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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 


A Listener Reviews: The White Vault

The White Vault

Episodes: 38 so far, with ten each in the first two seasons. Also has some between season mini-episodes.

Length: 20-30 minutes, generally

I’ve listened to… Through what has been released of season 3.

The Premise: The story starts out following an expedition to a remote monitoring site outside of Svalbard. Once there, the team is stranded and discovers a strange city under the ice. Which is only the start of their problems. Made up of found audio files from the team, The White Vault tells a great horror tale about isolation, ancient evil, and survival.

My Review: The White Vault is one of those podcasts that was recommended every time I turned around, so I finally gave it a listen. And then became one of the people recommending it regularly.  The story initially begins innocently enough as the characters and expectations are introduced. However, there is a general sense of unease which begins building early and develops over the course of the story. The outpost they travel to is very remote, and that alone is enough to establish a sense of foreboding. It is unsettling to know how disconnected they are, and that builds as natural and supernatural phenomena coalesce to make departure much more difficult. The creeping sense of threat is executed well, starting with small and easily dismissed oddities.  It builds as the danger begins to take a more definite shape and the peril that the team is in comes into sharper focus.

A story like this really shines based on its characters. Isolation horror with a poorly developed cast is not very satisfying. But each character that has been introduced in the world of The White Vault has been well-developed and engaging. The story works because, as a listener, you are invested in what happens to the character you have grown fond of. They each have unique goals, values, hobbies, and interpersonal styles that help them to stand out as unique characters, but also create their unique predisposing risk factors.

Also, the sound quality and effects are great in this. Audiodrama relies a lot on environmental storytelling, and having only auditory input can make that a real challenge. The White Vault skillfully uses sound effects and background conversations to provide more context to the script. AS a listener, you have the chance to hear it and then have that confirmed, so you get the sense of discovery alongside them. In addition, the dialogue is done in a way that feels natural, but also fills in the gaps. I rarely find myself confused by what is happening because I cannot parse a sound effect, but even when I’m unsure, the dialogue is crafted well enough to very naturally fill in any gaps.  It does also include a narrator providing some additional context regarding time, locations, and organization, but does so in a very skilled way. The narrator does not feel like a cop out or a short cut to good audio storytelling, but instead serves to enhance it and create yet another layer of mystery about how and why these tapes came to be collected.

If I had to make a criticism, I would say things sometimes feel a little convenient to the plot or anticipated. Season three is structurally quite similar to season one, but it has been unique in it’s own right as well. Just when you think you have it figured out, something comes flying from the shadows to turn things upside down. So I have not found it to be overly predictable or stale as it has developed, but it definitely has a storytelling language that points the way. Personally, I have found learning the language of the story to be very enjoyable. Speaking of language, one really interesting thing is the use of language. The team members are from all different locales, and so it weaves in all kinds of languages. All relevant information is translated into English (with the exception of some chatter or non-central dialogue–I’m pretty sure), so you’ll know what is going on. But as someone who loves languages, I enjoy hearing the different ones and trying to do my own translation for those I do speak.

The White Vault tells a really creepy story in an expertly paced fashion. Horror and isolation are natural fits, and this is a great example of why they work so well. In my neck of the woods, it’s been pretty cold. And I’ve found that I keep craving more episodes to submerge myself in the icy, terrifying world and learn what comes next. The anticipation in season three is killing me, and so I am hanging on eagerly for each episode. If you like horror, ancient mysteries, exploration, or that creepy and lonely feeling, The White Vault delivers in a big way.

You can find them here: The White Vault


A Listener Reviews: Zero Hours

Zero Hours

Episodes:  7

Length: 30-45 minutes

I’ve listened to… All released so far. I’m staying hopeful there will be more coming!

The Premise: An anthology podcast of seven stories that deal with the end of the world, in ways both universal and personal.

