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.
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.
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”.
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.
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?