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Archive for October, 2019

A Listener Reviews: Directive

Directive

Episodes:  6 episodes.

Length:  10-20 minutes, with most in the low teens

I’ve listened to… All of season 1.

The Premise: Frank’s job is simple: take care of the passengers aboard the colony ship bound for a new world. He’s alone, aside from his AI assistant, and video calls to other caretakers, which seemed like a blessing at first.

My Review:  Before listening to Directive, an audiodrama had never made me cry. Maybe I got a little misty-eyed, but I kept it together. And then the final episode of season 1 comes along and got me crying. Like tears down the cheeks, yucky sniffling kind of crying. I am still amazed by how powerful a punch they managed to pack into six short episodes. It is a true testament to how wonderfully crafted it is.

Now, this review may be a little vague because I really don’t want to give anything away. The story is so well structured. As someone who likes to write short stories, I’m really impressed by the level of skill in pacing and plot this audiodrama displays. It develops the main components really well, keeping things slow where they should be and moving gracefully through other moments. I think the initial episodes do an excellent job of impressing on the listener the monotony of Frank’s day-to-day. It builds a sense of familiarity and camaraderie with him. And that makes what comes after all the more powerful.

Frank is a solid character, drawing the listener in as you build a connection with him. He is balanced well by the meticulous AI, focused solely on accomplishing the mission of safely ferrying the passengers. It is interesting that both Frank and the AI have the same motivation, albeit with different motivations. For the AI, it is programming. For Frank, it’s to get his well earned reward for all the hard work. However, it may not really be as straightforward as all that, once you get down to it. But I’ll let you listen and see.

Season 2 is coming up and appears as if it will be telling a different story in the same universe. I’m not sure what to expect or how interconnected the two seasons will be, but I am excited to see what this creator does next.

Listen, if you are up for some really exceptional writing and storytelling, grab yourself a box of tissues and settle in to binge all six episodes. You’ll be done in about an hour and a half and have the rest of the day to reflect and think on what an incredible story Directive tells. Maybe it won’t hit you quite the same way it did me, but I know it is a fantastic example of how well-created a story can be.

You can find them here: Directive


A Listener Reviews: Windfall

Windfall

Episodes:  10 Episodes in their incredible first season!

Length: Generally around 20-30 minutes with a slightly longer season finale episode

I’ve listened to… All 10.

The Premise: Years ago, Wanda showed up in her castle in the sky and built a fantastic floating city. The rich live in the city, while Grounders try to eke out a living below. The story follows a family and the interconnected web of characters as Contact Day, the day of celebration commemorating Wanda’s first appearance, approaches and something sinister grows.

My Review:  Wow. So, this is a new podcast for this year, and I caught it after the season had ended. I’m glad I did, because I would have been miserable waiting week after week for a new release. Not sure what I’m going to do when season 2 starts. I’m not ashamed to admit this is a story that had me peeking at upcoming episode descriptions to try and figure out what was coming next. But they are pretty good about their descriptions and did not give away much. So I just had to cross my fingers and listen.

In ten episodes, this audiodrama manages to bring to life a whole host of various characters. And they are deep and complex and relatable in their humanity. Characters I would have classified as secondary or background characters manage to have a major impact. It is remarkable how nuanced just about everyone seems to be. The situations they are placed in are often challenging and morally ambiguous. How do you balance life, safety, freedom, respect, loyalty, family, healing, and anger in a way that is fair to everything? You can’t. And it is in those choices that the depth of the characters and strength of the writing really shines.

I said in the description that it follows a family, and that’s kind of true. But I think the family encompasses more than those related by blood, but extends to those who stand side-by-side. The characters are from above and below, demonstrating no one is as simple as they appear. Each is unique in background and motivation, each piecing life together as they can. But as the status quo in the world begins to shift, those things that worked before no longer suffice. And the choices made in those moments have far reaching consequences.

Listening to the finale episode knocked me back. It was intensely emotional in good and bad ways. I’ll say the “twist” did not really catch me by surprise, but I’m hesitant to even call it a twist. I’m not sure it was anything meant to be carefully concealed. Still, taking that in stride, it had plenty of surprising and emotional moments that left me reeling. And inspired. I think Windfall does an excellent job of showing a truth about humanity. Place people in impossible situations and their true selves will show.

