Weekend Shorts: Sleep Donation and TAH Update

Happy weekend! I am headed way up north to Georgia (still weird to say that after four years…) today to see the gorgeous and talented men of Home Free do their thing, so I will leave you with some brief thoughts on some brief stories.

Sleep Donation, by Karen Russell
Sleep DonationI found myself in the odd situation the other day of having a Kindle full of books to read but having the actual next book I wanted to read sitting at home in print. I didn’t want to start another entire book, so I took that as a sign that I should finally get on the Karen Russell train with this teensy novella. I knew the premise going in — future world where some people have stopped sleeping but scientist have figured out how to give sleep transfusions — and not much else, and I was pleasantly surprised by the story.

The novella focuses on Trish Edgewater, a sleep recruiter who uses the story of her dead-from-insomnia sister to convince people to donate their own sleep. She’s pretty darn good at her job, but she suffers a crisis of faith in the Slumber Corps when she butts heads with the father of Baby A, a universal sleep donor who happens to be an infant, over the safety, usefulness, and purpose of the sleep donations.

The world that Russell builds is very cool, and I was absolutely fascinated with the idea of sleep donation and Baby A and Donor Y, this mysterious dude with poisoned sleep who is causing people to want insomnia. I would have loved a story that was basically the oral history of this phenomenon, a la Unlocked, but Russell spent most of her time on Trish and Trish’s inner turmoil over using her dead sister and outer turmoil over finding out things she’d rather not know about the Slumber Corps, which was less exciting but still pretty cool. I will definitely be seeking out more Karen Russell in the future.

The Thrilling Adventure Hour, continued
Thrilling Adventure HourWhen last we spoke about TAH, I was twenty-ish episodes in and liking it quite a bit. Two months and a hundred episodes later, I am, as you may guess, loving it. “Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars” continues to be the greatest half-hour of “radio” known to man, especially a recent (to me) set of episodes in which Paul F. Tompkins “impersonates” Croach and Sparks, separately and terribly, and hilariously ruins the theme song while he’s at it. “Beyond Belief”, which I was moderately annoyed by before, has become far more delightful, with less reliance on the drinking thing and more reliance on the sickeningly adorable relationship of Sadie and Frank, which is something I can totally get behind. Also I can’t get enough of Paget Brewster’s Sadie voice. The other segments are just as awesome as they were before, and the behind-the-scenes episodes have actually made those secondary segments far more interesting now that I know some of the history and can attach some faces to the voices I’ve been hearing, now that I know who all these people are! If you need a new podcast in your life and can listen in a laugh-friendly place, you should definitely put this one on your list. Start “Sparks Nevada” all the way back at the beginning, because it’s the most continuity-heavy, but everything else you can pick up wherever.

What stories are you guys reading and listening to this weekend?

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Weekend Shorts: Thrilling Adventure Hour

Thrilling Adventure HourSince we last spoke of podcasts, months ago, I finally got caught up on both Literary Disco and Welcome to Night Vale, and it turns out that when you’re not binge-listening to two shows, there’s suddenly a lot more time in your week. The solution: moar podcasts!

I had been hearing about The Thrilling Adventure Hour on a semi-regular basis, usually from other podcasters talking about things that they like, but it wasn’t until I had all this extra listening time that I was willing to give them a chance. I think I was mostly concerned about listening to yet another hour-ish-long show, but despite the name most of the episodes are less than 30 minutes, with some coming in less than 10! These 160 episodes are not going to take as long as I thought!

The show itself is fashioned after “old-time” radio, which I have basically no experience with so I cannot vouch for accuracy. But basically there are lots of different story segments, and you get one installment of one story per week, and each segment starts with a cute little theme song and some previouslies and then there’s the story and then there’s a cliffhanger ending and a “tune in next time” with a little description of what’ll happen next. Thank goodness I’ve got a while before I actually have to wait any significant amount of time to find out…

As with any set of stories, there are some I like a heck of a lot more than others. The very first episode is part of the “Beyond Belief” segment, and if I hadn’t needed to listen to another episode I might have given up there, which is a shame because I do heart Paget Brewster. Luckily, the second episode was from “Sparks Nevada”, which has turned out to be my favorite of the series, so I’ve managed to stick around.

