Thursday, 21 January 2010

Castmonger #3: The Guardian Books Podcast

Do you find yourself enjoying a good conversation from time to time? Wish that you could have one without hosting a tea party and laying on scones and jam for everyone who attends? Have you ever been on your way to work on the underground or the bus or the train, praying that someone kind soul amongst the anonymous, odorous mass would strike up a dialogue about the things you love to talk about?

You have? Yes, I mean you. Well, for the low, low price of nothing at all, a podcast could be yours right now. And that's not all!

Well, no, that is all, actually, but you can hardly grouch; the price of entry is insignificant enough that a good podcast can more than justify the expenditure, and time is the only currency you have to spend. The thing is, how do you know which podcasts are good and which aren't even worth your bandwidth?

That's what Castmonger's for.

Welcome, everyone, to the third episode. For this week's recommendation, I was going to point you all towards a particularly entertaining weekly movie review, but given how cinema-heavy The Speculative Scotsman has become this past week I've decided instead to balance the scales somewhat by dedicating this latest Castmonger to The Guardian Books Podcast.

Given how incredibly friendly I've found the blogosphere in the brief time I've had to dip my toes in its warm, wordy waters, I don't expect that The Guardian Books Podcast will be to everyone's taste. On some sadistic level, in fact, I suspect I could well be recommending it just to hear how horrified most of you will surely be at the incredible level of cruelty so many Brits pride themselves in.

The latest episode, not coincidentally a look ahead at the literary science fiction landscape in 2010, is a perfect case in point. Introducing the half-hour of entertainment, as if to reassure any listeners tempted to tune out simply by the mention of such scurrilous stuff as sci-fi, regular chairs Sarah Crown and Claire Armitstead intone that "by the end of this podcast, we hope to have convinced you that [science fiction] offers a rich and valuable literature."

They do not, by dint of their comments, seem terribly convinced themselves. At the mention of steampunk, for instance, another gem of incredulity is uttered: "Steampunk? What's steampunk for goodness sake," as if whichever of the ladies says as much can hardly stand to consider it without sneering.

Nonetheless, they get the big names. In the latest, sci-fi centric episode, there's a 10-minute interview with so-called "crossover success" China Mieville in which the master of the New Weird very soberly answers either Sarah or Claire's questions about The City & The City and even laughs politely at a few of her borderline insulting attempts at humour.

Ah, snobs. It's all very BBC Radio 4, in fact. But this is The Guardian's podcast, after all, so it would be for snobs, by snobs and more often than not, about snobs too.

That said, The Guardian Books Podcast, when it's not busy offending my delicate genre sensibilities - really, who am I kidding? - usually makes for an enlightening and unequivocally critical look at the latest in fiction. It's even topical. Last week, at the tail end of two months of torturous snow here in the UK, Sarah and Claire talked about snow in literature. Who'd have thought it?

So. If I haven't managed to put you off, and really, for all my snark, The Guardian Books Podcast is at least worth a listen, follow the links below and share your thoughts with The Speculative Scotsman in the comments.

Until next time!


Click here for more information on The Guardian Books Podcast, or subscribe to the podcast discussed in this post via the following links:

... iTunes users, meanwhile, should use this link.

If you'd like to submit your podcast or a personal favourite to be considered for a future installment of Castmonger, simply leave a link and a brief description below.

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