Start spreading the news, I’m leaving today! In case you haven’t been flowing my most recent postings, I’m leaving Amazing Stories, and this is my final article. I don’t want you to think that this is goodbye forever. As you know, I’ve got my own blog called The Audiophile. I’ve already been moving many of my articles, including The Audio File, over there. I’ve also been moving many of the articles I wrote for Alternate History Weekly Update over to my blog. I guess what I’m saying is, this isn’t me quitting The Audio File, just making a few changes.
That segues nicely into our theme for this final edition of The Audio File. Since this isn’t the end, just a change, I figured that change itself would be an appropriate theme. Buddha famously stated that the only thing we can be certain of in life is that change is constant. Embrace it or resist it, change will always find you. So, I’ve collected a list of stories that should be a nice change of pace. These stories come to us from the good people at Escape Pod, Pseudopod, PodCastle, Cast of Wonders, Lightspeed Magazine, StarShipSofa, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and The Overcast.
I know it seems likes I’m not really taking much time to reflect on my eminent departure, but I figured I’d save that for the end of the list. For now, however, we have stories to discuss. For one final time, it’s story time…
“Start the Clock” by Benjamin Rosenbaum
Narrated by Chris Fisher
Originally Published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
This story takes place in a world where one day, for no apparent reason, everyone on Earth stopped aging. By the time of the story a treatment has been developed to allow people to resume aging. This is known as “starting the clock.” The story follows a woman, who physically is nine years old, named Suze. She’s been more than happy to be eternally nine, but her friend Abbey wants to start the clock. It isn’t long before Suze finds her long-held beliefs being challenged.
This story has a special significance to me, because it was the first Escape Pod story I ever listened to. I’d been searching for this story ever since I read about it on TV Tropes, and I stumbled across Escape Pod. I was passingly familiar with the concept of stories being read on podcasts, so I decided to give it a listen. I enjoyed what I heard, so I decided to check out the other stories Escape Pod had to offer. And the rest, as they say, is history.
There’s some really great worldbuilding in this story. For example, people who were nine when everyone stopped aging have it the best. Their brains retain the flexibility of youth and they can easily pick up new skills. On the flip side, for those unfortunate enough to have been going through puberty…well, the results aren’t pretty. The thing that really sold me on this story, besides the great plot, was Chris’ excellent narration.
“Start the Clock” is one of first Escape Pod stories I ever listened to, and still remains one of my favorites. Of course I recommend it.
“Movement” by Nancy Fulda
Narrated by Marguerite Kenner
Originally Published in Asimov’s
This story is set in Germany in the moderately near future. It follows an autistic girl name Hannah. She is an extraordinarily talented dancer, but her parents worry about her lack of verbal communication. They are considering using a non-invasive procedure to improve Hannah’s communication, but this will come at the cost of her dancing ability. Hannah herself is less than enthusiastic about the prospect. The story follows her on a walk across the city as she ponders many things.
Okay, not the best description, but it’s worth your time. I don’t know if I ever brought this up, but I am on the autism spectrum…sort of. I have PDD, Pervasive Developmental Disorder; it is similar to, but not exactly the same, as Asperger’s and contains aspects of other disorders such as Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Anxiety and OCD.
With all of that out of the way, I really think that Nancy did an excellent job of capturing the autistic mind. No two autistic people are alike, especially given how varied autism can be, but I related to many of the things Hannah thinks throughout the story. Throughout the story there’s the theme changes, especially as they relates to evolution. There is a lot of debate about why exactly autism came to be. Many autistics tend to be highly specialized in particular fields, so perhaps the lack of social skills is a bit of a trade off that could have potential benefits. Additionally, autistics often approach problems differently than neurotypical people. Admittedly, that’s still somewhat speculative, but I think there’s at least a bit of merit to the idea.
Then there’s the matter of the “cure.” When I first read this story, I was scratching my head wondering what it could be. After doing some digging, I conclude it would have most likely been some kind of electromagnetic stimulation. That is something that has been proposed for treating autism. I can certainly sympathize with Hannah’s desire to stay as she is. I don’t know if I’d want to change something so fundamental about myself.