I’m only about twenty episodes in, and some of the segments show up more than others, but here are my first impressions:

“Beyond Belief”: I want to like this segment a lot, what with it being about a married couple that can see ghosts and spirits and such, and the latest episode I listened to in which Peter Pan steals a dude’s family and he kind of only really wants some of them back was pretty entertaining. But the conceit of the segment is a play on the word “spirits”, with the main characters being absolute lushes and drinking all the drinky drinks and after the first spoken “clink!” I am like, I get it. I’m pretty sure if you took out all the alcohol references this show would be thirty seconds long. Alas.

“Jefferson Reid, Ace American”, “The Cross-Time Adventures of Colonel Tick-Tock”, and “Down in Moonshine Holler”: I’ve only gotten to one episode of each of these segments, but they’re okay so far. Jefferson Reid is played by Nathan Fillion, so that’s like plus infinity points in my book, and the first episode of “Tick-Tock” had Neil Patrick Harris, so that’s redemptive of the rest of the episode. “Moonshine” was actually kind of awful, and I chalk that up to Gillian Jacobs acting like Britta trying to act, which is a terrible horrible thing. Fingers crossed for future episodes!

“Amelia Earhart, Fearless Flyer”: I have also only listened to one episode of this segment, but in it Amelia Earhart bit zombies to turn them into humans and loaded a gun with empty shells to shoot a ghost (spoilers!) so basically SOLD SOLD SOLD.

“Tales from the Black Lagoon”: This segment is the shortest one, and is narrated instead of… acted?, but still with a full cast (if that makes any sense). It’s a noir mystery based around the “memoirs” of the dude who played the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and it is very very odd.

“The Adventures of Captain Laserbeam”: Like “Beyond Belief”, this segment (well, the first two episodes, anyway) gets kind of caught up in its own conceits, with a little too much time devoted to repetitive gimmicks. It’s about a superhero who defeats bad guys with willpower, basically, so it’s not high on my list of favorites, but the second episode was a lot better than the first so I have hope.

“Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars”: OMG I love this segment. Sparks Nevada, as you may have guessed, is the Old-West-style marshal on a colonized Mars, and he’s got a Martian sidekick, Croach, who is under “onus” to the marshal for… don’t remember, don’t care. Sparks and Croach have this great old-married-couple relationship and Sparks is delightfully snarky and there’s this science alien with an inside-out-inating gun and if the podcast were just Sparks Nevada for the rest of time I would not mind. (Amelia Earhart can come, too.) (THE END!)

Weekend Shorts: Welcome to Night Vale

Welcome to Night ValeThis will be a short Shorts entry, as the only short thing I’ve been consuming lately is this weird-pants podcast called Welcome to Night Vale that is so strange and baffling that I do not understand why my Internet people didn’t tell me about it sooner, and so therefore I must share it with you in case you are missing it, too!

I’ve listened to about five episodes so far, so I feel confident in saying that what you get on this podcast is a mock radio show out of a small desert city called Night Vale, where things are, let’s say, not normal. The first thing you learn about Night Vale is that there is a dog park, but no dogs are allowed in it, nor humans, and also you should not approach the dog park or the hooded figures hanging around inside it. Righty-o, then.

Our intrepid host reports on all sorts of similar “news” stories, from the arrival of an incredibly handsome scientist to an airplane appearing in and then disappearing from a school gymnasium to the radio station management killing or possibly absorbing another employee. There are standalone news pieces and stories that are expanded upon in several segments, and of course there are callbacks in later episodes to previous stories. Also, the weather report is just an excuse to play a song, so I get to have a couple of toe-tapping minutes on my commute! It’s all quite delightful. And very very strange.

I think what I love about this podcast is that it is the equivalent of taking all the self-aware, satirical, wink-wink-nudge-nudge parts of books by people like Jasper Fforde or Terry Pratchett and stringing them all together into twenty minutes or half an hour of sheer what-the-heck-ery. It is a beautiful thing, but I wouldn’t suggest mainlining the episodes or even listening to more than one a day for fear of your brain becoming absorbed by the crazy world in which Night Vale exists. I mean, it could probably happen.

an RIP listen