The Podcast Repertory Theater 2008–9, part 4: METAMOR CITY — MAKING THE CUT

Clerk’s Log, MJD 54961.9: Oops … drat. <sigh> Thus do I break the pattern of posting the TPRT article before the subject production comes to an end. Making the Cut is now complete and available at Check it out — you won’t regret it. And the novel’s parent production, The Metamor City Podcast, is still going strong.

In Murder at Avedon Hill, the gods occasionally come down to earth. In the world of Metamor City, they’ve been forcibly relocated there, and things haven’t been at all the same since.

One of the gods, you see, began the turning of selected humans into vampires, a process that continues to this day. Among the other humans, meanwhile, a new strain emerged with similar mental powers and, despite its different social agenda, a similar determination to survive: the psychics, most of whom have bonded together (on several levels) as the Psi Collective. Each of these subcategories of humanity views the other not only as its mortal enemy but also, in light of their few similarities, its counterfeit.1

Vampires and telepaths. Who would have thought these would be found in the same world, let alone as counterparts? Clearly we’re dealing with something different from traditional science fiction or fantasy here.

Welcome to the world of Metamor City.

A city of metamorphs and wonder

Growing out of another shared-universe project, the fantasy Metamor Keep, Metamor City exists in a world where magic and technology coexist and have developed side by side. Tech has not replaced magic (as in, say, Niven’s The Magic Goes Away), nor is magic even diminishing — in fact, it’s on the rise. No, we are talking about actual, peaceful coexistence, so that wizards and physicians can be found in the same office building, a space station can be placed in orbit through rocketry but supplied with artificial gravity via magic; and a police force using firearms and grav-skimmer patrol cars employs elves and a vampire M.E. (not to mention its chief, a human whose form is closer to that of a wolverine).2

The geographic region where the City is located, you see, is under a curse. Ages in the past, mages on one side of a war unleashed a, shall we say, “weapon of mass transmogrification” against the other side, causing those living in the area to be transformed in ways that they would find, to say the least, immensely inconvenient: some into animals, some into infants, and some into the opposite sex. Those who lived at this mystical ground zero, however, not only were undefeated by this curse, they took steps to turn it into a positive factor (a case of “if life gives you lemons, make lemon meringue pie”). Thus, in the present day, the curse has been modified so that, by using the proper techniques, one can select how one wishes to be transformed. Some choose specific animal forms for utilitarian or philosophical reasons, while others choose to become androgynes — meaning not that they combine both sexes in one form, but that they alternate between the two at will. (Some are still choosing to take the form of infants. Why they would do this, I have no idea — but I expect The Metamor City Podcast to tell us one day.)

As if all this weren’t enough, the world has also been invaded by supernatural beings from outside, through interdimensional rifts. Thus we have incubi, succubi, and many other varieties of otherworldly creatures besides. Addressing this influx of nonhumans is the Lothanasi Order, a kind of Homeworld Security Agency with a decidedly proactive stance.

Then there’s the matter of the psis and the vamps, already mentioned. Which brings us to …

Production #4: MAKING THE CUT

  • Philippa Ballantine: Eva Selindi, the female identity of a certain androgyne
  • P.G. Holyfield: Kevin, one of Daniel’s roommates
  • Chris Lester: Daniel Sharabi
  • Tee Morris: Evan Selindi, the androgyne’s male identity
  • Web site:

With Metamor City, “chief writer” Chris Lester takes the opportunity to explore common questions in decidedly uncommon ways. Making the Cut, a novel in the Metamor City universe, discusses what happens when someone we would normally celebrate finds instead that his own circle considers him deficient in what Really Counts. That someone is Daniel Sharabi: intelligent, athletic, talented — the kind of man who in our society would be thought an excellent catch, someone whose bloodline should be preserved. Not so in the Psi Collective, however, whose concept of survival means only allowing those to breed who have superior telepathic or other psychic skills … and Daniel’s are too weak to qualify. He doesn’t make the cut.

