I love being introduced to new authors by LeVar’s podcast, and then serendipitously finding that author in other works and books soon after. This podcast always expands my reading boundaries and I look forward to listening to a new story weekly for several months at a time while each season lasts.
The Wishing Pool by Tananarive Due
Careful what you wish for! An adult daughter, Joy, finds her widowed father in ill health when she visits him at the family cabin, both physically and mentally as he has worsening dementia. She remembers a nearby wishing pool that she and a childhood friend would visit in the nearby woods, but her wish for her father has (of course) unintended consequences. This story was a perfect blend of the harsh reality of caring for elderly parents and then the fantastical.
Different People by Timothy Mudie
In this story, a man meets a refugee from another dying but similar dimension whose first husband was him in their world, and they end up marrying themselves. But he begins to doubt that they should be together, as he is jealous of the other him, and wonders if they were meant to be together in this world. This multi-verse storyline is very popular in sci-fi tales, as there is a lot to explore in why things are the same or different in other worlds and what that means to the characters living through it all.
The Usual Santas by Mick Herron
Set in London, eight mall Santas discover a ninth among them at the year-end Christmas Eve party. Is one of them an imposter, or could he be the real Santa? Who then led the crime caper at the mall, in which many gifts were given to orphans and the needy the next day?
Drones to Ploughshares by Sarah Gailey
A sentient government surveillance drone is captured while out on a mission and must determine what to do next when offered freedom. Is it a trap? A sweet, but somewhat light, AI story.
To Jump is to Fall by Stephen Graham Jones
Told in first person, a telepathic spy gives us a stream of consciousness as he freefalls after a jump off a plane. When he realizes his mission has gone sideways and he and the pilot are purely collateral damage, he makes a radical decision.
The Placement Agency by Tobias S. Buckell
A fresh take on the “Hitler Dilemma”- what do you do with mass murderers from history when time travel is available and you have a chance to rewrite the past? The short story started out slowly but gained traction as you realize the true nature of the temporary job that is outside of time and space.
The Galactic Tourist Industrial Complex by Tobias S. Buckell
*This story was originally in Season Four, but remixed with new sound* I found this tongue-in-cheek short story delightful. Sometime in the future, Earth has become a tourist playground for wealthy aliens, with Manhattan being the favored location. While aliens are looking for authentic experiences in the city, life for humans actually living on Earth has become anything but, as the entire economy is based on the service industry and catering to tourists. A cab driver, whose flying taxi is on its last legs, has to deal with an alien falling to their death from his vehicle and trying to avoid an interspecies war when the alien’s family investigates. While this tale is amusing, it’s also a reflection on how our society relies on social media with trying to make their life look perfect when really it’s only a facade.
The Final Performance of the Amazing Ralphie by Pat Cadigan
In deep space, an AI magician is utilized to entertain hospice patients, and during a performance, the patient dies. The caretaker, who already had strikes against them, tries to explain what happened during a review and discovers that the AI saw a situation unfolding and took steps to offer comfort to the dying patient. I didn’t vibe with the narrative- although LeVar offers commentary at the end of the story, I didn’t really get this story.
Open House on Haunted Hill by John Wiswell
A sentient house, not quite a haunted house, aches for new owners. During an open house, it utilizes some powers to convince a father and daughter that it would be the perfect house for them. The house just wants someone to love it and live in it! A charming little story.
John Dillinger and the Blind Magician by Allison M. Dickson
Set in an alternative magical world in 1934, mobster John Dillinger goes to a speakeasy to find a magician to help him escape the feds. Two magicians get roped into the scheme, and of course, there was a double-cross. Meh.
Troll Bridge by Terry Pratchett
Set in author Pratchett’s Discworld (he has written 41 books set there!), this wistful short story includes a grizzled Cohen the Barbarian crossing a troll bridge and how the two old-timers reminisce about times gone by. This is a bittersweet tale, that stands on its own, about lamenting the past and reflecting on how much has changed in one’s lifetime. My husband and I recently had a conversation about how much has changed since we were children, and how things you take for granted then, are not around as an adult. While set in a fantasy world, this tale is universal and will pull at the heartstrings of adults who can relate.
The Last Truth by AnaMaria Curtis
The winner of LeVar’s first ever short-story contest was this bittersweet tale of how memories define us. Set in an alternative world, Eri is an indentured thief, who is forced to pick locks for her mobster employer. However, locks are opened by revealing memories, that then disappear from their minds, which results in a great cost for the thief. Eri meets a musician on board the ship they are on, and both wish to escape together, but will Eri be Eri any more once she completes the last required lock-picking? As Eri faces an uncertain future, readers will ponder if friendship, music and/or love can reestablish old memories. Will a possibility of good new memories renew her?
Afterlife by Stephen King
I am a huge fan of Stephen King’s short stories, so I read this story before in his collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, but as with other short stories that I have read before listening to on the podcast, LeVar can put an interesting twist on it. In this story, a man who recently died of cancer is given a chance to relive his life again, hoping to correct the wrongs he committed. But we find out he has done so numerous times, with no change, even to the atrocious sin he committed while in college. A disquieting tale, but I expect no less from King.
My favorites this season were Different People and Troll Bridge. I enjoyed listening to the winning entry, The Last Truth, from LeVar’s contest and hope he does one again. So, in the meantime I suggest you check out his podcast if you haven’t already, “But you don’t have to take my word for it.”