The Audio File: Christmas Special

Christmas, it’s that most wonderful time of the year. As much as I tend to complain about how the buildup takes away from other holidays, such as Halloween and Thanksgiving, I still love this time of year nonetheless. Could it be the cool weather, the gift giving, the joyous spirits or perhaps all of the above? I’ve had many fond Christmas memories over the years, and hopefully many more to come. Whatever the reason I’ve got some great stories to get you in that Christmas spirit. I say Christmas and not Holidays because there’s not that many speculative fiction stories based around Chanukah and Kwanza.

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Also, I’m more than aware that I got this post out rather late, but if there can be Christmas in July then I figure I can have this Christmas Special out in January.

Now before we begin we have to go through our Podcast Roll Call! To bring you these twelve Yuletide tales I’ve assembled a team of six special podcasts. And with a smile on my face and a twinkle in my eyes I tell you there names so that your spirits may fly. They are Escape Pod, PodCastle, Pseudopod, The Drabblecast, StarShipSofa, Far-Fetched Fables and The Moonlit Road. That did not quite rhyme, but it matters not, for reviews of great stories are what you have truly sought.

So hope in my sleight, and grip on the reigns, the time for stories tis only a short bit away…

PodCastle

Catching the Spirit by Heather Shaw and Tim Pratt
Narrated by Big Anklevich
A PodCastle Original

It’s often said that Christmas brings out the spirit of generosity in people. In this story it literally does. People are coming down with manic bouts of generosity that cause them to give away everything they own, all while being happier than ever, and nobody knows why. Nobody, that is, save a crabby old man living in rural Minnesota with eight reindeer. In cast it wasn’t obvious, the old man is of course Santa Claus.

Every year around Christmas time PodCastle commissions a story from Tim Pratt and Heather Shaw; so expect to see their names come up a few times. I liked how this story brought a humanizing element to Santa. We get to see Santa make mistakes and double his purpose in life. Yet at the same time we also see Santa pick himself up, dust off his bruises and keep pressing on. It was also nice to see the story talk about how even the smallest act of kindness can have a big impact on someone else’s life.

Big Anklevich is one of the host of the Dunesteef Podcast, and he does a great job with the narration for this story. It’s a story that’s sure to lift your spirits, and get you in the spirit and…okay, I’ll stop. Anyway, it’s a story that is well worth your time.

Seasonal Disorder by Heather Shaw and Tim Pratt
Narrated by Christiana Ellis
A PodCastle Original

This story follows the Snow Queen, the living personification of winter and the cold. She’s been living a pretty low key life these last few century due to a lack of followers. All of that changes when she received a message from an ice elf. The Sun King is going to ignite the sun to speed up the evolution of life on Europa, but in the process Earth will be destroyed. Can the Snow Queen stop him in time?

Almost all of the major symbols and traditions associated with our modern Christmas celebrations can trace their roots back to pagan religious practices. As such, it was nice to see a story that harkened back to those pagan roots in its own unique way. Though this story did make me wonder about the other seasonal royalty in its world. The Sun King’s plan for Europa kind of reminded me of a fantasy version of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010: Odyssey Two. I also really enjoyed the Snow Queen’s irreverent and laid-back attitude; in contrast with the Sun King’s pomp and self-importance.

Christiana really nailed it were her performance of the Snow Queen’s snarky and sarcastic personality. It tis the season, and this is a story that I happily recommend.

The Christmas Mummy by Heather Shaw and Tim Pratt
Narrated by Rish Outfield
Originally Published in A Christmas Chapbook

This story follows two kids named Trish and Nate who sure they’re in for a great Christmas. Their supercool adventurer archeologist of an uncle has come to visit, and ninja elves have delivered presents to them. Then their uncle’s old rival, Hitler Moriarty, drops in for a visit. Can the kids save the day and find the true meaning of Christmas?

And with this story we’ve bowled a turkey of great Heather Shaw and Tim Pratt stories. I loved how this story juxtaposes various pulp adventure tropes alongside a typical suburban Christmas. This is a fun little story that is perfect to share with any kids in your life. I had to smile whenever Professor Moriarty referenced the pagan origins of Christmas, it reminded me of Christmas conversations with my own family. It’s got magic, mummies and Christmas mayhem. What more could you ask for?

Rish Outfield, the other half of the Dunesteef Podcast, does a great job with the narration. It’s magical Christmas fun the whole family can enjoy. I couldn’t recommend it more.

