Theme: You weren’t supposed to wake up here.
From darkness to light. It all happened in an instant, the world exploding into vibrancy. I gasped— I could remember breathing, yet this felt like my first breath. The oxygen raced ragged down my throat, ripping into my lungs. It ached to breathe, it ached to see.
My brain felt unsure of how to parse the world. Light and shadow. Noises—someone was walking somewhere, something screamed, whether mechanical or animal I could not tell. There was an assault of smells that made me gag, either because they were unpleasant or because I had been so deprived. I gagged, flooding my senses with that bitter taste.
It was too much at once, and I felt myself drowning in sensation. As the flood subsided, I could piece things together, steadily understanding. Above me was the roof, wooden and in disrepair. The walls were dusty and stained. Those screams were certainly not mechanical. Those smells were certainly rot.
Worst were the shadows finding permanence. Bodies, lying on a table like the one I occupied. They lay there still, quiet, and unmoving.
And then there were the footsteps.
Something obscured my view, and my eyes struggled to refocus. Then there was a monstrous face, the source of the smell.
The eyes bulged at strange angles, barely contained by the flesh of its face. A ragged gash served as the mouth, a menagerie of teeth standing at lazy attention inside. It sniffed.
“Got another one,” it growled in a bubbling voice. It paused, head titled for a response, then shrugged. “Guess I’ll get this one.”
Rough hands on my body, like coarse stones tearing my skin. “Please,” I heard my voice, unfamiliar and harsh with disuse, “I shouldn’t be here.”
It laughed. “Of course you should. Now back to sleep.”
A needle’s pinch, then darkness.
Length: 30-40 minutes
I’ve listened to… all current episodes
Transcripts Available: No
The Premise: The Chronicles of Wild Hollow follows bounty hunter Fandango Boursin (front and center in the image above) as he takes on jobs. However, he unknowingly may be falling deeper into a web of danger with each passing moment. The first trilogy of his adventures is available to listen now, with more content planned.
My Review: If you ever wanted a musical podcast full of adventure, intrigue and sardonic humor, then I have some great news. The Chronicles of Wild Hollow hits numerous notes, creating a serious story in a fantasy world. It creates an endearing cast of characters and a surprisingly complex world. The creators, Shouting is Funny, reached out to me for a review. And I am so glad they helped me discover this absolute gem.
This audiodrama borrows some cues from westerns, noir, and adventure genres. I was impressed with the way it wove in classic genre tropes, and yet turned them around or used them to poke fun at convention. It is self-aware in a pleasant way, calling itself out to deepen characters and the world. The writing is clever, quick, and engaging. It never lingers too long in one moment, but keeps the action moving while still providing ample room for character development. I listened to the Christmas special first, as it was the first in queue. And it had me laughing and shaking my head (in a good way) all the way along my commute. That is a good introduction to the style of the show–dark, but funny. Unexpected, unconventional, and witty.
It uses humor very well to balance out the very serious themes presented, keeping it from becoming too difficult of a story to digest. However, the storylines are well-developed and thoughtful, addressing drug use, conspiracy, community, and crime. It uses these situations to develop a cast of interesting characters, with Fandango being the most complete of those depicted so far. His character wrestles with the reality of his job at times, of money versus compassion, of justice and doing the right thing. This is a fairly classic conflict for such characters, but the execution of this is excellent. As Fandango develops, the listener is kept wondering how he will navigate increasingly dangerous situations while remaining true to who he is.
The background characters are also well-done, but tend to be static and more limited in their involvement. It makes sense given the stories being told, and there are some who get additional development. Even with those brief glimpses, it was easy to like certain recurring characters. I also expect some of those with a briefer role may get developed more as future stories about Fandango are released.
I would be remiss to write this whole review and not mention the musical aspects. This is a charming aspect of the show, using musical numbers to introduce characters, progress the plot, and provide scene development. The music is well-written and placed well throughout each episode. It provides an opportunity for more focused world building, using song to provide background and setting details, but in a way that keeps everything moving at a nice pace. The lyrics maintain the feel of the show and feel consistent with the overarching themes of the show.
Overall, this podcast was one that took me by surprise and quickly became a new favorite. The first trilogy leaves off in a precarious place, so I am eagerly awaiting more. In the span of four episodes, the team at Shouting is Funny managed to create a great character, wonderful supporting characters, a complex world, and fantastic music to go along. I never knew quite how a scenario would turn out, and the clever writing pulled me in right away. I can highly recommend you give this show a listen.
You can find them here: The Chronicles of Wild Hollow
Theme: “The door crept open”
The growl came from the closet. There was no denying the fact nor any reconciling it with reality. Lana hadn’t been sleeping and now wouldn’t be anytime soon. Instead, she stared at the wooden door and clenched the blankets about her with the primal instinct they would protect her.
“Get it together,” she whispered through gritted teeth. The impossibility required rationality to reassert itself quickly, shoving the fear to the side. “There are no monsters in closets.”
As if to prove to herself and whatever had growled, she flung the blankets aside and put her feet on the floor. Once grounded, she expected to feel safer. Instead, she felt more certain she was going mad.
Did the knob move? The door shake? Lana strained her ears to listen for anything. Was that breathing or the AC whispering through the vents?
“This is ridiculous. You outgrew this stuff in grade school.” She stood and forced her legs toward the door.
The room was chilled, her palms clammy. She studied the narrow wooden door. It only really counted as a closet so her landlord did not run afoul of housing laws; no room for monsters in there. Lana gripped the handle and took a breath.
“Grow up, Lana,” she growled to herself in a final act of motivation.
The door crept open and–
There was Nothing.
Nothing, vast, infinite, and dark. Stretching into eternity and beyond for impossible depth. How was emptiness so much worse than everything she had imagined?
As the Void reached out to draw her in, Lana longed for fangs, fur, and claws.
Length: The whole things comes in at about 140 minutes
I’ve listened to… all episodes
Transcripts Available: The story itself is based off the Jack London Novel, but I did not find specific transcripts available
The Premise: The Iron Heel is, according to the web “the first modern dystopian novel.” It follows Avis and Earnest, two lovers fighting for worker’s rights against the Iron Heel of the capitalist oligarchy.
My Review: I previously reviewed a podcast by this same theater group and loved the approach. In The Resistible Rise of JR Brinkley, the episodes wove together not only the story of the strange JR Brinkley’s rise to fame, but also interviews with experts in various historical fields and adaptations of period music. It was a really wonderful listening experience that was not only enjoyable, but informative. So hearing that there was another show in the same vein, I was incredibly excited.
