Danny Adams – Are You Ready For The End Of The World?
A college student finds a web site saying Earth will soon be destroyed by a collision with an asteroid. It offers to teach the first person who responds how to build an interstellar spaceship from odds and ends available on Earth. It explains that the web site is from aliens who have been studying the Earth for thousands of years, and it is their selfish wish not to have all of their work be destroyed. Interstellar law prohibits them from intervening, but they can provide this much information. The student builds the spaceship and astronomers do see the asteroid heading towards Earth. And the student finds the aliens were, in fact, selfish. Entertaining.
Tim Akers - The Algorithm
If one wants to pigeonhole this story by genre, it would probably best be put in "steampunk". For the most part, the tech has to do with gears and pistons, and sending such parts downstream by putting sealed containers in a river.
A religion sees its purpose as being the collection of machine parts found floating down the river and the assembly of those parts into a great machine that will compute some kind of result. They believe the parts are being sent to them by God and it is their calling to determine the proper arrangement of the pieces into the intended machine. The project seems to be progressing until one day one of the containers has a girl inside as well.
Available free at: http://transmissionsfrombeyond.com/podpress_trac/web/90/0/tfb001iz.mp3
Kevin J. Anderson - Newts
A story about a space colony in Saturn's rings. The colony was established by a group unhappy with the moral and political conditions on Earth. They put the colony by Saturn to be far from Earth and other space colonies – they don’t want to have to be around those things they don’t like. Eventually, an Earth exploratory ship comes to Saturn, not knowing of the colony. Fears and misunderstanding lead colonists to attack and destroy the Earth ships – the colony suffers heavy losses as well. The colonists realize a larger Earth fleet will show up after a while. They prepare, as undermanned and underequipped as they are.
We get a bit of a view of the issues of self-sustainable space colonies, space colonies run by dissident groups...
Part of the story pivots on the colony's past decision to have part of its population be neutered people with neural implants that keep them emotionally moderate and, therefore, more logical and less driven by subconscious factors – and not bound to other people the way most humans are.
Kevin J. Anderson - Paradox & Greenblatt
A law firm specializes in cases involving time travel. They get a client who had gone back in time on a tour. While there, he attempted to prevent the meeting of the parents of a man who caused the client's parents to break up. It seems pretty clear that in doing so the client violated laws about changing the past to cause a person not to exist. But lawyers can prove almost anything and time travel logic is pretty convoluted... Entertaining story.
Neal Asher - Acephalous Dreams
A convicted murderer is given an opportunity not to be executed. His alternative is to have an alien neural implant put in his head to find out what it does. He's taken to an isolated planet with a subordinate version of the central AI entity. There the implant comes to life and tries to circumvent the AI to accomplish the implant's purpose.
Neal Asher - The Veteran
On an underdeveloped planet, a woman trying to escape from her gangster boyfriend is aided by "the veteran". He's more like a soldier on an extended leave from a hi-tech interstellar war. In helping her, he draws attention to himself, bringing him back into the war.
I was left feeling as if it was an excerpt from a book. While it isn't truly incomplete as a story, it didn't give me the satisfaction of a completed story. The story gives us a glimpse of a future in which opposing groups of highly augmented humans are involved in some kind of interstellar conflict. We get a sense of vast technical power, but not much about the basis of the war. We see a tiny skirmish (compared to what the war must be), but can only guess at what the major battles are...
Available free at: http://escapepod.org/podpress_trac/web/235/0/EP118_TheVeteran.mp3
Isaac Asimov – Nightfall
This story takes place on a planet in a multiple star system. The arrangement of the stars in the system is such that there is no "day side" and "night side" of the planet. There is always at least one star shining to provide more or less "daylight". That is, except once every 2000 years when only one star is in the sky and a solar eclipse occurs. Consider how humans are afraid of the dark - now imagine how beings where no living individual has ever seen a night before would react.
