After a long period of experimentation and hope, I have finally succeeded in making contact with the hive mind known as The Skiffy and Fanty Show, a Hugo-nominated podcast run by Shaun Duke, Julia Rios, Paul Weimer, Mike Underwood, David Annandale, Rachael Acks, Stina Leicht and Jen Zink.
SCy-Fy: Thanks to all of you for melding like this. How do you prepare for a show?
Julia: It depends what kind of episode it is. If it’s for our Torture Cinema feature – discussions of bad SFF films with a heavy dose of comedy – I prepare by watching the movie, writing down my five likes and dislikes, and checking out iMDB and Rotten Tomatoes to find out interesting trivia to bring up during the show.
For episodes like Shoot the WISB – discussions of films and TV shows – I might just watch the show or movie and then give my honest reactions.
Interviews and discussions are the ones where I tend to do the most prep work ahead of time. For interviews, of course, I will read the book that we’re going to be talking about, but I often also spend a fair amount of time researching the author, the subject matter, and so on.
For discussion topics, I usually try to find out some interesting resources about the topic and about the people that we will be talking to so that I have some information going in and enough to give me good questions to ask them.
Mike: If it’s an interview, I try to read at least one substantive work from the creator – a novel, a comic, and so on. And after that, I spitball some questions and try to run them by my fellow co-hosts so we don’t all end up covering the same lines of inquiry.
If the episode is a themed discussion, then I’ll prepare based on the topic, whether that’s assembling recommendations or coming up with some talking points with regards to the theme.
But ultimately, a lot of what I think makes the show work is that the co-hosts all have a good working relationship, and we can steer the conversation as we go in order to adjust on the fly and make sure we loop around to important points.
SCy-Fy: What are your future initiatives?
Shaun: Throughout 2015, we’re focusing much of our episode output on the contributions of women and non-binary people in sf/f. That means a whole lot of interviews, theme-specific discussions, and great movies. But that’s just this year. I haven’t a clue what we’re going to do for next year, since it’s still the first half of 2015. I do know that this year we’re going to do a lot of restructuring of the show, and we’re going to eventually open a Patreon page to hopefully expand the show beyond its current little bubble.
There’s a lot of discussion behind-the-scenes right now, all of it geared towards making the show better than it already is (thanks in part to a lot of listener feedback). For sure, I want to do more World SF Tour work, because there’s just too much of the world that we’ve not explored yet. There are a lot of barriers (language, etc.) to that project, but it means a lot to me. My dream is to interview one sf/f author from every single country on the planet. That may be a bit ambitious (and maybe impossible), but I’m still going to dream about it.
By the end of this year, we’ll hopefully have done a lot of good work or melted a couple of moons for posterity.
SCy-Fy: What do you think will be the major challenges in future?
Paul: The field of podcasting has exploded in recent years. The days of just a few pioneers casting their voices into the aether are long gone. Now, there are more podcasts than ever, and getting listeners to find you and stay with you with their limited time is an ever increasing challenge. Also, staying distinct and not just another voice in the wilderness is a challenge that all podcasts face. Podcasts like “Serial” have led to waves of imitators, and finding one’s own true and personal voice and bringing it to listeners is difficult.
Mike: I think one of our biggest challenges moving forward is one we have right now – there’s just too much to talk about. There’s an incredible volume of notable work being produced, and we can only cover so much, even if we focus on material that really blows us away and creators we respect and admire. We could put out eight episodes a month and still not cover everything of note in just one medium, let alone several. So we try to find a balance, making sure to highlight new creators to help them connect with potential audiences, as well as covering films and/or TV shows that are ripe for discussion due to being topical or just plain interesting.
Shaun: To piggyback off of Mike, the biggest challenge I often face is the impulse to try to cover all those things we can’t possibly cover. I always want to do more than we’re already doing, even though doing so isn’t necessarily a good thing. A show like ours can’t cover everything any more than a much larger network of shows can. So finding your niche and building upon it is sometimes made more difficult by the desire to reach even wider than you have the arms for.
SCy-Fy: What advice would you give anyone presenting?
