Listen to one of the best short sci-fi podcasts right now
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Audio books are booming. Last June, the Audio Publishers Association reported that the domain grew by 34% between 2015 and 2016, and by all accounts, that growth continues. Readers are listening to more and more fiction, and some of the most popular science fiction magazines have started recording audio adaptations of their stories. One of the best is the Clarkesworld magazine podcast, narrated by Kate Baker.
Founded in 2006 by Neil Clarke, Clarkesworld Magazine publishes a wide range of science fiction, fantasy and related works by authors such as NK Jemisin, Ken Liu, Rich Larson, Ian McDonald and others. (Disclaimer: Clarkesworld published a pair of non-fiction pieces that I wrote). Since then he has garnered nominations and victories for the highest honors in the genre, including the Hugo and Nebula Awards.
Recent episodes of the podcast have covered a wide range of stories. In Chelsea Muzar’s “Not Now,” a Japanese girl faces hostility from her neighborhood and her classmates after the arm of a giant robot falls on her house from space, while in Eleanna Castroianni’s “Without Exile”, a social worker named Nell helps deal with refugees from a war-torn world. In Allen M. Steele’s “Martian Blood,” a Martian colonist leads an Egyptian-American astrobiology professor on tour as he works to prove that life on Earth originated in Mars.
As we have seen with other short fiction podcasts, short stories and novels lend themselves well to podcast support. Each episode lasts from 40 minutes to almost two hours, just enough time for a commute or a walk. Because Clarkesworld uses a single narrator – Kate Baker, the magazine’s podcast and non-fiction editor – and makes all of her fiction available as a podcast, it stands out as a long series of the best short stories in the business.
Listen on Clarkesworld Magazineand on Apple Podcasts, Beyond Pod, CastBox, Google Play, Pocket Casts, Player.FM, Podible, PodBean, PodBay, Stitcher, TuneIn and YouTube.
Baker said The edge after Clarke and her co-editor Sean Wallace founded the magazine in 2006, they decided to jump into audio within a few years. “It was just another way to get these stories out to the public.” One of the podcast’s first regular narrators was Mary Robinette Kowal, an award-winning author who served as vice president of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), but when she had a labor dispute in 2009, Baker was came on board to fill in, and later became the show’s full-time narrator.
Since becoming the podcast’s full-time narrator, Baker has become the de facto voice of the podcast, an experience she says is “surreal.” “I consider this a huge responsibility and an honor,” she said. “Because I can go to someone’s ear, and I think it’s an intimate power, and I never want to abuse it.”
Baker doesn’t read or rehearse the story before recording, and although she notes that this approach burned it down a few times, the “biggest draw to all this work is that I live the story. with the listener for the first time, and I can experience those emotions with the listener. If you hear my voice crack or sound muffled because I had to pull away because I started to cry, this is all pretty authentic.
It’s something that shines through: A recent episode featured Rich Larson’s heartbreaking short story “Carouseling,” and you can hear her voice crack after she finishes reading the story. That emotion, along with Baker’s longtime storytelling for the podcast, delivers a familiar, cohesive warmth that subtly enhances every story produced by the magazine. The result is not only a catalog of powerful short fiction films, but also presented with a voice that makes them even better.