My Review:  Apparently, for a lot of my writing life,  the apocalypse and the end of the world have been a big theme for me. I have sixteen stories on this site alone that deal with that theme in some form or fashion. So when the people who created one of the greatest podcasts to ever exist (yes, Wolf 359. I can’t write a review because it would just be pages of gushing over how great it is) announce they are putting out an anthology podcast of stories related to the end of the world, I’m on board.

Each of the 7 stories is (more or less) standalone, though there are some references to one another woven throughout. They range from comical to serious, but each is expertly crafted and acted. The theme of the end of the world is represented from global apocalypse scenarios to personal struggles and transitions that can never be undone. I appreciate how well they innovated on the theme to create unique stories that standalone but also support and build upon one another. You could pick any episode and listen to it in isolation to enjoy it, but they are best appreciated as a collection. It goes beyond simple genre or theme and creates a series of stories that talk to one another.

Given the range of the seven stories, I am sure almost every listener will have their favorites and least favorites. I think that is both a strength and a weakness. There is a lot of variety in seven stories, but there are quite a few I wish had been developed even further through subsequent stories because it created such an intriguing idea/setting.

Beyond the great quality, the cast and crew have been very active. There are playlists that go along with each episode, listen-throughs with commentary, and unique art. It shows just how much thought and care go into each one. That kind of passion and teamwork is really inspiring, and it shines through in the final product. These stories deserve to be listened to and appreciated as a well-conceived and produced collection of stories about the end. I’m just sad I had to reach their end in only seven episodes.

You can find them here: Zero Hours


A Listener Reviews: January 2020 Roundup

Happy New Year! January is off to some kind of start, for sure, and now that we’re solidly into 2020, let’s talk a bit about podcasts. So many new things have been released, and even more shows are starting back up with new seasons. It’s great and definitely keeping my ears busy.

I thought I’d put together a few briefer thoughts on some new podcasts that have come out this month. There are so many good ones, so I’m only going to showcase a few here. If I missed one of your favorite new shows, comment so I can check them out, too! Also, especially since these shows are just getting started I’m including links to donations or Patreon (when available) so that you can easily support them if you find yourself enjoying the hard work they’ve put in.


Novitero

This comes from Goose Thunder Network, a podcasting group I’ve had good past experience with. This podcast focuses on Princess Cesaleza, who has run into some royal trouble. When her ship is raided, she and the raiders develop a partnership to hopefully solve everyone’s woes. Episode one is out, and it is nicely put together for all it is trying to accomplish. It primarily focuses on introducing the core cast of characters, establishing the scene, initial worldbuilding, and the usual introductory stuff. The plot is intriguing, and there is some nice foreshadowing set up through the trailer and first episode, which can be a challenge to do well in such a short space.  There are a lot of familiar voices, so I know the cast they have assembled is strong. If you want an adventurous space heist podcast, I’d jump in while it’s getting started.

No support link available.

 


The Call of the Void

In all transparency, the creators of this podcast reached out and asked me to take a listen. And I was happy to, especially since I had already loaded episode one into my queue when I stumbled across them on Twitter. The concept is 110% up my alley–sci-fi, mystery, supernatural, and all rolled into a nice Southern landscape. Topher and Simone’s father has gone missing under unusual circumstances. In episode one, they retrace his last steps and try to find him, spending time at the optometrist, his office, and, oh yeah, the Louisiana palm reader, Etsy, he was scheduled to meet. Within the first two episodes released so far, some of the strange circumstances become clear, but doing so only serves to introduce a host of questions for the remaining episodes.  It is set to be a 9-episode arc following Topher and Etsy as they explore something impossibly supernatural in the swamps of New Orleans. The first episodes hooked me, and it seems like a great addition to the tradition of supernatural Southern horror.

Support Them: Call of the Void Donation Page


Y2K

Let’s keep the genre hopping alive! Y2K is fictional drama following the lives of two friends through voicemails recovered from the year 2000. As someone who was alive then, I got a little bit of a shock when the narrator, the student who found and is publishing the voicemails, mentions she was not alive then. I feel old. But, 2000 is a time full of nostalgia and some great memories for me, so this little time capsule back is great. The story is mostly following the lives of Kat and Jess through moves and romance and friendship and all the twists and turns life can bring. The conversations, for the most part, feel very authentic. It sounds like the kind of audio journals two friends separated by time zones might truly leave. There are definitely some unknowns that are slowly being filled in over the course of the episodes, and I’m really curious to see where all 52-weeks of this story will lead us.