The Drabblecast

A Fairy Tale of Oakland by Tim Pratt
Narrated by Norm Sherman
A Drabblecast Original

This story follows an unnamed narrator who has fallen down on his luck. He’s had a chance encounter with an old homeless man who claims to have met the actual Santa Claus. Our narrator has always hated Christmas, but he’s about to experience the holiday in a way he’s never anticipated before.

Okay, I know that really doesn’t sound like much, but I swear this is a really great story. First off, I loved how this story incorporated various myths about Santa from around the world, with special emphasis on the Krampus. Now, for those who might not know, Krampus is said to be a demon bound to the service on St. Nicholas. One night every year Krampus seeks out naughty children, stuff them into sacks and whips them with switches. His legend hails from Bavaria, Austria and Croatia. Now that we’ve had our folklore lesson for the day, let’s get back to the review.

This story felt kind of heartwarming, though in the Drabblecast’s own weird and unique way. We never find out the name of the protagonist, but I do know Norm Sherman’s name. I also know that he does a great job with the narration.

It’s unusual, weird, heartwarming and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Happy Old Year by Tim Pratt
Narrated by Matt Hayes
A Drabblecast Original

This story follows a man named Dave who has taken more than his fair share of knocks in life. The future seems bleak and hopeless, and he’d like nothing better then to go back an redo his past. A chance visit from a beautiful, mischievous magical woman named Elsie gives him just that. Dave has traded his future so that he can relive the past, but is that really such a good idea?

Every year the Drabblecast asks Tim Pratt to write them a Christmas story, but this one was a special New Years Eve story. I’ve encountered Elsie in a few other stories Tim has written, and she probably my favorite out of all of his characters. I love how she’s unrepentantly evil and runs around with a devil-may-care attitude. In many ways she reminds me of Ryuk form DeathNote, given that they both introduce magical items to mortals out of boredom, with equally disastrous results for the protagonists.

Matt really nailed it with the narration of this story. Okay, it’s not exactly a Christmas story, but it is a story that is well worth your time.

The Moonlit Road

A Christmas Haunting by Craig Dominey
Narrated by Thomas Fuller

This story follows a man who is spending Christmas alone for the first time years. He’s recently become divorced and the death of his parents has left him to care for his old childhood home. He had a rough childhood, though the family dog always tried to show him affection. He’s about to find out the unconditional love can come from many places, even beyond the grave.

Have a box of tissues handy, because this story is a heartwarming tearjerker. This story especially hits close to home if you have a beloved dog, or any beloved pet in your life. There’s not too much more I can add to this, other than that Thomas does an amazing job with the narration.

A Christmas ghost story that sure to put a tear in your eye. I couldn’t recommend it more.

The Missing Cookies by Craig Dominey
Narrated by Babs Bagriansky

This story follows a young girl whose family has moved into a new home just south of Nashville, Tennessee. Well, it’s a historical Victorian home, but it’s new to her. Ever year the plate of cookies her family leaves out for Santa disappears, only it doesn’t seem like Santa’s the one eating them. So then who is eating the cookies?

This one’s another heartwarming Christmas haunting story. If you’ve got some family members who you haven’t visited in a while, perhaps take inspiration from this story and give them a visit. I’d tell you a bit more, but I wouldn’t want to give the story away. I can, however, tell you that Babs does a good job with the narration.

Another heartwarming Christmas story that you won’t want to miss out on.

Irwin Tarheel and the Fair Folk by Sam McDonald
Narration TBA

In 1840s Shreveport, Louisiana there lives a misfit named Irwin Tarheel. He’s never really fit in, but one day when he’s out fishing he encounters some fair folks who change his life forever.

This story hasn’t received an audio adaption, but I figured it’s still worth going over. It also happens to be one of my favorite stories, but then, I am the one who wrote it. As such, I can’t really review this, but I can give some background. I noticed how similar the legend of Urushima Taro was to legends of the Fair Folk, so I decided to retell the story in 1840s Shreveport. I know this isn’t exactly Christmas themed, but think of it as a gift from me to all of you.

Do I really need to tell you that I recommend this one?

Escape Pod

The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere by John Chu
Narrated by John Chu
Originally Publish on Tor.com
2014 Hugo Award Winner

This story is set in a world where, for no particular reason, water has begun to fall on anyone who tells a lie. The story follows a gay man named Matt as he struggles to come out of the closet and introduce his partner Gus to his traditional Chinese family during Christmas.

