Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Starting a podcast

Sure, it's easy to rate other peoples' podcasts, but how hard is it to start one? Short answer: very hard. I had no idea how much mental energy this would take up. It sounds so effortless when you listen to a podcast. Steve Eley, StarshipSofa, Dunesteef, PodCastle, they all make it look elegant.

First I had to figure out how to record. I already had a microphone so I figured it would be easy. No. My microphone is for musicians and sounds very faint when used through the computer. Turns out you need a pre-amp. Those run anywhere from $100 into the thousands. Before I bought a pre-amp I tried all manner of jury-rigged setups. I tried to record through my camcorder. Sometimes that worked great. Other times I got nothing. Finally I bought the ArtTube preamp from my local music store. It worked great for two days and then started popping and cracking (the sound, not the mic). I brought it back, to the chagrin of the store owner and decided finally to by the BlueYeti usb mic online. Finally, that works well.

The Blue Yeti works so well it picks up the incessant buzzing of my MacBook fans. I have to put the MacBook behind my desk, where I can't control the recording without hurting my back.

That was all the recording stuff. The website has been harder. I learned a little code back in the day, but that baby html is all but useless to me now. I bought a domain and hosting from IPage and have already been on the phone with them three times. To their credit, they are polite and solve the problem each time, but sheesh. Now I have to design the site, knowing nothing.

Now I need stories. Did I even mention what the podcast is about? It's called Tales of Old, a weekly audio magazine for historical fiction and alternate history. People can submit stories to submit@talesofold.org. I am going to pay 1.5 cents/word. I hope it doesn't break me (actually I hope it does, that means I'm getting some stories).

Lastly I need narration. I'm going to try it by myself at first, but I'll definitely be happy to have some outside talent, but of course I can't afford to pay anyone. I know that for some people the steps I outlined above would be easy. I look forward to hearing your podcasts!

Friday, April 8, 2011

DrabbleCast goes 200

The DrabbleCast with Norm Sherman just put out its 200th show. He started the show with a clip from DrabbleCast episode number 1, where Norm is not yet his cocky loveable self, and his first story was one he wrote. That was a great touch.

The 200th show is Isaac Asimov's "The Last Question," and instead of just reading it, Norm has collected a host of voices from other podcasts: the Dunesteef, EscapePod, and others, even Steve Eley who started EscapePod. Ususally I'm not a fan of multiple voices in audio fiction. It's distracting somehow. Maybe because you still have all the "she said, angrily" and "intoned Paul" stuff between the voices that draws your attention to the fact that this is a written story, not a play. Even with those defects, this story is worth listening to. It's a classic and it's just cool to hear all the voices you know from other podcasts in one piece. Typical Norm Sherman, there is also a soundtrack, which can also be hit or miss, but which comes out pretty well here.

Congratulations Norm! You are doing a great thing.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

ITunes Annoyances

I listen to a lot of podcasts and I cannot figure out how to get them onto my ITunes without subscribing to them. Maybe it's because I still have a dumb phone and have to use my Mac to get podcasts from Itunes to my Shuffle. I don't know, but the upshot is that I have hundreds of podcasts sitting in my podcast folder, a lot of them from podcasts that I just wanted to sample. If anybody has a solution to this problem please let me know.

I tried out two Clarkesworld podcasts. This is not a review, by any means, but the two I listened to did not thrill me. I actually stopped listening to one story because of the reading. Kate Baker has a great voice and she is normally a good reader, but this one she really messed up. She was reading a story narrated by a Russian man and she did a Russian voice only when he was speaking, and also for the other Russians he talked to. First, I couldn't figure out who was who, and second he's talking all the time, because he is the narrator. Strange how a little thing like that can really ruin a story. This story was getting on my nerves anyway, though.

Clarkesworld is a full fledged web magazine, and a very slick one at that. For some reason I thought it had something to do with Arthur C. Clarke, he being a famous science fiction writer, but it is actually named after Neil Clarke, its publisher. I will listen to more episodes before passing judgement. If I would learn to read I might actually read some stories online.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

SFSignal Podcast

SFSignal is a Speculative Fiction blog (hey, this is a speculative fiction blog!). SFSignal has a lot of contributors and a very active Twitter account with lots of good information. They also have a podcast obviously. It is a very informal podcast dedicated to speculative fiction in all forms, TV, movies, and books. They interview authors, have panel discussions, and take voice mails from listeners sometimes. Their interview style is very laid back, more like meeting in a bar with the author than a serious Q&A. It's a nice way to get to know an author though, because they get the author joking along with them.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Two Weeks Without Podcasts

I am anxious to review the Clarkesworld and SFSignal podcasts but I haven't listened to enough of them yet. Why, because for the past two weeks I have been hooked into the InkHeart audio book that a friend in Switzerland gave me. My German is finally good enough to understand it perfectly, Tintenherz is its German name. It is beautifully read in a pleasant deep voice. I can't find the narrator's name. The upshot is that I have not wanted to interrupt the story for podcasts.