That event is approaching and the planet's people have no scientific records of what happens under those conditions. A group of astronomers has come to believe such an event is imminent and the only clues to what to expect are apocalyptic religious writings by a cult on their planet. It predicts mass psychosis, an end to civilization and the appearance of points of light in the night time sky - representing supernatural entities who play a role in the process...
Available free at: http://escapepod.org/podpress_trac/web/210/0/EP100_Nightfall.mp3
Isaac Asimov – Someday
In a future where robots do the manual labor, regular people only use electronic audio books and children have storytelling robots of a rudimentary kind. Two boys who have sort of outgrown an older model storytelling robot mistreat the robot while they comtemplate the next boyhood adventures.
Isaac Asimov – Strikebreaker
A human society inside a planetoid has developed a caste system. The family that operates the control center of the facility for processing waste are like untouchables - socially isolated by all others. In order to end his family's isolation and low status, the man goes on strike. Although this is expected to lead to the spread of disease that will kill everyone living there, no other members of the society would lower themselves to working the control room. A visitor to the planetoid is faced with the injustice of the caste system and the likely deaths of thousands.
Available free at: http://media.libsyn.com/media/scififriday/sciffriday118.mp3
Kage Baker - Hellfire At Twilight
England 1770's. Another Zeus Company story. One of their cyborgs is sent as a librarian to an estate where some Roman rites are practiced. Having been born back in Roman days, the cyborg knows something about the rituals.
Kage Baker - Likely Lad
100 years in our future, Europe is splintered and England is maintaining strict laws on healthy lifestyles. The 14-year-old heir to an English lord and his AI companion plan to earn some money smuggling. ...while dealing the boy’s with puberty. Some amusing elements, but also felt incomplete in some ways.
Available free at: http://www.starshipsofa.com/podcast/Kage_Baker_Likely_Lad.mp3
Kage Baker - Rude Mechanicals
Hollywood 1930's. A production of A Midsummer Night's Dream is being prepared. Louis and Joseph are working for "Dr. Zeus" - a company in the future that has cyborgs at various points in time to acquire artifacts that would otherwise be lost forever - and sells the items to collectors in the 24th century. Louis is expected to get Rinehart's notes on Midsummer’s Night Dream. Joseph is on the trail of a large violet diamond that ends up being unearthed by Rinehart's crew - and then quickly changes hands among a variety of people. The story has hints of early Hollywood comedies and gumshoes.
James Bassett – Implications
In the far future, an overly-precocious 6-year-old does some foolish experimenting based on some physics lessons. The consequences are serious: getting lost while trying to translocate to Earth, ending up with genitals (rather than a “normal” genderless child), etc.
Available free at: http://eafiles.com/escapepod/EP019_Implications.mp3
Stephen Baxter – Voyage
[The following is based on a BBC radio dramatization of Baxter’s story.]
This is an alternate history without wars, bad guys conquering good guys, or really archaic lifestyles. The time branch pivots on one event - President Kennedy does not die in 1963, although he is disabled by the assassination attempt. Most events other than the space program follow the same course as in our world. When Neil Armstrong walks on the Moon, Kennedy challenges the nation on TV to set a new goal to sending men to Mars.
This isn't an idealized picture. There's still government politics and budgets, still NASA bureaucracy and fatal mistakes. But NASA does work on a Mars project during the 1970's and 1980's. Aside from the dates on the calendars and the names of the presidents, it feels more like near-future SF than alternate history.
Elizabeth Bear - And The Deep Blue Sea
Well, maybe the unstated beginning of the saying used for the title, but there are no blue seas in the story. Most of it takes place in the deserts of Arizona, Nevada and California. A motorcycle courier is hired to take medical material through the radioactive wastelands of a future western US. Along the way, she is repeatedly approached to make a new contract with "Nick" who has arranged for her safety during the last 10 years. An interesting mix of post-apocalyptic SF and supernatural fiction.