You’re probably wondering what a magical realism story is doing on a science fiction podcast. Well, every year Escape Pod runs the stories that are nominated for the Hugo Awards as a special treat for their listeners, and to make voting easier. I, for one, always look forward to the great stories Hugo Month brings with it. They’ve done this every year they’ve been running with the exception for 2015, for obvious reasons. This story, I can safely say, has more than earned its Hugo.

I enjoyed getting to learn more about Chinese-American culture from this story. The description of foods such as pork buns and scallion pancakes had me watering at the mouth. I really loved the emotional depth of this story, and the moral of coming to terms with yourself and accepting who you are even if it disappoints those who are close to you.

John isn’t just a great writer, he’s also quite the narrator. You can also find this story over on StarShipSofa, where it is also narrated by John. A story that more than earned its Hugo, and should more than earn your time.

Pseudopod

Saint Nicholas’ Helper by D.K. Thompson
Narrated by Marie Brennan
A Pseudopod Original

This story follows a girl named Greta who wants nothing more than to have her deceased father brought back. She’s gone everywhere, even meeting Saint Nicholas himself, but to no avail. Then her sister Heike gets kidnapped by Krampus. Greta must embark on a quest to get her sister back, but it will be perilous, and not even Saint Nicholas can protect her.

I liked how this story featured the darker side of Krampus. In many ways it almost felt like Krampus could be read as a metaphor for the forces beyond our control. Specifically, those uncontrollable forces that harm our loved ones. This is a horror story, but like the song says, scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmas long, long ago. D.K. Thompson is better known as Dave Thompson, former editor and co-host of PodCastle. Dave is just as much an amazing writer as he is an editor and host. I always look forward to seeing new stories from Dave.

As far as the narration goes, I thought Marie did a great job. It’s another Krampus story that I happily recommend.

StarShipSofa

Tis The Season by China Mieville
Narrated by Charles Marvin
Original Published in The Socialist Review, collected in Looking For Jake

This story is set in a slight dystopian near future in which holidays have become privatized and require special licenses to celebrate. The rich celebrate Christmas while the working class have to settle for cheaper knock-offs. The story follows a man who has finally saved up enough to buy a Christmas license, but he soon finds himself swept up in a revolution to take back Christmas from the bourgeoisie.

As you may have guess, this is a story where Mieville’s Marxist views really shine through. That being said, it doesn’t make this story any less enjoyable. I read it as satire on privatization by taking that concept to its logical extreme. And hey, it’s a story that feature an organization called The Gay Men’s Christmas Liberation Choir, it’s just crazy awesome like that. I especially like the little sound effects that go with the little badges all the characters where to remind them that Christmas is a Yule co trademark, among other intellectual property. The little high-pitched voice sounds really funny.

I don’t know if Charles was the one who did that particular voice, but I do know that he did a great job with the narration.

Far-Fetched Fables

The Magikkers by Terry Dowling
Narrated by Graeme Dunlop
Originally Published in Amberjack: Tales of Fear and Wonder

This story follows a boy named Sam who is attending a school to learn how to use magic. Sam and his class mates are magikkers, meaning they have only enough magic within them to each perform one great act of magic, and after that their magic will be all used up. Once they’ve run out of magic they’ll have to get by with slight-of-hand and optical illusions. Sam is facing a dilemma about if he ought to save his magic or use it for the sake of the school’s headmaster.

We’ll end the list with a story about the magic of giving to others. Here we have a young boy who is swept up into a tantalizingly magical world, but he only gets to have the briefest of tastes. Sam’s choice ultimately comes down to how he wants the legacy of his magic to be remembered. It’s pretty obvious that he goes on to use his one act of magic as a selfless act, but it didn’t take away from how touching this story was. Graeme’s gentle and kind voice was the perfect fit for this story.

I think that’s enough from me, go ahead and give this wonderful little story a listen.

Conclusion

Well here we are at the end of another list. I hope these twelve stories were worth the wait. I think that one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten is the opportunity to write for Amazing Stories, and share great stories with all of you. It certainly feels good to share one of my own stories with you guys, and here’s hoping that I’ll have many more to share with you in the future.

Wherever you are, and whenever you read this, Merry Christmas to all, and to all happy listening. I’ll see you guys next time.

 

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