4 Podcasts to Delight Your Geeky Ears

You know what’s almost as good as reading? Listening. Sometimes it’s even better – after all, reading while driving is a recipe for disaster. And in the age of the podcast, you don’t even have to rely on radio schedules for what was once the rarest of treats – an audio program to entertain nerds.

A whole bunch of people I know and admire now make podcasts, so here are four recommendations, things I’m not involved with but love listening to.

breaking-glass-slipper-logo-620x330Breaking the Glass Slipper

Featuring writers Charlotte Bond, Lucy Hounsom and Megan Leigh, Breaking the Glass Slipper is a literary podcast discussing women in science fiction and fantasy. The first episode was an interesting discussion of why female authors feature so seldom in “best of” lists. If you enjoy intelligent discussion of sf+f, and in particular if you’ve been following recent debates about representation in fandom, then this one is for you.

cdsCrudely Drawn Swords

Many of the most entertaining weekends I’ve ever had were spent live roleplaying with a group of hilariously surreal and outlandish gamers. Now some of them have put together Crudely Drawn Swords, in which we follow the adventures of four mismatched heroes trying to save the kingdom. There’s Enigma (Ali), the hipster rogue; Tristan (Stu), the bloodthirsty bard; Bambari (Mags), a mage with a pet rock; and Sir Percival (Gwyn), their heroic leader, trying not to laugh at inappropriate moments. Gamesmastered and produced by Ben Moxon, it’s a story of good intentions and bad puns, using the Dungeon World roleplay system and some of the most entertaining people I know.

The Learning Clifflc

I find  Eve Online endlessly fascinating. It’s a galaxy-spanning online computer game of massive space fleets and interplanetary industry, so complex and with so many players that academics have used it to gain insight into real economic and social trends. Sadly, I don’t have the time or patience to play it myself. Fortunately, I have people who play it for me, and for anyone else who wants to learn about the game or give it a try. Nick, an experienced player, talks new player Will through the Eve gaming experience week by week, while Will asks important questions like “how do I get a clone?”, “why are people shooting at me?” and “why don’t these spaceships make any sense?” From mining colonies to art installations made of corpses, imaginary space is a weird place.

played upPlayed Up

This one’s less purely nerdy, but should still appeal. The RH Experience are an improvisational comedy group, featuring my friend Dan on guitar. Every week on their show Played Up they invite a guest to join them and share a selection of their favourite tapes. Except that the tapes aren’t real, the music on them is imaginary, and the RH Experience have to make it up. Prepare for some strange and hilarious listening.

 

Any Other Recommendations?

There you go – four podcasts I think you might enjoy. If you have some other recommendations then please leave them below.

Also, I’m thinking of podcasting my Friday flash stories, so if that’s something you’d listen to then let me know that too.No promises, but it’s something I’m seriously considering.

Listen to one of my stories

By Sword, Stave or Stylus - High ResolutionFor Ubu, the gladiator life is short and brutal, but in the shadow of the arena there is a chance for something more.

I know that a lot of people like to listen to their books rather than read. And as it happens the first story in By Sword, Stave or Stylus is already available to listen to. When Wily Writers originally published ‘Live by the Sword’ they included an audio version. So if you’d like a chance to listen to the first short story in my new collection, or just to read a bit of the collection before you buy, then you can check it out over on Wily Writers.

By Sword, Stave or Stylus is still only 99c for the next week, and the Wily Writers recording is free, so why not give them a go?

 

And while I’m pointing you towards other reading, I’ve had a couple of guest posts this week on other blogs. Over at the Steampunk Journal I’ve written about moving buildings in steampunk stories, while at Alt Hist I’ve written some more about the challenges of world building for alternate history. If you have time please check them out.

My favourite steampunk things

I’m about to launch my first e-books, a steampunk short called Mud and Brass and a collection of my previously published steampunk shorts titled Riding the Mainspring. Those of you on my book mailing list will receive a free copy of Mud and Brass on Monday, and anyone else who’s interested has until the end of the weekend to sign up and get the free story. I am very excited, and more than a little tense.

