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A Listener Reviews: Life with LEO(h)

Life with LEO(h)

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 audiodrama 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.

You can find them here: Life with LEO(h) and support the podcast here


Terse Tales: Homesick

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.

“Rescue?”

“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–

“Food?”

“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.


A Listener Reviews: Super Villain

Super Villain

Episodes: 7

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


A Listener Reviews: Arcane

Arcane

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


Back from Hiatus

Hello!

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!


A Listener Reviews: Malevolent

Malevolent

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?

You can find them here: Malevolent and support them on Patreon for access to weekly episodes, plus the opportunity to help determine Arthur’s fate.


A Listener Reviews: In Another Room

In Another Room

Episodes: 8

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


A Listener Reviews: The Patron Saint of Suicides


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.

You can find them here: The Patron Saint of Suicides and support them on Patreon


A Listener Reviews: The Oyster


The Oyster

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


A Listener Reviews: Vega


Vega

Episodes: 13

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.

You can find them here: Vega and support the creator on Patreon


A Listener Reviews: Triple Six

Triple Six

Episodes: 5 total in the story

Length: 150 minutes total, broken up into 30 minute episodes

I’ve listened to… the whole story

The Premise: Riley and Brynn head to Las Vegas in the hopes of repairing their struggling marriage. Once there, however, Brynn is kidnapped by some particularly seedy individuals, and Riley must fight against impossible odds to save himself and his wife.

My Review: I really enjoy short fiction, and I think it takes a lot of skill to tell a contained story in a succinct package. Triple Six manages to tell its story well with a pace that keeps things moving, but also provides opportunity to develop the character arc. And adds in some twists and turns along the way. The production quality in general is really standout, and scenes come to life through skillful use of dialogue, ambient sounds, and appropriate effects.

The main character is Riley, and he’s our hero. He has a typical character arc, but his journey and development is handled well in the brief five episode run. At the start, he has plenty of negative traits and qualities that make him rather unlikable. However, his growth and increasing awareness of his faults over the course of the story ultimately make it easy to root for him as things go from bad to worse. Some of the opening scenes between Riley and Brynn are infuriating and perfect. They have a sad reality to them that showcases bad communications, unmet expectations, and unspoken assumptions in a way that develops the scene and characters. However, as Riley changes as a character, his relationship transforms as well.

It is a dark story, and it does not really try to sugar coat things or dress it up. There are some truly despicable characters, but frankly they work well within the world of the story. Rather than trying to sugar coat things or pull back from the implications of the underground gambling ring, this story runs with it and shows the monsters that inhabit such a world. As well as the unfortunate (and not so unfortunate) victims swept up throughout. It is a production for adult ears and includes references to a lot of questionable content, but it all makes sense with the characters and the world at work. The pacing and style keep it from feeling too grim or heavy, instead pushing it forward like an action thriller.

In many ways, this podcast feels like a movie that you might watch with a bowl of popcorn, edge of your seat. But I think that the podcast really brings the story to life through the sounds, creating immersive scenes. It also puts the listener in the midst of the chaos. There are points where characters are referred to only by their color designation. There are a lot of people introduced and a lot of action happening as Riley works to put things together. It is chaotic and hard to follow. And it is perfect for that moment in the narrative, because it should feel overwhelming. As soon as you as the listener start to get your feet under you, the story speeds ahead. It manages to keep you a little confused in a very good way throughout, mirroring the off-balance nightmare Riley is living.

While the concept presented is not something completely original, I think the treatment of this story, the character development, and the way things unravel at the end really serve to make this a very enjoyable listening experience. It creates a glimpse into a world that I only want to learn about from the safety of a podcast. If you enjoy a high stakes adventure with an everyman hero that will keep you guessing, this is definitely an immersive story worth a listen.

You can find them here: Triple Six


A Listener Reviews: BRASS

BRASS

Photo image features Ron Richardson as Lord Brass, Kate Kraay as Lady Brass, Jeremy Adams as Cyril Brass and Katherine Grant-Suttie as Gwendolyn Brass. Photo by Wynne Earle.

Episodes: 34, with more coming to complete the fourth and final season

Length: Generally around 15 minutes, with some select episodes running in the 25-35 minutes range

I’ve listened to… 11 episodes. I intended to listen to six, then figured I would finish up the first season, and then accidentally listened to one more. A complete accident, of course.

The Premise: BRASS is a steampunk adventure following the titular family of scientific geniuses as they unravel the criminal underworld of an alternate universe 19th century. It is a light-hearted adventure story with moments of danger, humor, science fiction, and just plain old good storytelling.

My Review: This review started with a request from the creators, and so I wanted to give them a listen. I usually start listening to the first three episodes of a podcast. I give them a chance to overcome maybe a challenging opening and catch me within three episodes. I was hooked by episode one and eager to listen to more. Which is how I may have ended up binging far more episodes than I intended originally for the writing of this review. And I will certainly be finishing the story now that I’ve begun.

BRASS is full of fun. It is a full cast audiodrama, and the voice acting really serves to provide additional depth to the characters. There is so much of the story that is told through tone, with a heavy hand of sarcasm throughout, and I am certain you will hear the eyerolls in their voices at times. The characters each have their set roles and personalities, but they play very well off of one another. The writing is sharp as well, providing good interplay between characters. I also find the narration to strike a nice balance. It provides enough context to understand, without slowing the story down or missing out on character building moments. It mirrors the old radio announcer style in a way that is instructive and likable.