Elizabeth Bear – Tideline
An injured robotic war machine searches the shore for bits and pieces to string into necklaces. Those are intended to be memorials to it's fallen human comrades. It meets a boy on the beach and they become companions.
Available free from 2 different podcasts:
Terry Bisson - Bears Discover Fire
According to the notes with the story, this story has won a number of awards. Personally, I didn't find it that special. It was OK. It certainly isn't too heavy on the SF. We are told about a small town and an odd family that includes a grandmother in a nursing home. At about that time bears in the wild learn how to maintain camp fires, allowing them to get through winter without hibernation. The grandmother acquires an interest in this story.
While the bears appear repeatedly in the story, it doesn’t really seem to be about bears or their discovery of fire. Certainly, we don’t learn very much about it. It’s more like a story of a family with problems during a time an odd story is in the news. Perhaps, I missed some literary allusion or something, but as much as I got from it, the bears were more like props in the family’s life. Animals learning the first skills towards intelligence could be a fascinating topic, but the story doesn’t explore this. I can see how readers who like old-time folksy stories that are light on the SF could appreciate this, but that’s not the type of story I tend to choose.
Available free at: http://www.starshipsofa.com/podcast/Bears_Discover_Fire_by_Terry_Bisson.mp3
David Brin - Crystal Spheres
Thousands of years from now, the problems that face humans today have been taken care of. However, the psyche of the human race has suffered from being alone in the universe. Long ago manned space exploration ended, because humanity did not want its hopes raised and dashed again. However, a few people are allowed to follow the progress of unmanned exploration starships – as long as they don’t draw attention to it.
There are other planets in the galaxy with life, even some with intelligent life – but they are all inaccessible. All star systems with worlds capable of life are surrounded by undetectable, impenetrable barriers that keep out Earth’s ships and radio signals. Somehow, Earth’s first interstellar ship smashed through the sphere around our solar system. Since then, no other starfaring civilizations have been met, and no accessible star systems with life have been located.
Then one of the unmanned explorer ships sends back a message saying it has found another star system with a barrier that has been broken. A group of people who had flown manned explorers in the past sets out to investigate.
It’s an interesting alternative to common answers to the Fermi Paradox. (There a couple of science points I could nitpick about, but the story put me in a mood not to.) It’s also an interesting view of a future society in the context of no exoplanets to colonize or aliens to contact.
Available free at: http://www.starshipsofa.com/podcast/David_Brin_-_Spheres.mp3
David Brin - The Giving Plague
The story tells of an idealistic medical researcher and a self-serving assistant. The researcher discovers a virus that is only transmitted by blood. The virus has acqured a trait that periodically makes infected people feel they are bloated with blood - leading them to be inclined to donate blood. These people then tend to rationalize their desire to regularly give blood by thinking of themselves as generous, charitable people. This attitude makes them inclined to do other charitable or socially-responsible activities.
The researcher sees this behavior as a good thing, so he wants to keep quiet about it to give the virus time to spread. The assistant sees the discovery as an opportunity for career and financial advancement. This virus is an interesting, if unlikely, thing. The responses of the two men is food for thought. The way the story is told by the selfish assistant is entertaining.
Available free at: http://escapepod.org/podpress_trac/web/227/0/EP112_TheGivingPlague.mp3
Ted Chiang - The Merchant And The Alchemist's Gate
This is more fantasy than SF. However, it’s interestingly written, and with some food for thought. The story deals with non-tech time travel. A few stories are told about how different people used time travel when given the opportunity. None are able to explicitly change past events, but they may be allowed to be a part of past events that could have led to the person who used the time travel. I'm not sure there is any approach to time travel that has never been written before, so the ideas here may not be brand new. Still, something in the storytelling prevents it from seeming a rehash of old stuff. This may not be the story to choose if you’re in a real “science fiction” mood – but if at the time speculative fiction with a medieval Arab flavor would suit you, it might hit the spot.