We would protest that this treatment isn’t fair. Nor does Lester disagree. It is what it is, however, and must be addressed as it stands. Daniel’s work is cut out for him, and in this society, where the vampires who control organized crime seek to wipe out the telepaths and vice versa, he has to find some way he can assert his value among his peers.

The production values are superb, as many have noted. Sound effects, carefully selected music, and le voix juste for the various characters make Metamor City an excellent place to hang one’s disbelief on a peg for a while. In fact, in his speech-cum-rant declaring himself the “Uber-Nemesis” of all podcast novelists,3 Tee Morris took a moment to cry out, “And you! Lester! Did I say you could raise the bar?! No! Did you raise the bar? Yes!

Morris himself shines here as Evan Selindi, one “side” of an androgyne “pair” (as is typical of good ideas in SFF, we’re going to have to figure out some new vocabulary to cover this one), whose suavity is countered by Philippa Ballantine at her irresistibly seductive best as Eva Selindi, who advises Daniel on one possible solution to his problem. Also noteworthy are Christiana Ellis, as the disciplined but inwardly passionate psi-warrior Fiona hin’Conaill; Bryan Watson, both as Daniel’s friend and psi-operative Brian Sommers and as the hilariously snarky, technically innovative wizard Artax, proprietor of the Spells-4-U shop, who deserves an entire chapter (imagine, say, a cross between Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore and Hugh Laurie as Dr. House); and the surprisingly versatile TD-0013, who plays vampire crimelord Malcolm ard’Valos with all the grace, smoothness, and calm villainy that we don’t associate with the Imperial Sandtrooper character in his Star Wars–debunking series A Different Point of View.

Change we can believe in

The nature of Metamor City’s denizens brings up a matter not often discussed in podcast circles but worthy of attention. If you want to read alternate history, you would of course look for works by a historian like Harry Turtledove, Judith Tarr, Susan Shwartz, or Ms. Ballantine (see Weather Child, currently in production.) If you want to read about the mechanics of space flight, you’d look for such technically-oriented people as Larry Niven or G. Harry Stine.

If you want to read about strange life-forms, you’d do well to seek out a biologist such as Chris Lester. Having a life-sciences man tell stories about theriomorphs, magically augmented humans, or gender-toggling androgynes gives an added authenticity to his treatments — not to mention that when he writes a fight scene (and Making the Cut has some lulus), you know his realistic view of what the human frame can take and his refusal to play fast and loose with the facts will produce a sequence of events that, all other things and magicks being equal, could indeed happen. Suspending disbelief is not always easy, but Lester makes it not only easy but comfortable.

“That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet,” said the Bard, who, following the lead of classical literature, went on to show us the comedic possibilities that arise when a tailor (or at least part of him) is turned into an ass. A character might be able to accomplish many things by his own or any other name. But in any other form … he may astound the world.

  1. Vampiric feeding, like sex between telepaths — indeed, Fred Saberhagen identified vampiric feeding with lovemaking in The Holmes-Dracula File — forms an unbreakable psychic bond between the two parties, and includes a degree of mixing between their personalities. “Blood is the river in which the spirit flows,” says medical examiner Morgan Drauling, herself a vampire. The Psi Collective might not credit the principle, but they acknowledge the parallel. []
  2. The alert reader will have already concluded that the classic question of what is fantasy and what is science fiction is very much at issue here. My response to that question, which some may find surprising, is that the dividing line is an illusion, and that what we call science fiction might as well be included in the overall category of “fantasy” (correctly understood). See the sidebar for details. []
  3. Nowhere has the concept of “frienemies” been so well developed as in podcasting, except that there they’re called “nemeses.” Scott Sigler began the practice, acknowledging the contributions of his “nemesis” J.C. Hutchins in an early edition of Ancestor. P.G. Holyfield and Chris Lester publicly label each other their nemeses, each wasting no opportunity to publicize the other’s work. (I sometimes imagine them playing out scenes from NCIS, with Lester taking Michael Weatherly’s role and Holyfield taking Sean Murray’s.)

    Tee Morris took the concept to a new level, proclaiming himself “the UBER-Nemesis … of ALL podcast novelists!” — and then, typically of Morris, doing everything he could to help and encourage them. []

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