Really Good Aural: 10 Podcasts You Shouldn't Miss
Ten podcasts and audio dramas to excite your incus, stimulate your stapes, and massage your malleus.
I have a thoroughly boring day job wherein I spend 8 hours a day sitting in front of a computer terminal entering data from health care forms. It doesn’t take a whole lot of brain power. Lucky me, we’re allowed to bring our mp3 players of choice and listen to music or whatever to keep us from slamming our foreheads into our monitors. I loaded up my iPod Nano with all the music I could stand to listen to and did my thing. The only problem was, I would zone out and get into the music and want to sing along. Not so bad for me, really, except for the fact that it’s generally frowned upon in a room full of other computer drones. They have their own shit to listen to.
So I downloaded and listened to all the old Dinner for Fiends episodes and dug the hell out of them (of course)… but then they were done and I had nothing new to listen to. So, after some none too subtle urging from my darling husband, I started checking out this serialized podcast drama he’d been talking about. And it was FREE! So, great, it was cool, but I caught up; and once again I was waiting for the next episode to come out and had nothing to listen to AGAIN. So I started exploring the iTunes podcast section, which led me to podiobooks.com, and I started downloading and experimenting. I could tell after a few episodes that some weren’t my cup of tea at ALL… the thing with podcasts is that anyone with a computer can make one… which is great, except when it’s not.
And then I found one I didn’t just like, I loved. It was sexy and funny and exciting and touched me in all the right places. And that one led me to another one that did the same… and that one led me to another… and now I’m hooked. And while I haven’t listened to a ton of them yet, until recently I had no idea these wonderful things existed, so I thought I’d share with you my Top Ten Favorite Podcast Novels and/or Audio Dramas (in no particular order) so that you can begin your own experimental journey!
Don’t worry… it only hurts a little at first:
1. Chris Lester’s Metamor City
Features: Supernatural creatures, sex, magic, violence
I’m not sure exactly how the Metamor City podcast would be best classified… It takes place in what is obviously an alternate world where magic not only exists but is fairly commonplace in a somewhat futuristic setting (at least as far as technology goes) and humans interact with other races like elves and vampires. It’s some sort of delightful mish-mash of sci-fi and fantasy with a nice flavoring of horror (the vampires aren’t the only nasty beasties to be found in Metamor). Let’s just classify it as "totally amazing". Lester’s writing is fabulous; top notch in nearly every way. While the first episode, "Welcome to the City", is a little awkward, it does a good job of introducing you to the City that is so integral to the podcast. There are a few other one- or two-episode vignettes before Lester begins the first Metamor book Making the Cut. The production quality of Metamor is wonderfully slick. It is one of the best sounding podcasts I’ve found so far… music, sound effects and voice acting are all first rate. Speaking of the voice talent… it is frickin’ wonderful! Lester’s voice is great for narration, and his cast list is long and their skills are all truly impressive. I can’t think of a single performance that wasn’t utterly lovely. And he features tons of guest voices of other podcasters… Metamor City is where I entered the rabbit hole into the world of podiobooks.
Download - "Huntress" (Episode 2) and "Troubled Minds" (a two-parter, Episodes 7 & 8), and if you’re not sold on Metamor City… well, then you have no taste and I’m not sure I want to be friends with you. Aside from two great visual and emotionally touching stories, there’s something else you’ve got to look forward to: Leanne Mabry as coroner Morgan Drauling in Huntress is totally captivating, and a vixen by the name of Cunning Minx is Jenna the succubus in Troubled Minds. Both ladies have voices that are sex… Mabry’s is more over the clothes heavy petting, while Minx’s voice is wet, sticky erotic abandon.
2. Myke Bartlett’s How to Disappear Completely
Features: Supernatural creatures, time travel, and violence
Here’s another that falls under "hard to classify". The description on iTunes says it’s part noir, part fantasy, part "East Ender gangster tale". And it is all of those things. However, I’m going to put this one under the "totally amazing" category as well. How to Disappear Completely is breakneck, convoluted and sometimes confusing but always entertaining. Unlike Metamor City, which is more an audio drama, author Myke Bartlett reads his novel (currently looking for a publisher) in the style of a podiobook. Bartlett’s got a great voice, with a smooth and sexy British accent that makes the story all that more palatable. He doesn’t try too hard to feminize his voice when reading the role of main character Theo, which serves to distinguish her as a separate entity without making her sound comical. Along with Theo is the real star of the story, Kilbey Salmon… who is a fabulous literary character and will hopefully have many more adventures with his sidekick, perpetual downer Nero Dusk. While I have to admit that there were definitely parts that aggravated me slightly while listening, by the time I made it to the end of the story everything clicked so mightily well. And the ending is something to behold… I was left with actual goose bumps!! While there are no real sound effects or different voice actors here, it should be noted that the audio quality of How to Disappear Completely is also top notch.