There is only so much time in the day when I can listen. I listen walking to and from work, which comes out to about an hour a day, perfect for most podcasts. Unlike some, I absolutely cannot listen to stories and read or do any kind of computer work. I love doing garden work to podcasts. In fact, as I walk around my yard or on one of my many routes to work, I know exactly what I was listening to as I pass any particular place. It is uncanny and I wonder if other people have the same experience.

In a book called the Songlines, Bruce Chatwin, describes the Australian Aborigines tradition of singing while walking so that each place has special parts of a song, and that the song describes the route. The book really stuck with me, and now I kind of have Podcast lines. Of course newer podcasts can erase the old lines eventually, but particularly powerful stories stay with the place where I heard them.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Steve Eley Speaks

I just heard an interview with Steve Eley the Geek' Guide to the Galaxy, show number 7. Steve is the founder of the EscapeArtists family of podcasts: EscapePod, PseudoPod, and PodCastle. Since he left EscapePod last year I've been wondering what he's been up to. Unfortunately the interview was from February 2010, and there was no hint in it that Steve was even thinking about leaving. But it was still a great interview, all about how Steve started EscapePod, paying authors $20 a story and later moving up to $100. I was fascinated by how he put the whole thing together. It reminds me of listening to the Dunesteef, where they talk about the podcasting process even as they do it.

So I still have no idea what Steve is doing now. He cited other duties and mental health issues when he left EscapePod. Apparently he is into Polyamory, although he never talked about it on EscapePod. I guess it's where you can be married and still have other love interests. He used to contribute to the Polyamory Weekly podcast, maybe still does. Good luck with that. I get it, there are some cute girls out there, but frankly, my wife would kill me. And I don't want to die just yet.

Anyway, hope you are doing well Steve.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

DrabbleCast B-Sides

DrabbleCast B-Sides is a spin-off of Norm Sherman's DrabbleCast, where Norm Sherman puts stuff too weird for the normal show. The DrabbleCast "brings strange stories from strange authors to strange listeners such as yourself" already, so what goes on B-Sides can be pretty weird or very esoteric, like narrative poems from H.P. Lovecraft. I listened to "Snuggle the Dead" yesterday, by Matthew Bey, and I have to say, that was one of the weirdest, creepiest, stories I had heard in a long while. I had to share because the first rule of Snuggle Club is "you always talk about Snuggle Club."

Here is Norm's promo line:
Drabblecast B-Sides \ˈbēˈsīds\ n.
1.  The Drabblecast’s awkward, hilarious but mildly retarded half-uncle that every so often drops by unannounced with his prize-winning pet mole.

New to podcasts?

Skip this post if you're already listening to podcasts. Two years ago I kept hearing about podcasts and had no ideas what they were. It drove me crazy. Now it's incredible that I could completely miss out on something so big. A podcast is basically just an audio segment that you can download onto your computer and listen to on an IPod or any MP3 player. How do you do it? The easiest way for me is to go through the ITunes store. Search for the podcast you want and subscribe. It's free. Then when you open ITunes, the podcasts you subscribe to will be right there in your Podcasts folder along with your music. You can also download podcasts direct from the podcast's website. The podcast will download as an MP3 just like a music file. The benefit of going to the website is you get to see artwork, show notes, and comment on the podcasts.

This blog is dedicated to speculative fiction, but any subject you can dream up is out there. I am out looking for all the interesting SF podcasts. Let me know if you see one I haven't covered.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Dunesteef

The Dunesteef podcast is run by two guys Rish Outfield and Big Anklevitch. Their focus is speculative fiction of any kind. The stories are produced with sound effects and different voices for different characters, including guest actors. The story seems to be usually from a half an hour to an hour. After the story, Rish and Big talk about the story and anything else that comes into their heads. The dialog is an amusing, quasi-literary attempt to disect the story and give their impressions. An added bonus is that they usually have the author record a short segment about the story as well.

Good stories, selected for their You may get annoyed be the sometimes aimless chatter of the two editors, or you may come to love that more than the stories. An interesting thing about this podcast is that the editors talk a lot about the podcasting process, how they record stories, the things going through their minds, what time it is, etc.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Pod Castle

PodCastle is devoted to fantasy stories. It is one of the three Escape Artists podcasts spun off from EscapePod in July 2007. Fantasy tends to reside in sprawling fat trilogies and sequals, but PodCastle seeks out the elusive fantasy short story, which includes everything from swords and sorcery to modern day strange occurences, Arabian Nights, folklore, magical realism, and every other not quite mainstream fiction. Some of the popular authors on the show are Greg van Eekhout  and Tim Pratt. The quality of stories and narration is first rate. For some reason the intros and outros have always been weak, however, especially compared to EscapePod and Pseudopod, the other two EscapeArtist sisters, although with the addition of Dave Thompson, this condition has changed. His intros are great.

