Science fiction is uniquely suited to the podcast medium, evocative sounds and words creating fantastical worlds in the listener’s mind. The genre allows for the exploration of entire universes, the only limit is the imagination of the writer. Whether it is the far reaches of space, an unnatural development on this very planet, or something lurking beneath the skin, the collision of the real and the unreal is endlessly rewarding. Featuring gripping, fantastical stories, discussion of the shifting landscape of the genre, and interviews with the creators themselves, a wealth of podcasts exist to fill your sci-fi fix. Here is a selection of some of the best.
1. Clarkesworld Magazine – Science Fiction & Fantasy Podcast
With such a wealth of sci-fi tales out there, sometimes the most valuable resource is the curation of the very best. Clarkesworld Magazine has been providing a monthly science fiction and fantasy anthology magazine for 14 years and has been releasing the best of these in audio form for almost as long, with the Clarkesworld Magazine – Science Fiction & Fantasy Podcast.
Featuring stories from established and new writers, of both fantasy and sci-fi, this podcast is a well-spring of imaginative tales. They accept a broad spectrum of stories and bring a diverse trove of science fiction experiences to listeners.
The Host: Delivering these stories is the soothing voice of Kate Baker, who brings a friendly and enthusiastic energy. Baker walks the line between expressiveness and allowing the author’s words to tell the story perfectly.
Highlights: One of the most exceptional episodes features an intriguing twist on John Carpenter’s 1982 classic, The Thing, retelling the events of the film from the perspective of the Thing itself. Written by Peter Watts, The Things provides a fascinating insight into an alien perspective, and its struggle to understand humanity on an evolutionary, biological, social, and existential level.
Adding a confronting, thought-provoking and unsettling element to the original film, this is a superb story and excellent listening experience.
2. The Edge of Sleep
A limited series podcast, The Edge of Sleep hooks listeners from the beginning with a chilling sci-fi premise. Created by Jake Emanuel and Willie Block, and produced by the QCODE and, which have been responsible for stellar scripted podcasts in the past, this podcast rolled out late in 2019.
When going to sleep means death, the final vestiges of humanity must struggle through exhaustion and attempt to unravel the mystery of the pandemic. Tension and paranoia rise as the crushing need to sleep mounts and mounts on the characters.
The central protagonist is voiced by Mark Fischbach, otherwise known as Youtube personality Markiplier, who brings a grounded reality and humanity to his complicated character, putting in a bona fide voice acting performance. He is surrounded by a quality supporting cast, lavishly detailed audio design, and innovative uses of the audio medium.
With roughly half an hour an episode, and eight episodes in total, the creators have crafted a tight, relentlessly compelling tale.
Highlights: From the opening moments of the first episode, the immersive, shuddering audio effects, reverberating whispers and panicked mutters disconcert and engage the listener. The protagonist’s opening lines, “It’s a beautiful day. the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and everyone’s dead,” create a hook which the direct, visceral writing style and ambitious storytelling aspirations take and run with. The first episode sketches out the core characters and relationships, the intrigue quickly taking hold, setting the tone very effectively.
3. Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy – A Science Fiction Podcast
For listeners looking to keep abreast of the ever-changing sci-fi world, the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast is a constant stream of insight and information. Largely consisting of creator interviews, discussions, and reviews, the show delves into the authors, stories, and people behind science fiction stories.
Host and producer David Kirtley and John Adams provide insight into the realities of the industry and how sci-fi has shifted in an evolving technological landscape. They dive into the ways in which fantastical worlds are drawn from and parallel reality, as well as how science fiction reacts to the world and can shape it.
The Hosts: Adams and Kirtley are an enthusiastic pair of hosts, who live and breathe sci-fi. They direct interviews with insightful questions and lend the perspective of someone embedded in the genre as fans and creators. They also allow conversation to flow far beyond the realm of sci-fi, an important ingredient for a long-running podcast to avoid retreading ground.
The Guests: Science fiction creators and mega-fans bring a stream of perspectives to the show. Big names such as George RR Martin and Neil Gaiman have featured, detailing their creative processes and the evolution of the industry.
Highlight: The Neil Gaiman episode represents the fulfillment of a long-time goal of the podcast, as Gaiman was identified hundreds of episodes earlier as a dream guest. This episode stretches the boundary between sci-fi and fantasy, delving into the novel and television adaptation of Gaiman’s bestseller, American Gods.
Gaiman’s dulcet transatlantic tones are reward enough for listening, but his insight into the creative and adaptive process, as well as his ever-present quiet humor, make for a soothing and fascinating listen. A key takeaway of this episode is a discussion of Gaiman’s approach to sci-fi and fantasy, bringing humanity and truth to mythic ideas, and never losing sight of empathy amid the fantastical.
Meanwhile, George RR Martin is principally known for his fantasy A Song of Ice and Fire novels, which became the incredibly popular Game of Thrones TV show. However, in this interview, the hosts delve into his long history producing sci-fi short stories, novels, and anthologies, Martin providing insight into the evolution of the culture and industry.
4. Escape Pod
Escape Pod describes itself as the “first” and “leading” science fiction podcast, providing readings of high-quality sci-fi tales for 15 years. Produced by Escape Artists, the podcast has been recognized by several award bodies, and primarily features stories, but occasionally consists of reviews, interviews, and general discussions.