Julia: I think the most important thing to remember for me is that this is very public and that I should be prepared to stand behind what I say and to admit when I’ve made a mistake. Know that, whatever you say, once it’s out there, it’s really out there and you can’t call it back. Other than that, I think the best directive is to try to remember that this is entertainment and that if we can’t be interesting, people aren’t going to want to listen, so hopefully we’re interesting.
As for how to be interesting, I usually try to operate on the assumption that if we’re all interested in the conversation we’re having, chances are someone else will be, too. But, the important side effect of that is that we have to remember that not everyone has all of the information that we have, so it’s important to sometimes make sure that we’re explaining things that might be not entirely clear from context. For instance, if we’re talking about something unrelated to Star Trek and Shaun says it’s like a particular episode of Star Trek, then I might ask him to explain which episode of Star Trek and why that’s relevant in the situation, because the casual listener might not know what he’s talking about, even if I do.
Rachael: Remember that the internet is forever and full of people who are ready to call you on any BS or unexamined positions you might take. If someone calls you to the carpet, sometimes it’s hard to react non-defensively, but it’s important to be able to take a step back and be willing to re-examine your positions. And sometimes you’ll decide that you’re still right – though there’s never a reason to be a jerk about it – and sometimes you’ll realize you were wrong and have to admit you made a mistake. Also, be prepared to cite your sources and be careful how you google.
Mike: I definitely ditto Julia and Rachael on being ready to back up your assertions and to apologize when needed. I’d add that when you’re presenting on the internet, on a podcast or blog interview, you have the chance to reach a huge audience, that every post or appearance could blow up in terms of attention, and that presenting online is a great chance to spread the word about creative works – recommend the things you love and share your specific passion for that work. Word of mouth is still the most powerful vector for discovering new content; it’s just that now word of mouth includes the internet.
SCy-Fy: Just between us – your secret list of useful resources?
Julia: My list of resources is wide and varied. I like to look at iMDB, Wikipedia, and Rotten Tomatoes for movies, Goodreads, Amazon reviews, The Book Smugglers, SF Signal, Diversity in YA, and lots of other blogs for book reviews, and Google is my best friend, really. Google will lead me to all kinds of things, and often I get lost in ridiculous research rabbit holes.
Rachael: iMDB, Box Office Mojo, Rotten Tomatoes for movie information. Goodreads is where I tend to get started for books. Otherwise, Wikipedia is the number one place to start looking, but remember that it is only a start. Verify things elsewhere, look at citations, check that sources are properly cited. I also recommend GeoScienceWorld as a science resource, but it’s a little less useful if you don’t have an institutional login.
SCy-Fy: Points to watch out for?
Rachael: Just keep in mind that there is no peer review on the internet, so everything should be taken with not so much a grain of salt as an 800’-thick halite formation. Collect a wide array of opinions before forming your own views. Go to the source whenever possible, and find sources that you can trust. And on the other side of things, it’s really easy to get angry and say hasty, mean things. Always remember that on the other side of any disagreement you might have are other people, and try to be kind. (Not nice. Kind.)
SCy-Fy: Things that have kept you going in hard times?
Paul: The camaraderie of the podcast. We have a friendly, engaged, and interesting group of people. During the hard patches, the chance to talk with Shaun about an old favorite or interesting new author is a blessing. The chance to talk about a terrible movie, and laugh, and groan, and do funny impressions on a Torture Cinema skit, can be a balm. And listeners. Having people actually tell me they listen to what I say and what I do helps armor me when things aren’t going so well. I’m not just a lonely voice that no one ever hears.
Shaun: I concur with Paul. When life throws me down a flight of stairs, I know I’ll get a good pick-me-up from recording an episode of the show. Podcasting is also an outlet for all my geeky (and sometimes academic) interests, which isn’t always what I get to, well, geek out about in real life. At the end of the day (or week), I know I’m going to get to chat with my amazing friends about those interests. That can brighten up any day.
SCy-Fy: Has Skiffy and Fanty been involved in any controversy so far?