This is a story that provides plenty of food for thought. I also enjoyed the themes of embracing change and being true to your own self, rather than giving in to the expectations of others. Speaking of things that I enjoy, I really enjoyed Marguerite’s narration.
Do I really have to tell you that I recommend this one?
“Trusted Messenger” by Kevin Wabanunsee
Narrated by Phillip Lanos
An Escape Pod Original
This story is set on an alien planet that was colonized by Native Americans. Earth organisms are incompatible with the planet’s biochemistry, but the colonists survive thanks to a symbiotic relationship with some starfish-esque organisms. The story follows a doctor named Thaddeus Begay. His latest trouble case is a woman named Suzanne Buenaventura. She refuses to subject herself and her son to the bonding process with the aliens. Without the aliens Suzanne and her son will starve. Thaddeus is about to face one of his greatest moral dilemmas.
You don’t often see Native Americans in science fiction. Granted, they collectively only make up about one percent of America’s population, so perhaps there’s a reason for that. Still, it was nice to see them all the same. One of the great testaments to the strength of the Native American people is that, for all that life has thrown at them, they have managed to survive. Sometimes that meant having to adapt and change with the times, yet they are still standing. I will say it did seem odd that the Native Americans had decided to strike out on a new planet. The Earth is considered sacred in many Native traditions, and they’ve certainly fought hard for what little scraps they still have. Though, admittedly, certain scenes suggest that their colonial venture might not have been an entirely voluntary endeavor.
You can see parallels in this story to people, like anti-vaxxers and Jehovah’s Witnesses, who resist medical treatment because of their beliefs. My personal option is that, if you want to make yourself a martyr for your cause, more power to you. However, you shouldn’t be allowed to make martyrs out of your kids. Of course, then there’s the matter of people of who have others, such as children, depending on them being alive. Thaddeus find himself pondering such issues. Even after he makes his big decision, he still questions if he’s made the right choice. If you want to find out what the choice was, you’ll have to listen to the story.
In terms of narration, I thought that Phillip did a great job. “Trusted Messenger” is a story of adaption and survival on an alien planet. I give it a recommendation.
“Mercurial Skin” by Raechel Henderson
Narrated by Marguerite Kenner
A Cast of Wonders Original
This story is set in a world where, after a certain age, everyone transforms into something else. Some become vampires, others become werewolves and a few become things such as books. The story follows a girl named Jodi. She still hasn’t figured out what she wants to be. She’s in a love with a vampire boy, but he’s dating someone else, and she’s not sure she’d want to be a vampire. Jodi does have a love for books, and they seem to whisper to her. Could that be something?
This story isn’t that long, so I won’t spend much time on it. It was an interesting concept, and I do wonder about what I might choose to be in such a world. Though I do wonder why some people choose to become inanimate objects. Seems like it wouldn’t be a very good life. I don’t know what I’d pick, but at the very least, it would be something that could move around and talk. In terms of narration, I though Marguerite did a good job.
“Mercurial Skin” is a fantastical take on finding where you truly belong. I say give it a try.
“When the Planets Left” by J.J. Litke
Narrated by Katherine Inskip
A Cast of Wonders Original
This story relates the events of a time when, for no apparent reason, the planets of the Solar System began to disappear one by one. Will humanity find a way to stop the planets from disappearing?
I know the description is even briefer than usual, but this is a flash fiction story. There are certain stories that seem sweet and innocent on the surface, but are actually fairly creepy and/or terrifying if you really think about them. Case in point, this story. By the end of the story, all of the planets except Earth are gone, but it’s allegedly okay because the Moon still loves us and has stuck around. Problem is, without the stepping stones Mars and the other planets provide, humanity’s expansion into space is going to be severely stunted. That’s going to be very unfortunate if something happens to Earth, and humanity is forced to find a new home.
Also, we never find out why exactly the planets went away, or where they went to. I can’t help but feel that this could have been a potentially interesting cosmic horror story. Katherine did okay with the narration but I’m not sure it was enough to redeem this story.
