Archive for Staff Picks

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Cast of Wonders 189: Amicae Aeternum (Staff Pick 2015)

Show Notes

Show Notes

Every year in January, Cast of Wonders takes the month off to recharge our batteries, plan the year ahead, and highlight some of our favourite episodes. As part of joining the Escape Artists family, this year we’re pulling out all the stops. We’re running 10 staff pick episodes over the month, each one hosted by a different member of the Cast of Wonders crew.

We hope you enjoy audio producer Rikki LaCoste’s favorite story from 2015, Amicae Aeternum by Ellen Klages and narrated by Rikki LaCoste, Isis LaCoste, and Fiona “Princess Scientists” Van Verth. The story originally aired April 19, 2015 as Cast of Wonders 164.


Amicae Aeternum

by Ellen Klages

It was still dark when Corry woke, no lights on in the neighbors’ houses, just a yellow glow from the streetlight on the other side of the elm. Through her open window, the early summer breeze brushed across her coverlet like silk.

Corry dressed silently, trying not to see the empty walls, the boxes piled in a corner. She pulled on a shirt and shorts, looping the laces of her shoes around her neck and climbed from bed to sill and out the window with only a whisper of fabric against the worn wood. Then she was outside.

The grass was chill and damp beneath her bare feet. She let them rest on it for a minute, the freshly-mowed blades tickling her toes, her heels sinking into the springy-sponginess of the dirt. She breathed deep, to catch it all—the cool and the green and the stillness—holding it in for as long as she could before slipping on her shoes.

A morning to remember. Every little detail.

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Cast of Wonders 188: Above Decks (Staff Pick 2015)

Show Notes

Every year in January, Cast of Wonders takes the month off to recharge our batteries, plan the year ahead, and highlight some of our favourite episodes. As part of joining the Escape Artists family, this year we’re pulling out all the stops. We’re running 10 staff pick episodes over the month, each one hosted by a different member of the Cast of Wonders crew.

We hope you enjoy slush reader and community manager Dani Daly’s favorite story from 2015, Above Decks by Terry Ibele and narrated by Phil Lunt. The story originally aired August 23, 2015 as Cast of Wonders 175.


Above Decks

by Tery Ibele

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

It felt like I had been here forever. A punishment for a crime I didn’t commit. Still, it was necessary just to save a few coins to buy a measly meal. Every day was grueling and today was worse. The muscles in my arms felt like they were going to snap. My shovel dropped to the floor with a clang. Sweat dripped into my eyes as I dared a quick break. The other boys kept shovelling. The huge furnace bulged as it was fed. Hot red steam billowed out of its pipes and clouded the air. Pulling off my shoes, I sat in a lump of coal and rubbed my aching feet.

“What are you doing?” whispered the boy next to me. “You’ll get us-“ The door burst open with a violent bang that sent a shiver up my spine. A large figure filled the doorway, blurred by the steamy air. It was the Coal Master. He was a black silhouette against the light pouring in from the deck. The dirty wooden floorboards shook as he stomped in. My heart beat so fast it nearly flew out of my chest.

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Cast of Wonders 187: The Haunted Jalopy Races (Staff Pick 2015)

Show Notes

Every year in January, Cast of Wonders takes the month off to recharge our batteries, plan the year ahead, and highlight some of our favourite episodes. As part of joining the Escape Artists family, this year we’re pulling out all the stops. We’re running 10 staff pick episodes over the month, each one hosted by a different member of the Cast of Wonders crew.

We hope you enjoy alumnus host and editor Graeme Dunlop’s favorite story from 2015, The Haunted jalopy Races by M. Bennardo, and narrated by Alasdair Stuart. The story originally aired March 22, 2015 as Cast of Wonders 160.


The Haunted Jalopy Races

by M. Bennardo

It all started when gallant Joe Jones and shiftless Sylvester Sneep agreed to race each other for the hand of pretty Sadie Merriweather. Except that’s not really how it started at all, not the first year anyway, not back in 1938.

Back then, that first year, Joe Jones wasn’t thought especially gallant and Sylvester Sneep wasn’t thought especially shiftless. Sadie Merriweather was indeed thought especially pretty–at least by most of the boys in Rock Falls–but Joe and Sylvester weren’t racing for her hand.

Not even in Rock Falls, not even in 1938, did anybody think that the outcome of a jalopy race could decide the affections of a teenaged girl. Instead, it was purely a matter of honor. Sylvester had felt his pride pricked when Sadie chose Joe over him, and so the challenge for the race had been given. The challenge was well-known among the upper classes at Rock Falls High School, but the rest of the town only got their first inkling of what was happening when the boys revved up their modified flatties at the top of the square pointing out to Falls Bridge down on Five Falls Road, and by then it was too late.

