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16 August 2012

Stuff I Like: District of Wonders

In my previous "Stuff I Like" post, I explored my enjoyment of podcasts with Marc Maron's "WTF", and I commented that podcasts are like magazines for my ears.  I think that statement is most true in the context of the shows available through the "District of Wonders" podcast network, podcast magazines from producer Tony C. Smith. 

My love of genre-based, fiction oriented magazines goes back to my teenage years when I was gifted with a subscription to "Fantasy and Science Fiction" magazine.  Through it's page, still pulpy at the time, I discovered for the first time such great fiction as Robert Holdstock's "Mythago Wood" and Stephen King's "The Gunslinger", but I also was given the opportunity to explore such treats as science-based nonfiction articles, editorials by and about the greats of science fiction, poetry (some of it laughably and intentionally bad), and, oddly, the cartoons of Gahan Wilson.  From that springboard, I spread my appreciation of the format to include such titles as "Omni", "Twilight Zone", "Asimov's", and then back into the past with "Weird Tales", "Astounding" and the many other pulps I have discovered, and am still discovering along the way.

These days, life and schedules being what they are, I don't have nearly as much time to devote to chasing and enjoying these magazines as I used to, and for years there's been a slightly immature part of my brain urging me to put aside my responsibilities more often and spend more time in my reading chair with a stack of good magazines.  That's why I was so pleased (or, as the aforementioned Tony C. Smith might say, "chuffed") to discover Tony Smith's first podcast "Starship Sofa" and plug it's feed into my podcatcher, as it comes as close as anyone can to recreating the format of those beloved magazines in audio format.  The fact that it does so on a weekly basis is just gravy.  Sweet, sweet gravy.
Each week, Smith combines fact articles such as Amy H. Sturgis explorations into genre history and J. J. Campanella's science articles with at least one usually fantastic and generally long piece of science fiction, with stops along the way for poetry, novel previews and other amusing asides.  The fiction is usually the main focus of the episode, with such featured authors as Michael Moorcock, Gene Wolfe, Ray Bradbury and other giants of the genre.  The readings are well produced and of the highest quality, as the stories deserve.
The blend of fiction and nonfiction in a structured format with such a commitment to quality and reliability make this a true podcast magazine, and one well deserving of the listener's attention.

Earlier this year, Smith expanded his network to include the so far excellent horror-based podcast "Tales to Terrify", hosted by Lawrence Santoro.  Carrying on the format and standards developed by Starship Sofa, this show boasts some unique and informative movie reviews and insights into genre history, as well as presenting fiction from some of the greats of its own genre such as William Hope Hodgson, H. P. Lovecraft , Kim Newman and John Shirley.  Santoro makes for a genially creepy host, with much first hand knowledge about the genre and a connoisseur's eye for fiction.  As a longtime fan of old time radio shows, I'm always especially pleased to hear him evoke E.G. Marshall in his closing each week.

More recently, the District of Wonders network has expanded again with two new podcasts, Crime City Central, based on mystery stories, and (the frankly unfortunately names for purposes of alliteration) Protecting Project Pulp, presenting stories from the golden age of pulp magazines.  Although new, each of these promises to become foremost in the field for their genre, acting as much as archivists of the best in their respective genres as much as audio entertainment. 

With such a wealth of audio on a weekly basis, the only problem is keeping up with it all.  Just these four shows alone could satisfy a normal audio-fictionophile's (I just made that word up; didja notice?) appetite.  In combination with the other excellent podcasts out there (more about which in another post), it's a veritable auditory cornucopia.

The District of Wonders podcasts are, I think, reigniting a love of the genres they represent.  Through their deliberate and intelligent selection of material, they are at the same time providing a sense of artistic and cultural validity to that material.  Fans of well-presented literature in general, and sci-fi, horror, mystery and pulp in particular, owe it to themselves to plug the District of Wonders shows into their podcatchers and discover some of the best audio magazines the internet has to offer.

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