Download – the first four episodes: "The Grey Men", "Pale Ghosts", "The Last Train" and "The Grieving Girlfriend"… If you’re not intrigued by then, you might be dead.
Where to find How to Disappear Completely: MykeBartlett.com or search for Myke (with a Y) Bartlett on iTunes (if you don’t want to type out How to Disappear Completely, which will also find it for you!)
3. Tee Morris’ Morevi: The Chronicles of Rafe and Askana
Features: Supernatural creatures, parallel worlds, magic, violence, sex
Morevi is another podiobook, each episode being a chapter (or part of one if it’s a long chapter). To be honest, I had to listen to the first episode, the prologue "Leap of Faith", twice before it really gripped me. We’re introduced to swashbuckling Rafe Rafton, an English privateer (the nice way of saying pirate) on board a ship running from the Spanish armada. Morris does a great job narrating and voicing all the characters in the first episode, but despite the battle between Rafton’s ship and the Spanish, it wasn’t until very near the end that I began to be intrigued. Once Rafe and the rest of the crew enter the Graveyard of Lost Ships and pass through the maelstrom we later learn is the Rift, things really get going though! In Chapter 1, "Meeting of the Minds", we’re introduced to the novel’s other lead, Askana Moldarin, first Queen of Morevi, voiced by the velvet throated Kiwi Philippa Ballantine (more on her below). By the end of Chapter 2, "Escape from Morevi" (a three-parter!) I was hooked through the nose. The world of Morevi is so rich and interesting that what little information Morris gives you about its history and culture makes you crave more. There’s magic and intrigue and all manner of interesting creatures than are more or less (mostly more) dangerous.
Loving my geeks the way I do, I’ve been surrounded my whole life by family, friends, boyfriends and now a husband who dig RPGs and have tried to no avail to convince me to play. After listening to the entire Morevi novel, I can only wish that there were an official RPG of Morevi and the world beyond the Rift that I could play in all the time. The characters are great, even the ones I couldn’t stand or wanted to hate, and Morevi is another podio drama with great production values; the music, the voices, the effects… all adding to what is just a damn good time. And Morris’ Rafe is definitely swoon-worthy. While I wouldn’t call Morevi a romance, it does have great romantic elements that are a real treat. This is one of those stories that come along infrequently where I actually got MAD that it was over, because I so didn’t want it to end. Thank goodness Legacy of Morevi is out in print… and it’s subtitled "Book One of the Arethellean Wars", which means I can hold out my hope for more Morevi books!
Download – the prologue and first two chapters… You can thank me later.
Other podcasts by Tee Morris: Billibub Baddings and the Case of the Singing Sword, KrakensQuest, The Survival Guide to Writing Fantasy, Podcasting for Dummies
4. Decoder Ring Theatre’s Black Jack Justice
Genre: Crime noir/comedy
Features: Guns, dames, snitches, sexual innuendo and violence
If you like detective stories, I have found no better than Decoder Ring Theatre’s Black Jack Justice. Each episode is a standalone mystery solved by the most dynamic of duos, Jack and his partner "girl detective" Trixie Dixon. While you could really pick and choose through the episode index with little to no problems following the story, I really recommend listening from beginning to end. The stories are light, fun and well written, and the voice talent is great. I had so much fun listening to Seasons One and Two of this podcast. I hope and pray Jack and Trixie come back from more because I adore them. Jack is just the right touch of Bogey and Trixie is all spunk. She’s kind of my unofficial hero right now. A word of warning, however, iTunes only seems to have part of Season Two up, so you’ll have to hit the show’s site to get the last half of the episodes. There isn’t much else to say about Black Jack Justice except LISTEN TO THIS SHOW.
Where to find Black Jack Justice: DecoderRingTheatre.com or search for Black Jack Justice on iTunes
5. Philippa Ballantine’s Chasing the Bard
Features: Supernatural creatures, sex, violence and Shakespeare
I love, love, love me some Shakespeare. I’ve read most, though unfortunately not all, of his plays and poetry and I think he’s written some of the most beautiful and stirring words ever put to paper. So when I was exploring my little nether-realm of podcast fiction and heard that Philippa Ballantine’s podcast was a historical fantasy novel about Will Shakespeare and the fairy realm, I was excited enough to download like six or eight episodes right off the bat. I was familiar with the lovely voice of Ms. Ballantine from the Metamor City podcast, where she voiced the sensuous Eva Selindi. She once again pairs with the adorable Tee Morris (Rafe to her Askana in Morevi, and Evan to her Eva in Metamor) as the titular Bard. The story itself is mostly told from the point of view of those in the other realm and does not exactly coincide with any of Shakespeare’s tales, but we do get to see hints of things the bard later wrote about. This makes the fantasy that much more relatable because it seems as if here is the real story that Shakespeare then took and molded to his means. Ballantine has really taken the spirit and style of the bard’s words into her, and the language of Chasing the Bard is beautiful and elegant and lovely to listen to. And this is yet another podcast with great production value from start to finish. Though at this point I would probably wouldn’t mind hearing Philippa Ballantine read her grocery list on air, Chasing the Bard is a must listen. It’s full of lust, love, danger and destruction and is one hell of a good show.