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Cast of Wonders 186: A School Story (Staff Pick 2015)

Show Notes

Every year in January, Cast of Wonders takes the month off to recharge our batteries, plan the year ahead, and highlight some of our favourite episodes. As part of joining the Escape Artists family, this year we’re pulling out all the stops. We’re running 10 staff pick episodes over the month, each one hosted by a different member of the Cast of Wonders crew.

We hope you enjoy artist and founder Barry J. Northern’s favorite story from 2015, A School Story by M. R. James, and narrated by Alasdair Stuart. The story originally aired August 2, 2015 as Cast of Wonders 172.


A School Story

by M.R. James

Two men in a smoking-room were talking of their private-school days. “At our school,” said A., “we had a ghost’s footmark on the staircase. What was it like? Oh, very unconvincing. Just the shape of a shoe, with a square toe, if I remember right. The staircase was a stone one. I never heard any story about the thing. That seems odd, when you come to think of it. Why didn’t somebody invent one, I wonder?”

“You never can tell with little boys. They have a mythology of their own. There’s a subject for you, by the way–‘The Folklore of Private Schools.'”

“Yes; the crop is rather scanty, though. I imagine, if you were to investigate the cycle of ghost stories, for instance, which the boys at private schools tell each other, they would all turn out to be highly-compressed versions of stories out of books.”

“Nowadays the Strand and Pearson’s, and so on, would be extensively drawn upon.”

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Cast of Wonders 154: Sundae (Staff Pick 2014)

Show Notes

Every year in January Cast of Wonders takes a break to catch our breath, plan out the year ahead, and highlight some of our favourite episodes from the year just passed.

We hope you enjoy Allen’s favorite story from 2014, Sundae by Matt Wallace, which originally aired April 27, 2014 as Cast of Wonders 122.


Sundae

by Matt Wallace

The old woman in the wheelchair has a brutal face and hands as soft as the mother of all children.

“You will be more than a warrior, little one,” she whispers in German, her delicate and wrinkled fingertips sewing a pressed metal button into his left ear. “You will be a guardian. You will protect more than tender flesh and frail bodies. You will be the sentinel that stands between the darkness and innocence itself.”

With eyes made of glass and wood he sees her thin, withered lips form the words. He cannot hear her; his ears, even the one with the signature button, were not made to hear, just as his mouth was not made to speak. However the small stuffed bear finds he understands her; the meaning of her words, if not the words themselves.
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Cast of Wonders 153: Shimmer (Staff Pick 2014)

Show Notes

Every year in January Cast of Wonders takes a break to catch our breath, plan out the year ahead, and highlight some of our favourite episodes from the year just passed.

We hope you enjoy Jeff’s favorite story from 2014, Shimmer by Amanda C. Davis, which originally aired November 30, 2014 as Cast of Wonders 148.


Shimmer

by Amanda C. Davis

Bethany Chow is shimmering in the cafeteria like the disco ball they borrow from the seventies for every stupid school dance. Her hair is shifting through a dozen shades of black and brown, a dozen patterns of highlights and lowlights, and her eyes are changing shape so fast she seems to be constantly winking. She’s only changing height slightly these days, so people must have figured out how tall she is. She’s really settling into her shimmer. If I guess right, she’ll be shimmering the rest of her life. She’ll never be without admirers, and lots of them, to think about her and remember her and shape her.

One of her adoring lunch buddies glances over her shoulder at me, and I feel my thighs expand. The seams of my jeans dig into my skin. I have to get out of here. I leave my lunch tray where it is, grab my backpack by the straps, and bolt.

Unfortunately I pass a table full of the track team on my way out of the cafeteria. That slows me down.

In the hallway my legs snap back to normal, but I feel a few pimples come and go as I pass a boy with one amazing case of acne. He must not have any friends at all. You can usually count on people not to remember the particulars of your zit pattern–unless it’s all they know about you, and then look out. Their memories will turn you into a gargoyle.
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Cast of Wonders 152: Captain Cleveland Grackle’s Galactic Cabaret vs. The Goblins of Vishnu 6 (Staff Pick 2014)

Show Notes

Every year in January Cast of Wonders takes a break to catch our breath, plan out the year ahead, and highlight some of our favourite episodes from the year just passed.

We hope you enjoy Barry’s favorite story from 2014, Captain Cleveland Grackle’s Galactic Cabaret vs. The Goblins of Vishnu 6 by Jamieson Ridenhour, which originally aired November 17, 2013 as Cast of Wonders 104.


