An Insatiable Appetite for Audio Fiction
I’ve finished listening to another podcast novel: Predestination and Other Games of Chance, the first book in J. Daniel Sawyer’s Antithesis Progression (highly recommended if you like science fiction and political thrillers). Those who know me well are quite aware of my fascination with the podosphere – Mur Lafferty’s I Should Be Writing introduced me to the concept of audio content delivered over the internet (I’ve been listening to ISBW for so long that I remember when the tagline was “A podcast for wannabe fiction writers by a wannabe fiction writer!” How times have changed…) while Tee Morris’s Morevi showed me a new world of storytelling.
Simply put, I got hooked.
For those of you unfamiliar with podcasts, think of it like a radio show, only you can download episodes to your device at any time. Similarly, podcast novels (a term I prefer to “podiobook” for reasons unbeknownst even to me) are essentially a cross between a radio play and a book on tape. Some are simply the author reading their book aloud; others are fully-scored productions with music, voice actors, and sound effects. All fully-fledged podcast novels are serialized: typically, each chapter is one episode. That being said, there are some short-story podcasts (the trifecta of Escape Pod, PodCastle, and PseudoPod comes to mind) in which each episode is a complete short story.
So why podcasts?
As I’m learning while working on my podcast, podcast novels are a unique animal, and have their own tropes and conventions. Though technically still “literature,” the simple fact that they are read aloud means that the novel crosses the line from “book” to “performance.” The relationship between reader and podcast novel is thus inherently different from the relationship between reader and print novel. I think the medium appeals to me so much because it occupies a midway point between conventional fiction and theatre – really, you get the best of both worlds.
Are all podcast novels created equal, though?
Well… no. As a unique genre, podcast novels have unique challenges, specifically the interrelationship between production and story. Now, by production, I mean the music, sound effects, acting, narration… all the “extras” you don’t get in a print novel. By story, I mean the actual writing: plot, character, themes, writing style… essentially, everything that would appear in the text itself.
As noted, some podcast novels are simply the author reading their work. These podcasts are on the “lower” side of production. Some have all the bells and whistles – they’re on the “higher” end. But more production isn’t always better, and less doesn’t mean “weaker.” I might stick with a story that I don’t actually like if the acting’s strong enough, but I will grumble all the way through. Conversely, if the writing is strong, I’ll listen through almost any technical glitches.
Really, the level of production depends on the story you want to tell. Figuring out the balance between the two is part of working within this particular medium. For a story like Christoph Laputka’s Leviathan Chronicles, huge production values made sense. In my opinion, Christiana Ellis made an excellent decision when she chose to voice all the characters in Nina Kimberly the Merciless herself, because it fit the feel of the story. The more appropriate the production is for an individual story, the stronger it is for that particular story.
I could go on. I haven’t even touched on the community and collegiality within the podosphere, nor podcasting’s effect on the independent and self-publishing trends we’re seeing now. Unfortunately, that will have to wait for another time.
I’m about to start Matthew Wayne Selznick’s Brave Men Run.