This podcast does one thing that I think tends to make me happy in any media. It has fun. The story does not take itself too seriously, but plays with the rules and creates interesting situations which allow the characters to shine throughout. Sometimes things are a little too convenient or bend the limits of the believable. But if you accept the offer to suspend disbelief, I think it is truly an enjoyable experience to follow along with the family Brass.

The world is familiar, yet distinct enough to leave space for discovery and exploration, and I find they weave in the steampunk elements enough to give some extra creativity when it comes to not only problem solving, but also the dangerous stakes facing the family. I personally have really loved the allusions to and cameos from various historical and literary figures, and I find those moments feel like a familiar inside joke. Plus, if you do fall in love with the world of BRASS, there are many different opportunities to learn more. Not only is there the podcast, but also another podcast of short stories from the world, live theater productions, and a short film. It speaks to the depth of the worldbuilding that they have been able to create and support so many windows into the goings on.

BRASS is ultimately a fun escape into a world adjacent to our own. The characters are entertaining and endearing in their own ways. The writing is done well, moving the story along at a good pace while focusing on the relationships between characters. Most of all, this is a story that enjoys taking you along for the journey, and wants to make sure you are enjoying it as well. It has kept me wondering about what will happen next and how characters will escape the dangers ahead. It is funny, engaging, intriguing, and witty. I am definitely sad that I had not listened to them before, but very happy to have the chance to catch up now.

You can find them here: BRASS. And support them here.


A Listener Reviews: The Resistible Rise of JR Brinkley

The Resistible Rise of JR Brinkley

Episodes: 4

Length: 30-35 minutes

I’ve listened to… the whole production

The Premise: The Resistible Rise of JR Brinkley is a stage play adapted to audiodrama format to help combat the challenge that 2020 has been for the performing arts. It is a Brechtian play (which, if you are like me and need to Google that, means incorporating direct discussion with the audience, historical parallels to modern events, and fourth wall breaking). It details the mostly true story of JR Brinkley, medical fraudster turned radio host turned politician in a story that is eerily familiar to the modern US political landscape.

My Review: This was a fantastic listen overall. It is not what you typically expect when you are used to full cast audiodramas, but understanding the format helped me appreciate the story. The story is told through a conversational narrator, dramatized portions, and interviews with the writer and outside experts. The action may pause for a brief aside to explain an artistic choice, a historical moment, or some other tidbit that deepens the story. It was like listening to an annotated history or a well dramatized documentary. Not only was it entertaining, but it definitely helped deepen my understanding of certain concepts and themes in US history.

The story itself is almost too bizarre to believe. There is a lot more talk about goat testicles than I ever expected to hear in my life. However, that is where the maxim “truth is stranger than fiction” thrives. The parallels to recent events, as I mentioned, are so strong that some of Brinkley’s speeches are edited to incorporate more recent rhetoric and, frankly, they can be hard to distinguish from the original statements. The work does not shy away from the ugly sides of history, not in its depiction of Brinkley as a greedy fraud, nor in the frank depiction of the accepted antisemitism of the time. I think what stuck with the most as I listened was the balance between the absurd and the distressing. On the one hand, I was often in shock at the things that were done, said, and accepted. Were this not a true story, it would probably stay in that balance between comedy and disbelief where the absurd often resides. However, it did happen. It continues to happen.

From a more technical perspective, the production is crisp and clear. They incorporate country music, including adaptations of country classics and contemporaneous political songs. The songs are ear catching and serve to provide transitions, exposition, and additional context for the play. It is interesting how the start of country winds through this already odd story, and it provides yet another way to deepen one’s understanding of the cultural context that led to such events. The discussions with experts on these topics serves to provide intriguing and educational facts that accentuate the complexity of the story overall.

Listening to this story was an experience on multiple levels. It is an intriguing story. It educated me in some cultural and historical contexts that I was not very familiar (not being a country music fan or at all knowledgeable about Kansas politics in the 1920s). It prompted reflection on current events and trends seen in my country today. It did a lot in its just over two hour runtime.

This is not a traditional audiodrama, nor do I think it set out to be. But it was an experience to listen to. 2020 has been hard on everyone this year, and the performing arts have been hit exceptionally hard. I am really encouraged to see some people turning to other avenues to continue sharing their work, though I hope we soon come to a time where we can all return to the theater seats and hear, see and experience it together again. Until that time, however, I strongly encourage you to keep your ears open for great productions like this. If you want to listen to a wonderfully made play, look them up and listen in.

You can find them here: Untitled Theater


A Listener Reviews: Mission Rejected

Mission Rejected

Episodes: 22 so far

Length: 30-45 minutes, usually

I’ve listened to… everything released so far

The Premise: Mission Rejected tells the story of the agents who take the rejected missions. It centers on Agent Skip Granger, who is tasked to save the world in increasingly mundane locations when the agency’s star asset hits reject.

My Review: I had not given much thought to that old cliché phrase, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” until this podcast came along. But they took a simple concept and developed it in an extraordinary way.