Horace Brown Fyfe - Transmutation Of Muddles
A spaceship lands on a planet with a pre-tech alien culture. They intended to try to sell goods to the natives, but the natives block off the ship and start building a temple around it. Then we have negotiations between the captain of the ship trying to get his insurance company to pay him for the ship and cargo, the insurance company trying to get the interstellar government to intervene to get back the ship and cargo, a government mediator trying to clear up the matter and establish a treaty with the natives, and the natives feel they must do what they have done to placate an angry god..
There is some food for thought, but the story is not written to be taken entirely seriously. It’s more entertaining than idea-oriented.
Available free at: http://www.archive.org/details/ATransmutationOfMuddles
Charlotte Perkins Gilman - Yellow Wallpaper
A couple rents a house outside the city for a number of weeks to let the wife recuperate from a nervous ailment (as the Victorians tended to do). Her room has yellow wallpaper with a disturbing “pattern” that isn’t a normal repeating pattern.
I've seen this story offered in various formats. Depending on who categorized it, it might be listed as horror or SF (by those inclined to view any speculative fiction as "science fiction"). As horror, the story is of the sort that has no monsters, demons, psycho-killers, etc. - just what in the "olden days" would have been considered a disturbingly unhappy ending. I would only consider it speculative fiction insofar as that kind of old time "horror" story is. Personally, I had been led to expect more from the story.
Dominic Green - The Adventure Of The Lost World
This is an attempt to mix elements of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Professor Challenger stories. While it is amusing, it will not satisfy a reader looking for a serious Holmes or Challenger story. It’s more of a Holmes spoof than anything.
The "lost world" is a single dinosaur brought to the London area by Professor Challenger in 1918. It later escapes and brings attention to itself by killing a number of outdoor trombone players. An amusingly exaggerated Holmes takes on the hunt.
Andrew Gudgel - Night Shift In The Automat
Speculative fiction of the "interesting subculture that might develop next year" variety. Story told by a guy working at an all-night store when a group playing at being Hindu gods comes in.
Harry Harrison - Velvet Glove
A future where robots with human-like intelligence are a legally-inferior part of the workforce. They are required to stay in segregated housing (which they are required to stay in at night), they're assumed to be "wrong" in incidents with humans, they're subject to the equivalent of ethnic slurs, etc. And they have something like Asimov's Laws of Robotics that forbids any action or inaction that would lead to harm to humans.
The main character is a robot who takes a job, which turns out to be for criminals. The crooks threaten to kill a human if the robot doesn't follow their instructions.
Available free from 2 sources:
Time Traveler’s Show: http://www.timetravelershow.com/shows/tts22.mp3
Merrie Haskell - One Million Years BFE
A woman anthropologist is exiled to the age of early hominids. She thinks her knowledge will help her life simple there, but its not so easy - and it seems some comprormises are necessary. Narrated by the woman as a diary. Amusing.
Frank Herbert - Missing Link
An exploratory spaceship visiting new planets goes out of contact with interstellar service. Another ship is sent to look into the possibility of hostile aliens – prepared to eliminate them if they pose a threat. They find chimp-like aliens who have taken over the exploratory ship with plans to use it for their aggressive purposes. A spy / diplomat is sent in to find out what he can. He must see if a safe solution is available. Food for thought.
M. K. Hobson - God Juice
Entertaining story of a woman who sometimes deals in antiquities. While visiting another planet, she’s offered an artifact which supposedly bestows god-like powers to people. Part of the problem is nobody knows how to use it. There is competition (and animosity) between her and an ex-husband also considering buying it. The story is told as a narrative by the woman who is an aging "Amazon" - expressing her various thoughts on her condition and other matters. We get plenty of sense of her personality and flavor of the business, intrigue and mystery she experiences.
James Patrick Kelly - Barry Westphal Crashes The Singularity
Somehow, getting drunk and picking a woman up at the bar and going to bed with her helps Barry get a peek at the future. The machines there don’t seem too happy to see him. And he seems to have a surprise for them. More of a playful story than food for thought.