Support Them: Y2K Patreon

 


Valence

Valence brings us back around to some supernatural elements. It’s urban fantasy, a genre that I have found incredibly intriguing, but have not explored too much (yet). Valence takes place in a world where magic exists. And is intentionally suppressed. However, as you might imagine, not everyone likes the idea of suppressing their magical skills. The story follows one such magic user (or muse, as the show refers to them) as they work to challenge the system. It definitely has some nice themes emerging about fighting for and appreciating our differences, of not giving into fear mongering or paranoia. Of course, there’s only one episode out, so it will be very interesting to see where this goes over the course of the story. Again, there are a lot of familiar voices and a really well-constructed experience so far.  It takes place in a rich world that I am excited to learn more about as episodes continue to release, and I feel episode one sets the stage for a great adventure.

Support Them: Valence Patreon


Seren

Then back to my roots with a good sci-fi story. The story opens as Seren departs on an eight-month journey to reach a planet for terraforming. She is alone, save for Pearl the AI, and cut off from the world she has known. Seren does not know where she’s going, but her job while she travels is to “reflect on [her] past and the mistakes that led to [her] becoming a colonist.” From episode one, it is clear that there is a much more interesting story waiting to unfold over the eight episodes. A major strength clear in even episode one is the ability to provide context and develop a scene without having to stop and spell it out directly. There are so many intriguing thoughts and ideas presented, and I cannot wait to see where each thread leads.

Support Them: Seren Patreon


MonkeyTales

And finally, let’s round out the list with something cheerful to help you through this start to 2020. MonkeyTales is a hopepunk anthology podcast. If you’re like me and have not heard the term hopepunk before, it’s focused on telling offbeat, but optimistic and positive stories. This is brought to you by the same wonderful people who created Moonbase Theta, Out, so you know they have some real talent (which, side note, had a great second season you should also check out). So far, each story has been very distinct, but overall had a very relaxing and comforting vibe. While they aren’t necessarily designed to be a standard “good guy wins” story format, each episode so far has had some heartwarming elements that focus on the good aspects of humanity. It’s a nice reminder that there is a lot of good in the world and in people if we stop long enough to notice their stories.

Support Them: Monkeyman Productions Patreon 


Hopefully something here will catch your fancy and start a whole new adventure. Again, if I missed a project you love, let me know! There can never be too many podcasts!


A Listener Reviews: Directive

Directive

Episodes:  6 episodes.

Length:  10-20 minutes, with most in the low teens

I’ve listened to… All of season 1.

The Premise: Frank’s job is simple: take care of the passengers aboard the colony ship bound for a new world. He’s alone, aside from his AI assistant, and video calls to other caretakers, which seemed like a blessing at first.

My Review:  Before listening to Directive, an audiodrama had never made me cry. Maybe I got a little misty-eyed, but I kept it together. And then the final episode of season 1 comes along and got me crying. Like tears down the cheeks, yucky sniffling kind of crying. I am still amazed by how powerful a punch they managed to pack into six short episodes. It is a true testament to how wonderfully crafted it is.

Now, this review may be a little vague because I really don’t want to give anything away. The story is so well structured. As someone who likes to write short stories, I’m really impressed by the level of skill in pacing and plot this audiodrama displays. It develops the main components really well, keeping things slow where they should be and moving gracefully through other moments. I think the initial episodes do an excellent job of impressing on the listener the monotony of Frank’s day-to-day. It builds a sense of familiarity and camaraderie with him. And that makes what comes after all the more powerful.

