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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Goodbye to EscapePod


I've decided to stop listening to EscapePod and PodCastle, and there's no reason you need to know this. But I'm always running out of shit to say, so I figured this was something to write about. This isn't out of the blue though. There are two good reasons.

One is a problem I feared would happen, despite editor reassurances that it wouldn't. Two years ago they split fantasy stories off into their own podcast -- PodCastle. I like both fantasy and sci-fi and I like getting the best of both. And that's hard to do with short stories since I'm not in love with them, they have so much harder to work. PodCastle is fun, and I listened to that for almost two hundred episodes. But with stories on both sides, I feel the gravy has thinned. And I can't stand to skip through stories that "almost" hit the mark.

Steve Eley, with a hat

The other is Steve Eley. He was the man with the singular vision to start an audio-only, science fiction podcast and keep it going through 200 weekly episodes. He had interesting things to say. He picked good stories. He was a great narrator. I used to love him.

Unfortunately, he was prone to neuroses typical of geeks and all. I've talked about one of them before -- his constant need to apologize for a FREE service he's providing that's gotta cost him time and money and contains no advertisers except for the occasional sponsor. I don't know why he felt he owed anybody anything. George R. R. Martin certainly doesn't.

As time went on, and the podcast expanded to two other podcasts (more on that later) he kept making excuses for extras that were late, complaining about his health, his job, and his time, then closing to submissions, going on hiatus, and so on. I have no problem with that, but the way he said was in a self-deprecating way that it was clear he was taking too much responsibility and managing himself poorly. I don't care that he went on hiatus or closed submissions -- magazines do that regularly. What I do mind is that he felt the world was on his shoulders and said so periodically.

Eventually, he just threw up his hands with the EscapePod podcast and gave the captain's chair to Mur Lafferty, a silky-voiced maiden of the writer and podcast community. I don't know what he's doing now, if he even has anything to do with EscapePod and its subsidiaries. All I know is I miss him. It hasn't been the same since he left.

Mur Lafferty, hatless

Laffery's editorial hand marked a definite shift in the provided style, and I knew the end was coming when the last story that Eley bought was also the last good one. Not to mention that instead of doing a classic science fiction story for their 300th podcast, they did a promotional short story from Tim Pratt, a common author on EscapePod, that was a tie-in from a YA novel he couldn't even find a publisher for.

The fact is I can't stand the stories on EscapePod lately. The intros are the most interesting thing, but they go on for five minutes. Half of that is biography of the author and plugs for the narrator. I can't get through ten minutes of story until I'm totally lost because I haven't been paying attention, because it's been so boring. I declare to my car "I just don't care" and click next on my MP3 player.

They're plodding, they're ill-formed, they lack interesting characters, and they seem -- forgive my sexism -- too girly. They feel more concerned with imagery and being literary than having plots and being fun. It's like the stories have nothing at stake and don't have characters that have pizazz. When Eley picked the stories, they were fun. Death Trap architects and guns that shoot advertising and time travel and alien bounty hunters. Eley liked fantastic ideas. But now it's family problems and medical procedures with ethical questions and lots and lots of children.

I've got other things to listen to -- Loveline, Writing Excuses, The Moth, and for fiction I've got We're Alive, and audio books, so I'm good. It's time to say goodbye to EscapePod, it's just not as good as it used to be.
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