Episodes: 7 in season 1
Length: 30-60 minutes
I’ve listened to… all of season 1.
The Premise: The surface of Earth can no longer sustain the population, and so underground bunkers are constructed to save who they can…based on a numeric rating system. The story follows Hannah Ori as she lives in this world and works on a new project, The Oyster, promising complete peace. But at what cost?
My Review: I found the Oyster when it showed up in a number of other podcasts I listen to. I had previously listened to Darkest Night, which shares some themes and creators in common, and so I was eager to hear more. I wrote briefly about my thoughts in A Listener Reviews: New 2020 Roundup, and my appreciation for the story only grew the more I listened.
The Oyster is a pretty dark ride. It does not shy away from discussions of trauma, grief, loss, racism, suicide, and meaning. And for that, I really appreciated the story on multiple levels. I think it is important to be aware of these themes and the pretty grim tone throughout for anyone considering listening, just so you can check your mental health. But if you feel up to it, I think the story it tells is wonderful and evokes some great questions that we should wrestle with.
Everyone in this story has their dark side, some more than others. There is an acknowledgment of collective trauma, as well as exploration of the individual stories that brought people there as well. The cast of characters all act in various shades of grey, ranging from shadowy to midnight. However, there is generally a compelling reason for their actions and consistent motivation, even if I find the decision abhorrent. I think this is a true strength of the show because it does not have evil for the sake of evil, but evil often in the name of “good.” It demonstrates just how reasonable terrible things can seem when spun in the right way with half-truths and fearmongering. Hannah is an engaging narrator set in a world that is executed well in the audiodrama format with good use of sound design to flesh out the world.
In addition to this, the story weaves themes of systemic injustice throughout, highlighting how most of the people who did not make the initial cut to escape underground were members of a minority group, those with medical/mental health conditions or disabilities, and people with other difficulties that often act as barriers today. It managed to showcase exactly why such systemic inequalities can exist. Everyone taking comfort that it does not affect them directly while refusing to see the bigger picture. That aspect of the story is introduced in multiple places, always managing to show how damaging perpetuation of the status quo can be.
And it does not stop there. It delves into the meaning of trauma and suffering in a beautiful way. I work as a trauma therapist, so my day-to-day is pretty much filled with hearing people talk about the worst moments of their life. The Oyster starts to show what happens when we individually and culturally prioritize comfort over addressing the pain of the past. It also weaves in additional complexities cause by government conspiracy to increase pressure to conform and pretend as if everything is fine. The culture that is created is one of faux normalcy and concealed pain that seeps into so many parts of everyday life, everyone trying to recover from impossible losses. Which ultimately is what makes the Oyster (the creation that promises to end this pain) so dangerous.
The Oyster overall is a challenging story in the themes it addresses, but it does so in a way that forces introspection and reflection. It tells a very compelling story by holding up a mirror to some of our worst sides, and through it, makes you want to fight for humanity all the more. It was unsettling to listen to, but in a outstanding way, and I cannot wait to see where the story goes from season 1.
You can find them here: The Oyster
Length: 20-30 minutes per episode
I’ve listened to… all released
The Premise: Vega Rex is a highly effective assassin taking out some of the world’s worst criminals in a fascinating sci-fi world. Only this time, she may not be able to catch the bad guy.
My Review: If you have not listened to Vega already, you have definitely been missing out. Set in a sci-fi, fantasy, futuristic, technologic world, it follows Vega as she does her job. Her job as a high-powered, terrifying, secretive huntress. The story is told with a strong, engaging creative voice and weaves together a complex world that I am always left more and more curious about.
The style of Vega certainly sets it apart. It is told through narration predominantly, with frequent asides to the audience, commentary on events, and general insight from the mostly omniscient narrator. It breaks the fourth wall frequently, chides the audience, and keeps energy high throughout the telling. It is one of the most distinct narrative styles I have listened to in recent audio dramas, and it serves very well to accentuate and elevate the story into a different experience. It is not always a linear story. The narrator may pause and expand on a topic, reveal a bit of the past, or jump forward a little into the future. Or even dive into the perspective of another character. It is a fast-paced ride through the story, and the narrator’s energy shows this is a story they are passionate about. The casual and conversational style of the writing also gives it that feel of a great, excited friend eagerly filling you in on the important facts and juicy details. Frankly, I’d listen to the narrator tell me about paint dry and probably still be fascinated.
The world of Vega is also incredible. There is a lot of depth alluded to, and expanded upon in its time, throughout the thirteen current episodes. Not everything is explained or laid out neatly, but the narrator provides context necessary to understand. This also serves to leave a number of questions that I look forward to hearing answered. The cultures created are certainly intriguing, with various worldviews and religious perspectives that are detailed to varying degrees. It provides a backdrop of a complete, fully functioning world that Vega must navigate. And while as a listener I never know all of the pieces, I can start to appreciate some of the challenges present in a universe as complex as the one showcased in Vega. It feels real, as if the narrator could look to the side and begin to tell you a story about that other character over there, their life, experiences, and roadblocks. It feels like a living world.
Vega as a character is intriguing. She is good at what she does–unapologetically one of the best–and she embraces that. However, she also questions and pushes against the status quo when it does not work, putting her at odds with the system she has in many ways mastered. There is some nicely developed conflict between her and the rules of the world she lives in, and I think the character development in those moments is really spectacular. She is also multifaceted, with competing values and motivations at various points around her job, religion, family, and self-preservation. As a listener, I had an opportunity to appreciate the complicated identity of Vega, while also recognizing I have a lot more to learn about her and the world as the story unfolds.
Vega is fast-paced and action packed. However, it does not neglect world-building or character development in the process. Instead, it provides glimpses into a fully developed world, while also following realistic characters living within these cultures. The narrative style is unique, but instantly engaging, and the excitement is infectious. As I said, if you haven’t listened, you are almost certainly missing out. I’ll stop talking so you can go and fix that.