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SFX Blogger Alasdair Stuart recommends some essential free listening for fantasy fans

I love fiction podcasts, and have done ever since I first heard Earthcore just over * cough cough * years ago. The basic idea is so simple, so elegant that it’s almost impossible not to be won over. You download, almost always for free, a short story or chapter of a book that you can listen to whilst doing something else. It’s fiction whilst you work, or rest, or sit in the bath or anyone of a dozen other things. And like I say, it’s usually for free.

There are vast amounts of fiction podcasts out there but one of the newest, and best, is Dark Fiction Magazine . Founded by Del Lakin Smith and Sharon Ring, Dark Fiction Magazine has a very simple remit: to bring you three dark great dark fiction stories every month, read by a rotating cast of narrators. In the interests of full disclosure, I’m one of them and it’s something I’m happy to do because Del and Sharon have a fantastic eye for good stories and how to group them.

The latest issue, subtitled “Sacred Fire” is a perfect example of this. There are four stories this time, starting with “Xenos Beach” by Graham Joyce. Joyce is an author whose work straddles genres and this exploration of travel, how it changes us and whether escape and victory are the same thing is one of his best. The story’s available as part of “Partial Eclipse And Other Stories”, an anthology of Joyce’s fiction available from Subterranean Press.

Also impressive is “The Winter King” by Liz Williams. Liz is the writer of the excellent Inspector Chen novels about a police officer whose beat takes in Heaven, Hell and Earth, and “The Winter King” is haunting. It neatly balances between fantasy and horror, exploring what happens when the main character, Ashton, finds his life intersecting with something beautiful and terrible and huge. It’s a lyrical story, and to explore it in detail would be to ruin the impact. For what it’s worth, this reminded me of nothing less than the “Piper At The Gates Of Dawn” chapter of Wind In The Willows and I can’t think of praise much higher than that. Kim Lakin-Smith’s reading here is also particularly impressive, as is Danny Davies’ on “Xenos Beach”

“Who Slays the Gyant, Wounds The Beast” is one of several stories and novels featuring Mark Chadbourn’s Elizabethan spy Will Swyfte. These are huge fun, especially as Chadbourn neatly riffs on both the setting and the genre. This is an Elizabethan England where the Fae are a very real, very dangerous presence and Will, a spy in the employ of the Queen and provided with gadgets by John Dee, her magician, is often the only thing that stands in the way of catastrophe. Swashbuckling, smart and very diferent, this is a real highlight of the issue and is read by the excellent Marty Perrett.

“Paying For Rain” by Jaine Fenn finishes the issue off. Read by Emma Newman it’s a neat, and very dark, collision between local myths and modern concerns. This is a story about what happens when necessity collides with tradition, amorality with tradition and it ends the issue on a real high point.

Dark Fiction Review publishes consistently smart, unusual and at times very moving fiction. It’s all free, there’s new material being added all the time. Go, listen and spend some time in the dark. You couldn’t wish for better company.