Captain Cleveland Grackle’s Galactic Cabaret vs.The Goblins of Vishnu 6

By Jamieson Ridenhour

Load-in is always a bitch on a gas giant gig, but the moisture off the methane sea on Vamana really played havoc with my drum heads. The city, Upendra, was a big, domed thing with old-school terra-forming and flora-powered atmos that amounted to a human-made jungle in the midst of the rocky moon. We were playing the Municipal Amphitheatre, a screamingly Corporate name that was typically boring and grandiose all at once. That we got booked at all is probably due more to the backwater status of Vishnu 6’s fifth moon than any real thought about whether we’d be a good fit—we were a hell of a lot cheaper than the big CorpMuses who played closer to Earth.

Not that any of this mattered, mind you. A gig’s a gig, and this one was if anything a little bigger than we usually pulled. I’m just saying that for the all the “professionalism” of the local staff and the “modern ease” with which the intra-dome transfer was supposed to run, we might as well have been playing a dive bar in the Pleiades. But we did get the equipment set up, ‘cause you always do, and we did get what could technically be called a sound-check before we were hustled off the stage so the other two bands on the roster could do the same.
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Cast of Wonders 151: Master Madrigal’s Mechanical Man (Staff Pick 2014)

Show Notes

Every year in January Cast of Wonders takes a break to catch our breath, plan out the year ahead, and highlight some of our favourite episodes from the year just passed.

We hope you enjoy Marguerite’s favorite story from 2014, Master Madrigal’s Mechanical Man by Scott C. Mikula, which originally aired March 23, 2014 as Cast of Wonders 120.


Master Madrigal’s Mechanical Man

by Scott C. Mikula

I tried to shut out the crowd’s roar, but the thunder of a thousand feet pounding above us in the arena stands rose until I could feel the breastplate of the mechanical swordsman vibrate beneath my touch.  Master Madrigal gestured with his palsied hand for me to replace the automaton’s helmet, but I hesitated to examine the delicate inner workings. Just one small adjustment

A cuff to the back of my head arrested my motion.  “We have spoken of this, Cetta,” said Madrigal. “There is no problem with the balance.”  He crossed his arms, tucking his useless right hand out of sight beneath his sleeve.

I persuaded my mother to send me to her uncle Madrigal after his illness, when I was just twelve years old.  The word apprentice was never used. Girls did not apprentice to craftsmen like Madrigal, and I don’t think he would have taken an apprentice in any case.  He referred to me as his hands. My deft fingers did the work his no longer could.
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Cast of Wonders 114: Now Cydonia (Staff Pick 2013)

Show Notes

Now Cydonia ran as Episode 71 back in March of last year. One reason I’m personally so proud of our win is the story’s author, Rick Kennett. Although I’ve never met him, he’s from my home town of Melbourne, Australia and I love that a fellow countryman writes such kick-arse stuff. I narrated one of his ghost stories for Pseudopod, the immensely creepy The Dark and What It Said which is flat-out the best evocation of how spooky and lonely the Australian bush can be. Rick is a talented writer and I’m always happy to hear his stories when they appear in the pod-o-sphere.


Now Cydonia

by Rick Kennett

Cadet Cy De Gerch bounced forward into the desert darkness, raised her arms in a defensive posture and, as best as a fourteen year could, barked, “Halt! Who goes there!”

There was no one there. There never was.

Cy jumped back, a slow leap in the low gravity, to her original position on the perimeter, her vacsuit moving easy like a second skin, to watch and wait and break the boredom as best she could until relieved. Out there was the desert she had trekked the past two years with her section of Martian Star Corps cadets. Out there was the countryside of Mars – cold and red and a billion years dead, littered with rocks, pocked with craters, filled with myths and ghost stories, most of which Cy didn’t really believe. Sergeant Kreeng – Old Get-It-Right – had known what he was doing when he’d set them perimeter guard duty consisting mostly of doing nothing. It was, she knew, a discipline of the mind.

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Cast of Wonders 113: The Malthus Alternative (Staff Pick 2013)


The Malthus Alternative

by Jamie Mason

13.

“The gantry or the gallows.” Father chuckles. “When I think of all the money wasted on this –” (he gestures through the tinted windows of the limousine at the ruined space-port beyond) “– garbage it makes me sick – sick, I tell you! Colonize space? Mankind would have done better creating space on our own world, not blasting off in search of others!”

I hold my tongue – a necessary job skill when working for Father. My childhood dreams of a career in theater or publishing have given way to the reality of a senior management position with Global Confinement Solutions, Father’s flagship concern. GCS is a place where arguing with Father is accounted (like live theater or literature or space travel) a complete waste of time. And the team at GCS should know. Because time is our business.
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Cast of Wonders 112: Kulturkampf (Staff Pick 2013)

Show Notes

Barry’s staff pick is the story of war by music, “Kulturkampf”. I had tremendous fun working with Anatoly on picking the appropriate music for this story. It’s a very clever and entertaining steam-punkish tale of battling classical composers. And thanks also to Anatoly for suggesting his friend Hans Fenstermacher as narrator. Hans’ German pronunciation is prefect… unlike mine.