I can’t say I really liked this one, but maybe you might enjoy it. Give it a listen, if only to form your own thoughts.
“Faces in Revolving Souls” by Caitlín R. Kiernan
Originally Published in Outsiders
This story follows a woman named Sylvia. She is part of a subculture, known as Chimera, that modify themselves to look more like animals. Sylvia has just had her first surgery and is at a convention for the Chimera. It should be the happiest day of her life. So why is she so uneasy?
I did a little something different with this one. As you probably know, magazines such as Lightspeed, Clarkesworld and Beneath Ceaseless Skies produce text-only stories alongside the podcast they produce. There are times where I find a text-only story so good I just have to share it with you guys. So it is with this story. Now that we’ve got all of that out of the way, let’s talk about the story itself.
You could see this story as a critique of the Furry movement, and many Furries have certainly expressed interest in the procedures this story describes. However, I think there’s more to it than that. This story is more of an allegory for transgenderism, and all the things that can potentially go wrong when transitioning. Without giving too much away, Sylvia’s surgery didn’t go quite how she wanted it to. There are also mentions of another Chimera who was altered to look like a wolf, but his now non-human mouth has trouble forming words.
There’s plenty that can go wrong when transitioning. Hormone Replacement Therapy can increase the odds of developing certain aliments, there can be surgical complications, and even if everything goes right you still might never be able to get the look you truly want. Point I’m trying to make is, it’s not easy being transgender. I really think this story captured those feelings of trans people wanting to be true to themselves, while also being worried about what might go wrong.
“Faces in Revolving Souls” might be text-only, but you won’t want to miss out on it. I happily recommend it.
“Recording Angel” by Ian McDonald
Originally Published in Interzone
In this story alien probes have arrived on Earth. Instead of landing in-front of the White House or the United Nations, they’ve been seeding the Southern Hemisphere with seeds and spores. Places such as Ecuador, the Maldives and Papua New Guinea find themselves being transformed by ever encouraging alien plant life. The story follows a reporter named Gaby McAslan, who is on assignment in Kenya to report on the expanding alien jungle. Along the way she meets an old White African named Prenderleith, and they discuss the ways in which Kenya has been changed.
This is another text-only story, but it is well worth your time. You don’t often see White Africans in fiction, so it was nice to see Prenderleith in such a prominent role. You get that he’s the product of a bygone era, the last of the Great White Hunters. He has seen Kenya change before, and he provides an interesting perspective on the invasive alien plants changing Kenya. I also like the implication that the alien invasion might not have been malevolent. The planets are changing Earth organisms, but in ways that seem to bring them to their fullest potential.
“Recording Angel” is a story of change and adaption in a near future Kenya. I give it a recommendation.
“The Candy Store” by Christopher DiLeo
Narrated by Brian Rollins
A Pseudopod Original
This story, which takes place in San Francisco, follows a boy named Larry. He’s on his merry way to his favorite place in the world: The Candy Palace. It’s a candy shop that has all the best candies. Larry often fantasizes about going on magical adventures in a candy kingdom. However, Larry is also going through puberty and has begun fantasizing about girls with large breasts. He’s been warned to stay away from the teenagers who lurk in the shadows of the street lamps, but he finds himself strangely drawn to them.
This story has some serious mood whiplash and juxtaposition. It starts sweet and whimsical, such as Larry doodling about fighting candy jackals, before moving into more mature themes such as Larry discovering masturbation. Don’t get me wrong, it’s effective, but it can catch you off-guard if you aren’t expecting it. There’s definitely a theme of lost innocence, and the changes that come with growing from childhood to adolescence. It’s a little ambiguous about what happens to Larry by the story’s end. Whatever happened, and I can’t tell you much without spoiling, he’s definitely been changed forever.
In terms of narration, I thought that Brian was pitch perfect. “The Candy Store” is a tale of lost innocence and the changes the come with growing up. I happily recommend it.