The Iron Heel continues this style. For me, listening captured the feel of sitting in the theater watching a play. It has the familiar setup and frame as a theater show, and I have missed being able to sit in those seats recently. The acting and writing are styled and paced like a three act play. I found each of the three sections held up well on its own, though the story is understood in completion.
As I mentioned, the production weaves together the actual story alongside interviews with relevant experts. There are also renditions of labor-movement songs. Personally, I found many of the musical adaptations to be clever not only in the wording, but in the tunes used. Throughout this story, there are threads woven together between economics, religion, personhood, and family. It is a theme that touches every part.
The story itself is based off the Jack London novel. It uses a similar frame, a narrator recounting and adapting the found journal of Avis as she describes the fight against capitalism. Her story focuses on her husband, Earnest’s, role in the events. The frame story is set in a socialist utopia, looking back at the often tireless fight that finally succeeded. It takes this dystopia story and adds an element of hope, something I found refreshing. Avis is a really relatable character in many ways, confronting her own prejudices and then serving to hold people true to their stated goals and aims, without giving in to the pressures of the new world.
The way this story is adapted is wonderful. The language retains that more formal, older style. At times it feels a bit stilted because it is not the way we talk, but it serves to keep the past events anchored in their past. There are also a number of clever, fourth-wall-breaking moments. I found these served to help break down the romantization sometimes seen in such works. It focuses on the brutal, bloody systems in place. Those facts are not hidden behind the language, but up front. The frame story also includes intentional misunderstandings, serving to reinforce how far society has come. Both of these techniques wonderfully create that sense of distance from events.
The selected interviews at the end of each episode are also enlightening. I had cursory exposure to labor movements in the US during school, but nothing too detailed. I will always take an opportunity to be entertained and taught, and the Iron Heel delivers. It demonstrates how art is a part of revolution through focus on writings and music of the time.
Overall, the Iron Heel is a well-produced audiodrama that delivers the feel of an in-person play, but through a podcast format. They use that to their advantage to pack in a number of songs and interviews that deepen the context of the story, while also providing some real world knowledge. The story is based off of Jack London’s work, but adapted to this format to tell a quick paced, character-driven exploration of the fight against the oligarchy. A different approach than many audiodramas, but one that is well worth hearing.
The crone had been clear with her instructions. Davalon had left the bottle under the full moon, had only water from the Halcyon Lakes since dawn, and now held the sweet-smelling elixir uncorked in his hand.
“Drink it before your task, and you will be guaranteed success. No follies will find you.” Before he left, she placed a hand on his arm, one finger raised in final warning. “Take care. This is a powerful spell. Do not squander it.”
He did not intend to. Steeling his nerves and belting his scabbard to his side, Davalon tossed his head back and drank the elixir, feeling a tingling swim through his body alongside the adrenaline. He prepared to leave for the arena, where his opponent was already boasting loudly.
The curtain to his tent swirled, and Maryalei appeared. There was a new stutter step to his heartbeat as she looked at him.
“I was not sure I would catch you,” she said.
Davalon felt his whole body vibrating with life; he was not sure if it was anticipation, fear, lovesickness, or the effects of the draught. “Marya,” he said before the words stuck. He felt like a schoolboy, not a knight-to-be. And yet, if the crone’s magic failed, when would he have this chance? “I am glad you came.”
She smiled, a hint of laughter in her eyes.
“After this,” he started, feeling a growing sense of confidence as his head swam with opportunity, “I would have your hand in marriage, if you’ll have mine?”
She rushed to him. “Of course,” she sighed, an unexpectedly easy victory.
At that moment, Davalon felt an empty feeling as the confidence fled and fear and nerves remained. One task, he recalled and hoped he might live long enough to enjoy what his potion had granted.
Theme: They never saw it coming
Trevor bounced from foot to foot, waiting for the doors to open and admit his soon-to-be wife down the aisle. He felt sweat run down his collar, a heavy smile on his nervous lips. He had not seen her since yesterday’s rehearsal, per tradition and her request; he imagined her resplendent for him alone. So he looked to the heavy wooden doors at the end of the aisle as the organ geared up and started the notes.
It was a bar too far into the song and the doors had not opened. He shifted again, smile shuddering, still waiting. Then, a creak and groan as the aged wood slowly edged open.
His eyes found hers just above her harsh smile. And then confusion and panic settled in as another figure in a white dress started down the aisle as well, hand in hand. Her father was supposed to be walking her down the aisle, but instead, there was a second bride.
The nerves settled firmly into a knot in his stomach.
Anna walked down the aisle in time to the song, never letting her gaze deviate from his. His eyes swung back and forth between his bride and the other woman, trying to wake up from this nightmare. Finally, the song ended and Anna stood at the bottom of the steps. They had rehearsed; he would go down, take her hand, and help her up. Only he froze.
“I figured since you thought you could date both of us, you wouldn’t mind marrying us both?” she said with acid dripping from her voice.
Louisa smiled too, and he was trapped beneath their withering gazes. “Only I’m not sure either of us wants to say ‘I do.’”
Trevor fainted, the only way to save any dignity he had left.
Episodes: 9 in the first season
Length: 25-45 minutes per episode, with most around 30 minutes
I’ve listened to… All of the story
Transcripts Available: Not that I could locate
The Premise: Mike takes a job to run a fire lookout tower in the remote forest, hoping to get away and work on his novel. But once there, he begins to hear and see strange things, eerily similar to the fate that befell his predecessor in the tower.
My Review: Tower 4 is from 7 Lamb Productions and tells a spooky story of isolation and conspiracy. I stumbled across the show and quickly was drawn into the narrative style and lives of the characters. The focus on nature really caught my attention, and being someone a little more constrained by the responsibilities of life, the freedom of being in the wild is, well, intriquiging.
The story focuses on Mike’s life in the eponymous Tower, including his relationship with his one and only contact to the outside world, Amber–the lookout for Tower 3. The story manages to weave the two personalities together into a very interesting narrative. Both appear unreliable at times. Mike is harboring his own hurts and demons, and maybe the isolation is a bit much for him. The constant question as I listened was what was coinicdence and what was something sinister. Amber provides a skeptic’s balance to the events. But as Mike begins to distrust her, I as the listener did as well. She manages to easily dismiss the events–is that because she knows more than she’s telling, or because Mike is making more of the events than they are?
Despite this constant duel between potentially unreliable narrators, the relationships between Mike and Amber is nice to hear. There are some really natural, friendly moments between them. Throughout the course of the episodes, their relationship provides a platform to deepen both characters through their interactions and snippets of the past. They are both wounded in some way, running from something in the woods. That common hurt allows them to grow closer, showcasing their strengths in their interactions. It also leads to a good bit of the conflict. I’d be remiss to not include the forest as a character here as well, and the way the setting interacts within the world is really well done. It is the backdrop, but also begins to seemingly take on more agency as the story develops. I leave the episodes so far feeling as if the forest is not simply a neutral location, but could be either friend or foe.
The storyline overall is paced well. It starts relatively calm, with Mike learning his role and exploring the area. The strange elements begin to creep in on the fringes, but develop more and more quickly as the story progresses. It shows enough to keep the story interesting without ever really revealing what all is going on. The story balances reveal and concealment very well, with each new piece of information moving closer to the truth. And yet it does not rush the ending. In fact, season 1 ends in a way the opens up a myriad of questions for season 2.
The story has a first person narrative approach, and I found it very easy to listen to Mike throughout. The writing, descriptive level, pacing, and tone of voice are rather relaxing. For me, that made those tense moments stand out all the more from the surroundings. It’s easy to be lulled into a feeling of peace in the forest, away from everyone. And yet this podcast demonstrates one less common reason why that can be a very dangerous thing.
Interspersed are excerpts of Mike’s book, telling about his past relationship and the way it fell apart. There is a real sense of grief, loss, and guilt not only in the narrative sections, but also in Mike’s reflections on this event and other parts of his life. It provides a deeply introspective tone, and the events of the story serve to highlight this. Mike is at once finding similar patterns and trying to respond differently, to choose a new path for his life. And yet it seems like some forces may have other plans.
Overall, I have found Tower 4 to be a wonderful show that makes me happy every time I see it show up in my feed. The characters are inviting and human in their motivations and interactions, and I continue to listen to see how they will play off one another. Each twist of the plot brings it deeper and deeper into the world of the weird, steadily building up strange occurrences. Just as the pieces begin to fall into place, something else takes things off course. I love a story that starts simple and explodes into dozens of questions and mysteries, and Tower 4 does that exceptionally well. If you want to puzzle over some clues and get lost in a conspiratorial mystery, I’d recommend you find a quiet place and tune into the first season.
Theme: “Laughter filled the air.”
Dave sat on the edge of the bed and shifted again, loosening the tie around his neck and grinning at the woman across from him. Susan? Sarah? One of those typical names. However, she was far from typical, he began to realize.
“So, I don’t normally do this. I know, big shock.” His nervous laughter filled the air, bouncing off the freshly pressed sheets and dusty curtains.
She just smiled, that same absent smile that had been plastered on her face since he opened the door. She tilted her head, and Dave got the sudden image of a gyroscope, her head rotating around the stable point of that lipsticked smile.
The woman at the bar had led the conversation, steadily building Dave’s confidence to Icarian levels. When he slyly passed his room key to her, he felt certain of the move. And then instantly expected her to laugh him away. Instead, she raised an eyebrow and tucked the key into the distractingly low neckline of her dress.
And now, that smile.
“Can I get you something to drink?” he asked nervously. “I got ice from the machine earlier, and—“
Her finger was on his lips, gently silencing him. She smiled wider and leaned over the edge of the bed. Maybe, Dave thought, this was normal and he was the weird one. Frankly, that had held true in most of his life.
“You’re the boss,” he said with another burst of nervous laughter.
“Oh, I’m much more than that,” she said. And the smile grew wider, showing more teeth than fit in a human jaw. Had they always been that sharp?
With practiced ease, she flew to his throat, successfully cutting off the scream before it could bubble out. The hunt looked different nowadays, but the outcome never changed.
Episodes: 10 in the story
Length: 45-70 minutes per episode
I’ve listened to… every episode
Transcripts Available: Currently up through episode five, linked here
The Premise: The city of Everton, built by two brothers after World War II, was meant to be a sanctuary. And then it disappeared. Now two agents must find out what happened to the people of Everton. The journey will take through impossible realities, astral existence, Arthurian legends, and danger in every step.
My Review: Margaret’s Garden is created by Midnight Disease, the same folks responsible for the wonderful podcast that is SCP Archives. They bring the same talent and excellent production to this standalone story set in its own fantastic world. I finished listening to Margaret’s Garden about a few weeks ago, and I am still thinking about the incredible story that unfolded in these ten episodes. It is amazing how much work and creativity was poured into this story, and the final product is truly remarkable.
The podcast takes place both in semi-present day and the time shortly after WWII. It switches between the two timeframes, guided deftly by the wonderful narrator. The narrator plays an integral role, acting as an omniscient presence guiding the story, providing context, and bringing listeners along. There is ample direct address to the audience, creating a sense of familiarity with the world and experiences. And when things get hard to follow, the narration provides an anchor to tie information together.
The story also alternates between the world we know and the world of the astral plane. Each setting is slowly explored over the course of the story, developing into their own world with rules and expectations. This, of course, adds a remarkable degree of complexity to the storyline. However, it always feels manageable based on the talented storytelling. When I say there is a lot that happens in these ten episodes, I mean a LOT. There are love stories, horror stories, legends, wars, conquests, and universes all contained within the ten episode run. I do not think I have really come across a podcast telling a story quite like this, though it certainly shares themes and concepts seen elsewhere. The breadth and complexity of the story is standout.
The writing, in both dialogue and narration, is phenomenal. Each character has their own tone, motivation, weaknesses, and story. The decisions they make, especially how they react to what they do not know or fear, drives the plot forward in a very organic way. It provides ample opportunities for characters to learn and grow…or stay in their faulty ways of thinking and sacrifice everything. Given how, frankly, bizarre some things can be, the use of description and narration is balanced carefully with the dialogue and sound design to ensure scenes are comprehensive and engaging, even as it stretches the bounds of what one can imagine.
The themes addressed are weighty. What would you do to be safe? To be loved? To build a better world? To be powerful? In the character’s successes and missteps, a remarkable world rises and falls. It does not try to maintain simplistic views on the good guys and the bad guys. Each character is complex, with understandable motivations and, often, questionable means to meet their needs. And that make sit hard to know what will happen next or even what outcome the listener should be rooting for. And yet it manages to tell a powerful story that addresses this complexity and refuses to stoop to solving it with a neat bow.
Overall, Margaret’s Garden is a beautifully constructed story with a whole group or intriguing and realistic characters. The production team behind it is talented, and so every aspect has been carefully polished to be a wonderful listening experience. The acting is engaging, creating characters a listener can know and care about. The writing balances a host of competing storylines and themes in order to tell a full and satisfying story in multiple times and places. It is a wonderful piece that blends sci-fi, fantasy, supernatural, and horror themes into something new and different. And you should definitely buckle in and listen.
Theme: Image Prompt
My feet could no longer feel the earth beneath them, but I remembered it.
I remembered the feel of dark soil under my soles, thrumming with the vibrancy of earth and whispering ancient ways to me. The sway of Mother Earth, the loving gaze of Mother Moon. The exaltation of all things feminine and trampled by the day-to-day life.
We danced, my sisters and I, beneath that moonlight. We leaped, held aloft in the arms of our two mothers, cradled in that space. In the smoke and stars, we saw visions.
I remembered breathing deep the perfume of wilted flowers and sweat, mingled with the bonfire scent. It was intoxicating and every time my feet dug into the soil, I could feel the bounty of life surge through me. We joined together to celebrate the divine around us, the divine within us.
Moonlight, starlight, dirt, and blood. In those moments, we existed not as human flesh, but as something carved from the essential elements and told to celebrate. I did not need air to live, only those moments of ecstasy. My worship kept my heart beating, my lungs moving, and I thrived on that inhuman diet on those nights of revelry.
The flickering shadows of the fire threw scenes of the future before us, cloudy, mystical. And somehow we did not see what was to come until the sacredness of our space was trampled beneath booted feet, feet that could not feel the hum of the earth. Their bodies were covered so that even the moonlight could not strike them.
My feet no longer feel the earth beneath them, dangling here in the in-between. All I feel is the grip of the rope, punishment for daring to touch the sacred.
Episodes: 13 full episodes with three prologues, and epilogue, and a full supercut available.
Length: 15-30 minutes per episode, with the supercut totaling 222 minutes
I’ve listened to… Everything
Transcripts Available: Yes, linked here
The Premise: Two scientists discover evidence of an abandoned world and set off on a journey to uncover what happened to the missing civilization. The story is told in alternating segments from the perspectives of the scientists, one starting from the beginning and the other from the end of the story.
My Review: As I mentioned last week when discussing Primordial Deep, it is wholly my oversight not to talk about Janus Descending earlier. For sci-fi horror, you really cannot go wrong listening to this story, and they have a sequel story in the works now. When I saw something new show up in the Janus Descending feed, I immediately loaded it up to listen and was so excited. So let me tell you why you should listen.
Chel and Peter are the main characters, and episodes alternate between their personal logs. These logs are made up of descriptive information about the planet and their discoveries alongside personal reflections and monologues. They both know the other may be listening, and so they also serve as notes between the two, messages separated in time. Chel and Peter have very different approaches to the discovery, with Peter often taking a more cautious approach, while Chel is chasing the excitement of exploration. Between their two perspectives, the listener gets a clearer sense of the reality of their situation. It is one filled with wonder and riddled with danger, a fact neither of them can fully understand until later on.
While they give away the ending very early on, the context develops slowly, providing multiple layers of discovery and appreciation over the course of episodes. So, even though I knew the ending from the very start, I cannot say I fully understood or appreciated it until much later, as comments became clear and the reality sank in. The alternating perspectives also served to fill in the gaps, as one character might experience something described by the other at another part. It was enjoyable having the chance to put the pieces together and reconstruct the story as it developed, filling in the missing pieces from both the start and end.
Aside from Directive and Seren, I’m not sure I’ve had as emotional a reaction to an audiodrama as I did with Janus Descending. There is something beautiful and tragic in the unfolding story of these characters. They become so complete in the telling of the story, and something about knowing the end makes it all the more poignant. It is truly a beautiful story set in a very terrifying world.
Of course, the plot centers around exploration of an alien world. And this is handled wonderfully, telling a tense story with excellent pacing, careful reveals, and building unease. The alien concept is not necessarily unheard of, and fans of sci-fi staples will probably recognize familiar ideas. However, the way it develops and is presented sets it apart from other similar works. It takes these familiar threads and weaves them in a different way, using clever moments of obscurity and revelation to savor the exploration of the world they have encountered.
Overall, Janus Descending is a podcast that has stuck with me since I first listened. It is the kind of story I wish I could write, done masterfully. It combines sci-fi and horror elements that are familiar, but through careful work and thoughtful character development, spins those into a new listening experience. It remarkably balances character and plot, developing both in chronological and reverse order simultaneously. The attention to detail in the characters and themes of the story makes it feel cohesive from start to finish, weaving a beautifully tragic tale of space exploration that deserves plenty of listens. If you like sci-fi/horror podcasts, this is pretty much required listening.
And again, they absolutely deserve all the support you can provide. So please, help them keep creating new shows, like the upcoming sequel to Janus Descending, Descendants.
Jessie settled in her chair and let the beach surround her. Deep breath in and she tasted the salty air, slightly fishy, but pleasantly so. She heard gulls circling out at sea, their calls coming in with the steady rhythm of the waves. Her phone buzzed; she ignored it.
The sun was warm, bright. The sand beneath her feet radiated heat up through the soles of her feet, and she dug her toes down to find cooler sand below. The phone was ringing. Another deep breath, sinking into her seat.
She watched the waves come in and out, sea dancing with sunlight, white foam licking at the sand. Another ring, this time an email, and she let the waves carry away the distraction. Her ears settled on the roar of the waves.
Someone was knocking on a door, and she let her eyes drift across the sand. Now there was the sound of kids playing, calling to one another. A steady bubble of human chatter beneath the steady pulse of the waves. She breathed in time to the tides, in and out, with the same steadiness and certainty.
Just a peaceful day on the beach, blue skies, white sands, and–another knock. “Jessie? You in there? I brought the reports you asked for. I can come back later?” No footsteps. Lena was, despite her words to the contrary, waiting.
Jessie’s eyes snapped open, the beach fading from her mind as the office returned. Her peace lay shattered and dispersed in the piles of paper on her desk. She briefly noticed that her hands were digging into the arm of her chair. So much for a break.
She stood and opened the door before Lena could leave. Deep breath in, the subtle scent of salt, as the world reclaimed its space.
Episodes: 7 episodes + a prologue and epilogue in season 1.
Length: 45 – 75 minutes (and worth every second)
I’ve listened to… all of season 1.
Transcripts Available: Yes, linked here
The Premise: A crew is sent deep under the sea in order to investigate strange happenings. However, it becomes quickly evident that there is more under the water than anyone bargained for, and their employer must know more than he let on.
My Review: No Such Things Productions are the creative geniuses behind Janus Descending which, after realizing I have not already reviewed it, will be reviewed next week in eager anticipation of their new story in the Janus Descending world. But today’s focus is on Primordial Deep, a sci-fi horror show set in the deep oceans of our very own planet. Continuing with the theme of the strange, horrifying, and alien, this earth-bound tale weaves a fantastic and heart wrenching story.
I’m writing this fresh off of the season finale. And woah. Let me tell you, it is a spooky ride, but one that you should definitely join. The cast of characters really makes this work a masterpiece. A story like this with carboard characters who can live or die without any emotion would fall into anonymity with hundreds of similar stories. But the amount of life brought to each character in this story is remarkable. It is a character story told in a horrific setting, with stakes increasing moment by moment.
The classic conflicts are human vs. human, human vs. self, and human vs. nature. Primordial Deep manages to weave all three of these conflicts into one single story, with constantly shifting threats from within and without. The writing balances danger and periods of quiet well, but never lets the listener feel too comfortable. If it is not monsters, it’s the boss or a character’s own thoughts that threaten to destroy the team and mission. The pacing is wonderful in this regard. The show spends time learning about, understanding, and developing characters both during times of distress and times of relative quiet. In turn, the listener develops a strong relationship with them.
There are a lot of heavy hits in this show, and it is not for the faint of heart. The story is unapologetically dense, tackling a lot of difficult themes around life, relationships, grief, guilt, and belonging. However, these are consistent with the overall themes of the story and the developmental needs of the characters. Each person comes in with their strengths, weaknesses, and works in progress. As humans, they are messy, hurting each other in their attempts to keep self and others safe. No one reacts perfectly to every situation, and it provides a level of realism to the otherwise sci-fi setting.
Admittedly, I am one of those people who does not trust the ocean on a good day, and this audiodrama has provided me ample reasons to stay far away in the future. There are creatures in here, and the development and creativity of these is incredible. They provide varying levels of threat, making it often hard to know what is dangerous and what isn’t….until it is. I am not a marine biologist, but the descriptions and explanations presented also felt really consistent throughout. Is it scientifically accurate? I have no idea. Is it convincing and well-developed in a fictional setting? Absolutely.
And the sound. It is very atmospheric, which is really crucial for a story where the setting is as much a character as any of the voice actors. They provide a great background for what is happening and allow the listener to discover some of the secrets of the ocean alongside the characters, based on the well-designed sound cues. I think the investigative tone of the initial mission also functions well in the audiodrama format, as characters provide scientific descriptions of creatures encountered and their behavior. I left most episodes with a great mental picture of what was going on, whether I wanted to imagine such things or not.
Overall, if the preceding paragraphs have not given it away entirely, Primordial Deep is a horrifically good sci-fi story about the dangers under the water. It develops the characters well in order to fully engage the listener, and then holds them there with wonderfully developed sound design and expert writing. Once the story takes off, it does not slow down much, hurtling toward greater stakes and danger each step of the way. It’s worth listening to, and with all of season 1 released, it is definitely worth binging so you can eagerly wait for more.
Also, one moment, but this creative group is one that absolutely should be swimming (pun only moderately intended) in Patreon support. So if you can support them, please do, because I need them to be around a long time creating such wonderful shows.
Theme: The call came at midnight
The phone was ringing. I reached a hand toward the buzzing, glowing thing and sat up, trying to clear the sleep from my voice.
“Hello?” It didn’t work, and my words came out with the familiar fuzzy, just-woken quality.
“Mike? It’s Chris.” Chris. I checked the caller ID on the screen. New guy from work. Nice enough, but not the sort I would take middle of night phone calls from.
“Uh-huh,” I added to the conversation, dropping all pretense. If you called this late–early–then you knew the person had been sleeping.
“I figured it out. I was having this dream, and it just all–Boom!”
“Figured what out?”
“The time travel project, of course”
Chris laughed. “Why else do you think I’d be waking you up? We both know what a grump you are.”
He was clearly drunk. Or high. Probably both, I reasoned.
“Listen, Chris, I think you need to get back to sleep. We’ve got work tomorrow, and we can talk then.” I figured he would instead be sleeping off whatever this was, but did not say as much. I just wanted to go back to sleep myself.
“Work? Mike, what are you–” he stopped midsentence.
“It’s Wednesday morning, bud. Sleep it off.”
“No, it’s not. We don’t–”
He paused, there was an intake of breath on the line. Part excitement, part shock.
“What’s the date, Mike?”
“Now? It’s February 10.” I said after checking the phone screen.
“February 10…” he trailed off, waiting for me.
I sighed and ran a hand across my face. The smart thing to do was hang up. “2021,” I said instead.
“Oh.” In his voice was surprise, confusion. “Oh,” he said again. This time somber and shocked. “I have to get back,” were his final words before the call disconnected.
Episodes: 3 so far
Length: 25-40 minutes each
I’ve listened to… all available episodes
Transcripts Available: Yes, linked here
The Premise: Life With LEO(h) follows Jeanine, a futuristic lawyer specializing in keeping one rule-bending company out of trouble. After saving them yet again, she is given her very own android. The problem is, LEO(h) has free will, something that is definitely not okay. The story follows Jeanine, caught in this ethical nightmare, and LEO(h), the loving, empathic, optimistic, and only sort of helpful android as they confront questions about free will and love.
My Review: I was contacted to review this audidorama and was so excited. As I mentioned when reviewing them, The Bright Sessions was one of the first audiodramas that got me truly hooked on the genre. So when Atypical Artists reached out about one of their new projects, it was an easy choice.
The story so far has been a blast. Jeanine and LEO(h) are incredibly interesting characters, and the supporting cast really add a great background to provide depth to the world and additional stakes. The writing is sharp and engaging. There is a wonderful pace to every scene that keeps the story moving along, while unraveling strange cases or sifting through personal problems. Each episode is constructed to move the overall story forward, while also handling new challenges.
In one sense, it feels like a really smartly written sitcom. The episodes each have their own individual struggles, and each of these play into the bigger picture. The comedic aspects of it are very much based on the absurdity of certain situations and vicarious awkwardness, and yet that balances very well with the real important questions. Early on, the story introduces the concept of consent. LEO(h) has free will, except in that he must love Jeanine. The show dives straight into the question of whether or not that is free will, and can consent be freely given?
The world feels close to ours, albeit with advanced AI and androids. The situations are realistic extensions of what we experience today, updated to a futuristic setting. As the show has progressed, the intricacies of this reality have been further and further developed. Jeanine’s work colleagues offer insights into the complex system set up to try and manage the world of android law. Through their cases and conversations, the preconceived ideas and assumptions that keep things running begin to show up, and LEO(h) serves as a contrast to the legal precedent.
In addition, Jeanine’s sister and fiancée break up the tension with their good-spirited banter and familial taunting. They offer a space for Jeanine to reflect and get a good reality check as needed, while also rooting for some exciting romantic drama to keep them entertained. They are a wonderful addition and serve to provide a human, lighthearted element to the story overall.
I am truly smitten with Life with LEO(h) so far. The writing is quick, witty, and engaging. The plot is well-paced and intriguing. The characters, both main and secondary, are relatable, energetic, and realistic. I also cannot wait to see where they take some of the big questions around free will, sentience, love, and consent. I am not a huge romance fan, but this is one romcom I am eagerly waiting for, episode after episode. If you like some laughter and humanity in your sci-fi audiodrama, it is definitely one to listen to.
This is a new thing. Welcome to my first Terse Tale, chosen as a name almost entirely because of alliteration. I’ll be sharing some micro stories I have been writing for an online challenge over the past few weeks. These are 100-300 word stories based on a given prompt. I’ve always been rather wordy, so I have found it really tough and rewarding to try and tell a convincing story in a short format. Sometimes the attempts is a success, other times less so. But I have found myself thinking a lot more about what I say and how I say it when writing. Ideally, I will post these weekly for as long as I continue to write them!
So, in the interest of brevity, here is the first one, based on the theme “it was as if time itself stopped.”
It was as if time itself stopped. Or perhaps that was just wishful thinking. I wondered how long I could stay there silent, motionless, barely breathing. Perhaps they would just go away and I could imagine nothing was wrong.
They were touching me now, a hand light on my arm. I think it was supposed to be reassuring, yet it only served to threaten my careful shell of denial. And they were talking, but I could not be bothered to tune my mind to their words. I was in freefall and neither gravity nor time could touch me unless I chose to stop.
“We’re not going home?” My words broke through, surprising both of us, and they stumbled mid-sentence. A heartbeat of silence.
“No. The boosters were too damaged to get us off the surface.” They were repeating what they had already said, I realized, but the words felt all new to me, striking a fatal blow each time.
“Not with the storms and solar flares picking up. We’re lucky to have landed at all.”
Lucky, they said. Didn’t feel that way. I glanced at the small photo taped haphazardly to my work station. That small face that I knew would age years in the time I was away, but now–
“A few weeks, with rationing. No one could have predicted–”
“And a few months until rescue,” I interrupted. They didn’t say anything more. They did not need to. I understood perfectly my sentence as I was to serve it. Weeks or months had no meaning; I would float through the remaining time left, but I was already dead.
I grabbed the picture as I walked away. He and I were now both frozen moments in time, even if mine soon would run out.
Length: 20-30 minutes
I’ve listened to… All seven episodes
Transcripts Available: No
The Premise: A comedy series about super heroes and, more directly, the super villains in the world. It is a light-hearted show that tackles superhero tropes head on, using those to develop a different perspective as it follows the daughter of famed super villains and their lasting impact on her life.
My Review: Super Villain is a production of Phonic Phoenix, a group creating comedy sketches, including short and long-form content. This seven part series sits alongside other, brief, standalone comedy sketches. The creator reached out to me and suggested I look at Super Villain specifically, and so this review remains focused on that series. (But if you are looking to subscribe on your app of choice, the feed is Phonic Phoenix.)
Super Villain is an enjoyable listen, a story about the nuanced and more down-to-earth life in a world with heroes and villains. In general, the tone is rather light, even when discussing some significant challenges, and remains optimistic. It is a feel-good kind of tale, but taking a different approach to the hero genre. Episode one ends with a direct, fourth-wall breaking commentary on the superhero genre, specifying the ways Super Villain intends to do something different. It was a cute and clever way to highlight that, despite some familiar opening notes, the story intended to diverge.
The main character is Dani, daughter of a famed super villain duo. She is forced to wrestle with the legacy of her parents, as well as decide who she wants to be in the world while overcoming obstacles she never asked for. In addition, there is Captain Hero, our requisite super do-gooder, and The Sage, his current nemesis. Dani is the best developed of the characters, and I really enjoyed following her story. She has attitude and grit, which makes it interesting to listen. I enjoyed following the ways she got out of challenges, using her strengths and weaknesses to handle the day-to-day struggles of life in superhero world.
The Narrator is also a key character. Super Villain is told within a frame story of an audiodrama production. The Narrator is there to read the script, keep things on track, and advocate on behalf of listeners and characters. There is the traditional script-reading, but also “unscripted” commentary about what is happening. This allows the show to address some concerns, such as the dialogue in episode one explaining why it is not your run-of-the-mill hero show, while also providing some levity and optimism. I do feel that at times the writing leans to heavy on the Narrator to explain things, when instead it may make sense to trust the audience to put it together. However, the Narrator is a likable character and provides some relatable reactions to the unfolding script. In addition, this role provides a lot of the non-audio cues. He sets the scene, describes visuals, and narrates actions that might be confusing in an audio format.
The first two episodes really serve to set the background and introduce the main characters. This is important information for appreciating the story as a whole, but the excitement really takes off in episode three with the characters, conflicts, and world fairly well-established. It is an engaging ride throughout, and I was very drawn into the story within a few episodes. The writing is good, with some clever moments and organic dialogue. Dani’s conversations and interactions with her friends felt fun and supportive, a bright spot of human connection in a story shining a spotlight on the hurt we can cause each other.
The plot and ideas were well-constructed, rarely wasting information. Each moment and scene propels the story along. In some ways, this can feel convenient: the right person always happens to be listening at the right time. But, it also works well for the pacing and structure needed, avoiding traps that could bog down what is a well-paced tale. It simply does not waste time on unnecessary things. Even when I thought something was wrong or superfluous, it turned out it was just hinting at a more important reveal. The general plot is a comedic action-adventure, and yet it manages to bring in big questions about right, wrong, and meaning without breaking stride.
Overall, it was an enjoyable show to listen to that gave a more nuanced view of life in the world with super humans. At its core, it is not about being a hero/villain and saving/destroying the world, but more about figuring out who you want to be. The frame story helps maintain its upbeat, hopeful tone throughout, even when asking big questions and tackling tough moments. The character of Dani is well-developed and fun to get to know, with a selection of side characters that enrich the world and relationships therein. If you are wanting a break from the dark, gritty, nail-biting urgency of modern day superheroes, Super Villain is a enjoyable exploration of these ideas worth a listen.
You can find them here: Super Villain
Episodes: 7 so far
Length: 10-20 minutes
Transcripts Available: No
I’ve listened to… All currently available episodes
The Premise: An unnamed man discovers a supernatural realm and uses his skills to help and protect others, as well as himself. It follows him interacting with the strange and unknown in all kinds of encounters with the supernatural.
My Review: The show creator reached out to me a few months back to let me know about their upcoming release. As the show was still new, I mentioned it in my 2020 Roundup and agreed to come back when a bit more of the show was available for review. And now at seven episodes, I am excited to point you toward this show!
Arcane is a mysterious supernatural audiodrama following our unnamed protagonist as he encounters all kinds of supernatural oddities. It covers a wide range of different scenarios in the first few episodes, with people trying to steal knowledge/power, spells gone wrong, and people with strange abilities. While having a “monster of the week” style approach, the dangers encountered veer away from the traditional tropes /monsters and focus on more unique experiences.
The first episode starts off with a rather dark turn, setting the stage for the somber tone and high stakes of the series so far. On my first time listening, I was not sure what to take from Episode 1, but it came into focus as the episodes developed. I have found myself going back to episode one and turning over some of the unique plot points from time to time, just because it really caught me by surprise in a fantastic way. I do think this is a show that takes an episode or two to hit its stride, not in the quality of content, but in the overarching concept. Once it settles into that rhythm, the surprises continue to show up, but I felt I was able to appreciate more because I was better oriented to the universe.
The sound is great and serves the story well. It is not overdone, but it provides appropriate context clues for what is happening in the scenes so that a listener can get a good visual of situations. Similarly, the blend between narration and dialogue works well. The unnamed protagonist provides some very helpful context and background as needed through narrative pauses, without turning into too much of a monologue. It can be hard to strike that balance, especially in a story where the world building is very important, and I think it lands with a good split of both overall.
One of the things I most enjoy is the slow discovery in this particular story. There is limited handholding by the creator as to what things mean in the broader context, but there are clues and breadcrumbs to follow regarding the bigger picture. It is a really pleasant experience to notice those pieces coming together and forming the background to the events in each episode. There is definitely a much broader, deeper world here than has been revealed so far, and I have enjoyed the opportunity to piece things together as they come up within the context of the episodes.
Overall, Arcane is a unique take on the brooding, supernatural serial. It has moments of light and darkness woven together to create a complex world that had been exciting to explore. The writing and sound are solid, providing the necessary frame to get drawn into the world being created. It deals with familiar ideas, but avoids falling into classic tropes and traps, instead introducing unique concepts and conflicts in each episode. I am excited to listen to more and see the world of Arcane continue to develop.
You can find them here: Arcane
I had to take a brief break to handle some family medical issues. All is well now, and so I plan to get back to regular reviews, plus maybe a few new ideas. I hope to finish up a podcast review for next week, and I have a couple lined up for the next little bit. As always, if you create an audiodrama podcast and would like me to listen, feel free to reach out via the contact form!
Episodes: 8 publicly available. Patreon supporters have access to episodes in a weekly format ahead of public release, with a total of 47 weekly episodes currently available for $5 and up Patrons.
Length: Monthly cuts are 35-45 minutes in length. Weekly episodes are 5-10 minutes each.
I’ve listened to… All 7 public episodes and maybe (definitely) all the Patreon episodes. I got hooked.
The Premise: Arthur Lester awakens with two startling revelations. He cannot see, and there is another voice inside his head. The story follows him and this entity as they try to understand what has happened, getting drawn deeper and deeper into a web of otherworldly conspiracies that put them both at risk. Using the Chaosium system to provide some additional framework to the story, it takes the listener on a mystery adventure deep through cosmic horror unknowns.
My Review: In the interest of all transparency, this creator reached out to me on Reddit and asked me to review the series. I had been eyeing the episodes for a while, so decided to take a listen. After listening to the 7 monthly cuts of episodes widely available, I decided it was well worth the $5 investment to get access to more, and I have just been listening to as many as possible since.
Malevolent is cosmic horror, and it delves into that genre quickly with rituals, sacrifices, ancient evils, and plenty of bizarre deaths and evocations. If you are familiar with lovecraftian stories, this will feel familiar, but far from stale. The plot twists and turns into danger every step of the way, constantly ratcheting up tension, while using brief moments of pause to summarize and reflect on what needs to happen next. One thing I found very interesting is that each of the weekly episodes ends with a choice that $10 and up Patrons can vote on, determining which path the characters will follow. I think the plot works seamlessly around these plot points, and even with outside control, the writing ensures the decisions are consistent with the world and characters as they are developing. The story also does a great job of providing subtle hints and clues throughout the story so that listeners can begin to piece things together. It is hard to create a sense of the uncanny through audio alone, but Malevolent manages to incorporate by providing just enough details so that the listener begins to realize the pieces aren’t aligning. And then the bizarre shines through, mimicking that real world feeling.
Arthur is the main character, a private investigator now being forced to solve what may be an impossible mystery for human minds to comprehend. The stakes are high; an entity has moved into his head and, while seemingly an ally, there is no guarantee that the arrangement will last forever or end well for Arthur. He is a sympathetic character, and I find he demonstrates a good level of thoughtfulness in the story, while also having his moments of panic and helplessness. While we might all like to imagine we would escape mostly unscathed, Arthur shows how easily human ingenuity can be eclipsed by the otherworldly.
The Entity, which is the title I will use to avoid any potential spoilers, is just as stuck as Arthur, and yet may know more than they are letting on. That’s a great deal of the character tension, because while they are working together, Arthur and the Entity are in adversarial roles simply due to their situation. As details emerge, they serve to further complicate the tenuous partnership. The Entity also fills in some of the details and provides an excellent narrative voice. Since Arthur cannot see, the Entity explains things as they happen. I think this allows the story to sidestep one of the potential pitfalls in audiodrama in general. The audience is provided a detailed descriptions of characters, scenes, and events. This made me feel like I was getting the chance to play along, wondering if Arthur would take the same thing from encounters or places that I did, following the same leads.
The sound design for episodes is also fantastic. I think the story is served well with a blind main character. Arthur is just as surprised by sudden sounds and noises, and it creates a deeper sense of immersion. Additionally, the spooky noises, background sound effects, and wonderful skill of additional voice actors really serves to create a dynamic and engaging world. (Correction, all the voices are provided by ONE PERSON! Even more impressive, because I had no idea.) It is very easy to get sucked in and walk alongside Arthur through his perilous journey. I found episodes flying by as I listened, caught up in a world I could not see, but could easily experience.
As a brief aside, the story does use the Chaosium system, as stated in materials. I am not an actual-play podcast person, nor have I played an in-depth RPG-style tabletop game (but plenty of other tabletop games). I mention it to say, after reading up a bit on the system and some of the Call of Cthulhu rulebook, I can see how the system helps provide some additional structure to the story. That said, it is not an actual-play podcast and does not use dice rolls. I also never found myself lost or confused because I do not have the RPG experience. My one hesitation prior to listening was the reference to Chaosium and worries that I would be in the dark. Fortunately, I have not found that to be the case in the slightest.
Overall, I am so glad I gave this a listen. It is a great spooky story where the unraveling tale keeps me hooked. I am working to put the pieces together as the story develops, feeling like I am walking alongside Arthur and the Entity as they get pulled in deeper and deeper. The writing is strong, dialogue well written and acted, and sound design on point to create an immersive experience. I have been able to get lost in the world and the mystery of Malevolent, and I think it is an excellent listen if you need a little more otherworldly terror in your life. And who doesn’t, right?
In Another Room
Length: 30-45 Minutes
I’ve listened to… All of it
The Premise: Wendy Morrow is exploring a notoriously haunted house. Each episode tells the story of a room as Wendy tries to understand not only what has happened in the past, but what is in store for her after she is caught within the house’s clutches.
My Review: If you like haunted house stories and great ghost stories, then this podcast is almost certain to have something for you. While each story deals with a specific room in the house, it is definitely designed to be listened to in order so that you can understand the workings of the house. Each room holds a clue to what happened, but more importantly what is keeping the souls trapped. The frame story with Wendy is also well-crafted, focusing on her need to understand the supernatural at the expense of the rest of her life.
The individual ghost stories are told well and have some familiar themes. To be fair, it is tough to come up with new ghost story themes, because it has been a genre since the start of time. However, the delivery of each story, as well as the interplay between time and setting, creates some unique experiences even with familiar concepts. It innovates on a theme that many will find familiar, turning it into something new. It is a haunted house, not only because it is inhabited by spirits, but because each spirit is haunted in their own way as well.
Some of the stories really stuck with me. They were well-written, well-acted, and showcased a great mix of complex characters throughout. The stories develop a claustrophobic feel as they explore the injustice of those trapped, and the same feelings spill over into the present-day experience with Wendy beautifully. Wendy’s story becomes its own standalone cautionary tale, following someone driven to the edges by grief, even to the point of missing life right in front of them. In many ways, she is trapped before she ever steps foot in the house, and so it is interesting to follow in her footsteps deeper into the mire that exists.
Overall,Iin Another Room took a lot of ghost story ideas and blended them into a unique and intriguing story. It creates a sense of chaos and confusion that brings setting and characters alive throughout the story. Voices blend over each other, time shifts, and everything that happens within the house has the feel of solid reality and complete fantasy rolled together. It is spooky and unsettling in all the best ways, ultimately reworking the idea of a haunted house in a way I am really glad I got to hear. It reminded me of campfire stories from my childhood, but grown up with an air of polish that kept me eagerly listening episode after episode.
You can find them here: In Another Room
The Patron Saint of Suicides
Episodes: 14 episodes in season 1.
Length: 20-35 minutes per episode
I’ve listened to… all of season one, very eagerly.
The Premise: Years ago, a flash robbery on a train went wrong and ended in bloodshed. And now, bodies are showing up on the train tracks with the same Lucha masks worn by the perpetrators. The podcast follows Haven Otomo, one of the attack survivors, as she navigates her recovery while walking alongside the investigation into these new deaths.
My Review: This is a strong mystery crime thriller that introduces a cast of phenomenal characters and develops a compelling interwoven story about grief, loss, recovery, pain, justice, and revenge. It starts with two primary focuses, following Haven as well as the investigation into new deaths, led by Victor Blossem and Zoey Gibson. As the investigation progresses, Haven’ connection with a survivor’s support group makes her invaluable to the investigation as they try to figure out why these suspects are turning up dead. I very much enjoy stories that start with divergent stories and weave them together, and I think this manages to bring the two sides of the story together in a wonderful way.
The character of Haven is developed over the course of the season in very compelling ways, revealing deep pain and remarkable resolve. She has a habit of patrolling the Golden Gate Bridge to help people contemplating suicide, fulfilling a role as impromptu therapist on many occasions. Through this, listeners also learn of her own recovery and progress, as well as her lingering wounds. Haven’s perspective is generally told in her own words, with a biting level of insight and honesty, even when exploring those moments of uncertainty and insecurity. She has her flaws and these are generally displayed openly throughout, with her own awareness of her weaknesses servicing to add a layer of internal conflict that feels very real. Even when she can recognize pitfalls, sometimes she is unable to avoid them.
In addition, there is a whole cast of strong characters that exist within the world. They show different responses to trauma and grief, each in different stages of healing. I really appreciated the way these trauma reactions were handled throughout, noting how challenging it can be to recover from an event like this, but also demonstrating how people find healing and recovery at times. That’s not to say it is all happy endings, and there is a very authentic exploration of death and suicide throughout, both from central characters and secondary or tertiary ones. So, it is important to know that suicide and death will be frequent themes in the episodes. If you couldn’t guess by the title.
In addition to the treatment of trauma, I really appreciated how the story spoke about race, privilege, and the impact of mental illness. It fluidly incorporates many systemic factors that often negatively impact marginalized groups (such as the impact of mental illness of members of a minority group, or how police relationships can be shaped by race and status). In doing so, it adds layers of complexity and realism to the story that deepen character motivations, strengths, and weaknesses. It is a thoughtful story that tackles challenging topics in an effort to provide a believable and increasingly complicated story.
The writing was engaging and well developed. Each episode left me wanting more of the story, introducing new twists and turns. Dialogue is well-written, narration is thorough without becoming distracting, and the internal workings of Haven’s mind provide the chance for the audience to really connect and understand her more fully. In addition, I really enjoyed the glimpses of her standup sets for the additional view into her world provided. The plot is complex, but developed wonderfully throughout each episode. The finale episode was remarkably done. It is a crime thriller with hints of a whodunnit throughout, so I won’t give anything away besides noting it is an exceptional episode that really did justice to the story as a whole so far.
It is a complex story, and so I feel I have tried to capture some of that in this review. But it is certainly a fascinating and emotional story to listen to from start to finish. I am interested in hearing where it goes from the finale of season one, but I have no doubts there are plenty of intriguing ways to further develop and explore the characters. While it deals with heavy topics, it is something I wished I could have binge listened to (had I not listened as it released) because each part was so good. Now that all of season one is out, I highly recommend listening to it as soon as you can.
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.