Kulturkampf

by Anatoly Belilovsky

September 1, 1870

Most respected Feldmarschall von Moltke,

I wish to thank you for giving me the opportunity to put my theories to the test in the taking of Sedan. They were, of course, entirely correct, and our clear tactical victory I am happy to be reporting.

Die Grosse Bertha worked to perfection; we were able to play Bruckner’s Zero Symphony at half steam while the technicians adjusted all their valves and levers. Steamwinds worked perfectly on the first try, and though of course strings needed to be tuned, of the steam tympani there was never any doubt. I have perhaps been harsh on occasion in my estimation of Herr Bruckner’s work, but for making the listeners run away screaming I should say his symphonies are without rival.

The French did put up some feeble resistance; approaching Sedan, I became aware of an odd syncopated rhythm off in the distance. Upon opening the window I was able to ascertain the nature of the music.

Toreador!” I exclaimed. “The fools! They think to defeat me with Bizet!”

It is not yet time to unleash my the fruit of my genius, the Secret Weapon, as old and tried music is proving adequate to the task. Anton Bruckner has cleared the way to the French capital; I swore that I should only unleash a composition of mine own when I wish for the adversary to fall to his knees and surrender to its sublime harmonies on the spot, and Paris has witnessed many such occasions. My own procession under the Arc de Triomphe is some thirty years overdue, but should taste all the sweeter for that.
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Cast of Wonders 111: The Giant Who Dreamed of Summer (Staff Pick 2013)

Show Notes

As our longtime listeners know, Cast of Wonders takes the month of January off each year, so we can recharge our batteries, and get out in front of the next year’s production schedule. And this year is no exception. However this January instead of leaving you with an empty playlist, Cast of Wonders is proud to present our Staff Picks!

Graeme, Barry and I (Marguerite) have selected our personal favorite story from 2013, and even further back in one case. Each of us will introduce the story, and talk a bit about we found so memorable about that particular tale.

But “Ahhh!”, I hear you say, “January has four weeks, and there’s only three of you! What are you going to do the last week of the month?” Well I’m glad you asked, because we’ll re-play our Small Cast, Short Form Parsec award winner, “Now Cydonia” by Rick Kennet, to transition you into a new year of what we hope to be even more award winnings stories, week after week.

And since I’m here, I guess that means I get to go first!

Barry and Graeme invited me to become the Editor of Cast of Wonders right before Christmas in 2012. I had just moved to the UK a few months prior, and the shorter days and significantly colder weather was starting to affect my mood. In January, while juggling a crushing course load in law school and frantically reading slush to be ready for the February episodes, I read the first submission that made me cry.

Jess Hyslop’s wonderful first-person narrative of a frost giant yearning for the touch of summer cut straight through my winter blues and reminded me of how good, how life affirming that first truly hot day of summer feels. Not just spring and rolling forward the clocks, but summer and that prickly, sizzling sensation on the tops of your shoulders when you wear a tanktop outside for the first time each year. Maybe, if you’re lucky, on the way to spend a day on the beach.

“The Giant Who Dreamed of Summer” is also the first story where the choice of narrator wasn’t really a choice so much as a lightning bolt of inspiration. I’ve been a fan of MK Hobson as a guest host and reader on Podcastle for years. I backed “The Warlock’s Curse”, the sequel to her smash hit debut novel “The Native Star”, on Kickstarter. The giant’s sense of humor, the gentle way it scolds as well as instructs the child, and the sensation of wisdom immediately brought MK’s warm and rich-yet-worn-around the edges voice to mind. I was thrilled when she accepted my request. Thanks MK!


The Giant Who Dreamed of Summer

by Jess Hyslop

What’s this–another visitor? How tiresome. I thought I had seen the last of you when the guards departed. I thought I had finally been left to meet my end in peace.

Wishful thinking. I thought I was beyond that, too.

Well, you must excuse me if I do not get up. These chains, you see…

What is such a tiny thing as you doing here all alone, anyway? Do your parents know that you are up here? I doubt that they’d approve. The hillside is steep and treacherous, and there are all sorts of dangers for a little flake like you. How your mother will scold if you tear your skirts! How your father will tut if you scrape your dainty ankle! How they will weep if you tumble from a bluff! And, my, how they will curse and stamp and rage if you end up in the belly of a starving frost giant.

I jest, child. Despite what you have been told, we giants do not eat people. It is only in your stories that such loathsome things occur.

Nevertheless, you should run along. Your parents are doubtless sick with worry, and I do not want to be blamed for your disappearance. Your King has made me miserable enough already. The last thing I need is to suffer more of his so-called justice.
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