SF Crossing the Gulf

Welcome to the SF Crossing the Gulf podcast. The podcast, hosted by Karen Burnham and Karen Lord, debuted in 2012 and ran for 18 episodes over the course of two seasons, originally hosted by the now defunct SF Signal (the text descriptions are still available there, but no audio). Episodes include fascinating discussions of notable contemporary hard science fiction, classic writers such as Cordwainer Smith and Olaf Stapledon, weird stories, and a focus on international science fiction, including but not limited to Mexican, Chinese, and Caribbean literature. The Locus Online archive page features short descriptions of each episode and links to the full details at SF Signal, where these podcasts originally appeared.

We’re pleased to be hosting and excited to share that Karen Burnham and Karen Lord have plans to produce new episodes of SF Crossing the Gulf, focusing on international short fiction. As this new content becomes available links to the episodes will be added to this archive page, and will also receive individual entries on the Locus roundtable blog.


SF Crossing the Gulf: Season One

Episode 1: A Discussion of Ted Chiang’s “Exhalation” and Others

The first episode gives a little intro on what Burnham and Lord plan to do, and then they get into the meat of the matter, spending most of this first episode discussing “Exhalation” and the collection Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang.

See the original full description of Episode 1 at SF Signal.

Episode 2: Edgar Mittelholzer’s My Bones and My Flute

Lord first encountered this Mittelholzer ghost story in secondary school English Literature. Published in 1955, it is one of the classics of the Caribbean literary canon and a perfect start to any discussion of Caribbean speculative fiction. A ghost/thriller novel, it sparks discussions ranging from the craft of writing to expressions of racism and misogyny. A new reprint is now available from Peepal Tree Press.

See the original full description of Episode 2 at SF Signal.

Episode 3: Discussion of Greg Egan’s “Crystal Nights” and Others

Running out of time for Ted Chiang during Episode 1 proved an advantage as Lord and Burnham spent Episode 3 comparing and contrasting his work with Greg Egan’s “Crystal Nights”.

See the original full description of Episode 3 at SF Signal.

Episode 4: Discussion of Erna Brodber’s The Rainmaker’s Mistake

Lord feared this unapologetically Caribbean book would be too challenging for readers lacking the historical and cultural context, but Burnham took to it like a duck to water and offered some important insights from the point of view of a non-West Indian and a genre reader.

Click here for a reading and interview with Erna Brodber, and links to other interviews, reviews and resources. Dr Brodber won the prestigious Windham-Campbell Prize in 2017 and has received several awards for her work throughout her career.

See the original full description of Episode 4 at SF Signal.

Episode 5: Discussion of Greg Egan’s “The Planck Dive” and Others

Lord urged Burnham not to be modest about the fact that she has spent over three years researching Egan’s fiction. With her knowledge of Egan’s entire fictional universe(s), she prevented Lord from making assumptions based on the snapshot of a single short story. They acknowledge that they omitted some of Egan’s best work because they chose stories available for free on the internet:

“The Planck Dive”

See the original full description of Episode 5 at SF Signal.

Episode 6: Discussion of Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow

We loved the book, we were in awe of the author, and we spoke with fluid eloquence (relative to previous podcasts!) about our love and awe. There’s so much here: characterization, colonialism, theology, and even a good sense of humor. With all the rich detail contained in this novel it took our longest podcast yet to even begin to wrap our arms around it. Many thanks to Cheryl Morgan for helping to clean up the audio!

See the original full description of Episode 6 at SF Signal.

Episode 7: Discussion of Curdella Forbes’s Ghosts

Lord thought Burnham would find Ghosts more accessible than The Rainmaker’s Mistake, but she was wrong (though not badly wrong, thankfully). Nevertheless, Burnham was very appreciative of the author’s talent and put it into the slipstream category with The Rainmaker’s Mistake. Overall verdict on Caribbean SF? Readable, enjoyable, layered, literary and well worth the effort.

See the original full description of Episode 7 at SF Signal.

Episode 8: Season One Wrap Up

In their wrap-up episode Lord and Burnham reflect on their first season of podcasting. They ramble far and wide with discussions of POV, immigrant tales, slipstream fiction, hard SF, and much else, concluding with a determination to start a second season the moment their deadlines allow them to.

See the original full description of Episode 8 at SF Signal.


SF Crossing the Gulf: Season Two


Episode 9: Introduction to Season 2, and Children of God by Mary Doria Russell

This episode begins with a brief discussion of what to expect for Season 2, and continues with a review of Children of God by Mary Doria Russell, the sequel to The Sparrow which was featured in Episode 6 of Season 1.

See the original full description of Episode 9 at SF Signal.