With an excellent cast, intricate story, and compelling world, Windfall is an easy recommendation. It’s got some sci-fi notes, a little dystopia, some crime, some drama, and a little romance for good measure. Characters are dynamic, but woefully imperfect in the way that makes their stories exciting. The build up in tension from season 1 is handled expertly, culminating with an absolutely explosive season finale. Expect to be blown away when you give it a listen.

You can find them here: Windfall


A Listener Reviews: The Phenomenon

The Phenomenon

Episodes:  16 episodes in two seasons. Season 3 is set to start in October!

Length: Generally around 15-25 minutes

I’ve listened to… All the episodes released so far. I cannot wait for season 3!

The Premise: Creatures show up in the sky. If you look at them, you die. And the world circles the drain pretty quickly thereafter,, but things manage to keep going from bad to worse as new dangers appear. The survivors must try to understand what happened, what is happening, and what is going to happen if humanity hopes to survive at all.

My Review:  If you have been looking for some very well done post-apocalyptic horror, this is a great podcast. It is dark and pulls no punches showcasing just how terrible the end of the world can be. There are monsters and there are people turned monsters, and humanity is safe from neither. Not to say there are not bright spots and good people, too, but there is also not an attempt to paint silver linings to the grey clouds.

There has been a recent surge in apocalyptic media using this theme of the danger of sense (be they sight, sound, or otherwise). The Phenomenon has some concepts that show up in other such properties, but manages to rise well above others. The tag line of the show is simple: “Do not look outside. Do not look at the sky. Do not make noise.” And from this simple directive, they derive so many surprising developments and challenges. What I think makes The Phenomenon so great is that the threat is not static. Whether from within or without, there is a dynamism to the show that suggests the truth– and possibly salvation–is always just a step beyond what is known. It does what good stories do, however, in that as new information is revealed, new challenges and wrinkles show up to keep the tension high.

The sound design is great; I find this particularly audiodrama very immersive because of that. It complements an great script and the excellent work of their voice actors. Overall production of the show seems to be top notch, and so it makes for a really engaging listening experience. The story is expansive in scope, but is well crafted from start to finish.

Speaking of expansive, there are a lot of characters to get to know. I think that was my biggest challenge overall as I started listening to the podcast. I had some trouble keeping everyone organized as to who they were, how they related to other characters, and even where they were at times. As the show has gone on, I have gotten better about this…and some characters no longer need to be accounted for. Like I said, it definitely does not pull punches when it comes to being a rather dark exploration of humanity after an apocalypse.

I have routinely been surprised by the twists and turns this story takes. If you have seen and heard of similar stories and thought this fits the same mold, you’re probably like me and probably just as mistaken as I was. The Phenomenon really excels not only in the quality of the product, but in the creative development of its story. The plot borrows some themes from apocalyptic stories (and of course it does, that’s the genre) but finds ways to make those new. There is a careful balance throughout of hope and hopelessness that is so delicately crafted, it elevates other themes from the genre, such as the search for safety or a “cure.”

Overall, The Phenomenon really showcases how great apocalyptic fiction can be. It shows all facets of humanity when faced with such peril. Characters are good, bad, and everything in between, making impossible decisions in impossible scenarios that, frankly, get worse by the day. It is realistic, shocking, and beautiful. I can highly recommend it and suggest you catch up on the first two season before the release of Season 3.

You can find them here: The Phenomenon


A Listener Reviews: Mirrors

Mirrors

Episodes:  10 episodes, with Season two just recently starting

Length: Generally around 20-30 minutes

I’ve listened to… All the episodes released so far.

The Premise: Three women separated across three different time periods all encounter the same unusual presence and make recordings about their experiences. What are the creatures they see? And why can each of these women see them?

My Review:  I just stumbled across this podcast, and I am so thankful I did.  It is a really unique story presented in a very polished way. The idea is pretty straightforward, but the implications are what really keep me intrigued. Three women, three times, the same experiences. It borrows some aspects of your standard ghost story with the indeterminate, incorporeal presence of something. But it moves it beyond the classic ghost story with the characteristics of these creatures and the time element. The biggest mystery, beyond what’s going on with these beings, is why these women? What ties them together across time and space in this experience? Season one begins to answer this, and season two has continued to unravel the mystery. 