Frank is a solid character, drawing the listener in as you build a connection with him. He is balanced well by the meticulous AI, focused solely on accomplishing the mission of safely ferrying the passengers. It is interesting that both Frank and the AI have the same motivation, albeit with different motivations. For the AI, it is programming. For Frank, it’s to get his well earned reward for all the hard work. However, it may not really be as straightforward as all that, once you get down to it. But I’ll let you listen and see.

Season 2 is coming up and appears as if it will be telling a different story in the same universe. I’m not sure what to expect or how interconnected the two seasons will be, but I am excited to see what this creator does next.

Listen, if you are up for some really exceptional writing and storytelling, grab yourself a box of tissues and settle in to binge all six episodes. You’ll be done in about an hour and a half and have the rest of the day to reflect and think on what an incredible story Directive tells. Maybe it won’t hit you quite the same way it did me, but I know it is a fantastic example of how well-created a story can be.

You can find them here: Directive


A Listener Reviews: Windfall

Windfall

Episodes:  10 Episodes in their incredible first season!

Length: Generally around 20-30 minutes with a slightly longer season finale episode

I’ve listened to… All 10.

The Premise: Years ago, Wanda showed up in her castle in the sky and built a fantastic floating city. The rich live in the city, while Grounders try to eke out a living below. The story follows a family and the interconnected web of characters as Contact Day, the day of celebration commemorating Wanda’s first appearance, approaches and something sinister grows.

My Review:  Wow. So, this is a new podcast for this year, and I caught it after the season had ended. I’m glad I did, because I would have been miserable waiting week after week for a new release. Not sure what I’m going to do when season 2 starts. I’m not ashamed to admit this is a story that had me peeking at upcoming episode descriptions to try and figure out what was coming next. But they are pretty good about their descriptions and did not give away much. So I just had to cross my fingers and listen.

In ten episodes, this audiodrama manages to bring to life a whole host of various characters. And they are deep and complex and relatable in their humanity. Characters I would have classified as secondary or background characters manage to have a major impact. It is remarkable how nuanced just about everyone seems to be. The situations they are placed in are often challenging and morally ambiguous. How do you balance life, safety, freedom, respect, loyalty, family, healing, and anger in a way that is fair to everything? You can’t. And it is in those choices that the depth of the characters and strength of the writing really shines.

I said in the description that it follows a family, and that’s kind of true. But I think the family encompasses more than those related by blood, but extends to those who stand side-by-side. The characters are from above and below, demonstrating no one is as simple as they appear. Each is unique in background and motivation, each piecing life together as they can. But as the status quo in the world begins to shift, those things that worked before no longer suffice. And the choices made in those moments have far reaching consequences.

Listening to the finale episode knocked me back. It was intensely emotional in good and bad ways. I’ll say the “twist” did not really catch me by surprise, but I’m hesitant to even call it a twist. I’m not sure it was anything meant to be carefully concealed. Still, taking that in stride, it had plenty of surprising and emotional moments that left me reeling. And inspired. I think Windfall does an excellent job of showing a truth about humanity. Place people in impossible situations and their true selves will show.

With an excellent cast, intricate story, and compelling world, Windfall is an easy recommendation. It’s got some sci-fi notes, a little dystopia, some crime, some drama, and a little romance for good measure. Characters are dynamic, but woefully imperfect in the way that makes their stories exciting. The build up in tension from season 1 is handled expertly, culminating with an absolutely explosive season finale. Expect to be blown away when you give it a listen.

You can find them here: Windfall


A Listener Reviews: The Phenomenon

The Phenomenon

Episodes:  16 episodes in two seasons. Season 3 is set to start in October!

Length: Generally around 15-25 minutes

I’ve listened to… All the episodes released so far. I cannot wait for season 3!

The Premise: Creatures show up in the sky. If you look at them, you die. And the world circles the drain pretty quickly thereafter,, but things manage to keep going from bad to worse as new dangers appear. The survivors must try to understand what happened, what is happening, and what is going to happen if humanity hopes to survive at all.

