Podcastle: Feminist Fantasy Audio Fiction
By: Leah Zoller
Considering the underrepresentation of women authors and protagonists in literature, film, and publication, I feel that sharing and promoting media that demonstrate gender balance is critical to changing the genre. Today I’m pleased to review Podcastle, a free weekly podcast of audio fantasy fiction. Produced by Escape Artists, Podcastle branched out of Escape Pod, which initially had been a podcast for sci-fi, fantasy, and horror short stories. In 2006, sister podcast Pseudopod was started to create a podcast specifically for the horror stories, and in 2008, Podcastle debuted to cover fantasy fiction, leaving Escape Pod to focus on sci-fi. I’ve been listening to all three since about 2006.
Like LB, I enjoy the horror genre a lot, probably the most out of the three genres covered by Escape Artists. However, I wanted to write about Podcastle here because it’s a feminist safe-space for me. This isn’t to say that the other two podcasts are sexist, but Podcastle has not only the most consistency in featuring female and nonbinary authors, readers, and protagonists, but the editors actually utilize ratings and warnings.* That is, stories receive a rating of G, PG, R, or X (most are either PG or R), and each episode comes with content notes to give the reader an idea of what to expect in terms of both content (superheroes, sword-fighting) as well as triggers (surgery, gore). Because there are so many different authors and subgenres within the realm of Podcastle’s dedication to fantasy fiction, I find the warnings helpful so I have an idea of what to expect in the stories and can make an informed decision.
Anna Schwind and Dave Thompson act as the editors, and the podcast features the fiction of veteran SFF authors and new writers alike. M.K. Hobson, Ann Leckie, Cat Rambo, Mur Lafferty, Rachel Swirsky, Eugie Foster, Ellen Kushner, N.K. Jemisin, Heather Shaw, Tim Pratt, Garth Nix, and Peter S. Beagle have all written or read several stories each; Leckie, Lafferty, and Swirsky have also been involved with production along the line as well.
I’ve enjoyed almost everything I’ve heard on Podcastle from swords and sorcery to magical realism and every other subgenre. Here are just a few of my personal favorites to get you started.
- “The Ghost of Christmas Possible” by Tim Pratt and Heather Shaw – a Christmas ghost story in the style of Carnacki the Ghost Finder.
- “Their Changing Bodies” by Alaya Dawn Johnson – a humorous, feminist take on the YA vampire story, set at a summer camp.
- “The House of Aunts” by Zen Cho. Another humorous feminist take on the YA paranormal romance, set in Malaysia.
- “A Memory of Wind” by Rachel Swirsky – a retelling of part of the Oresteia from the point of view of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigenia.
- “Excision” by Scott H. Andrews – a vivomancer and her mentor research a cure during a war.
- “The Calendar of Saints” by Kat Howard -a tale of a Sacred Blade and the patron saints of science and math.
- “Seasonal Disorder” by Heather Shaw and Tim Pratt – a solstice story.
Podcastle’s website is here. Listen on the website’s player, download, or listen on iTunes, all for free, although if you enjoy the podcast, please considering donating on the website to pay the authors and maintain server costs. New podcasts go up every Tuesday.
Have a favorite author? Find their work on the author directory on the forums (through late 2013). If you’re a writer interested in publishing your fiction with Podcastle, submit your work–submissions should be opening again this month (June 2014).
Looking for more feminist fantasy podcasts? Check out Welcome to Night Vale, which I reviewed on here in January 2014.
Guest contributor Leah Zoller writes The Lobster Dance, a blog about gender and Japan, and I’ll Make It Myself!, a blog about food, geekery, and gender. She has an MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan, where she spent an absurd amount of time stomping around Ann Arbor in the snow while listening to Escape Artists.
*The Pseudopod“warning” states that if you are “disturbed” by anything from gore to rape then you shouldn’t listen at all; this was written in 2006 by founder Steve Eley. I think it’s time for an update to this policy, as the genre of horror–and the podcast–has so many sub-genres to explore. Horror–and the stories featured– is not only about taking away agency from women, and I really wish I could listen without the fear of being blindsided by a rape plot point. It would be better to have a consistent policy across the board, even if Pseudopod tends to be PG-13 and up.
Images from the PodCastle website.