Shaun: We’ve recorded episodes on the Hugo Awards almost every year, and if you’ve been paying attention for the past 3-4 years, the Hugo Awards haven’t been anything but controversial. Our Hugo episodes remain some of our most popular – probably because those episodes often feature vociferous debate about the efficacy of the awards, which is a surefire way to get attention (if that’s what you’re looking for). Other than that, we’ve steered clear of most controversies, except to talk about them when they spring up in the sf/f community. I don’t think of The Skiffy and Fanty Show as a controversial show. At least, that’s not our intent.
SCy-Fy: What have been the best books, films and TV shows you have read or seen recently?
Julia: I actually really enjoyed the live action version of Into the Woods that Disney put out in December of 2014. I was skeptical going in, but it made me laugh all the way through, and I thought Chris Pine was an excellent choice as Prince Charming. On TV, I am enjoying Agent Carter and Jane the Virgin (which is not science fiction, but is an amazing show).
As for books, I feel like there are too many to name, but the ones that jump to the top of my mind right this second are Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis, Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson, The Witch in the Almond Tree by C.S.E. Cooney, There is no Lovely End by Patty Templeton, and Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older.
Paul: Guardians of the Galaxy is probably my favorite widescreen, four color epic movie of the year. It is all of the things I love in unabashed space opera, and I could only wish for more of the like on movie screens.
Under the Skin was a mindscrew of a movie — an intimate tale of an alien who looks like Scarlet Johanssen doing strange things to men in Scotland. My friend and I debated the movie for hours after we saw it, and it haunts me still.
KV Johansen’s two Marakand novels, The Leopard and The Lady, returned me to a fascinating Central Asian world that is the epitome of the Silk Road Fantasy that I’ve been promoting and thinking about for a couple of years now. Gods, Demons, undying cursed warriors, intrigue and adventure in a stop on a trading road town is definitely one of my jams. Since both books came out in the same year and form a complete story together, I nominated them as one unit for my Hugo Ballot.
Speaking of Silk Road Fantasy, Elizabeth Bear’s Steles of the Sky, the third and the last of her Eternal Sky Trilogy, came out early in 2014 (although I was reading early versions of it back in 2013). Elizabeth Bear is one of my favorite writers and people, and I enjoyed the hell out of her turn into full bore epic fantasy. There doesn’t seem to be a subgenre of fantasy and science fiction that she can’t write.
Alyx Dellamonica’s Child of a Hidden Sea is the start of a new series and dusts off and updates a subgenre of fantasy that hasn’t gotten much love lately – portal fantasy. Sophie is an intriguing young heroine that I felt an immediate bond to, and I loved following her from Earth to the mysterious world of Stormwrack. The sequel, Daughter of No Nation, is coming out this year, and I couldn’t be more delighted.
Rachael: For movies, Guardians of the Galaxy, Maleficent, Interstellar, Snowpiercer, Under the Skin, Edge of Tomorrow – fun movie, awful title – Her, and in non-genre, Chef and the Grand Budapest Hotel. For TV shows: Agent Carter and Sailor Moon Crystal. I also finally started watching Criminal Minds and regret that it took me so long to do so.
I don’t read nearly as much as I should, but I loved City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett – and Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor. I also read a lot of comics this year, mostly Miss Marvel, Agent of Asgard, and the Wicked + the Divine.
Mike: The Librarians was probably my greatest unalloyed joy when it comes to TV in 2014– though the season extended into 2015. My favorite books of the year included Katherine Addison’s delightful surprise, The Goblin Emperor, and Jaye Wells’ richly-drawn speculative crime novel, Dirty Magic.
I got back into comics in a big way last year, so I had tons of favorites there, from the Weird West Horror The Sixth Gun to the corporate dystopian story of Lazarus, the buzz-tastic wonder of Ms. Marvel to the excellently defiant Bitch Planet.
My favorite films included the wonderful surprise that was The LEGO Movie, the riotously fun Guardians of the Galaxy, and the brilliantly-executed Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Shaun: A lot of the stuff I loved has already been listed, so I’ll just add a few things.