My Review:  If you have been looking for some very well done post-apocalyptic horror, this is a great podcast. It is dark and pulls no punches showcasing just how terrible the end of the world can be. There are monsters and there are people turned monsters, and humanity is safe from neither. Not to say there are not bright spots and good people, too, but there is also not an attempt to paint silver linings to the grey clouds.

There has been a recent surge in apocalyptic media using this theme of the danger of sense (be they sight, sound, or otherwise). The Phenomenon has some concepts that show up in other such properties, but manages to rise well above others. The tag line of the show is simple: “Do not look outside. Do not look at the sky. Do not make noise.” And from this simple directive, they derive so many surprising developments and challenges. What I think makes The Phenomenon so great is that the threat is not static. Whether from within or without, there is a dynamism to the show that suggests the truth– and possibly salvation–is always just a step beyond what is known. It does what good stories do, however, in that as new information is revealed, new challenges and wrinkles show up to keep the tension high.

The sound design is great; I find this particularly audiodrama very immersive because of that. It complements an great script and the excellent work of their voice actors. Overall production of the show seems to be top notch, and so it makes for a really engaging listening experience. The story is expansive in scope, but is well crafted from start to finish.

Speaking of expansive, there are a lot of characters to get to know. I think that was my biggest challenge overall as I started listening to the podcast. I had some trouble keeping everyone organized as to who they were, how they related to other characters, and even where they were at times. As the show has gone on, I have gotten better about this…and some characters no longer need to be accounted for. Like I said, it definitely does not pull punches when it comes to being a rather dark exploration of humanity after an apocalypse.

I have routinely been surprised by the twists and turns this story takes. If you have seen and heard of similar stories and thought this fits the same mold, you’re probably like me and probably just as mistaken as I was. The Phenomenon really excels not only in the quality of the product, but in the creative development of its story. The plot borrows some themes from apocalyptic stories (and of course it does, that’s the genre) but finds ways to make those new. There is a careful balance throughout of hope and hopelessness that is so delicately crafted, it elevates other themes from the genre, such as the search for safety or a “cure.”

Overall, The Phenomenon really showcases how great apocalyptic fiction can be. It shows all facets of humanity when faced with such peril. Characters are good, bad, and everything in between, making impossible decisions in impossible scenarios that, frankly, get worse by the day. It is realistic, shocking, and beautiful. I can highly recommend it and suggest you catch up on the first two season before the release of Season 3.

You can find them here: The Phenomenon


A Listener Reviews: SCP Archives

SCP Archives

Episodes: 27, if I counted correctly

Length: Episode length varies, from around 15 minutes to an hour. Usually they fall somewhere around the 30 minute mark.

I’ve listened to… All the episodes released so far. Also some of the Patron Bonus Episodes.

The Premise: If you aren’t familiar with SCP, let’s have a little bit of an internet history lesson. So the SCP Foundation is a collaborative writing project detailing steps taken to handle dangerous or unusual non-human entities that show up. The Foundation exists to Secure, Contain, Protect. There is a wiki with tons of stories, ranging from great to not so great, I am sure. Anyone can try their hand at introducing an entity, discussing how it is contained, and weaving an interesting myth together in the form of a secure government documents. The podcast takes and narrates some of these case files, including the narrative write-up as well as recordings and documents related to encounters with the entity. Each episode stands alone, detailing information about a single entity. At times there may be some overlap or reference to other SCPs in the episodes, but those are not necessary to understand what’s going on.

My Review: I first heard about the SCP Foundation when I was really active in the creepypasta community. They were kind of another branch of creepy internet stuff, but everything was contained in this world of the Foundation. I never got involved because it felt kind of overwhelming. When I heard about the podcast, I decided it was time to dip my toe in the water. I’m kind of glad I don’t have more free time on my hands, because otherwise I think I would end up way too deep.

The podcast handles the stories very well. The narrator has the perfect ominous voice to read over the standard case information. When the episodes move into more first person experiences, the voice acting has typically been spot on. The sound effects are used well, and it manages to set a great atmosphere.