Download – Chapter One is all it takes
Where to find Chasing the Bard: PJBallantine.com, "Chasing the Bard" on iTunes, or pick up the print edition on Amazon and follow Philippa to keep up with her latest projects on Twitter under @PhilippaJane
Other podcasts by Philippa Ballantine: Weaver’s Web, Weather Child, Whispers at the Edge, Erotica a la Carte
6. Christiana Ellis’ Nina Kimberly the Merciless
Features: Supernatural creatures, magic, barbarian hordes
Once again, the journey that began down the rabbit hole of Metamor City leads me to another podcast I absolutely love. Christiana Ellis voiced the ultra reserved Fiona hin’Connaill for the Metamor novel Making the Cut, and she did a fantabulous job. But it wasn’t her voice that sent me to look for her other work, it was the challenge Nina Kimberly issued to Lester during one of his outros that sent me scrambling to iTunes. While Ellis’ role in Making the Cut is that of the tight-laced Fiona, it's merely proof that she’s a talented voice actress… as her turn as Nina Kimberly is silly and savage and utterly delightful. Nina Kimberly is the daughter of the leader of a horde of barbarians, trapped in the last kingdom they overthrew when her father dies. Now she’s a teenage bombshell who has been wielding a blade since she was a child and is bored of the stagnant life she’s living. She goes off on a quest but is saddled with the idiot King Francis by his advisors who want her to help Francis gain some character building life experience. Not such a horrible task, except for the fact that Francis thinks Nina is his girlfriend, which pretty much makes her want to barf. Ellis voices all of the characters (bar one or two guest cameos) in this hilarious adventure tale but manages quite deftly to give each their own separate and recognizable voice. Nina Kimberly the Merciless is pure joy from beginning to end, and I swear if I don’t get to hear more tales of her and her barbarian horde, I’ll destroy something with a double-headed axe!
Download – Episodes 1-3… if you’re not in love by the time Tiernan appears, your ears are full of dragon dung.
Other podcasts by Christiana Ellis: Space Casey, Christiana’s Shallow Thoughts, Hey Want to Watch a Movie?
7. Mur Lafferty’s Playing For Keeps
Features: Violence, comedy, superheroes, and fecal humor
So far I’ve listened to several podcasts written by Mur Lafferty. I started with the brief but fun The Takeover, which is a zombedy, and then moved on to multi-season afterlife adventure Heaven (of which I’m now caught up to Season 5 and hate having to wait for new episodes like everyone else)… and then I listened to Playing For Keeps. While I love everything of Mur’s I’ve listened to so far, Playing for Keeps is by far my favorite. It’s the story of Keepsie Branson, bar owner in Seventh City, a third wave not-so-super hero, who may end up having to save the world. Mur has a really sharp, dry sense of humor in all her fiction that I just love. The Takeover is her only podcast that features voice cast other than herself, and she doesn’t really do "voices" exactly… but somehow I was never confused about who was speaking or what was going on. I just sat back and thoroughly enjoyed the droll stories she was telling. Her episodes are fairly short, so they are good for a bus ride or waiting for a meeting to start, but you might want to get stocked up before taking them on a plane or to a long day work with you… because it’s a bitch when you get to a good part and realize you don’t have another episode on your mp3 player of choice. Mur is already prolific… but I enjoy her tales so much I’m kind of hoping she like the Picasso of the podosphere.
Download – The Takeover. With 10 episodes clocking in at 18 minutes or less each, this is a quirky fun ride any zombie fan will enjoy.
Other podcasts by Mur Lafferty: I Should Be Writing, The Takeover, Heaven Seasons 1-5
8. Scott Sigler’s Ancestor
Features: Sex, gore, and lots and lots of violence
I love a good science gone wrong horror story. Ancestor is the story of a company trying to genetically engineer an animal that is similar enough to humans to provide organs for transplant, and similar enough to livestock to allow it to be managed with ease. Of course, things like that never go right. Ancestor is non-stop chaos; from start to finish you’re barely able to catch your breath. Sigler also reads the novel himself, which adds to this effect. Scott’s voice is full of energy and very dynamic so you’re kept constantly on the edge of your seat. Listening is a fun, gory, action-packed ride that’s great for keeping you awake and entertained at a boring desk job. Sigler does a handy job of giving the different characters distinguishable voices… the only caveat being that his fairly deep masculine voice doesn’t lend itself all that well to the high falsetto of some of his female characters. What can start out as a chuckle factor is pretty easily forgotten in all the mayhem that ensues however. Ancestor is exciting as hell, and Scott’s writing is intensely visual and easy to picture. There were countless times throughout the podcast where I thought to myself, "This would make a kickass scene in a movie." While there’s been no movie announcement as of yet, Ancestor will be coming out in print early next year and I, for one, cannot WAIT to get my hands on it! I’ve been following Sigler on Twitter and he’s mentioned working on some rewrites so you can color me stoked to see what’s changed and what’s stayed the same. Most of Sigler’s work is some form of horror, and he obviously loves the genre… his writing is like if Stephen King did a little speed and then French kissed Michael Bay to get a flavor of that explosive action. So much fun!