Each episode focuses on a specific mission, with the buildup, planning, implementation, unraveling, and conclusion. If you like action movies and spy flicks, I am certain you will recognize many of the themes and tropes. There are kooky gadgets, mad scientists, evil geniuses, hidden lairs, and a cast of misfit characters tackling it all. I am really torn in writing this review. I wanted to say that the misfit characters are really what make this story. But then I started thinking it was the sharp, witty writing. And then I thought about the subtle jokes and gags that make me laugh in-universe and at our own world. And the sound design is done wonderfully well. Plus they have an episode with multiple original songs that honestly I would listen to outside of the podcast. So, I’m having a bit of trouble, because they do so much well.

Let’s take things one at a time. The characters are a well-developed bunch that demonstrate character growth over the course of the episodes, while also holding true to their roles within the team. After a few episodes, you get a good feel for how they fit together (or how they grate against each other), which provides a lot of contrasting motivations, even when the goal should be on the mission. No one is static in this show, and each character has their own needs, wants, dreams, and growth areas that are changing as the seasons progress. It is truly enjoyable just listening to those interactions.

And the writing is top notch. Dialogue is sharp, character consistent, and honestly makes me laugh out loud in my car. The overarching plot is paced well, with increasing danger and intrigue as the master plot develops, but enough standalone spy-work in each episode to keep you locked in. Plus, the storylines throw some unexpected twists into the plot as they plays with the expected thriller tropes. It does not rely on narration, but tells the story through dialogue. I think they do a great job of outlining the scene and providing visual information through really natural conversations, updates, and observations of the characters. Plus, as I mentioned, they use sound design to create deeper backgrounds, letting a listener fill in the gaps. There are good sound cues that help provide disruptions, plot progression, or general background to bring the events to life.

The world of Mission Rejected looks much like our own, with enough differences to provide the escape I need from reality. It does help it provide some laughs when things hit closer to home than expected, however. As a mom to a toddler, I’m not sure I needed Baby Whale taking up any brain real estate, but there it is. Speaking of the Baby Whale song, I have to say there is a musical episode, and I cannot even conceptualize the amount of work and creativity that went into creating such fantastic, on point songs for each scene. The story is told through the songs in a competition, and it not only progresses character story arcs, but does so with snappy tunes. I was floored.

Because there should probably be a limit to how much I gush about one individual show, I will wrap up. Suffice it to say Mission Rejected has been a highlight of my audiodrama queue recently. It provides the perfect escape and pick-me-up I need during 2020 with a cast of endearing characters that I root for week after week. It has strong writing, strong characters, a lot of laughter, and a fun idea executed to perfection. I strongly recommend you accept.

You can find them here: Mission Rejected


A Listener Reviews: Forgotten SciFi

Forgotten SciFi

Episodes: 10 so far

Length: 30 – 90 minutes

I’ve listened to… 4 episodes – working my way through more!

The Premise: Forgotten SciFi is an anthology podcast focused on reading the original, as-written foundations of modern sci-fi. With stories stretching back into the Victorian Age, it showcases some of the early stories that smudged the line between scientific breakthrough and fantastic fiction.

My Review:  Some of my earliest memories of media are watching Star Trek with my mother at way too young of an age. I remember being fascinated by Star Wars in the same way, and then going with my dad to see the re-releases in theater. There is a distinct moment where I remember feeling betrayed because it dawned on me that he knew the whole time who Darth Vader was, and he had kept it hidden. But that reveal in the theater was remarkable.

Sci-fi as a genre is one that I have become very familiar with, and so many of the tropes that are used can become common place. Rarely can I recapture that amazement that I had when I found out the truth about the Skywalker family. And not to ramble on too long about Star Wars (a bad habit, I’m sure), but I find Forgotten SciFi helps me better appreciate the sci-fi of today by learning more about its history. It shares stories that created what I know and love today, and I realize someone had that same moment of amazement as they learned about alien worlds, time travel, and other twists for the first time in these stories.

As an anthology, each story is different, has a different author, and is its own contained narrative. It is really easy to pick up any episode and dive in. The narration of the episodes is fantastic for this medium, and I find myself really transported by the narrator as each story unfolds. This is a literal one-man show, but it is put together in a wonderful way. The pacing, tone, and emotion of each story is well-balanced. Even when discussing the dangerous and otherworldly, there is something soothing in the voice that just makes me want to keep listening. I’m also impressed by the ability to set apart characters with easily noted changes in voice.

For an anthology, I think it is also served by digging deeper into the past for the narration. These are not stories I have come across in other podcasts, nor are they ones I was reasonably familiar with prior to listening. However, each one showcases a story that developed some of the familiar themes we see in sci-fi today. As someone who also enjoys writing, I am fascinated by the way the writing style, author’s voice, and original context is preserved in the rendering. The “downside” of using such foundational stories, however, is that the stories often become somewhat predictable. Rather than detracting, this instead allows the listener to appreciate the crafting of the story, even if the twists are now familiar.

Forgotten SciFi is unique in that it tells engaging stories that are expertly crafted, while also providing an experiential history of sci-fi. Each story stands alone and presents a unique story that can transport you to the incredible world being constructed. If you like sci-fi, this is definitely worth a listen not only to appreciate the craftsmanship of the original story and the talent behind the current presentation, but also to learn a bit about where modern sci-fi draws its inspiration.