The writing quality varies to some degree given the various authors, but it has always been solid. Some of the stories are incredibly creepy and unsettling. Others are rather lighthearted. Then some are creepy and absurd all at once. There are a couple I still don’t completely get, but I kind of think that’s the point. There are some entities out there that we simply can’t understand, but we still must be protected from them. The variability in tone is a positive from my perspective, because I never quite know what to expect when I queue up an episode. I have enjoyed almost all of them, and even those that were not my precisely brewed cup of tea were still a good story.

It’s October, month of all things unsettling, scary, and downright terrifying. I think if you are looking for something to get you in that creepy mood, SCP Archives will be perfect. They have done a great job selecting cases from the vast SCP Foundation, and each one they have put out has been enjoyable in its own way. They run from funny to terrifying, so its a little bit of a gamble when you start one up. Still, what better way to celebrate than some fun and some terror all rolled into one? And, let’s be honest, it’s good enough that I’m sure they’ll have you hooked even after October ends.

You can find them here: SCP Archives


A Listener Reviews: A Scottish Podcast

A Scottish Podcast

Episodes: 30 episodes, plus some specials and mid-break bonus epsiodes.

Length: Generally around 10-20 minutes

I’ve listened to… All the episodes released so far. Season two just ended #whereslee

The Premise: Two friends acquaintances people who live in the same general area, Lee and Dougie, decide to create a spooky podcast about paranormal events in the hopes of becoming famous. Well, to be fair, Lee wants to create it, and Dougie just kind of gets roped in. So if you want to listen to them bicker while spooky stuff happens, you’re in for a good time.

My Review: I’ll be completely honest, I did not get this podcast at first. I went in thinking it was a fictional podcast about a podcast. What I learned after a few episodes of head scratching is that this is a podcast about a handful of characters who sometimes are focused on creating a paranormal podcast and often end up falling into impossibly terrifying, supernatural experiences. And then they just go on about with their lives.

It is irreverent, ridiculous, bizarre, and fascinating. The paranormal aspect, which is what I originally came for, is more of a backdrop to the relationships and realities of life encountered by the characters. Uncovering amazing, terrifying realities is most notably lauded by how it affects downloads of the in-world Terror Files podcast, rather than the unsettling nature of the discovery. In fact, once uncovered, stories are mostly left. And that is wonderful. The story weaves and drunkenly swerves from situation to situation because that is the unpredictable path of its unstable narrator whose main focus is fame.

This podcast hinges entirely upon the cast of characters. They are all unlikable at times with major flaws. And that is so refreshing, because it feels so real. There are not nicely polished, inquisitive, altruistic characters delving the depths of the world. They are just who they are with all their imperfections and (at times) downright infuriating character quirks. And yet I cannot help but look forward to stepping back into the story and seeing where it is headed next.

The main cast is definitely well developed and complex. The secondary characters are also each very unique, with their own voice, motivations, and styles. They add a really nice bit of variety to what is going on. Also, a lot of funny moments. The podcast overall is pretty humorous, in my opinion, with some more serious moments sprinkled throughout. But it never seems to take itself too seriously, always maintaining a tongue-in-cheek approach to whatever is happening.

Overall, I find A Scottish Podcast to be a unique ride. The thread running throughout the plot is the creation of the Terror Files, but the real focus seems to be on living life alongside the characters as they go on this strange journey. And the broad view it takes provides so many opportunities to learn about the characters, which enhances the tension during moments of stress or danger. I think this is one of those stories you have to listen to in order to fully get it, but give it a few episodes and I think it will win you over with its charm. Just don’t tell Lee that.

You can find them here: A Scottish Podcast


A Listener Reviews: Project Nova

Project Nova

Episodes: 15 current episodes, with the final episode of season 2 coming soon!

Length: Generally around 15-20 minutes

I’ve listened to… All the episodes released so far. Eagerly awaiting the season 2 finale.

