Call of the Void
Episodes: 7 of the 9 episode story arc.
Length: 20-25 minutes
I’ve listened to… Everything so far. Cannot wait for the finale!
The Premise: I mentioned them in my January 2020 roundup for new podcasts, so you may have heard of them already. Hopefully after hearing about them you started listening to them! If not, now is a great time to catch-up before their finale episode in a couple weeks. The Call of the Void follows Topher and Etsy as they try to uncover what is making people go blind, lose all reason, and rave about the coming of the Void. It is a Lovecraftian horror story that starts and circles back to the Louisiana swamps.
My Review: Reading the description of this podcast, I was pretty sure I was already going to be a fan. Horror? Mystery and occult? Southern setting? It’s all very much in line with my interests. And once I listened to the first episode, I was pretty eager to learn more. As the season has developed, I think they have introduced some really solid ideas. The approach is familiar if you have read or listened to much in the Lovecraftian genre, but they keep some unique twists that help this standout from many similar stories. The mystery illness that strikes is especially intriguing to me and develops into an eerie monster in its own right as it creeps throughout the season. At this point, I have all kinds of theories about what might be going on, and I can’t wait to see how right or wrong I am.
The characters are also very solidly written and feel rather realistic. Topher and Etsy are the primary focus, with other supporting cast serving to flesh the characters out, keep things moving, and provide some extra impetus for the action. The relationships between characters feel very authentic and serve to provide some reasonable justification for their actions and behaviors. The relationship between Topher and Etsy is developed well, because they go from relative strangers to more or less cooperative partners on this mystery. There is a bit of a nod towards romance, but it is not a particularly strong theme at this point in the series, which I appreciate.
As a contained storyline, the podcast really hits the pacing well. Each episodes presents problems, solves some, and creates leads for others. They move pretty briskly through the action, but with the illness taking its unstoppable course through Topher’s father, there is always a timer counting down to tragedy. It does not feel rushed, however, and the content is strong enough to keep the excitement high throughout each episode. I’m always impressed by how much material they have packed into each episode, but also how well exposition and action are balanced.
In the end, the story has been intriguing and kept me excited to hear how all the pieces fit together and the myth unravels. It is Lovecraftian in style, executed well, and plays on familiar themes in ways that fit the settings and characters well. There are also some unique revelations that serve to set this story apart from similar media. The acting, design, and writing have seemed to hit a solid stride as the episodes progress. They are set to have nine episodes in the series, and if all remains the same with the schedule, episode eight releases tomorrow. So you have a week to get caught up before the finale, and I highly recommend you do so. It’s been a fun ride, and I cannot wait to see how they wrap it all up.
You can find them here: The Call of the Void
Old Gods of Appalachia
Episodes: 10 Episodes in Season 1
Length: 20-35 minutes, with some shorter half-episodes
I’ve listened to… All of season 1.
The Premise: A horror anthology that tells the story of Appalachia and the gods who live there, blessing and cursing the people around them. It is set in an Alternate or Shadow Appalachia from the one of our world, but uses some familiar themes. Season One tells the story of Barlo, KY in 1917 as the mining town makes it offering to the gods all around them.
My Review: This was the podcast I didn’t know I needed until I started listening to it. Raised in the South of the US with family history running through the Appalachia region, there is a lot of the setting that is unassumingly normal for me, especially in the way family, religion, and work are all intertwined.
They bill themselves as Lovecraftian horror, and this is truly what I wish other Lovecraftian horror aspired to. It is not Cthulhu and cultists in every corner, but plays on themes of ancient evils in a ways that are perfectly matched to the setting. Rather than being an imitation of the genre, it makes it all its own. (The creators have, in light of Lovecraft’s noted racism and xenophobia, opted to remove reference of “Lovecraftian” from their description. I have updated my description in light of that, but felt this discussion specifically is relevant to the story. Additionally, I feel like this podcast was so much grander than the term “Lovecraftian” conveyed, hence my statements above. I have made changes to reflect that distance, while preserving the message.)
The voice acting is perfectly set to the tone, genre, and setting. It is paced beautifully, which can be a real struggle with this kind of story. Talking in a steady drawl can make things feel like they’re dragging (trust me, I’ve heard it often enough to know). But instead, it serves to draw out the tension of each moment as needed, then provide the satisfying conclusion before delving into yet another scene. It is a very polished and professional podcast.
Beyond the execution, the concept and plot are truly thoughtful and terrifying. This is a horror podcast that does not shy away from discussing the unsettling, the heart wrenching, and the downright horrifying. It tells a story of destruction, blood, and fire in a very moving way. The writing is absolutely spot-on throughout. It carries a consistent theme and tone through the storytelling aspect, but also in the intros and outros. There is never a reason to break immersion and, to be honest, you won’t want to. I’d hate to live in the Appalachia where these old gods reside, but I also find myself drawn deeper and deeper in. And maybe that’s all a part of it.
The story is chilling and unsettling, speaking of old and ancient evil. And while it’s not in our Appalachia, so much of the danger and the darkness is uncomfortably familiar. It seems as if it touches on those primitive fears that have always plagued humanity, daring to turn the light onto those things we have collectively tried to bar from our minds. And if all of that is out there, you definitely want to hold tight to family and try your best to survive what’s to come.
You can find them here: Old Gods of Appalachia
Episodes: 24 in the ongoing storyline
Length: 20-40 minutes, generally, but with some longer outliers
I’ve listened to… All released episodes
The Premise: A sci-fi audiodrama following the adventures of the four Wolverton siblings through time and space and everything in between. It deals with evil megacorpoprations, colonization, AI and robots, time travel, history, and siblings. Plus all their friends, companions, and co-stars throughout.