Here are some fantastic shows to get you started:

PC005  The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale                                                  
PC003  Run Of The Fiery Horse                                    
PC020  Cup and Table                                                  
PC029  Dead Languages                                               
PC008  The Osteomancer’s Son                                    
PC004  Goosegirl                                                          
PC006  Hotel Astarte                                                    
PC027  Red Riding-Hood’s Child                                  
PC018  Illuminated Dragon                                            
PC017  Goblin Lullaby

And one of my personal favorites, a seething indictment of racism in the Shire, Middle Earth
PC032  Senator Bilbo

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Drabblecast

The Drabblecast brings strange stories to strange listeners...such as yourself. This is its tagline and they don't dissappoint. Norm Sherman hosts one of the slickest, hippest speculative fiction podcasts around. A Drabble is a story exactly 100 words long, and one is featured on every show. There is also a main fiction piece and often a Twabble, a story exactly 100 characters long (think Twitter).

Norm Sherman is a talented musician and a hilarious personality. His introductions are short and funny. Sometimes he includes a bit of real news of the bizarre. The production value of the whole show is very high and the stories are full of sound effects and music. The focus of the podcast is on fun and enjoyment of the slightly bizarre. Most episodes are about one hours long.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Escape Pod

EscapePod was started by Steve Eley back in 2005 with the idea to bring fun, thought provoking short (half hour to an hour) speculative fiction. Steve later spun off two additional podcasts, PodCastle devoted to fantasy and PseudoPod devoted to horror, leaving EscapePod primarily for science fiction. All three podcasts are under the EscapeArtists umbrella and you can comment on stories from all three casts at the forums there.

From the beginning, EscapePod had a homey feeling. As Steve introduced each story, you got the feeling he was talking directly to you, and his own life angst came through sometimes, making EscpaePod a very personal experience. In the early years Steve read most of the stories himself but gradually brought in a lot of guest narrators. In 2009 Steve stepped down as the chief and passed the editorship of EscapePod off to Mur Lafferty. She and Norm Sherman (of the Drabblecast) trade off hosting the show now. The stories are still great. Mur and Norm don't share as much of their personal lives as Steve did, but are excellent hosts, especially Norm who I will elaborate on in the Drabblecast entry.

The stories are still a half hour to an hour of fun science fiction. Super hero stories are also included here, instead at PodCastle and there is a very popular series called Union Dues by Jeffrey R. DeRego that features stories first on EscapePod.

There is a warning at the beginning  if any material will be unsuitable for sensitive listeners, right after the weird female robot voice annouces the story. The weird voice is usually unintelligible so just wait for Mur or Norm to repeat it in the intro. Steve Eley always started the story with "it's story time," something all subsequent introducers have stuck with.

Top Episodes you should check out. This is some of fun, amazing science fiction at its best.

EP Episode 144    Friction
EP Episode 008    Blood of Virgins
EP Episode 169    How I Mounted Goldie, Saved My Partner Lori, and Sniffed out the People's Justice
EP Episode 124    Save Me Plz
EP Episode 100    Nightfall
EP Episode 101    The 43 Antarean Dynasties
EP Episode 143    Flaming Marshmallow and Other Deaths
EP Episode 115    Conversations with and About My Electric Toothbrush
EP Episode 105    Impossible Dreams
EP Episode 146    Edward Bear and the Very Lonely Walk
EP Episode 148    Homecoming at the Borderlands Cafe

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Star Ship Sofa

This is the first podcast to win the Hugo Award for best fanzine, in 2010. This premier podcast is hosted by Tony C. Smith, about double the length of most pocasts. Each issue has short fiction, a fact piece or interview, sometimes a poem, sometimes a section on genre history. Sometimes they even run a serial in addition to all of the other fiction in each cast. The podcast has a lot of guests. The quality is excellent, the narration professional, and the calibre of the stories is very high, often from celebrated speculative fiction writers.

What really distiguishes this podcast are Tony's exhuberant intros and comments. He has a hilarious regional English accent and is such a likeable, enthusiastic fan of speculative fiction that his excitement is contagious. He does tend to go on a bit long. If you have time he can be very fun to listen to, but as he himself has commented that you are free to fast forward if you like. He has voice talent do all the stories, interviews, etc.

Star Ship Sofa has been going on for several years now, and last I looked they were on episode 173. I started from the beginning with a Michael Moorcock story called London Bone. The narration by MCL Studios was superb, and I was hooked ever since.