You can find them here: Forgotten SciFi


A Listener Reviews: New 2020 Roundup

Hello there!

I’ve been a gone a bit. That probably comes as no surprise because, hey, it’s 2020 and life has been a chaotic ride. That said, I am getting back into the swing of things. Or trying because it is 2020, so best laid plans and all of that…

To kickstart the process, I would like to cover a roundup of a few new items that have popped up over the past few months (no specific time frame because, to be honest, I can’t tell one month from the next). These are stories that I have found organically, been following creators from prior projects, or been contacted by the creators as a review request. I did a similar roundup before and found it a nice change of pace. There is no unifying theme to the ones I chose beyond being things I have listened to recently that are not quite long enough yet for me to review fully on their own. Who knows, maybe you will find something new to listen to!


Unseen

So, in the interest of all transparency, I supported the Kickstarter for Unseen. As someone who truly has enjoyed other Long Story Short Productions’ podcasts, I threw my money at them when I heard there was a new show. I have written previously about the “end of the world” anthology series Zero Hours. And it’s also the creators of Wolf 359 (which I still won’t review, because IT’S SOOOOOOOOO GOOD” is not a valid review). Each episode is a standalone story taking place in a world much like ours, but where magic is real. Some humans can see it, most cannot. The themes of the story deal with very universal experiences in terms of love, belonging, purpose, and understanding. There are five episodes out currently, and so I am sneaking them in here because it is such a new release. The stories have been diverse so far, but engaging and interesting all the same. I have enjoyed learning about the world through the episodes, and I look forward to see what more is developed.

Support Link


Primordial Deep

Now for some spooky sci-fi horror happenings deep under the sea. Primordial Deep is the story of a team setting out to find a sea monster. Throw in some shady secret organizations, a great cast of characters that are charming and repulsive, and a history of incredible work from this team (creators of Janus Descending-which if you haven’t heard, you should go listen to RIGHT NOW), and you have an absolute thrilling start to a show. While trying to find a sea monster is a terrifying enough premise, deep below water there exists many wonderful and horrific creatures. The character development in the first few episodes has been really great, and I cannot wait to see how this team responds to what will surely be increasingly dangerous straits over the season.

Patreon Link


The Hero of Matysia

I’ll be completely honest and say I am not sure if this was one I found organically from Reddit or from their request to review, but either way, I have enjoyed the two episodes so far. It is a fantasy story and, as I have mentioned somewhere on this mess of a blog before, fantasy is kind of my first love. It tells the story of two Azure Scouts sent to find their nation’s greatest, most legendary hero to save the day from encroaching evil. While they do reach him they are unable to leave right away and so remain, hearing the true stories behind his exploits. I have so far found it well written and acted. The frame story works well and leads to a more anthology-type experience; however they are obviously all linked and developing the same story and world. I am really excited to learn more about the world, creatures, and systems at place in Matysia. Bonus: The title link will take you to their youtube page where episodes are narrated and accompanied by soem pretty cool illustrations!

Patreon Link


Margaret’s Garden

By the wonderful group working on the SCP Archives is a new spooky story. This tale is about uncovering the mystery of what happened to the purported utopia of Everton. The story not only takes place in the relative modern day, but also during the development of Everton, providing parallel storylines that will (hopefully) shine some light on the many mysteries surrounding Everton. Episode one introduces the story and throws in some secretive government agencies, cosmonauts, and a good mix of cult references. Fans of SCP Archives will definitely recognize some familiar and very talented voice actors, and it makes for a very enjoyable, immersive listening experience. There are two current episodes, and I am really excited to listen to episode two as soon as I can, because episode one started some great threads that I cannot wait to follow!

Membership Link


The Oyster

I think almost every audiodrama I followed has recently pointed me toward The Oyster, and I am very thankful. The Oyster tells the story of humanity after catastrophic environmental changes force everyone underground. The catch, however, is that only about 80% of the population was able to be saved. Decisions were made based on a values-point system and integrated neurological technology. If you are thinking that sounds like a great recipe for some dystopian shenanigans, you would be right! For those in the bunkers, hope comes in the form of Eden 2070, a return to a habitable part of the surface. However, resources are short, and so challenging questions arise about how humanity can survive. Enter The Oyster Project, a way to save resources while suspending people’s consciousness in a state of enlightened bliss. This comes from the folks who created Darkest Night, and there are definitely some similar themes in terms of neurologic/cognitive science and how that can be used or twisted. One of the other things I really like is that they have woven in some modern terrors, including climate change and systemic racism, to show how horrifying it can be. It is uncomfortable not only because of the futuristic, sci-fi terrors, but also because it brings up some ugly truths about the world we already live in.

(I did not find a support link. Please let me know if there is one so I can update accordingly!)


Superhuman Public Radio

This is another Reddit find! Have you ever wondered what NPR would sound like if superheroes existed? Well, wonder no more with SPR – Superhuman Public Radio. They manage to really evoke the style and approach of NPR, while addressing the fantastic reality of a world with superheroes and villains’. The first episode explores how the gig economy effects supervillainy, and I found it incredibly charming. The parody ads set in-universe made me smile, and the tenor of the stories had the reassurance of a soothing NPR story, while also introducing some great comedic and thoughtful ideas. If you want something a little more lighthearted in your feeds and like a good superhero story, then I think this will fit the bill nicely.

