniature 17. "All Flee the Vocab. Quiz" by Kristine Dikeman (read by Alasdair Stuart). With such a short piece, I can't say much substantive about it. I enjoyed it, certainly, but it seems that most of my praise must go to the casting. The performer, Alisdair Stuart, is also the host for the horror-themed podcast Pseudopod, and it's possible that most of the work done in this episode is carried by my associations with his work on the other podcast.
- No. 30. "Grand Guignol" by Andy Duncan (read by Frank Key). A season at the Grand Guignol. In college, I was for some time obsessed with the melodrama in Britain and the United States. Theatre criticism is dominated by textual analysis, and that puts melodrama at a disadvantage—as literature, the scripts are terrible. But as theatre, they were tremendously popular; they were, in fact, the pop culture of their time. So I was very excited to hear this story, which weaves together together notable figures in the history of the Grand Guignol, which was a Parisian theater known for the most gruesome of shows. Checking the dates, I see that Duncan fudged them a little bit to get the persons he wanted in the same place, but it's a wonderful story about a small group preparing for the opening of a typical season.
The casting was odd this episode. Though the story takes place, obviously, in Paris, Key has a British accent, which had me initially assuming that this was not the Grand Guignol, but merely a Grand Guignol. I suppose that the editors did not have ready access to a French actor. (Americentrism alert: I probably would not have had this problem if the performer had been speaking in an accent similar to ones in the mainstream American media.) But even more, though the text draws the characters (appropriately) melodramatically, Key's reading was slow and methodical, reminding me, in tone and pace, of Alfred Hitchcock. The mismatch in temperaments bewildered me throughout the episode, but Key was able to find the warmth and humor with his own voice, and I enjoyed it immensely, even so.
A final note: I generally don't care whether a story is or isn't fantasy/scifi/horror enough to be included on a particular podcast, but listening to this story, I discovered there was a limit to that. In this story, the fantastical aspect was minor. But because it was published as part of a "fantasy audio magazine," the fantastical aspect was given greater significance by the context. It directed too much attention onto what was otherwise an insignificant tangent. I felt it unbalanced the story to do so. (The story was originally published in Weird Tales, which has a broader context in many ways.) "Magnificent Pigs" and "Magic in a Certain Slant of Light," were both challenged by some listeners as not being "true fantasy," but those challenges had more to do with a listener's definitions of what constitutes "fantasy," not with the internal significance of the story. "Grand Guignol" didn't seem fantasy enough . . . to stand up to the extra context of being showcased in a fantasy publication.
- Miniature 18. "Scar Stories" by Vylar Kaftan (read by Jack Mangan). I liked the story, and I think it was very well suited for reading. However, I disliked Mangan's performance, which was eerily affectless in places where the text felt more passionate. There was also a terrible choice to do some playing with the production levels at a crucial point in the story, ruining the flow.