In the meantime, and to celebrate the occasion, here’s a list of some of my favourite steampunk things…

That really is quite a different engine
That really is quite a different engine

Favourite steampunk book

The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling was the first steampunk book I ever heard of. I was fascinated by this transformation of Victorian history. From steam powered computers to aerodynamics inspired by dinosaurs to battles in the smog, this sold me on steampunk.

There's nothing gentle about that boat
There’s nothing gentle about that boat

Favourite steampunk comic

The second volume of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was still coming out when I first got into comics. While the first volume of League is great, this is the one that really excites me. Featuring icons from my childhood such as John Carter’s Mars, Rupert the Bear and H G Wells’s alien invaders, this is an incredibly vivid, incredibly exciting, and incredibly warped tale. The detail of O’Neill’s art is extraordinary, and this is some of Moore’s finest writing.

IMG_0568[1]

Favourite steampunk music

My friend Will is part of Pocketwatch, a great steampunk band. But before they were Pocketwatch they took part in The Clockwork Quartet. The Quartet‘s gig that I saw in London was fantastic. The whole room was decked out in steampunk style. Half the audience was in costume. The bar served espresso and absinthe. The show featured a sword fight, a dancing conductor and a virtual orchestra of performers, far more than the four of a traditional quartet. I love Pocketwatch, but that Clockwork Quartet performance is one of the best gigs I have ever been to, and I love my souvenir CD.

Oh the adventures we have seen, this hat and I
Oh the adventures we have seen, this hat and I

Favourite steampunk event and costume

I was privileged for a few years to be part of a small steampunk live roleplay group called The Company of Crimson, in which I played the valet Jackson. Thanks to a player’s family connection we once played an event at Skipton Castle in Yorkshire, during which we stormed the castle on Sunday morning, leading to a gunfight in the back garden. I roamed the grounds serving tea and bullets, while Rasputin and his evil minions leapt out at us from the undergrowth.

It was a fantastic experience, and my bowler hat, which saw occasional use by Jackson, remains one of my all time favourite pieces of costume.

What are your favourites?

Those of you who dabble in steampunk or alternate history, what are your favourite examples?

And remember, if you sign up for my mailing list by the end of the weekend you can get that free e-book on Monday.

The power of fandom: Phonogram by Gillen and McKelvie

I’m currently more excited about comics than I’ve been in months, and it all comes down to one release – Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s The Wicked + The Divine. It’s everything you’d expect from this talented team – beautiful illustrations, characterful dialogue, an intriguing mix of modern culture and fantasy. It’s the second best comic I’ve ever read about pop music as magic.

So naturally I’m going to talk about another comic – Phonogram.

Phonogram

Memories of music past

The first volume of Phonogram, Gillen and McKelvie’s previous collaboration, came out in 2006. Collected as Rue Britannia, this was the story of phonomancer David Kohl, a man with the power to make magic through music. Not playing his own tunes, but channeling the power of other people’s records. Ten years on from the phenomenon of Britpop, Kohl took a stroll down musical memory lane, digging into that era’s music, a mixture of daring and disappointment, in an attempt to solve a curse falling on him in the present.

Rue Britannia was unique and fascinating, and perhaps a bit self-indulgent. You didn’t have to have listened to a Shed Seven record to enjoy it, but if you remembered Menswear or had leapt around a nightclub to the sound of Elastica then it was going to be much more personal for you.

I don’t remember when I discovered Rue Britannia, but I was fascinated by its flawed and daring mishmash of subjects, as well as nostalgic for a musical era I’d experienced slightly differently from Kohl. It was enough for me to buy the second collected volume, The Singles Club, and…

Best. Comic. Ever.

There are comic series that I love as much as Phonogram, if not more. The jagged science fiction poetry of Transmetropolitan. The surreal humour and world building of Chew. The noire grandeur of 100 Bullets. But for a single impeccable volume, consisting of seven spectacular individual issues, nothing beats The Singles Club.