Patreon Link


Arcane

The creator for this final podcast reached out to me via the contact form and requested a review. It is a supernatural story focused on an unnamed narrator investigating the weird and the unexplainable. Which, honestly, is right up my alley, so I was happy to listen and review. There are two episodes so far. The first one I think threw me as I was not 100% sure what to expect, but as the pieces came together, it introduced some interesting ideas for supernatural investigation. I went into the second episode with a clearer expectation and found myself easily immersed in the story. The initial episodes allude to a relatively complex world in Arcane, and I only have a few glimpses so far. What I have heard has caught my attention, and I look forward to learning more as new episodes release.

(Also could not find a support link. Happy to update!)


A Listener Reviews: How to Bury the Pets

I was contacted by the creator of How to Bury the Pets and asked to write a review of the episode. I listened to it a couple of weeks ago and, after opting to take a week off in respect to the ongoing protests in our country, wanted to share my thoughts.

How to Bury the Pets

Episodes: 1. This is a fully contained story in one episode, with plans to produce similar stories in the future.

Length:  50 minutes

I’ve listened to… All of it

The Premise: The story  follows the intersecting lives of Dan and Miles at the front counter of a pet store. Dan, a self-absorbed middle-aged white man in suburbia, is trying desperately to avoid dealing with his impending divorce. Miles is the black clerk at the store navigating his own family and social stressors. The story deals with themes of race, opportunity, and how we respond to challenges in life.

My Review: I am a sucker for short, self-contained fiction. I have spent a large part of my life writing short stories, and so I can appreciate the unique requirements of short fiction. How to Bury the Pets  works within those bounds well and tells a very interesting story. It is a realistic fiction podcast, with some humorous moments throughout. However, it also deals with some major themes that are worth extra thought even after the story ends. It begins in the midst of suburbia, wanders through rodent genocide, and winds up with some poignant thoughts about race.

The thing I most enjoyed about this story overall was how well contrasted the two characters are throughout. They share some commonalities, but their responses to the situations they face are opposed. They work as excellent foils to one another, and I think there are some beautifully crafted parallels that serve to set in stark contrast their responses to the situations they face. The characters are both very well-developed with their own internal motivations that are woven throughout the narrative. I was impressed by how often their unique characteristics are demonstrated throughout the story in big and small ways, showcasing a consistency of character development that is impressive. I’d love to say more about this, but I don’t want to give anything away.

These contrasts in the characters also serve to propel the underlying message regarding racism. The story directly addresses some covert and overt forms of racism that exist, while also portraying the inequalities that are present for many people on a daily basis. The way assumptions are presented and undermined throughout helps to shine a light on how damaging everyday discrimination can be.  It confronts white discomfort and demonstrates how many people have no idea what different challenges may be faced by people of color.

In addition, the voice acting is incredibly well done. There is brief narration throughout, typically in a rather flat tone, that serves to set the scene and provide important context. Dan and Miles really come alive in the story through their voice actors. There are very emotional moments that are delivered with perfection. I feel like I had a very clear mental picture of these moments throughout, and they were vivid in their depiction. The voice acting provided a life to the story that brings it beyond the realm of fiction and into the real world we all share.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable, thought provoking listen. There were moments of humor, there were times I cringed, and there were plenty of moments that highlighted the role of race in everyday interactions. It is well written, well acted, and a great example of short fiction that carries an important message.

You can find them here:  The Podplay


A Listener Reviews: True Tales of the Illuminati

True Tales of the Illuminati

Episodes: 3 Episodes in the first season.

Length: 35-55 minutes

I’ve listened to… All episodes.

The Premise: True Tales of the Illuminati is exactly what it claims. The mostly true story (I assume) of the inner workings of the Illuminati. Season one focuses on the conspiracy behind the building of the pyramids.

My Review: This podcast had a great introductory season, with more on the way. This is one of the few podcasts that has actually had me chuckling out loud while driving to work, and I think it is perfect for anyone needing some levity in their daily life. It definitely takes an absurdist approach to humor, but the episodes are well-constructed and written.

It centers around one team within the Illuminati, made up of a balanced cast with competing motivations that, nonetheless, manage to bungle everything in equal measure throughout. It is definitely the story of a team that should be competent, but struggles because of themselves. Nevertheless, they continue toward the goal.

I think the writing is sharp and witty, with moments that genuinely caught me by surprise. As far as the humor is concerned, it does have that “random” quality, but orchestrated in a way to keep the story progressing. Each character is distinct in tone, manner, and approach to the problems they face. While presenting some rather classic archetypes, they play off each other very well.

True Tales of the Illuminati is a funny, enjoyable, brief podcast.  It’s fun and goofy, with some moments that really have you rooting for the team. Even as things go terribly awry. They way they weave the story with myth and legend also make it a joy to listen to. If you have just over two hours and enjoy some silliness, it definitely deserves a listen. Illuminati Ollominoto!

You can find them here: True Tales of the Illuminati 


A Listener Reviews: Seren

Seren

Episodes: 8 episodes, potential for a second season

Length: 10-15 minutes

I’ve listened to… All episodes.

