The Coode Street Podcast

Discussion and digression on science fiction and fantasy with Gary K. Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan.

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2 days ago

For the first week in July, we’re joined by Nebula Award winner Rachel Swirsky, whose novella January Fifteenth ( just out from Tordotcom) is a provocative exploration of the idea of Universal Basic Income (UBI) as it might play out in the lives of four women in very different circumstances. We touch upon Rachel’s decision to focus on characters rather than systems, to set the tale in a recognizable near future, and to deliberately restrain from many science-fictional bells and whistles. This leads to how SF deals, too rarely, with questions of economic policy and the effects on individual lives —in the case of January Fifteenth, a woman escaping from an abusive ex-spouse, a journalist covering the effects of UBI, a well-off college student whose friends deliberately waste their annual checks, and a young member of a repressive religious cult. As usual, we touch upon what’s next for Rachel, including an intriguing collaboration with Ann Leckie. As always, our thanks to Rachel for making the time to talk to us. We hope you enjoy the episode!

Sunday Jun 19, 2022

This week, Jonathan and Gary are delighted to chat with Kate Heartfield, whose thoroughly engrossing historical fantasy The Embroidered Book, already a bestseller in the UK and Canada, has just been published in the United States. We talk about the research that went into her fascinating tale of the sisters Antoine and Charlotte, who grew up to become Marie Antoinette and Queen Charlotte of Naples, and of how magical books of spells secretly helped shape the history of 18th century Europe. We touch upon her earlier Aurora-winning Armed in Her Fashion, the various ways of incorporating fantasy into history, the question of whether historical fiction might be received differently in different cultures and markets, and some hints about her current work in progress. It’s a pretty lively discussion, and we think a lot of fun. As always, our thanks to Kate for making time to talk to us, and we hope you enjoy the episode!

Sunday May 22, 2022

This week, Jonathan and Gary are joined by the brilliant Christopher Rowe, whose novella These Prisoning Hills appears next week from Tordotcom, revisiting the wonderful and bizarre world first introduced in his earlier stories “The Voluntary State” and “The Border State.” We cover quite a bit of territory, ranging from Christopher's own influences, what it means to be associated with a particular region (such as Kentucky and Tennessee in Christopher’s case), the nature of influence in SF, and Christopher’s own discovery of the work of Cordwainer Smith, whose stories he’s been assiduously collecting in their original magazine appearances. As usual, we would like to thank Christopher for taking the time to talk to us, and hope you enjoy the podcast.

Monday May 16, 2022

Earlier this week, we were all stunned by the news of the tragic death of World Fantasy Life Achievement Award winner Patricia McKillip, whose luminous works have influenced and moved generations of readers and writers for nearly half a century. Jonathan and Gary are joined by McKillip’s longtime friend, Ellen Kushner, herself a winner of World Fantasy, Locus, and Mythopoeic Awards, and by Campbell Award winner E. Lily Yu, We talk some about Pat’s personal modesty and sharp wit, but mostly about her astonishing body of work, not only in fantasy but (as Lily points out) in her less familiar forays into SF. Like all tributes, it’s probably inadequate to the work, but it’s deeply felt by all of us.

Sunday May 01, 2022

This week’s discussion begins with Gary wondering about what he tentatively calls the use of absurdism in some recent novels, mentioning Kelly Barnhill’s When Women Were Dragons and Sunyi Dean's forthcoming The Book Eaters, each of which features a powerful central metaphor that refuses to resolve itself into traditional SF or fantasy systems—somewhat like the old Theatre of the Absurd playwrights like Ionesco. This leads to yet another discussion of what may be happening with the notion of genres, and how an earlier generation of gatekeeping editors has given way to editors more welcoming to a variety of voices and approaches. We more or less conclude that, while this reinvigorates the traditional genres, there are plenty of options for readers who still prefer the familiar formulas and traditions. Finally, we talk a bit about getting together for a possible live podcast at Chicon later this summer. 