For books – Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang (math-based action thriller; it’s wonderful), Breach Zone by Myke Cole (his strongest novel, I think; military-based superhero-style fantasy – brilliant stuff), The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar – he is easily one of the greatest sf/f authors out there, and The Violent Century demonstrates why – anything by Tobias Buckell (Hurricane Fever came out last year and used the spy thriller format to great effect), Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta (post-water resource crisis dystopia; may very well be a new classic from Finland), all of Ann Leckie’s books, Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley (it’s a flawed book, but I loved the challenge), and just too many bloody books. There are too many!
Movies / TV — I’ll add Jodorovsky’s Dune, which is an absolutely brilliant documentary about a movie that never got made. Arrow, Vikings, Game of Thrones, and How I Met Your Mother are also all brilliant in their own way. I also highly recommend The Grand Budapest Hotel, Nightcrawler, A Most Wanted Man, and Chef, which are not genre-specific (except GPH), but still stunningly good.
SCy-Fy: Which forthcoming releases are you most looking forward to?
Julia: Books I am excited for include The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu, Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear, Updraft by Fran Wilde, The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson, The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor, and the final part of SL Huang’s Russell’s Attic series.
In movies, I’m strangely looking forward to the live action Cinderella because I had so much fun with Into the Woods. And as for TV, I keep hearing that there’s going to be a Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell miniseries, and I am really hoping that’s true.
Paul: Ilana Myer is a clever and interesting columnist and writer whose debut novel, Last Song Before Night, intrigues me with its promised blend of magic and music. Fran Wilde, of Cooking the Books and many other projects, also has a debut novel this year set in a city in the clouds that I am eagerly looking to try — entitled Updraft. Laura Anne Gilman is returning to secondary world fantasy, kind of, with a world where the West is held by the Devil — in Silver On The Road. Kate Elliott, one of the writers whose work I will always read, has two novels coming this year, the YA novel Court Of Fives and a return to the Crossworlds universe in Black Wolves. That last…I know more than a little about already.
Rachael: I am terrible at upcoming releases for anything but movies. This year I’m looking forward to Avengers: Age of Ultron, Chappie, Crimson Peak, and Mockingjay part 2. In non-genre, Pitch Perfect 2.
Mike: I’m eager to watch Avengers: Age of Ultron – in no small part to see if Phase Two can be capped off as excellently as Phase One was. I’m also very interested to see how Marvel and DC carry off their big continuity-re-defining events this summer (Secret Wars and Convergence, respectively).
I’m also excited for the launch of Tor.com’s novella imprint (though I’m definitely biased about this one).
I’m also curious about Crimson Peak and the Daredevil TV show, as well as the rest of Season 1 of The Man In the High Castle, if it makes it out this year.
Shaun: Most of what I’m interested in has already been mentioned, so I’ll just say a few things. If Marvel is releasing something this year, I’m interested (with exception maybe to Ant Man, which I will see, but which I’m not that excited about). I’m hesitant about Star Wars VII, but I will still probably see it opening night. I think what I’m most looking forward to, though, are the things that I will see without knowing anything about them. A few weeks ago, I saw the incredible horror film, It Follows. I had no expectations going on, and I was so pleasantly surprised by the experience that I count the film as easily one of the best films of 2014 (period). I can’t wait to have more experiences like that, whether they come through movies, TV shows, or books.
SCy-Fy: Anything to add?
Paul: Life is too short to fill it with bad listening. There are podcasts for every taste, every style and every level of attention. From intricate discussions of history, to weird genre serial stories, to a bunch of writers and genre people talking to people and discussing bad movies – there’s a podcast for everyone.
Rachael: Take the risk. Do the thing. And be kind.
Mike: I’ll leave you with some inside baseball. When Shaun talks about me being wrong about comics, it actually means he loves me like a brother. That’s just how our friendship works.
Shaun: Mike is wrong about comics. Contrary to what he says, this does not mean I love him like a brother. It means a war is coming. A war only a few will survive. Fought with pillows and long, alcohol-fueled rants in con bars.
SCy-Fy: Thanks to all of you! It has been great to speak.