The Premise: Seren is on an 8-month journey into the vastness of space. As the story unfolds, the listener learns about her world and why she is alone among the stars, save for her strict AI.

My Review: I posted about Seren in January when it was just coming out. It is a thoughtful sci-fi story that brings up themes of culture and belonging, specifically what it is like to not fit in with what the majority feels should be the “right” way to do things. The voice acting is wonderfully executed, truly bringing Seren to life over the course of the eight episodes. One of the things which most impressed me is how well developed the world and culture are in such a short span. There is no long, drawn out explanation of the universe. However, I left the season with a clear picture of the relevant details.

Everything is explained fluidly throughout the story. Part of this is that the story follows recordings Seren makes to, according to the first episode, “reflect on [her] past and the mistakes that led to [her] becoming a colonist.” This produces a consistent atmosphere of reflection that serves to highlight the central conflicts of the story.

I don’t want to give things away, so forgive the vagueness, but I was struck by how artfully the story balances aspects of assigned guilt and blame with concepts of independence and autonomy. While as a listener I had a clear opinion on the situation at the crux of Seren’s role as colonist, it was written in a way to show how embedded cultural norms can become. I think that is a message we all should reflect on from time to time.

It is an emotional story with a focus heavily on the internal struggle of living out of line with the world around you. The themes introduced can be heavy, as can be the theme of isolation throughout.   However, the overall story arc is absolutely beautiful. Challenging, to be sure, but moving in directions I did not expect. Ultimately, I left this portion of the story feeling reassured and hopeful, despite some of the heavier moments throughout.

Seren is a brief, but tightly constructed story that packs a punch. It introduces some important ideas and themes, and shows a very human reaction to impossible situations. The universe it presents is well developed in a natural way that helps keep the story moving at an engaging pace, while still outlining key aspects. It is a beautiful story–albeit emotional and heartwrenching at times–to follow along with. I greatly enjoyed the story so far and will eagerly await any further opportunities to join in Seren’s world as the story (hopefully) continues.

You can find them here: Seren (Patreon)


A Listener Reviews: Songs of the Faithless

Hello people of the internet! It probably comes as no surprise that life has been rather hectic. No idea why that could be, of course. But, whatever the cause, it has offered me a lot of time with ear buds in to listen to all kinds of wonderful things. I have a quite a few people I want to shout out over the next few weeks, so  I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things. But first, something a little different

Songs of the Faithless

This is not a podcast, but a musical fantasy album. The creator reached out to me through the contact form and said that, while it was a little different, he thought it was something I might enjoy. And, honestly, it piqued my curiosity. My normal format doesn’t quite fit, but I’ll do what I can.

Length: Just under an hour and a half for the full deluxe version with 30 songs (15 in the main, 5 bonus tracks)

Premise: Osumare is the daughter of one of the last Speakers to the God of Balance, also known as the Missing God. She lives in a seaside town, enjoying life on the sea. However, a cult arises with plans to bring about a great evil into the world and she must react to stop it.

My Review: So, I enjoy musicals, but I’m not a musical fanatic. That said, I found this a really enjoyable story. I have to be honest, I am completely in awe of anyone who can tell a story through music. I can hardly wrap my brain around the idea of keeping rhythm, rhyme, and music all in sync. The music has a theatrical quality to it, and it made me wish I could see and hear it as a full production.

The world that is introduced in this is really fascinating. There is myth and magic, but all removed from the time of the telling. Or at least forgotten. I found it very interesting how song and magic were woven together throughout, and I think that is an approach that serves this format exceedingly well. The main tenets of the world are clearly introduced, providing a good framework for the main action. I honestly found myself wanting to learn more about this world and hear more stories from it, because it seems like there is plenty of interesting ideas presented that could be developed further.

The music covers a variety of styles and tones, and frankly I’m not musically inclined enough to provide much more feedback. I will say it had me humming some tunes even after I finished, which I consider a positive. The vocal talents are very impressive, and the writing progresses the story while staying in tune with the overall production. Again, I am in awe of anyone with enough talent to balance all these pieces.

I think my main critique would be the length. This honestly feels too short. Now, to be completely fair, this may be partially due to my habit of listening to podcast arcs that span 97 episodes and 15 seasons. However, I think the final act ultimately felt a bit rushed. Given this is an epic hero’s journey story, I wish there had been more struggle and build up. That would have increased the tension for me, keeping me on the edge of my seat. That said, I was surprised by the direction the story ultimately took and found it to be a very satisfying end. I think I just wanted a little more time on the journey aspect.

To be fair, though, my main critique is that I wanted more of the story, so I definitely think it kept me intrigued. It is set in an ambitious fantasy world, and it seems this story scratches the surface of what there is to discover.  While I think a few additional songs and scenes may have ultimately filled the story out more, it tells its tale from start to finish effectively. It introduces a main character that I can care about, root for, and journey with. If you enjoy fantasy and you enjoy musicals, give it a listen.

You can download the album here and name your own price. If you are in a position to do so, I highly encourage you to support artists and entertainers out there helping us all get through this one song, one episode, and one day at a time. And check out the creator, Jonah Knight.


A Listener Reviews: Cryptic

Cryptic

Episodes: 10 episodes in the first season, with a minisode between each

Length: 15-25 minutes in the main episodes

I’ve listened to… All of  the first season.

