Hugo Review – Best Fancast – StarShipSofa

As I previously mentioned, I’m attempting to consume as much of the 2012 Hugo Short Listed works in order to make an informed vote.

I’ve started with Best Fancast, as all content is available even before the Hugo Voter Packet is released.

This is my review of  StarShipSofa.

Note, this review is obviously subjective and most definitely biased, based on the topics which interest me. For those who are interested, I listened to the podcasts in 30 minute to one hour segments whilst driving, so my attention was often split depending on road conditions.

I asked on twitter which episodes to listen to, and @StarShipSofa suggested 214, 228 & 232. I also listened to episode 201 which was their individual pick for the Hugo voter packet.

Format: Hosted by Tony C. Smith, this podcast is best described as a fanzine read out loud. It usually contains two to three segments on various topics (artwork, a particular SF piece, Science Fact, Computer game sound tracks, etc) and one or more pieces of fiction, narrated.

In general: I found episode enjoyment to be very variable, due to the nature of the podcast. Where a topic or piece of fiction interested me, I enjoyed an episode greatly, where a piece didn’t I was less enthralled. In some cases, the various other titbits were very well done, and made great use of the medium – eg the articles on soundtracks and radio plays, which included excerpts of both. In other cases, I struggled staying focussed with the narrator and topic. Tony was always upbeat and laughing at his own jokes, which sometimes worked well, other times not so well, but humour is certainly subjective. There was a noticeable absence of any female participants, which I found a little disappointing.

Episode 214: JJ Campanella talks about Science News, then Peter Seaton-Clark narrates James Morrow’s Raft of the Titanic. I found the Science News narration a bit boring and not really suited to a podcast, where it may have made a great blog entry to read. The narration of Raft of the Titanic was reasonable, but I struggled to enjoy the story, and after it finished, was left wanting the time I’d spent listening to it back.

Episode 228: Skeet Sanski talks about Hector Pineda Garcia’s artwork, Jim Phillips narrates Charles Fontenay’s Atom Drive, David Raiklen talks about the Uncharted 2 soundtrack and Nathan Lowell narrates Allen Steele’s Observation Post. I wasn’t really interested in Skeet’s section on art, and would question the overall value of using a podcast to talk about art, vs a website which could show the art itself along with the discussion. The narration of Atom Drive was incredibly well done, including sound effects, and the story was a good solid 1950s SciFi story. David’s review of the Uncharted 2 computer game was well done – the podcast medium really worked to talk about parts of the sound track, then play the sections in question. Nathan’s narration of “Observation Post” was quite good, and I enjoyed the story, which felt like it was more of a 1980s story, than one published in 2011.

Episode 232: Skeet reviews Richard Wagner’s art, Andy Thomaswick reviews Bujold’s Paladin of Souls in a Hugo Reviews segment, Richie Smith narrates Neil Gaiman’s The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains and finally, Paul Finch discusses an old SF Radio Play, Magic Island. As with the previous episode, the art review didn’t work for me. Andy sounded a bit stiff with his review of Paladin of Souls, much like he was reading it rather than talking naturally. Both the narration and Gaiman’s story were excellent, and I very much enjoyed them. Paul Finch didn’t sound very natural – more like he was woodenly reading a script, but the concept of discussing a radio play, with segments then played, worked very well in a podcast medium.

Episode :201: JJ Campanella talks about Science News, Jonathan Danz narrates part one of Geoffrey A. Landis’ The Sultan of the Clouds, and then Tony interviews Gareth Powell, about his new book, The Recollection. I found it very interesting that this was the single episode listed in the Hugo Voter Packet, yet wasn’t one of the three previously recommended to me on Twitter. Additionally, the story was in three parts, which could either lead people to download the next two episodes to finish it, or lose them entirely for not containing a full story in a single episode; only time will tell. I’ve already mentioned my thoughts on the Science News section, and I didn’t change my mind after listening to this one. The story was narrated well, and quite good, although I’m very disappointed it was split into three parts, when it could have been done as two, or even a single. The interview was good, and the banter between Tony and Gareth was in significant contrast to the previous segments which only had a single narrator, and so much more enjoyable, to me, for it.

All up I had quite a bit of difficulty trying to rate this podcast, as the episodes are very different to those of all the others in the category. Some sections worked well, or had a great deal of potential, particularly the ones which were discussing audio content – sound tracks, radio plays, etc. Others didn’t work so well for me, such as the artwork or other non audio topics. I think part of the reason they didn’t work for me, other than the nature of the topic, was a single voice reporting or narrating each segment, rather than a more natural discussion between two or more people. Also, the lack of any female participation (not a single female participant in all four episodes!) was a significant detraction for me. That said, in general the story narration was excellent, and I enjoyed most of the stories.

So that’s all five podcasts in the Best Fancast category reviewed.

Coincidentally, the Hugo Voter Packet is now available, so I can move onto other categories. I think I’ll start with the novels.



Best Fancast Background Material:

Short listed in the Best Fancast category for the 2012 Hugos are:

The Coode St Podcast – Jonathan Strahan & Gary K. Wolfe
Galactic Suburbia Podcast  – Alisa Krasnostein, Alex Pierce, and Tansy Rayner Roberts (presenters) and Andrew Finch (producer)
SF Signal Podcast
– John DeNardo and JP Frantz (presenters), Patrick Hester (producer)
SF Squeecast
– Lynne M. Thomas, Seanan McGuire, Paul Cornell, Elizabeth Bear, and Catherynne M. Valente
– Tony C. Smith

In terms of review, I asked each via Twitter / Email and received the following recommendations:

Galactic Suburbia have suggested podcast episodes 32, 36 and 47 as their ‘picks of 2011′ for review.
SF Squeecast has suggested Episode 7 via email, and say that will be the one they link to in the Hugo Voter Packet.
@JonathanStrahan has suggested episodes 65, 71, 74 and one at random of Coode St via Twitter.
@StarShipSofa has suggested episodes 214, 228 & 232 via Twitter.
@atfmb has suggested episodes 26, 30, 49 and 94 of SF Signal via Twitter.


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