Episode 10: Jagannath, by Karin Tidbeck

This episode covers the stories of Jagannath, the truly excellent, award-winning collection from Karin Tidbeck. Themes range from fantasy to science fiction to steampunk with an overall vibe of weird. Definitely a favourite of this podcast.

See the original full description of Episode 10 at SF Signal.

Episode 11: Starmaker, by Olaf Stapledon

This 1939 classic science fiction novel by Olaf Stapledon proved to be a rich and profound work which needed more than a mere hour or two in order to fully plumb its depths. Highly recommended for a look at the origins of several tropes that are now standard in the genre.

See the original full description of Episode 11 at SF Signal.

Episode 12: Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis

This is Lewis’s last book, published in 1956, and one of Karen Lord’s favourite books. It is often overlooked when readers talk about Lewis’s books, but if you have any leanings towards reworked myth, many-layered stories and strong, complex female protagonists, this is a book you should read.

See the original full description of Episode 12 at SF Signal.

Episode 12a: Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis, now with added expert!

Episode 12 on Till We Have Faces was a little lacking in expert knowledge. Lewis’s work has been widely studied, and it seemed very likely that one of his most mature and challenging novels had been analysed by others far better qualified to do so. This short, supplemental episode revisits the novel and illuminates some previously murky areas with the help of special guest and Lewis expert Beth Potterveld.

See the original full description of Episode 12a at SF Signal.

Episode 13: Shadow of the Torturer, by Gene Wolfe

Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe is the first volume of the Book of the New Sun quartet, published in 1980. As a result, the discussion was limited to Wolfe’s worldbuilding and the structure and style of the story, rather than assessing plot and character arcs which would be better examined over the entire quartet. It is easy to see why this complex and enjoyable book is considered one of the classics of the genre.

See the original full description of Episode 13 at SF Signal.

Episode 14: Napier’s Bones, by Derryl Murphy

This book provides a very creative take on a system of … magic? Applied maths? You be the judge. The worldbuilding is rich and the plot jam-packed with action. One of the math-fi picks for the season.

See the original full description of Episode 14 at SF Signal.

Episode 15: Flatland, by Edwin A. Abbott and ‘The Shadow Postulates’ by Yoon Ha Lee

This episode featured two more math-fi picks.

Flatland is another one of Karen Lord’s favourite books, and the oldest book to be featured on this podcast (publication year 1884). When compared and contrasted to the social sci-fi and math-fi of Yoon Ha Lee, a brilliant contemporary writer (‘The Shadow Postulates’ is from Lee’s debut collection Conservation of Shadows, published 2008), it appears to have aged extremely well and deserves to be called a classic of the genre and of literature in general.

These works discuss perception, worldview, paradigms and scientific discovery – in effect how scientists and their work are influenced by culture and personal bias. Highly recommended if you have an interest in the history and philosophy of science.

See the original full description of Episode 15 at SF Signal.

Episode 16a: The Rediscovery of Man, by Cordwainer Smith (‘Scanners Live in Vain’ and ‘The Lady Who Sailed the Soul’)

Cordwainer Smith is one of Karen Burnham’s all-time favorite authors. Smith’s short fiction has lots of complexity and really lends itself to both literary and genre analysis. This is another example of an author whose work has aged well.

See the original full description of Episode 16a at SF Signal.

Episode 16b: The Rediscovery of Man, by Cordwainer Smith ‘Alpha Ralpha Boulevard’ (1961) and ‘On the Gem Planet’ (1963)

Continuing the exploration of Smith’s short stories, and finding ever-greater depth and complexity in the historical arc of his universe.

See the original full description of Episode 16b at SF Signal.

Episode 16c: Discussing Cordwainer Smith with guest Gary K. Wolfe

This belated, special podcast was added in February 2014 after the end of Season 2.  Senior SF critic Gary K. Wolfe revisits stories from Cordwainer Smith’s The Rediscovery of Man, providing expert insight on ‘Alpha Ralpha Boulevard’ and important biographical information about Smith.

See the original full description of Episode 16c at SF Signal.

Episode 17: ‘Single Bit Error’ by Ken Liu and Distances by Vandana Singh

In a rare occurrence, both hosts are in the same room for this podcast recording. Karen Lord joins Karen Burnham in Houston, Texas to discuss the last two math-fi selections—a thoughtful short story by Liu and a brilliant novella by Singh. Disclaimer: Karen Lord is quieter than usual due to serious wisdom-toothache and there are a few noise interruptions. Put the sound up to eleven, and ignore the fireworks and the bone-crunching dog.

See the original full description of Episode 17 at SF Signal.