The Premise: Cole and Julie host a radio show that they inherited from their father covering Cryptids and the supernatural. Only some of the things they investigate are more real than others.

My Review:  Season one of this series just ended and it led me on a fantastic journey with Cole and Julie. The way the story was introduced and the plot was constructed is a perfect example of how to draw an audience in to a complex, creepy world. The story starts relatively light, family bickering, strange and creepy urban myths and legends discussed on a radio show. But as the episodes progress, but the myths become real. There are many layers to the world in which Cryptic takes place, and different episodes land at different points, from mundane with a hint of the mysterious to completely unexplainable. Cole and Julie explore these reports of strange happenings, at times trying to maintain a balance, at other times trying to prevent danger.

This is not so much a monster hunter style story, but more about two siblings trying to hold things together and learn how to navigate a world they have insufficient knowledge of. Their father’s absence is a clear challenge, only made more so as they wrestle with the moral challenges that come along with their roles. While the podcast never completely abandons moments of levity and calm, there are many more serious elements that get brought in, and the episodes suggest Julie and Cole may have made some significant sacrifices to ensure they can do what must be done.

There is still so much mystery left in this world. The podcast overall has done a great job of introducing enough of each story and idea to make it interesting, but never seems to fully answer the questions. It keeps me coming back eager to know more about the world and what it means to live within it. It balances the knowing and the known unknowns very well, so that there are pieces to start to string together, but not the whole picture. As a listener, I know Julie and Cole are hiding things from one another, but my glimpse of the world only starts to uncover what those secrets might be.

Julie and Cole are written as siblings, and frankly it is a very realistic picture of siblings. They bicker, they say hurtful things to one another, and they provide support. There is real, genuine concern, but also that ability to push buttons in the way on siblings can. Obviously, there is history which is revealed slowly through the episodes, and it makes clear how serious the stakes are. One theme throughout is that the supporting characters are often caught up in the chaos of Cole and Julie, intentionally or otherwise. That adds another layer to the show that asks some very tough questions neither of them seem ready or willing to answer.

Overall, Cryptic is a well executed story that takes the trope of siblings dealing with monsters and spins it into something refreshing. While there are lighthearted moments (I love the “ads” the introduce episodes), it also does not shy away from proposing uncomfortable situations and questions,. It’s also willing to leave those unanswered and messy at this point of the story. Cryptic’s biggest drawback is having a more common name that makes them hard to find at times. With season one recently finishing up, I can heartily recommend you listen if you like spooky, supernatural, and thought-provoking  stories.

You can find them here: Cryptic


A Listener Reviews: The Call of the Void

Call of the Void

Episodes: 7 of the 9 episode story arc.

Length: 20-25 minutes

I’ve listened to… Everything so far. Cannot wait for the finale!

The Premise:  I mentioned them in my January 2020 roundup for new podcasts, so you may have heard of them already. Hopefully after hearing about them you started listening to them! If not, now is a great time to catch-up before their finale episode in a  couple weeks. The Call of the Void follows Topher and Etsy as they try to uncover what is making people go blind, lose all reason, and rave about the coming of the Void. It is a Lovecraftian horror story that starts and circles back to the Louisiana swamps.

My Review: Reading the description of this podcast, I was pretty sure I was already going to be a fan. Horror? Mystery and occult? Southern setting? It’s all very much in line with my interests. And once I listened to the first episode, I was pretty eager to learn more. As the season has developed, I think they have introduced some really solid ideas. The approach is familiar if you have read or listened to much in the Lovecraftian genre, but they keep some unique twists that help this standout from many similar stories. The mystery illness that strikes is especially intriguing to me and develops into an eerie monster in its own right as it creeps throughout the season. At this point, I have all kinds of theories about what might be going on, and I can’t wait to see how right or wrong I am.

The characters are also very solidly written and feel rather realistic. Topher and Etsy are the primary focus, with other supporting cast serving to flesh the characters out, keep things moving, and provide some extra impetus for the action. The relationships between characters feel very authentic and serve to provide some reasonable justification for their actions and behaviors. The relationship between Topher and Etsy is developed well, because they go from relative strangers to more or less cooperative partners on this mystery. There is a bit of a nod towards romance, but it is not a particularly strong theme at this point in the series, which I appreciate.

As a contained storyline, the podcast really hits the pacing well. Each episodes presents problems, solves some, and creates leads for others. They move pretty briskly through the action, but with the illness taking its unstoppable course through Topher’s father, there is always a timer counting down to tragedy. It does not feel rushed, however, and the content is strong enough to keep the excitement high throughout each episode. I’m always impressed by how much material they have packed into each episode, but also how well exposition and action are balanced.

In the end, the story has been intriguing and kept me excited to hear how all the pieces fit together and the myth unravels. It is Lovecraftian in style, executed well, and plays on familiar themes in ways that fit the settings and characters well. There are also some unique revelations that serve to set this story apart from similar media. The acting, design, and writing have seemed to hit a solid stride as the episodes progress. They are set to have nine episodes in the series, and if all remains the same with the schedule, episode eight releases tomorrow. So you have a week to get caught up before the finale, and I highly recommend you do so. It’s been a fun ride, and I cannot wait to see how they wrap it all up.

