For Your Consideration: Fantasy Podcasts
If you’re anything like me, you spend a considerable amount of time commuting to and from work. And while satellite radio, streaming music and audiobooks can alleviate some of the boredom that comes with epic amounts of “windshield time,” the rise of the podcast is what has truly made my time behind the wheel bearable—if not downright enjoyable.
Fans of fantasy and science fiction have a multitude of options when it comes to podcasts. Any number of “writers on writing” shows, review and analysis shows, audio dramas and author interviews are available to stream or download with a few touches on your smartphone. Ever wondered whether you could graft the Dragonlance campaign setting onto D&D 5th Edition? There’s a podcast for that. Do you eschew all other fantasy in favor of Grimdark? There’s a podcast for that. Have you ever lusted for an in-depth discussion of the Blackfyre Rebellion? There’s a podcast for that too!
Fantasy and sci-fi fans are an intelligent lot. We’re consumers in the literal sense as well as the colloquial. The more information and entertainment we can cram into our heads, the better. But choosing which podcasts to listen to can be daunting. The sheer number of available choices is staggering. What follows is a brief discussion of a handful of fantasy/sci-fi podcasts I listen to on a regular basis. This isn’t intended as a ranking or “required listening” listicle, but as a primer for what’s out there and an explanation of the merits (and flaws) of the shows that are in my regular rotation.
The Once and Future Podcast
Hosted by urban fantasy author Anton Strout, The Once and Future Podcast is a winning mix of insider discussion and traditional interviews. Strout is a well-liked, active member of the fantasy/sci-fi community and leverages his personal relationships to bring guests ranging from heavy hitters like Pat Rothfuss and R.A. Salvatore to journeymen such as Paul S. Kemp and Sam Sykes. Strout also records and releases audio from panels at the various cons he participates in, ensuring that those that can’t attend a particular con needn’t miss out on excellent programming. His discussions on and with various organizers of Gen Cons, the Gen Con Writer’s Symposium, BookExpo America and various other cons are both illuminating and entertaining.
Strout, as a host, can be an acquired taste. By his own admission, he is an East Coaster and can be bitingly sarcastic and more than a little abrasive at times. He can easily be mistaken for rude, bitter or arrogant to Midwestern ears such as mine, but repeated listening proves this to be largely untrue. Don’t let Strout’s delivery deter you. Whether interviewing an author or moderating a panel, Strout has a gift for effortlessly weaving personal anecdotes, tidbits, tips and tricks into the discussion. His podcast is a fascinating glimpse into the life of a working writer.
Untitled Patrick Rothfuss Podcast
Pat Rothfuss is an interesting guy. There’s no arguing that his Kingkiller Chronicles series is one of the most popular and polarizing fantasy series to hit shelves since A Song of Ice and Fire. With Rothfuss recently announcing a multi-media partnership with Lionsgate that will see Kvothe, Denna and the rest appear on TV and movie screens and in video games, his profile will continue to grow. So his podcast, hosted by Cards Against Humanity creator Max Temkin, offers a unique glimpse into the eye of the storm.
Rothfuss and Temkin both have healthy egos, despite their near-constant self-deprecation. But as the nine-episode “season” progresses, it quickly becomes apparent that their egos were a very large part of their success. Their conversations tend to revolve around the same small group of topics. Time management, prioritizing work over family and the overriding fear that their success will evaporate if they lose focus for even a heartbeat are recurring subjects. Some of the discussions—particularly Rothfuss’s admittedly cringe-worthy story of causing a plane to return to the gate by exaggerating an anxiety attack—border on disturbing. And fans looking for clues as to when the third and final Kingkiller book will be released will be sorely disappointed. But if you’ve ever wondered what it was like to be smack in the middle of a runaway success, this is the podcast for you. Both Rothfuss and Temkin are brutally honest. Warts and all, the Untitled Patrick Rothfuss Podcast offers a glimpse into the day-to-day life of one of the most successful fantasy writers on the planet.
By writers for writers, Writing Excuses is a 15-minute podcast hosted by Bandon Sanderson, Howard Tyler, Mary Robinette Kowal and Dan Wells. It is structured, concise and one of the most informative podcasts currently in my rotation. All four hosts are active, working creators and all four have equal ownership of the podcast. Their love of writing and creating comes through in every episode, as does their respect for burgeoning writers. The hosts of Writing Excuses are teachers, and each episode revolves around a specific lesson. Topics range from inspiration to characterization to the difference between “stopping” and “ending” a story. This is nuts-and-bolts stuff presented in a manner that is neither condescending nor didactic, and the disparate points of view lend incalculable value to the lessons. In 15 minutes, a listener can get four different—but equally valuable—opinions on a topic and walk away with multiple ways to attack a particular writing problem. Bonus points for the weekly “homework” assignments used to encourage writers to put what they’ve learned into practice while the week’s lesson is still fresh.
History of Westeros/The Tolkien Professor
The former is a fancast devoted to the history of a fictional world, and the latter is a series of scholarly lectures dissecting perhaps the most important work of fantasy of all time. And they are both sublime.
The History of Westeros podcast is unwaveringly devoted to all things ASoIaF/GoT. And if you don’t get what those abbreviations mean, this is probably not the podcast for you. History of Westeros is boss-level nerd business. This show isn’t just about recapping last week’s episode of Game of Thrones. History of Westeros goes deep into the lore, history and politics of Westeros, Essos and the lands beyond The Wall. Episodes have been known to exceed the 90-minute mark on a regular basis, and the discussions can be almost impenetrable to those not intimately familiar with Martin’s work. However, fans of both the books and the show stand to gain a new, deeper perspective of the world of ASoIAF if they listen. The hosts trade in minutiae that can escape even the most diligent readers/viewers and I’ve personally found that their discussions enrich my reading and viewing experience.
The Tolkien Professor is a series of college/university lectures focusing on J.R.R. Tolkien and his works. Whether discussing inspiration, process or lore, Corey Olsen (who holds a Ph.D. in Medieval Literature and teaches English at Washington College) takes a look at Middle-Earth from a scholarly perspective. Olsen is an excellent lecturer, and peppers his teaching with healthy doses of humor and whimsy. He clearly takes Tolkien’s works—and by extension, his scholarly study of it—very seriously. But he never comes off as pompous or grandiose. His genuine enthusiasm for all things Tolkien is infectious, and like the History of Westeros podcast, The Tolkien Professor truly casts Tolkien’s work in a new light.
Those are just a few of the fantasy podcasts I listen to on a regular basis. Honorable mentions go to the Functional Nerds, Rocket Talk, Speculate! and Sword & Laser podcasts, as well as the Grim Tidings podcast, which is on its way to becoming must-listen material. Happy listening!