The Singles Club consists of seven short character studies, all set around the same night out in the same club. Each one contains a complete character and story arc, intersecting with the others to add depth to the whole. Each one grounds its fantasy and character elements in a passion for pop music that connects the story to familiar early adult lives. The art and writing are both clearer and more characterful than the previous volume. It is a thing of beauty that should appeal to anyone who enjoys both music and comics, or anyone looking for an offbeat approach to fantasy and magic, or frankly anyone with good taste (OK, maybe I’m getting a bit subjective there, is it still subjective when I’m clearly right?).

This is literature as a presentation of character, of growth, of the joys and challenges of life.

The Singles Club is the only book in my house that I read several times a year. I love it.

A magic about empowerment

The Wicked + The Divine is about musicians as people with magical power. Their ability to craft songs is clearly central to their ability to do something more potent. That’s all well and good, but it restricts power to the hands of those who can strike up a tune. There’s an implied message here – ‘if you’re creative then you’re special’. It’s a familiar message, and not a bad one, but it has a certain elitism to it.

Phonogram carries a message that is more egalitarian. For all the snide elitism of characters like David Kohl, the underlying message is that culture isn’t just about creativity, it’s about appreciating and being empowered by what others have created. It’s fandom as empowerment. It says that your love of music, or any other cultural form, is as valid and as powerful an act of empowerment and self-creation as anything else. And I think that that is a fabulous message.

Listening to music, loving music, discussing music, sharing your passion, these are actually incredible things. The same applies to the fandom of TV, of books, of films, of any other form. Being an engaged audience makes us come alive. It creates bonds between us. It is as vital to a thriving culture as the acts of creation that it revolves around. Appreciating that, making it central to a story, that’s a great thing.

Go forth and listen

The Wicked + The Divine is currently coming out month by month via Comixology and comic shops. If you’re into comics you should give it a go – the first issue certainly promises good things.

But Phonogram, and The Singles Club in particular, that is a truly great thing.

And in the spirit of that book I give you a mission today. Go forth and find a song that you loved in your formative years. Or if you’re still in those formative years then just a song you loved recently. Sit down and listen to it, doing nothing else with the time (OK, you can dance, though personally I’ll be leaning against a wall trying to look nonchalant, because that’s how sixteen-year-old Andrew rolled). Then come back here and tell us all why that song is so damn awesome, or why it seemed that way to you at the time.

Share that passion.

Geek music 2

No sooner had I posted last Saturday’s geek music selection than I remembered some great songs I’d forgotten. To remedy that situation, and to include some tracks other people have recommended, here’s a second batch of geek music.

I’m sure there’s plenty more great stuff that I’m missing, so if you’ve got any suggestions please pop them in the comments below.

In the Garage by Weezer – the ultimate homage to having your own geek space:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWymbWBpqsg&w=420&h=315]

 

Twelve Sided Dice by Dream Warriors – from the people who brought you the classic ‘Wash Your Face In My Sink’, a tribute to the joys of tabletop roleplay:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0C_qrKaSso&w=420&h=315]

 

Game Store Girl by Beefy – as recommended by Dizz, a nerdy romance song:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mi_ftK7bWxM&w=420&h=315]

 

Geekquilibrium by Dr Awkward – another recommendation from Dizz, jammed full of geek culture references and with some clever rhymes:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20-txQdOo4Q&w=560&h=315]

 

Lannista’s Paradise by The Sons of Mim – shown to me by fellow author Charlotte Bond, Coolio meets Game of Thrones with amusing results:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXJMB2nhjZM&w=420&h=315]

 

Cup Of Brown Joy by Professor Elemental – slightly off topic, but I couldn’t resist including this impeccable tribute to the joys of tea:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eELH0ivexKA&w=420&h=315]

 

Geek music

There’s a lot of nerdily-themed music out there. Whether it’s songs about steampunk, sci-fi rapping, or a hymn to the joys of board games, if you’ve got a hobby you can bet someone’s made a tune about it.

