I’m in the habit of listening to podcasts about fantasy and science fiction on my daily commute. Between dropping off my son at pre-school and then going to work, I drive about 70 minutes total every day, so that’s a lot of time. (And there’s not always something good on CBC Radio 1.)
I’ve tried audiobooks but I much prefer to take in fiction through my eyes. When I listen to fiction, my mind wanders and I tune in again halfway through a patch of dialogue. Or, if there’s a well crafted sentence or a twist in the plot, I want to be able to have a moment to say, “What a minute — what did you JUST DO?” And when I’m driving I can’t just rewind whenever I feel like it.
Besides, I think my brain processes written words best. I have a theory that some people “hear” words as they read them on a page, and some people “see” words when they hear them spoken, and I’m the latter kind. Every story gets translated into an imaginary paperback in my hands.
So I listen to podcasts of people talking about fiction instead. Conversations are a lot easier for me to follow as I drive.
I’ve tried many, because an hour or more a day is a lot of time to fill, and most podcasts are on a weekly, biweekly or even a monthly schedule. I won’t list all the good SF podcasts here, but here are five of my favourites, in no particular order.
- Speculate! I’ve only listened to this one once or twice, as it’s a recent discovery for me. But I can tell it’s going to end up in my regular rotation. It seems smooth and well-organized, and long enough to get into a subject in some depth, with a nice mix of review-style discussion, interviews and talk about craft.
- SF Squeecast is this year’s Hugo winner for best fancast, and it’s probably closest to my heart too. The regulars are Apex Magazine editor Lynne M. Thomas and writers Catherynne M. Valente, Elizabeth Bear, Paul Cornell and Seanan McGuire. Their chemistry is great. It helps that they share the same sense of humour and know each other well. Each participant comes prepared to enthuse about something they love — usually a novel or TV show or comic or movie, new or old. They explain why they love it, which is where the discussion of craft comes in. They invite guests too. The only downside? It’s only once a month. (Not that we can complain, because if they were doing more Squeecasts, they’d be doing less of the other even more cool stuff they do.)
- Writing Excuses is more frequent, but short — only 15 minutes per episode. This isn’t part of the appeal for me — as I said, I’ve got a lot of driving time to fill — but it might be for some listeners. And it does force them to stick to the point. This is a highly organized podcast that often focuses on one aspect of the writing craft, such as building tension or character. Very useful for writers. By the way, they’re taking applications for a scholarship to their first retreat.
- The Coode Street Podcast is, on the other hand, a long, sometimes rambling conversation that tends to go off into unpredictable directions. I like the relationship between Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe, and their combined experience informs some very interesting conversations, often about the history of the field and its current state. They invite guests sometimes. And given that it’s usually about an hour, I can download an episode and know it’ll hold me for the day.
- SF Signal can also get a bit rambly but it’s always interesting (OK, I’ll admit I stopped listening to the most recent Star Wars-themed episode halfway through, but that’s only because Star Wars isn’t my cup of geekdom.) They interview a lot of writers and editors, and they post fairly frequently.