My Review: I had to search my blog, because I would have sworn I’ve talked about Exoplanetary before. But apparently I’ve just written the review multiple times in my mind and never put it on paper. Or I’m doing it twice, but hey, this deserves to be shouted out as many times as you can. Exoplanetary is a delightful blend of sci-fi, humor, and drama. It has some great, lighthearted moments, but it does have a well-developed plot that introduces some challenging themes and ideas.
The story starts with the four Wolverton siblings, all doing their own thing in various corners of the galaxy. As season one develops, their stories begin to intertwine. Personally, I found the opening stories very interesting. They rather quickly established the world and core characters. As the stories developed further and the paths began to cross, I think it got a little confusing for me (because when you’re dealing with space and time, it can be hard to keep up). It is a complex story with a lot of different perspectives and moving parts, but it all came together beautifully to end the first season with a lot of excitement and emotion. And even as season one drew to a close, it planted seeds for more and more mysteries waiting to be explored.
The supporting cast of characters is also very intriguing and serve to round out the world of the Wolvertons. They have very different reasons for being there, from duty to a desire for exploration to love. And they serve to complement the characters–or at their best, highlight the very human flaws of the Wolverton family. Expolanetary uses character flaws to develop real challenges and problems, but also shows the wonderful side of humanity alongside. Each episode shines a little more light onto the broad cast of characters and the expansive universe in which they reside, making it truly enjoyable to listen in each time to see something new. Overall, the only drawback is the time between episodes. There is 1-2 months between releases, on average. But honestly, each episode is so packed with information, so well acted, so thoughtfully designed, and so expertly edited, that I cannot begrudge them taking the time to put out a really impressive creation.
Exoplanetary manages to tell a rather serious sci-fi story with hints of absurdity, but never takes itself too seriously to have fun. It has managed to built an expansive world, with each episode filling in more and more of the corners. As things are revealed, more questions appear. Whenever a new episode shows up, I’m excited that I get to take a trip into their world to explore some new reach of space or time. And I cannot wait to see where all the journey may lead.
Find them Here: Exoplanetary
The White Vault
Episodes: 38 so far, with ten each in the first two seasons. Also has some between season mini-episodes.
Length: 20-30 minutes, generally
I’ve listened to… Through what has been released of season 3.
The Premise: The story starts out following an expedition to a remote monitoring site outside of Svalbard. Once there, the team is stranded and discovers a strange city under the ice. Which is only the start of their problems. Made up of found audio files from the team, The White Vault tells a great horror tale about isolation, ancient evil, and survival.
My Review: The White Vault is one of those podcasts that was recommended every time I turned around, so I finally gave it a listen. And then became one of the people recommending it regularly. The story initially begins innocently enough as the characters and expectations are introduced. However, there is a general sense of unease which begins building early and develops over the course of the story. The outpost they travel to is very remote, and that alone is enough to establish a sense of foreboding. It is unsettling to know how disconnected they are, and that builds as natural and supernatural phenomena coalesce to make departure much more difficult. The creeping sense of threat is executed well, starting with small and easily dismissed oddities. It builds as the danger begins to take a more definite shape and the peril that the team is in comes into sharper focus.
A story like this really shines based on its characters. Isolation horror with a poorly developed cast is not very satisfying. But each character that has been introduced in the world of The White Vault has been well-developed and engaging. The story works because, as a listener, you are invested in what happens to the character you have grown fond of. They each have unique goals, values, hobbies, and interpersonal styles that help them to stand out as unique characters, but also create their unique predisposing risk factors.
Also, the sound quality and effects are great in this. Audiodrama relies a lot on environmental storytelling, and having only auditory input can make that a real challenge. The White Vault skillfully uses sound effects and background conversations to provide more context to the script. AS a listener, you have the chance to hear it and then have that confirmed, so you get the sense of discovery alongside them. In addition, the dialogue is done in a way that feels natural, but also fills in the gaps. I rarely find myself confused by what is happening because I cannot parse a sound effect, but even when I’m unsure, the dialogue is crafted well enough to very naturally fill in any gaps. It does also include a narrator providing some additional context regarding time, locations, and organization, but does so in a very skilled way. The narrator does not feel like a cop out or a short cut to good audio storytelling, but instead serves to enhance it and create yet another layer of mystery about how and why these tapes came to be collected.
If I had to make a criticism, I would say things sometimes feel a little convenient to the plot or anticipated. Season three is structurally quite similar to season one, but it has been unique in it’s own right as well. Just when you think you have it figured out, something comes flying from the shadows to turn things upside down. So I have not found it to be overly predictable or stale as it has developed, but it definitely has a storytelling language that points the way. Personally, I have found learning the language of the story to be very enjoyable. Speaking of language, one really interesting thing is the use of language. The team members are from all different locales, and so it weaves in all kinds of languages. All relevant information is translated into English (with the exception of some chatter or non-central dialogue–I’m pretty sure), so you’ll know what is going on. But as someone who loves languages, I enjoy hearing the different ones and trying to do my own translation for those I do speak.
The White Vault tells a really creepy story in an expertly paced fashion. Horror and isolation are natural fits, and this is a great example of why they work so well. In my neck of the woods, it’s been pretty cold. And I’ve found that I keep craving more episodes to submerge myself in the icy, terrifying world and learn what comes next. The anticipation in season three is killing me, and so I am hanging on eagerly for each episode. If you like horror, ancient mysteries, exploration, or that creepy and lonely feeling, The White Vault delivers in a big way.
You can find them here: The White Vault