And sure, a lot of it isn’t great. But have you listened to the radio recently? I’ll take something amateurish but interesting rather than over-produced pop six days out of seven (on that seventh day I’ll be leaping around the house to Take That and Taylor Swift, because even over-produced pop has some great talents).

Neither am I saying that nerdy music is all amateurish. Any genre in any medium has a lot of amateurs and a few skilled or lucky pros. Here, for your weekend listening, are some of my favourites.

The Geeks Will Inherit The Earth by I Fight Dragons – geek rock with computer game bleeps, wonderfully exuberant:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HV0YPfJ_EoU&w=560&h=315]

 

Drawings With Words by Wordburglar – the joys of comic collecting as expressed by a Canadian rapper with a talent for unexpected rhymes (contains swears and obscure superhero references):

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8JK93xfHZug&w=560&h=315]

 

Fire Fire by Steam Powered Giraffe – steampunk robots sing about a space disaster:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLNgD5vsZsM&w=560&h=315]

 

We Do Not Sow by Adam WarRock – the latest in a string of Game of Thrones raps from an incredibly prolific artist (again, it’s hip-hop, do not play this language around young children):

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yU6HAc1K4Go&w=560&h=315]

 

Some Saturday listening – folk I know

It’s Saturday! You don’t want to be reading my opinions on literature or how best to drink a cup of tea. You want to be listening to awesome tunes and chilling out with a good book.

To help you achieve that weekend nirvana, and to publicise the creativity of others instead of just myself, here’s some music by people I know. Most of it’s folk, all of it’s excellent. Enjoy!

Old Worlds by The Patient Wild – the folk rock stylings of blog commenter Glenatron and others, combining passion and stringed instruments to awesome effect:

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/playlists/25146938″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]

 

Yan Tan Tether, my sister-in-law Rosie’s folk trio, singing beautiful songs live at Otley Courthouse:

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/149119880″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]

 

Steampunk trio Pocketwatch covering Tonight Tonight by Smashing Pumpkins. Will of Pocketwatch is a mad creative genius and inventor of the blunderbow:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2kesQ-exzc&w=560&h=315]

 

Accidental Crimes by Driven Serious, from my old geeking grounds in north-east England. Their bassist Tim has the facial hair of an angry pagan god, yet is one of the most lovely blokes I know:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sE2dqoalbP4&w=560&h=315]

Doc Brown raps an urban fantasy tale

Well, here’s an exciting surprise sitting in my YouTube list – Doc Brown has made a rap video based on Ben Aaronovitch‘s Rivers of London. A musician I admire rapping about a book I enjoyed? Sounds good to me. And Doc Brown seems a perfect choice to portray Aaronovitch’s supernatural cop Peter Grant. Lets give it a go.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXW2-qbSKpA&w=560&h=315]

 

Alright, I admit, I thought that was only OK. The best rap evokes powerful emotions, and that didn’t. The best story songs either evoke a strong sense of atmosphere or tell a condensed tale from beginning to end, and that sat uncomfortably somewhere in between, not really achieving either. Brown’s direct lyrical style is better suited to comedy than to this. Exhibit A, My Proper Tea:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtK_vfp8po8&w=560&h=315]

 

But.

I am still very glad that this track exists. I love when artists in one medium respond to a work in another. I think it’s fantastic that we’re now hearing really good music on nerdy themes. And much as I love Steam Powered Giraffe or listening to Christopher Lee doing heavy metal history songs, I don’t want the music of the fantastical to all be created by white guys with guitars.*

Having said that, lets take a moment for one of those Christopher Lee tracks:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvKRbi2ovDY&w=560&h=315]

 

I would rather live in a world full of exciting and varied failures than one where everything succeeds in the same way. I would rather listen to something flawed but unusual like this than anything Kanye West or Oasis have ever produced. I’ll take the experiments that don’t quite work if it makes the world more interesting.

And hey, maybe if they do a sequel I’ll like it more.

So thanks for this Aaronovitch and Brown. Please keep at it.

 

* Confession time – the majority of my music collection probably consists of white guys with guitars. What can I say, I’m a white guy who grew up listening to guitar music. But I like to have variety too.