Friday Apr 15, 2022

It's only been a week since Jonathan and Gary sat down to chat with Nicola Griffith about her new book, Spear, but in a bid to get back on schedule, they took a moment to record a new episode for the coming long weekend. They kick off chatting about travel during the pandemic and the coming WorldCon, before Jonathan admits he's only just read Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, and they then go on to talk about Le Guin's work, the oddities of book buying and collecting, and then our hosts attempt to answer the age-old questions: do you need to read a book? if so, why? do you need to keep book? which ones can you get rid of, and how?  Really, it's a ramble that kicks off with Earthsea and ends up chatting about books. It's a Coode Street podcast. As always, our thanks for your patience with our rambles. We hope you enjoy the episode, and see you again pretty soon!

Sunday Apr 03, 2022

This time out, Jonathan and Gary are joined by the brilliant Nicola Griffith, whose Spear, out this month, revisits Arthurian tales from an entirely new perspective. We chat about how the novel came about, Arthurian literature as fan fiction, the wonderful illustrations by Rovina Cai, and what it was like to record the audiobook. We also discuss its similarities to and differences from her well-received historical novel Hild and its forthcoming sequel Menewood, as well as Nicola’s classic early novels Ammonite and Slow River, her recent So Lucky, and forthcoming reissues of her Aud Torvingen novels, beginning with The Blue Place.

Sunday Mar 27, 2022

With Gary just back from ICFA in Florida, he discussed whether this will really be the year of re-emergence, with both the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago and World Fantasy Convention in New Orleans in the offing. This led, as it does, to discussion of the Hugos, whether small categories with few nominations should be dropped, whether other categories should be added, and whether major historical studies such as Mike Ashley’s five-volume The History of the Science-Fiction Magazines really have a chance of being seen because of availability issues, as compared to the increasingly broad definition of “related work.” Inevitably, we chatted about new or forthcoming books we’re excited about. We both liked Guy Gavriel Kay’s All the Seas of the World, Alix E. Harrow’s A Mirror Mended, and Christopher Rowe’s These Prisoning Hills, while Jonathan is tempted by Karen Joy Fowler’s new novel Booth and Gary’s about to start Samit Basu’s The City Inside.  Of course, there are lots of digressions in between, including the nature of historical fiction and nostalgia for printed books in the age of e-books (at least for reviewers and critics).

Sunday Mar 06, 2022

After reminding listeners that the deadline for Hugo nominations is fast approaching on March 15 (and reminding them once again of the eligibility of this podcast for Best Fancast and of Jonathan for Best Editor, Short Form), we move on to the much-discussed, record-setting Brandon Sanderson Kickstarter, and the question of whether it really matters to anyone other than Sanderson and his readers. Acknowledging that Sanderson readers are fully likely to get exactly what they are expecting, this led us into a brief discussion of reader expectations, also the topic of a recent essay by Molly Templeton on While occasionally we come across a book with almost no prior knowledge or publicity, most books come with expectations based on the author’s previous work, or even the publisher’s reputation. Some of the authors discussed here, and some that Jonathan and Gary are currently reading or expecting to read, include Guy Gavriel Kay, R.F. Kuang, Kelly Barnhill, Nghi Vo, John Crowley, and Karen Joy Fowler. At the end, we touch briefly upon the question of history in fiction, and the different strategies of using entirely fictional characters, almost entirely historical figures, or a mixture of both.

Sunday Feb 20, 2022

This week, in our more-or-less annual discussion of the Locus Recommended Reading List, we are delighted to be joined by Locus Editor-in-Chief Liza Groen Trombi. We talk about the purpose of the list, how it has changed over the years, how books or stories get on the list, and a few thorny questions about how to decide whether a novel is SF or fantasy if it contains substantial elements of both. In addition to mentioning some of our own favourite works of the year, we touch upon the importance of the First Novels list, which might be a harbinger of what's to come, and how story collections and YA novels have grown in importance over the years. Toward the end, we pay a brief tribute to two Locus Magazine pioneers, reviewer Faren Miller (who was also the magazine's first full-time employee), and bibliographer William G. Contento, who helped establish resources that remain crucial to anyone interested in the SFF field.

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