“Home is a House That Loves You” by Rachael K. Jones
Narrated by Kate Baker
A PodCastle Original
Featured in PodCastle‘s Artemis Rising 3
This story…okay, the setting is a little ambiguous. It appears to be similar to our world, but certain details suggest otherwise. In any event, it takes place in a city named Aurora, whose citizens have the ability to transform into buildings. For many years things have been peaceful, but then the city of Apsides declares war on Aurora. The story is told from the point of view of a woman living before and during the war. She had always dreamed of becoming a skyscraper, like her aunt, but the war changes her plans.
The description is much but…oh, you know the drill by now! There have been plenty of times I’ve seen buildings, or wings of buildings, dedicated in the name/memory of someone. I often wonder who these people were and what stories they could tell. I felt this way especially when I recently saw a building at the elementary school I went to that had been dedicated to my old principal. I wonder who many people would know, or even care, about all he did for the school over the years. I say all of this because this story really made me think about all of these things. If walls could talk indeed.
As with “Mercurial Skin” I do wonder why the people of Aurora choose to become buildings. It seems like it would be horrible to turn into an inanimate object, but the people of Aurora seemed to do so almost instinctually. For that matter, why do people from Aurora have the power to transform? Though, I suppose it is a minor detail. This is a very powerful story. In particular, there’s the scene of people turning into roads and walls, to help citizens of Aurora escape after the war begins. They gave up their shot at becoming the buildings of their dreams to help their fellow citizens.
Kate Baker’s narration is always a bit hit and miss, but it works out here. “Home is a House That Loves You” is a story of love, war and people turning into buildings. I recommend it.
“What We Ourselves Are Not” by Leah Cypess
Narrated by Elie Hirschman
Originally Published in Asimov’s
This story takes place in the not too distant future. A chip has been developed that allows recorded memories to be implanted into people’s minds. Various ethnic minorities use the chips as a means of passing on their culture to their children, but it’s not without controversy. The story follows a Jewish boy named Zack. He’s debating whether or not to get chipped. This is causing some friction with his Korean-American girlfriend Amy. She wants to break up with Zack, fearing their relationship will dilute her Korean heritage. Can Zack and Amy find a way to see eye to eye with each other?
Well, this is certainly a timely story. Especially in light of the debate about so-called “cultural appropriation.” I always found such concepts to be completely idiotic, since they pretty much describe the entire history of culture. There’s a theory in political science known as the Horseshoe Theory. In a nutshell, it suggests that the extreme right and the extreme left have more in common with each other than with the moderate branches of their ideology. That definitely was on my mind as I listened to this story. Almost all the arguments Amy makes are, almost word-for-word, the arguments that white supremacists tend to make about why racial mixing should be banned.
Then there’s the whole idea of the chips. They’re billed as a way to preserve culture and bring people together, but they really seem to just drive people further apart. You could see them as an allegory for the dangers of not letting go of the past, and identity politics in general. It’s as though the people who made the chips tried so hard to be progressive that they looped back around and became regressive. On that note, it was nice that this story was willing to criticize the far left. You see plenty of stories that criticize that far right, but not nearly enough who call out the far left. So it was certainly nice to see a change of pace.
One thing I found interesting is that you can get any chip you want, no matter if your a member of that group or not. I won’t tell you what Zack decides, but it was actually really brilliant. He really took the words of Mohandas Gandhi to heart: be the change you want to see in the world. Cultures aren’t meant to be static, they change and adapt with the times, and that is perfectly okay.
A story this great needs an equally great narrator. Thankfully, Elie more than delivers. “What We Ourselves Are Not” is a timely story that you won’t want to miss out on. Do I really need to tell you that I recommend this one?
“The Night Bazaar For Women Becoming Reptiles” by Rachael K. Jones
Narrated by Setsu Uzume
This story is set in a fantasy world oasis city. It follows a woman named Hester who sells reptile eggs, but not just any reptile eggs. These eggs have been collected from the riverside under a new moon. This gives the eggs magical properties, and women who eat them can transform into reptiles. Anyone wanting to make it across the desert can only do so as a reptile. The story follows Hester’s life in the oasis city as she seeks an escape of her own.