The characters are each documenting their journeys, so as a listener, you are able to slowly begin to piece things together through the different breakthroughs each makes. As more pieces fit into place, it becomes clear something else must be going on. As with most good mysteries, answers only lead to more questions. I think the story and the reveal of information are paced really well. This is the kind of thing where revelations could appear far too quickly, rushing conclusions. Or, conversely, it could drag on forever until as a listener I start to believe not even the writers know where this is headed. Instead, this balances new information with new questions and continues moving towards understanding.

Each of the three women is in very different circumstances, tied together by their shared experience. The stories take place in the near past, the relative present, and the future. Each world and time period is established enough to give you an idea of what is going on, without bogging down with worldbuilding. Instead, it is all introduced organically and that serves to keep the story moving. Additionally, each of the characters is strong and determined in their own ways. They each approach the situation differently, but remain focused on answers. No matter what. They have their own styles, their own lives, their own strengths and weaknesses. The unique voices provide a well rounded experience as the listener is immersed in this mystery.

Mirrors is a well-crafted story working on multiple story lines at once. You know there is more to the story, and the slow reveal of information is very satisfying. It provides the listener a chance to play detective and piece it together, but never stops as the characters themselves seek answers. I’m impressed with how neat they have made such a complex story, especially as season two continues to progress. We all know what to expect from a ghost story, but Mirrors makes sure you don’t quite know what’s coming next. The creativity and the care put into creating this story make it worth every minute you spend listening.

You can find them here: Mirrors


A Listener Reviews: SCP Archives

SCP Archives

Episodes: 27, if I counted correctly

Length: Episode length varies, from around 15 minutes to an hour. Usually they fall somewhere around the 30 minute mark.

I’ve listened to… All the episodes released so far. Also some of the Patron Bonus Episodes.

The Premise: If you aren’t familiar with SCP, let’s have a little bit of an internet history lesson. So the SCP Foundation is a collaborative writing project detailing steps taken to handle dangerous or unusual non-human entities that show up. The Foundation exists to Secure, Contain, Protect. There is a wiki with tons of stories, ranging from great to not so great, I am sure. Anyone can try their hand at introducing an entity, discussing how it is contained, and weaving an interesting myth together in the form of a secure government documents. The podcast takes and narrates some of these case files, including the narrative write-up as well as recordings and documents related to encounters with the entity. Each episode stands alone, detailing information about a single entity. At times there may be some overlap or reference to other SCPs in the episodes, but those are not necessary to understand what’s going on.

My Review: I first heard about the SCP Foundation when I was really active in the creepypasta community. They were kind of another branch of creepy internet stuff, but everything was contained in this world of the Foundation. I never got involved because it felt kind of overwhelming. When I heard about the podcast, I decided it was time to dip my toe in the water. I’m kind of glad I don’t have more free time on my hands, because otherwise I think I would end up way too deep.

The podcast handles the stories very well. The narrator has the perfect ominous voice to read over the standard case information. When the episodes move into more first person experiences, the voice acting has typically been spot on. The sound effects are used well, and it manages to set a great atmosphere.

The writing quality varies to some degree given the various authors, but it has always been solid. Some of the stories are incredibly creepy and unsettling. Others are rather lighthearted. Then some are creepy and absurd all at once. There are a couple I still don’t completely get, but I kind of think that’s the point. There are some entities out there that we simply can’t understand, but we still must be protected from them. The variability in tone is a positive from my perspective, because I never quite know what to expect when I queue up an episode. I have enjoyed almost all of them, and even those that were not my precisely brewed cup of tea were still a good story.

It’s October, month of all things unsettling, scary, and downright terrifying. I think if you are looking for something to get you in that creepy mood, SCP Archives will be perfect. They have done a great job selecting cases from the vast SCP Foundation, and each one they have put out has been enjoyable in its own way. They run from funny to terrifying, so its a little bit of a gamble when you start one up. Still, what better way to celebrate than some fun and some terror all rolled into one? And, let’s be honest, it’s good enough that I’m sure they’ll have you hooked even after October ends.

You can find them here: SCP Archives