With over 700 episodes, there is a wealth of well-produced, well-acted, and well-curated content to choose from.
Highlights: Escape Pod themselves provide a list of highlights to give new listeners a taste of the show. Within this list, the reading of Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon lends even more humanity to an already heart-wrenching classic. As Neil Gaiman says on the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy Podcast, stories done right are machines for empathy, and Flowers for Algernon is one of the most potent examples of this within the genre.
5. Wolf 359
Audio drama Wolf 359, from award-winning Kinda Evil Genius Productions, follows the crew of space station U.S.S. Hephaestus as they survey deep space. The story is imparted via the tried and tested narrative frame of audio logs, in this case left by protagonist Eiffel.
Ambient, eerie synthesizer tones hang in the background, weaving a web of suspense and intrigue which builds within the story. Foley sound effects ground the narrative, creating a tactile sense of the technology and minutia surrounding the protagonist. Lightening this mounting heaviness is the wry sense of humor of the Eiffel, as he relates his experiences directly to the listener.
The podcast is created by Gabriel Urbina, produced by Urbina and Zach Valenti, and written by Urbina, Sarah Shachat, and Zach Valenti. With 61 episodes and 4 seasons, the series concluded in 2017, with mini-episodes occasionally released since.
Highlights: A slow, light-hearted start that leans heavily into comedy slowly evolves into a dark, tense, character-based thriller. A protagonist who may seem obnoxious and even one-dimensional at first is taken through a dark and elaborate metamorphosis. As an experiment in shifting characters and liquid tone, this podcast is a stunning success.
Listen to Wolf 359
This podcast is serialized, so start at the beginning for the best listener experience.
In Limetown, the disappearance of three hundred people from a small Tennessee town is investigated by American Public Radio reporter Lia Haddock. The strange circumstances surrounding this event, and the crowd of peculiar characters involved, are deftly explored in this true-crime saga. Except, it isn’t one. Limetown is a fictionalized take on the true-crime investigatory podcasts which have proved endlessly popular.
With excellent production value, credible characters, and naturalistic writing, Limetown delivers on its premise excellently. Subsequently followed by a second season, and adapted into a TV show and book, the original season is where the magic is. Fans of true crime and science fiction will find a lot to like.
Highlights: The production of content such as news reports, 911 calls, and interview recordings are all presented with convincing ambient Foley sounds, authentic crackles, static and white noise. An artificial but deeply immersive sound-world is created, from the satisfying clunk of cassette tapes, shuffling papers, the clicking of camera shutters, and of course appropriately eerie, ambient music. Limetown commits to its premise which such authenticity you may forget you’re listening to a scripted creation.
For the real deal, check our collection of true crime content.
Listen to Limetown
This podcast is serialized, so start at the beginning for the best listener experience.
7. The Hyacinth Disaster
The Hyacinth Disaster follows another interstellar crew, that of asteroid-mining vessel MRS Hyacinth. Disaster strikes when the crew of their sister-ship, MRS Corvus, is abducted and held ransom. As their employers are unwilling to pay, the crew of MRS Hyacinth must crash through regulations to mine an asteroid, hoping its resources can pay for the hostages’ release. Told through the contents of MRS Hyacinth’s black box, the sense of doom is palpable from early on.
This suspenseful tale delivers humor and emotion, supported by a high-quality voice cast, detailed sound effects, and intermittent musical cues. At seven episodes, generally between 20 and 30 minutes, this series makes for a finite and comparatively brief exploration of what humans will do when placed in the most extraordinary circumstances.
Highlights: The subtle world-building of The Hyacinth Disaster sketches with comparatively little a vivid and expansive setting. The cut-throat and thankless nature of their universe is self-evident, as one crew ransoms another while their mutual employer uncaringly stands by. Though lightened by humor, this remains a potent look in a world that has slid further along the scale of injustice. It provokes questions of contemporary society in the way that the best sci-fi does.
8. ars PARADOXICA
No sci-fi discussion would be complete without some mention of time-travel. This old but endlessly-rewarding trope is explored adeptly in the award-winning fiction series, ars PARADOXICA. A secret history weaving from between time periods unfolds, beginning as a light-hearted romp, evolving into a tense, emotionally-charged drama.
The Whipserforge maintains excellent production values throughout all three seasons, with tactile mechanical sounds, crunchy glitches, and compelling music. The personality of protagonist Sally Grissom is a prime selling-point, the voice actor dripping with personality and expressiveness. Sally is the perfect amount of quirky, enough to make the long stretch spent in her company entertaining without becoming overbearing.
As with many of the entries on this list, the story is presented as found audio, with a framing device of a voice diary. Where many stories treat their format merely as window-dressing, ars PARADOXICA indulges in a meta-awareness of the format, heightening the mystery and personality of the production.
Highlights: One of the podcast’s greatest assets is its willingness to trust in the intelligence of its audience. The time-travel mechanics, multiple settings, story developments at the fore and in the background, evolving characters, and moral conundrums, all come together in a twisting, intricately-constructed time-travel narrative with myriad details which are endlessly rewarding for the careful listener.
Whatever science fiction listening experience you are after, it is out there. This list is a taste of some of the best serial dramas, story anthologies, discussions, and interviews within the medium. The limitless expanses of sci-fi are the perfect escapist retreat during troubling times, and it is a joy to be immersed in the imaginations of these innovative creators.
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