James Patrick Kelly - Faith
After her marriage ends, a woman looks for another man. After some amusing (to the reader) experiences in the world of dating, she meets a horticulturalist. He has some unusual characteristics and some appealing aspects. Then she learns he speaks to and sends good vibrations to his plants - even encouraging them towards new traits. She has to decide whether this is too weird for her.
Available free at: http://www.archive.org/download/Free_Reads_14_Faith/Faith.mp3
James Patrick Kelly - The Ice Is Singing
An old style "horror" story that doesn't have the blood and guts, monsters, etc. of modern horror. A man finds someone dressed in a business suit frozen in the ice while ice skating. For a number of days he sees the frozen body, and becomes somewhat fascinated by the situation.
James Patrick Kelly – The Pyramid Of Amirah
A future or alternative society in which a new religion has grown. Girls are selected to live in their houses while a pyramid is built around it. Once surrounded by the pyramid, there’s only artificial light and only the house and a tiny area around it is accessible. The girls have no contact with other people. They only have stored goods to eat and use. Over the years, the girls grow and deal with their strange situation. Eventually, they come to have some mystical power.
James Patrick Kelly - Serpent
It’s not science Fiction, but entertaining. The serpent from the Garden of Eden speaks to the people of Earth. He tells of a new race which has been created and put in the Garden – they’re more responsible, conscientious and good. On the other hand, they have fewer artistic activity and spend less time on fun. They’re harder to tempt, but he keeps trying. Sometimes he’ll start off talking to them by telling a joke involving God or faith. He warns them their days in the Garden may be numbered...
Available free at: http://www.archive.org/download/Free_Reads_20_Serpent/serpent.mp3
Nancy Kress - End Game
A researcher seeks to find a way to let humans focus on a particular task without being distracted by other thoughts. When he finds it, things don't work out quite as he envisioned.
Available free at: http://escapepod.org/podpress_trac/web/244/0/EP125_EndGame.mp3
Nancy Kress - Margin Of Error
A woman scientist is in charge of a project using nano to maintain the health of human bodies. She comes to seek the help of her sister. The sister was pushed out of her work on the project when she chose to have children. Now the scientist has found the nano she has put in her own body has begun to malfunction. She’s desperate for the sister to find any problems in the section of the project the sister worked in. The sister is resentful of what was done to her in the past and the distain the scientist clearly still has for her motherhood. There’s also a real sense of the competition, egos and animosity that can take place in areas of research and development.
Available free at: http://eafiles.com/escapepod/EP081_MarginOfError.mp3
Nancy Kress - Nano Comes To Clifford Falls
A small town of “blue collar”-type people responds to the arrival of nano machines that can produce their food, clothes and other goods without them having to work. Kress imagines a world where these “replicator”-type machines will be in the hands of governments that will let citizens take turns making whatever they want for free. The story is narrated by a blue collar woman who has been disinclined to take advantage of the nano. People become restless and directionless, society falters, and a new order starts to arise.
Available free at: http://eafiles.com/escapepod/EP075_NanoComesToCliffordFalls.mp3
Jack McDevitt – Henry James, This One’s For You
A small publishing house in Boston receives a manuscript of a great 1200-page epic from a high school teacher in New Hampshire. They quickly arrange to sign the unknown writer. The story is entertaining, and it’s interesting to have an SF author take a look at an SF speculation on publishing and authors.
Available free at: http://penbay.org/wrfr/bstories/henry%20james%20this%20ones%20for%20you.mp3
Steven Francis Murphy - The Limb Knitter
Future trench warfare. An odd mix of hi-tech to keep soldiers (and parts of soldiers) functioning, and low-tech trenches full of rats, urine and feces. With the "modernization" of using both men and women as soldiers - with them paired together as couples.
I'm not sure how convincing the mix of old and new is, but the story is effective in ways and does a good job of presenting a chilling view of warfare.
Available free in 2 parts: