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A Listener Reviews: Marsfall

Marsfall

Episodes: 16 Episodes so far.

Length: Generally around 25-35 minutes

I’ve listened to… All available episodes

The Premise: A colony from Earth has landed on Mars and things get off to a catastrophic start. Can the colonists stabilize and figure out how to survive life on Mars with a constant barrage of problems?

My Review: This story is intense. And I mean that in the best way possible. It is certainly not for the faint of heart as it starts with tragedy and deals with the “harsh reality” of life on Mars, per their content warning at the outset of each episode. But wow, do they tell a fantastic story.

I do not know if I have listened to a podcast that has evoked so many strong feelings. In it’s 16 episode run, there has been a lot of grief and heartbreak. The characters are authentic about their feelings, at least in their personal logs, and it ends up drawing me in as the listener so that I feel very invested. The logs also help to create an incredibly deep cast of characters with complex motivations. You still have your good guys and your bad guys, but there is far more time spent with characters muddling through gray areas. I’ll listen to that any day.

Speaking of characters, I think that is truly what sells the story. They are so perfectly human, flaws and all. Even characters I like I disagree with and find myself frustrated at their decisions. Because they act with all the nearsightedness and selfishness of all of us. However, as the story is told from multiple perspectives, the listener knows all the moving pieces, and you can’t help but wish they could overcome. Their weaknesses serve to drive the story and make it interesting. No one is satisfied sitting around and waiting, and so their impulsivity and focus on individual goals end up propelling them into exciting situations. But it all feels so organic, because they first started with realistic characters whose motivations follow naturally.

In terms of critique, I wish they would handle content warnings in a different way. Sometimes it ends up giving away too much of what’s coming in the plot. I understand the appeal of content warnings to people, and I think they have a place in media. However, the decision to speak to specific episode content each time ends up spoiling some big plot points. I would much rather have a generic content warning, followed by details in the show notes or some other format, rather than hearing up front that an episode contains death. However, even with those “spoilers,” I have ridiculously enjoyed every episode I listen to.

So, in case you have not noticed, I absolutely love everything about Marsfall. It’s incredible. It is intense, as I mentioned. I think you need to be aware going in, because some episodes are heavy. But it truly excels because it does not shy away from those topics, either. It confronts death, grief, loss, anger, fear, and so many other tough parts of life. Its willingness to confront the challenges is what really makes it something special.

Just to let you know how good it is, it was what inspired me to finally get a Patreon account and start giving back. I checked theirs, expecting it to be absolutely FLOODED with patrons because it is just that good. And I found that it was chugging along, but not nearly receiving the support they deserved. So I definitely had to sign up and give them my money every month. Because when people are making something this good, they deserve every cent they can get.

You can find them here: Marsfall

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A Listener Reviews: Oz-9

Oz-9

Episodes: 12 Episodes so far.

Length: Generally around 10-20 minutes

I’ve listened to… All available episodes

The Premise: Greater Gated Galaxies (bad ears….) realizes they are about to be found out an lose a lot of money if their whole fleet is grounded. And they’ll definitely be grounded, because the ships are flying deathtraps that are lucky if they’re held together with chewing gum and duct tape. So, the best bet? Hurriedly staff the ships with crews of convicts, take a lot of rich peoples’ money, and load everyone on the ships in the hopes of stumbling across a habitable world at some point, maybe. We follow the crew of the Oz-9 as they struggle to survive the reaches of…space relatively close to earth, but definitely not still within jurisdictional range of anyone. They’ll make it out there among the stars eventually.

My Review: This is one of the few podcasts where I knew I was going to love it from episode one. Usually, it takes me a couple of episodes to warm up to an idea, and then I’m hooked. But this pulled me in incredibly quickly. The scenario is unabashedly ridiculous…but also cynical and greedy enough that I worry it may be clairvoyant. The crew of the Oz-9 are certainly caricatures, but endearing ones. As we learn about their sheer incompetence, it makes you want them to survive even more, because honestly, it seems cruel to kill people that are this hapless.

The plot is beginning to develop a bit more depth, and I certainly welcome it. The “crisis of the minute” style has been good at introducing everyone and everything, but now it’s beginning to build some more involved story arcs, and I cannot wait to see how it all unfolds. I’ll also be interested to see the humor in the show develops as the plot gets deeper. One of the things I most appreciate about this story is it’s ability to be goofy and “random” without falling into the “lolz penguin of doom” style. It does this by using call backs very well, playing on the same gag in unexpected ways. These gags have not become overused, but they’re only 12 episodes in, so let’s not give them too much credit. (I kid. Listen to the show. It’s perfectly on theme.)

Also, let me take a moment in this review to talk about a completely unrelated media property. Arrested Development. I have said on many occasions that if there were a way to remove my knowledge of a show so I can re-experience the sheer joy of a first watch through, I would use that on Arrested Development. For me, Oz-9 hits a lot of the same notes.  A cast of rather unfortunate, oblivious characters, good use of running gags, and a omniscient narrator providing commentary. Admittedly, this narrator has a bit more disdain for the crew and, frankly, the audience. But I probably deserve it.

Oz-9 is silly, senseless, unapologetic humor done really, really well. It doesn’t try to be something it’s not, and it thankfully does not take itself too seriously. It is just good fun to listen to.  I know I can tune in and just enjoy laugh as the crew of the Oz-9 struggle to survive…at least a week or so?

You can find them here: Oz-9


A Listener Reviews: Palimpsest

Palimpsest

Episodes: 20 episodes total (10 episodes per season)

Length: Generally around 20 minutes

I’ve listened to… Both seasons

The Premise: Each season tells a different story. In season one, the narrator moves into a new home and starts to experience some strange things. In season 2, the narrator runs away from home and soon begins work caring for a unique charge in a house that shows off these “denizens” in a high end freak show of sorts. While one is modern day and the second is decidedly not, the share a lot in tone and both focus on supernatural stories.

My Review: Both seasons have been beautifully told stories. The title of Palimpsest refers to a work of some kind where the old has been written/drawn over, but the original remains visible. And the stories stay true to this, with both seasons telling overlapping stories. What has happened in the past has a distinct presence in the future, and characters end up telling two stories at once. I think this is a stronger theme in season 1, but definitely still comes through in season 2 in a more subtle way.

The style of this podcast tends to be a kind of somber, hopeful tone. In the present, it is earnest and optimistic, even in the face of difficulties, and this is woven with a sad nostalgia at times. With a single narrator in each, it manages to convey the different needs and personalities of many different people. The music used is also really well done, setting the scene and tone without becoming distracting.

I have found the seasons to be a little predictable at times, which is unfortunate but not unforgivable. The storytelling is done well enough that I’m happy to go along for the ride even if I’m pretty sure where we’re headed. I think once I made the connection about how the title is woven into the stories, it became easier to figure out the stories because the past and present are often overlapping in the audiodrama.

These are two reflective, intriguing, and emotional stories. There is action and intensity, but it is precede by the steadily building tension that the present in its current form is unsustainable, but the path forward looks impossible. For very different reasons in the two seasons, but still. I think season one is a great example of an unreliable narrator, which is probably one of my favorite approaches when done well. It keeps me guessing, and I like that. Even if I did figure a lot of it out before the podcast got there. It was still enjoyable listening to how they unraveled both stories.

Overall, while it does play on some familiar themes/tropes, the execution and presentation in this audiodrama is phenomenal. I was able to easily become invested in the characters, even when I thought they were making a bad move. It packs a lot of emotion into a single episode, steadily moving the story forward with an even pace. Ultimately, it was a joy to follow along with the story through all the twists and sometimes rather dark turns. I will be eagerly waiting for another season, and I can’t wait to see where they go next.

You can find them here: Palimpsest


A Listener Reviews: Station Blue

Station Blue

Episodes: 11 episodes in season 1

Length: Generally around 20-30 minutes, with some outliers on either end

I’ve listened to… All of Season 1, eagerly awaiting Season 2.

The Premise: Matthew is responsible for setting up a research station in Antarctica before the rest of the team arrives. Nothing bad has ever happened in an isolated Antarctic research station, right?

My Review: Isolation. Monsters. Memories. Penguins. Terror. What’s not to love? This is really the kind of horror I enjoy. It is psychological horror done very well, highlighting at once the freedom and madness inherent in such total isolation. The episodes do a great job of developing Matthew as a character through his job and duties, as well as through well placed flashbacks.

What I think this audiodrama does so well is utilize an unreliable narrator in a audio format very effectively. I listened to season 1. I’m not sure how much happened, how much was misinterpreted, and how much was completely impossible. That’s a hard feat to accomplish, because the story has at once convinced me that unimaginable things are possible, but also that this is still the real world and real world rules apply. So I’m still trying to reconcile those pieces.

The story also touches on mental illness in a very appropriate way. It balances well the severity and negative impact of such conditions with character strength, agency, and resilience. From the point of view of a therapist who sits across from people struggling with mental health concerns, it feels more realistic than most depictions. Mental illness can often be used as a crutch in creative fiction, but here it is one facet of a very complex, unique, and intriguing character.

At times I found it a little hard to follow because they relied on audio cues to help you follow, and I was just unable to place what was happening. The writing is usually kind enough to fill me in later, however, so I don’t have to stay befuddled for too long. The story also weaves a little between past and present, so it can be confusing when listening until the context is better developed. However, I think that actually serves to increase the uncertainty inherent in this story. It should be confusing at times, because the narrator is confused at times. I’d also say this story starts relatively slow, but makes up for it once it gets going. I was hooked after a handful of episodes because, even if everything seemed okay, you just know something else is going on. The ability to create that mystery and curiosity is really remarkable.

Overall, the story is well-crafted with a very interesting main character in a setting that has been used relatively frequently in horror literature (for it’s real world rarity and isolation), but manages to avoid some easy tropes. It oozes tension and dread, but often tricks me as the listener into feeling  maybe everything is really okay…? But it’s probably not. At least, I don’t think it is. Right?

You can find them here: Station Blue


A Listener Reviews: Moonbase Theta, Out

Moonbase Theta, Out

Episodes: 18 episodes

Length: 5-7 minutes

I’ve listened to… All there is so far!

The Premise: The crew of Moonbase Theta are preparing to return to Earth. Roger provides weekly updates to the corporate overlords leaders sponsoring the trip. However, communication starts to get spotty and things aren’t going according to plan.

My Review: This was a wonderful surprise of a podcast. I have seen a few audiodramas try to pull off very brief episodes, but this is the most successful application I have seen thus far. The format and structure of the episodes work really well, packing a lot of punch in the few minutes they put out each week. They also masterfully balance tension with what they say and, more importantly, what they don’t. What is unsaid is just as important in this story, and it is this fact which allows the story to delve so deep in just a few minutes.

Beyond having a refreshingly well-developed plot, there are some deeply emotional moments. It takes some very careful planning and creativity to build an intro, bit of intrigue, emotional punch, and outro within just a few minutes. I think it is a testament to the idea that sometimes restrictions lead to great creative leaps. The voice acting is also strong, leading you through the moments and carefully using tone of voice, rate of speech, and other verbal cues to help develop the full story. And they unashamedly keep the story relatively serious, not breaking the carefully crafted tension with jokes. But it is an engaging serious story being told.

The narrator is engaging and sympathetic. As someone who works within a large organization, I can feel the frustration when you don’t receive communication about things that seem vital for successful completion of your job. I mean, my leaders don’t have the excuse of being a whole moon away, but hey, I’m not bitter. That said, I definitely feel connected to Roger, the man running the communication updates. The glimpses of his life offered by the personal messages at the end serve to deepen the character in just a few lines.

As someone who enjoys writing, I am in awe of the creators ability to create such an amazing story in a very limited space. I’m wordy. It’s my flaw, and I own it. So seeing the impact of a few minutes/words is inspiring. In a thirty minute format, this story would still be good. The plot and idea is still intriguing. But the format adds a level of realism that makes the world feel more real. It also seems to highlight how limited and distant communication is, allowing me as the listener to feel just as isolated for those few minutes as Roger and the rest of the crew. I’m only going to get 5 minutes to hear the update. They only have 5 minutes to ask for help.

There is no excuse not to listen to Moonbase Theta, Out. Even if your queue is running behind, you will definitely be happy if you make a little time to catch up and keep up with this impressive, minimalist audiodrama.

You can find them here: Moonbase Theta, Out


A Listener Reviews: Splintered Caravan

Splintered Caravan

Episodes: 9 episodes

Length: Generally around 25-30 minutes

I’ve listened to… All there is so far!

The Premise: Delve into the world of caravans, groups of enhanced humans (and AI) that team up to complete jobs that err on the shady side. Caylek is unsure of them, but agrees to try it out when Triten–her partner? mentor?–encourages her to give them a shot so that they can complete a job. But, as you might guess, things go sideways and what should have been simple gets complicated.

My Review: I was not sure at first on this one. It seemed interesting, but was I up for this sci-fi, cyberpunk, black market, little bit of everything kind of blend? And I gave it a couple episode before I was completely hooked. The characters are not always likable, and that is one of the greatest strengths. They manage to bring to life realistic characters who make me so angry, but also manage to keep me critically interested in their well-being and survival. They have realistic flaws that end up propelling the story forward. They aren’t superficial flaws, but complex characters whose strengths and weaknesses are what make the show engaging.

Not only are the characters rich, but the world is deep; far deeper than they’ve fully explored so far. But the exposition of information has been handled well. There might be a few moments where it veers too far into explaining, but as a listener, I’m kind of grateful at times. Having Caylek as an outsider to the caravan system provides excellent opportunities for convincing in-universe exposition. I do wish some more of the details and scope of the story was a bit clearer at this point, but I’m willing to go along for the ride.

The written dialogue and acting has been consistently good. There are a wide range of voices, making each character unique in personality, tone, and motivation. Sound quality has been great, which I am always thankful for when listening in the car. From a technical standpoint, I have no complaints. I wish there was more of it to listen to, but I figure that’s just going to be the story for a lot of audiodrama.

Finally, the story is complex and deals with heavy topics, but knows how to lighten it up. There have been a lot of twist and turns in the short 9 episode run so far, and I am still working to piece things together. I would certainly not call it predictable; rather, it keeps me on my toes, eager to hear how things will unfold next.

You can probably tell, but I’m a big fan. I was excited to learn about a new episode coming out, downloaded it right when I woke up, and listened to it first thing in the morning. So it has me hooked. If any of what I’ve mentioned sounds interesting to you, then Splintered Caravan definitely deserves a listen.

You can find them here: Splintered Caravan (I could not find a direct website, so here’s their Patreon.)25-30


A Listener Reviews: Kalila Stormfire’s Economical Magick Services

Kalila Stormfire’s Economical Magick Services

Episodes: 13 episodes so far, with some shorts and bonus content.

Length: Generally around 15-25 minutes

I’ve listened to… All the main episodes and shorts.

The Premise: Kalila Stormfire is a witch providing, you guessed it, “economical” magick services to people in her community. However, someone is sabotaging her reputation and she’s on the outs with the coven.

My Review: This is a show that I found endearing from episode one, and by episode five or six, I was hooked. I liked the concept early, thinking it would be a more “case of the week” style story, with Kalila narrating the story of one of her clients and how she was able to help. But then appeared this undercurrent of so much more going on. The world is still in the early stages, but magic and magical beings abound. It successfully manages to bring this world of fantasy into the modern day, with modern day problems needing magical solutions.

Kalila is the main character and, for season one, the primary narrator for all events. They’re adding more voice actors as they go, and I’m really excited to see where this goes as they break free of the mostly single-perspective storytelling. It’s not that her perspective is uninteresting or a negative, but I believe the creators will take the opportunity to have different voices to more fully develop the world, characters, and central conflict.

Season one tells a good story, but it certainly feels like more of an introduction than a full project currently. I really like what is there, but it simply needs more time to be fully developed.  I don’t yet have a good grasp of the “rules” of the universe, so it’s a little hard to know what is possible. However, you only get that sense from more and more exposure to what’s going on. And maybe knowing a little more about magic in general. I mean, I’m such a noob that I’m left wondering if I should be spelling it magic or magick and what might be the difference. Suffice it to say, I’m looking forward to season two (though I should probably Google the spelling thing).

Overall, this is a stable, comfortable, enjoyable podcast. It is serious without taking itself too serious, tells an interesting story, and is simply well put together. I look forward to the world gaining more depth through the inclusion of new voices and simply more time spent in-universe. This is a story in its early stages, but I am excited to hear what comes next.

Find them here: Kalila Stormfire’s Economical Magick Services