You can find them here: The Call of the Void 


A Listener Reviews: Old Gods of Appalachia

Old Gods of Appalachia

Episodes: 10 Episodes in Season 1

Length: 20-35 minutes, with some shorter half-episodes

I’ve listened to… All of season 1.

The Premise: A horror anthology that tells the story of Appalachia and the gods who live there, blessing and cursing the people around them. It is set in an Alternate or Shadow Appalachia from the one of our world, but uses some familiar themes. Season One tells the story of Barlo, KY in 1917 as the mining town makes it offering to the gods all around them.

My Review: This was the podcast I didn’t know I needed until I started listening to it. Raised in the South of the US with family history running through the Appalachia region, there is a lot of the setting that is unassumingly normal for me, especially in the way family, religion, and work are all intertwined. They bill themselves as Lovecraftian horror, and this is truly what I wish other Lovecraftian horror aspired to. It is not Cthulhu and cultists in every corner, but plays on themes of ancient evils in a ways that are perfectly matched to the setting. Rather than being an imitation of the genre, it makes it all its own. (The creators have, in light of Lovecraft’s noted racism and xenophobia, opted to remove reference of “Lovecraftian” from their description. I have updated my description in light of that, but felt this discussion specifically is relevant to the story. Additionally, I feel like this podcast was so much grander than the term “Lovecraftian” conveyed, hence my statements above. I have made changes to reflect that distance, while preserving the message.)

The voice acting is perfectly set to the tone, genre, and setting. It is paced beautifully, which can be a real struggle with this kind of story. Talking in a steady drawl can make things feel like they’re dragging (trust me, I’ve heard it often enough to know). But instead, it serves to draw out the tension of each moment as needed, then provide the satisfying conclusion before delving into yet another scene. It is a very polished and professional podcast. 

Beyond the execution, the concept and plot are truly thoughtful and terrifying. This is a horror podcast that does not shy away from discussing the unsettling, the heart wrenching, and the downright horrifying. It tells a story of destruction, blood, and fire in a very moving way. The writing is absolutely spot-on throughout. It carries a consistent theme and tone through the storytelling aspect, but also in the intros and outros. There is never a reason to break immersion and, to be honest, you won’t want to. I’d hate to live in the Appalachia where these old gods reside, but I also find myself drawn deeper and deeper in. And maybe that’s all a part of it.

The story is chilling and unsettling, speaking of old and ancient evil. And while it’s not in our Appalachia, so much of the danger and the darkness is uncomfortably familiar. It seems as if it touches on those primitive fears that have always plagued humanity, daring to turn the light onto those things we have collectively tried to bar from our minds. And if all of that is out there, you definitely want to hold tight to family and try your best to survive what’s to come.

You can find them here: Old Gods of Appalachia


A Listener Reviews: Exoplanetary

Exoplanetary

Episodes: 24 in the ongoing storyline

Length: 20-40 minutes, generally, but with some longer outliers

I’ve listened to… All released episodes

The Premise: A sci-fi audiodrama following the adventures of the four Wolverton siblings through time and space and everything in between. It deals with evil megacorpoprations, colonization, AI and robots, time travel, history, and siblings. Plus all their friends, companions, and co-stars throughout.

My Review:  I had to search my blog, because I would have sworn I’ve talked about Exoplanetary before. But apparently I’ve just written the review multiple times in my mind and never put it on paper. Or I’m doing it twice, but hey, this deserves to be shouted out as many times as you can. Exoplanetary is a delightful blend of sci-fi, humor, and drama. It has some great, lighthearted moments, but it does have a well-developed plot that introduces some challenging themes and ideas.

The story starts with the four Wolverton siblings, all doing their own thing in various corners of the galaxy. As season one develops, their stories begin to intertwine. Personally, I found the opening stories very interesting. They rather quickly established the world and core characters. As the stories developed further and the paths began to cross, I think it got a little confusing for me (because when you’re dealing with space and time, it can be hard to keep up). It is a complex story with a lot of different perspectives and moving parts, but it all came together beautifully to end the first season with a lot of excitement and emotion. And even as season one drew to a close, it planted seeds for more and more mysteries waiting to be explored.

The supporting cast of characters is also very intriguing and serve to round out the world of the Wolvertons. They have very different reasons for being there, from duty to a desire for exploration to love. And they serve to complement the characters–or at their best, highlight the very human flaws of the Wolverton family. Expolanetary uses character flaws to develop real challenges and problems, but also shows the wonderful side of humanity alongside. Each episode shines a little more light onto the broad cast of characters and the expansive universe in which they reside, making it truly enjoyable to listen in each time to see something new.  Overall, the only drawback is the time between episodes. There is 1-2 months between releases, on average. But honestly, each episode is so packed with information, so well acted, so thoughtfully designed, and so expertly edited, that I cannot begrudge them taking the time to put out a really impressive creation.

Exoplanetary manages to tell a rather serious sci-fi story with hints of absurdity, but never takes itself too seriously to have fun. It has managed to built an expansive world, with each episode filling in more and more of the corners. As things are revealed, more questions appear.  Whenever a new episode shows up, I’m excited that I get to take a trip into their world to explore some new reach of space or time. And I cannot wait to see where all the journey may lead.

Find them Here: Exoplanetary