Where to find Ancestor: Right now, nowhere. The podcast has been pulled until the book comes out. So check out ScottSigler.comfor some of his other works, or search "Scott Sigler" on iTunes, and follow Scott on Twitter under @ScottSigler
Other podcasts by Scott Sigler: Earthcore, The Crypt, Infected, The Rookie, Nocturnal, Bloodcast Seasons 1 and 2
9. J Daniel Sawyer’s Antithesis
Features: Sex, violence, and poker
Good sci-fi is hard to come by… at least I’ve found that to be the case. Lots of people seem to think they can do it, but they fail to create a world that is both foreign and familiar at the same time. Either it is so far extrapolated from what we have now that it’s so foreign we can’t relate, or it’s so close to the way things are now that tension is harder to build. Sawyer’s Antithesis has found a good balance between the two extremes. The story (subtitled "Book One: Predestination and Other Games of Chance", apparently the first in a quintilogy) focuses mainly on Joss Kyle, a former National Security Advisor who’s now on the run, accused of selling secrets. Antithesis takes place in a future where humans have colonized space, and Joss is trying desperately to get lost somewhere out there, on some space station or outer planet. He’s hunted by bounty hunters, recruited by the resistance and surrounded by double and triple agents. While at times the story seems to jump around and feel slightly disconnected, Sawyer weaves everything eventually into so many complex layers. Voiced by a very talented cast (including the prolific Philippa Ballantine, who seems to be everywhere in the podosphere), Sawyer’s characters are all flawed and multifaceted. No one’s motives are 100% clear, or pure. Sometimes they make you laugh or hurt for them, and sometimes you want to scratch out their eyes for being so obtuse and stubborn. Kind of the way people make you feel in real life! Though Antithesis is a space saga, there aren’t any mystical alien races or anything… it’s just us fucked up humans screwing each other over in the vastness of space with advanced technologies. Don’t expect a neat ending to anything in this first installment, but there’s action and sex and intrigue and excitement galore.
Download – Episodes 1-3… it starts off a little slow, but the fuse is lit and ready to blow by episode three. See if you don’t dig the twisted knot that is Joss’s world.
Other podcasts by J Daniel Sawyer: Sculpting God, The Polyschizmatic Reprobates Hour, Apologia, Down From Ten
10. JC Hutchins’ 7th Son Trilogy
Features: Clones, assassination, nuclear war and other violence
"Ho. Lee. She. It." These are the words you need to know in order to listen to JC Hutchins' 7th Son trilogy because that’s what you’ll be saying when it’s over. I can’t even go into what exactly it’s about because if I get started, I’ll just rave until I’ve told the whole story and ruined everything. Let’s just say that it begins with the assassination of the President by a four-year-old boy whose only words of explanation are "Go fuck your mother", and then continues in a secret government facility miles below the earth with a small group of men who have to somehow stop a plot to destroy the world – a plot that involves clones, codes for missile defense systems, mind control and mass bombings. While it takes place in modern day, I’m calling sci-fi because science plays such an important role in the story, and while it might not be far off, it’s not quite around today (or at least, please god, I HOPE not). Hutchins’ writing is oh so frickin’ tight. Tighter than a teenage girl who’s never used a tampon. And just as sweet, too. The science makes sense; so much that it’s scary. And damn if I didn’t feel smart when I understood what the characters were saying. Hutchins does all the voices himself but is great at subtly changing his pitch, tone and intonation by various degrees to really set each character apart… which is quite a feat, considering. You’ll understand once you’ve listened to the story what I mean by that. Another podcast that is intensely visual and could easily be a film (as long as it’s in the hands of someone good). This story gave me literal chills, chuckles and tears. It’s absolutely amazing, and everyone needs to listen to it right now.
Download – Episodes 1-4. The first episode should have you hooked, but it takes a few more to really get into the meat of the story. Trust me.
Other podcasts by JC Hutchins: The Ultra Creatives Interview Series, 7th Son: Obsidian (a companion piece to the trilogy)
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