Episode 18: Season 2 Recap

The favourites of the season and the joys of the old classics are discussed. The podcast concludes with a wishlist of works for Season 3, which, alas, was never realised for various reasons. But … perhaps coming soon?

See the original full description of Episode 18 at SF Signal.

SF Crossing the Gulf: Season Three

Episode 19: Season 3 debut

A Marvel movie, an afrofuturistic dream, a box office phenomenon… and more? We take a side step from page to screen to comment on the many ways that Black Panther works, and works well. We also hint at future podcasts to compare text to film in other adaptations such as A Wrinkle in TimeAnnihilation, and Arrival (2016).

See the full description of S3: Episode 19

Episode 20: A Wrinkle in Time: The book, the movie

When a dearly loved but challenging book becomes a movie, where do you set your expectations? Karen and Karen discuss the alchemy of transmuting text to screen and the choices that must be made if the story is to not merely translate, but flourish. We also talk about how much the book meant to us growing up, and our belief that Ava DuVernay has given us a film that will be just as meaningful for a future generation of young geeks.

See the full description of Episode 20.

Episode 21: Rebecca Roanhorse’s “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™”

In one of our favourite discussions to date, Karen and Karen summarise, assess, dissect and digest the multiple-award-winning short story “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™” by Rebecca Roanhorse. This richly layered and nuanced story rewards on so many levels. We provide perspectives from our own experiences, alternating roles as insider and outsider.

See the full description of Episode 21.


Episode 22: The Everyday Apocalypse: “Nine Last Days on Planet Earth” by Daryl Gregory and “The Privilege of the Happy Ending” by Kij Johnson
Apocalypse now, or some day soon when we least expect it? Karen and Karen compare and contrast two very different stories with a common theme – the end of the world as we know it. But apocalypse can mean many things when we consider the privileged or the vulnerable; the distant past or the near future; the observer or the affected; the slow, creeping horror or fleet-footed death. Award winning authors Gregory and Johnson more than deliver on the philosophical promise of this topic.

See the full description of Episode 22.

Episode 22a: In conversation with Daryl Gregory: “Nine Last Days on Planet Earth”
Even better than reading an excellent story is discussing with the author how and why they wrote it! We are so pleased to have Daryl Gregory with us to discuss the nuances, secrets and personal touches in his apocalypse-themed science fiction story “Nine Last Days on Planet Earth”. (But first listen to episode 22 of the podcast for our summary and discussion of this story.)

See the full description of Episode 22a.

Episode 22b: In conversation with Kij Johnson: “The Privilege of the Happy Ending”
Rounding off our triad of podcasts about the end of the world as we know it, we are honoured to welcome Kij Johnson to discuss her apocalypse-themed fantasy story (with strong hints of science fiction!) “The Privilege of the Happy Ending”. The research, the worldbuilding, and the structural and narrative choices that went into this story make this a geniusclass in writing craft from one of the genre’s best. (But first listen to episode 22 of the podcast for our summary and discussion of this story.)

See the full description of Episode 22b.

Episode 23: In conversation with Ted Chiang: “The Great Silence”

Most people may know about Ted from “The Story of Your Life” which was filmed as Arrival, but his reputation with readers and writers as a top tier craftsman of the short form was well established before then. We had the pleasure of asking Ted some questions about a short (very short!) piece of his from 2015, part of an art installation and as a result quite different from his usual style though certainly sharing the same DNA.
Coincidentally, it continues the Anthropocene theme from our last set of podcasts. It is also an excellent example of art in conversation with art — text and visual art co-created and responding to each other to produce a larger work.
Advance warning: we don’t summarise the story in this podcast. You can read it, and a lovely introduction by Karen Joy Fowler, at this link:

See the full description of Episode 23.


Episode 24: Transformative Horror: “The Fruit of My Woman” by Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith) and “The Good Husband” by Nathan Ballingrud

Ballingrud’s work is frightening, Kang’s is surreal, and both are disturbingly beautiful in their portrayal of how a person’s radical transformation can destabilize their marriage… or are they about how marriage can precipitate a radical transformation? Tune in to hear us tease out the nuances of these two parallel stories. You can read “The Fruit of My Woman” online before listening to the podcast, but for “The Good Husband” you’ll have to buy or borrow a book.

See the full description of Episode 24.

Episode 24a: In conversation with Nathan Ballingrud: “The Good Husband”

In a follow up to our previous podcast, we had the very great pleasure of chatting with the lovely Nathan Ballingrud, author of “The Good Husband”, about the themes and inspiration for his story about a marriage gone awry, and his new works (both film and text) in 2019. Best to read “The Good Husband” first or, if you must live on the edge, at least listen to the summary we provide in episode 24.

See the full description of Episode 24a.