It’s always nice to see a story that mixes it up with the setting, rather than another generic pseudo-Medieval European setting. The setting had an Arabian Nights flavor, but wasn’t strictly Middle Eastern. In order to talk about my thoughts on the transforming women, we need to discuss something that happens towards the end of the story. A male character eats an egg and transforms into a snake. You could see that as meaning he was transgender, but that’s not the interpretation I got. To me, the eggs represent the desire for escape. Obviously, women in this society would feel that more strongly than men, but there would probably be at least a few men who would want to escape across the desert. I also think the eggs transformed people not necessarily when they wanted it, but when they needed it.
Now, let’s talk about the narration. I find that Setsu tends to either be really good, or completely drops the ball. In this case, she did exceptionally well. “The Night Bazaar For Women Becoming Reptiles” is about the desire for escape and change. I say give it a try.
“Graveyard Shift” by Holly Schofield
Narrated by J.S. Arquin
Originally Published in Tesseracts 17
This story is set in Edmonton, Alberta in the near future. It follows a second-generation Chinese-Canadian named Ryan Leong. Throughout his life his grandfather encouraged him to pursue a career in education. He’s just earned his degree but, unfortunately, teachers are beginning to be phased out in favor of digital learning programs. Ryan finds himself unemployed and at the end of his rope. He’s decided to pay a visit to his grandfather’s grave. Will his grandfather be able to provide guidance from beyond the grave?
Plenty of jobs have been impacted by automation, but the education sector has mostly avoided this fate…for now. I would certainly hope it never does, I’m not the biggest fan of online courses, but you never know. Holly captured the experience of a second-generation immigrant really well. Ryan finds himself caught between the traditions of his parents and grandparents, and the promise and opportunities of living in a Western nation. I thought it was really touching how Ryan was able to find peace by remembering the values his grandfather instilled in him. Almost as though his grandfather was still watching out for him, even after death.
If there’s one central theme to this story, and really it could be applied to most of the stories on this list, it’s that when life throws you a curveball you learn to adapt and change. I think that this is a good note to end on. As per usual, J.S. Arquin does a wonderful job with the narration.
“Graveyard Shift” is a heartwarming story about find your way in a changing world. Of course I recommend it.
And with that, my journey with Amazing Stories has come to an end. What can I say? It’s been fun, and I’ve made plenty of friends along the way. In particular, I’d like to thank Ricky Brown for making me feel welcome and always being there for me. I’d also like to thank my pal Matt Mitrovich for his enthusiastic support of my endeavors. All of that having been said, the time has come for me to move on. I just don’t feel that Amazing Stories is where I can see a future for myself and my writing.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. I’ve got a blog of my own to attend to, and I need to focus on promoting my own brand. After taking some time to reflect I asked myself a question: to what is my life amounting, and where do I want it to go? I’ve got quite a few story ideas floating around in my head, and they aren’t going to write themselves. Oh, and if you are interested in some of the stories I’ve currently put out, I’ve got the links to them right here. Also, I’ve set up a Facebook fan page for my blog. So, you can like that and follow me on Twitter to keep up with what I do. Also, if you absolutely adore me, consider tossing a few bucks my way on Patreon. Alternatively, if you’re in the mood to waste a little money…well, I’ve already provided the link. Whatever floats your boat, I don’t judge.
I might be moving on from Amazing Stories, but this is not the end of The Audio File or my other reviews. I will be continuing The Audio File, along with its counterpart, The Alt-Hist File, on my personal blog The Audiophile. I’ve also posted most of my book and comic book reviews there as well, and there’s tons of reviews and piece of artwork that are exclusive to the blog.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, this isn’t so much “goodbye forever” so much as it is “goodbye for now.” As my journey with Amazing Stories draws to an end, a whole new journey is just beginning for me. Trust me, this isn’t the last you’re going to see of me on the internet. You’re not getting rid of me that easily, I can tell you that now.
And so, in closing, I leave you with a paraphrased version of what The Doctor told his granddaughter Susan when they parted ways: one day we shall meet again. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears and no anxieties. Just go forth in all of your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine. Farewell, Amazing Stories, and thank you for listening.
I hope to see you all over on The Audiophile.