May 11, 2017
Tor will start publishing experimental stuff — first up, a serialized podcast
by Peter Clark
On May 1, Tor Books announced the creation of Tor Labs, an “imprint” dedicated to new kinds of storytelling. For the skeptical out there, this one doesn’t appear to be like other half-cocked ideas from media companies scrambling to figure out how to be relevant in a viral publishing landscape that makes ebola seem like a slow-moving organism. The people at Tor know what they’re doing. For dedicated sci-fi fans, Tor.com became a beacon for news when it was founded in 2008, and has since grown into a mainstay for industry updates, excerpts, and more. And on top of all of that, Tor still publishes really great books, like last year’s All the Birds in the Sky and this year’s The Collapsing Empire, to name a couple.
With this new announcement, it sounds like Tor wants to give new media a shot. Serialized podcasts like Serial, S-Town, and, perhaps most relevant here, Welcome to Night Vale have exploded in the past several years. It may be with those successes in mind that editors Jennifer Gunnels and Marco Palmieri have decided to give the sci-fi audio drama a rebirth. Talking recently with Andrew Liptak at The Verge, Palmieri pointed out that “no US book publisher, as far as we knew, was doing audio dramas — plays written to be performed by voice actors.”
Their first foray is titled Steal the Stars, a “‘noir science fiction thriller’ about two government employees guarding a crashed UFO. The two fall in love and decide to steal the alien that they’ve been tasked with watching, and then sell the secrets of its existence to the highest bidder.”
As in any new media project, the premise and fun of exploration will need to be matched with the kind of exquisite storytelling that has powered high-performing serial podcasts in the past. With Tor behind it, there’s cause for great optimism — though, of course, traps are plentiful.
If this works, we could see audio serializations of some fan favorites, or even the arrival of whole new genres. At the moment, Gunnels and Palmieri aren’t revealing what else is up their sleeves. I guess we’ll just have to see how this goes first.
Steal the Stars will be available for download starting August 2nd, with a fourteen-episode run, wherever you get your podcasts.
Peter Clark is a former Melville House sales manager.