The Premise: Four strangers wake up in a strange place and begin to try and figure out how to live and survive in the world they’ve woken into. Their companion in this is the AI, designed to administer trials to help them learn to survive. But things begin to take a dangerous turn and more questions about who they are and why they are here surface.

My Review: If you are looking for something to scratch a good sci-fi/thriller itch, this will do it. The episodes generally focus on how the four characters manage to respond to tests designed to help them learn to survive. Along the way, of course, things begin to go off the rails and some uncomfortable realities begin to surface.

I think season one of this was good, but season two is where they really have hit their stride. There is so much depth in each episode, so many clues and trails to follow as the listener tries to puzzle through all that’s happening. I think what is impressive is that season one answered a lot of the original questions, but presented so many more that have been churning throughout season two. And given the direction for season two so far, I anticipate much the same experience: we’ll get our answers, but only to the degree that it makes us question so much more.

One strength is in that very fact. Yes, there are moments and solutions that are telegraphed a bit in advance. But in general, I have found myself repeatedly surprised by the scenarios and their solutions. The titles tend to give a bit of a hint, and so I enjoy trying to figure out what might be coming. Nevertheless, it has always been an exciting story to follow along with.

The main cast is the four subjects (and the AI). The four have a really great dynamic together. There are moments of levity and moments of intense stress. It will keep you on the edge of your seat, but does provide some moments of respite and aptly timed humor. The subjects shine in moments of crisis, but the “downtimes” provide so much opportunity for character development. Personally, I think the danger gets my heart pumping, but the more personal, heartfelt moments of real human connection and uncertainty are what have helped me feel connected to the characters. Those moments are the ones that keep me rooting for them to overcome all the messes thrown their way.  In the midst of chaos, there is a lot of about finding who you are, following your strengths, doubting yourself, and pushing forward. And the importance of teamwork. 

Overall, Project Nova is a podcast that makes me smile and lean forward in anticipation every time I hear the intro. The writing is sharp and creative, introducing new and unexpected elements throughout. The characters are human, endearing, and resourceful. It makes for an exciting and enjoyable listen where I can’t help but keep rooting for success, even when things seem grim. Fingers crossed for the season two finale. I’m sure it will deliver.

You can find their Patreon here: Evil Kittens Patreon


A Listener Reviews: The Amelia Project

The Amelia Project

Episodes: 13 episodes, plus preludes, available in season 1. Season 2 to release on July 19 2019!

Length: Generally around 20-25 minutes

I’ve listened to… Most of season 1. I’ll explain below.

The Premise: Have you ever just needed to get away and start over? Fake your own death and begin a new life somewhere wonderful? Amelia can help with that. Just give them a call and they will be happy to have their team start working on a way that you can disappear for good.

My Review: Talk about a podcast that caught me by surprise. I had this in my queue for a little while and was kind of uncertain. I heard a lot of good things, but I was not sure the style of humor was a fit for me.

While I was skeptical about the humor versus randomness feel to the story, that quickly evened into a really nice balance that kept me surprised, but also felt natural. The Interviewer is a quirky character, no doubt, but also makes sure things get done. And little twists and turns in the episodes themselves left me smiling. Some of them even now have me scratching my head. From cult leaders to roller coaster designers to government agents to unsatisfied characters, Amelia has helped many people escape their circumstances and find a better life.

This is definitely a story of the week kind of podcast, and I like that. While having overarching stories is good, too, I like a mix of both. There are references to past episodes or characters, but most of the episodes stand alone. There are also Preludes. When I first started listening, I did not know if the Preludes were unique content, or just a teaser of content that was released in the episode. Don’t be like me and skip the Preludes, they are completely unique content. I still think I missed one or two. The Preludes provide resolution to past episodes or introductions to new characters, sometimes a little of both, and are just fun little snippets of the inner workings of Amelia. These will not be in season 2, but will be available to Patrons, per the podcast’s website.

I just love the funny creativity in each episode. The situations are bizarre at times, and so they call for outrageous solutions. The show is written well enough ,though, that these outrageous solutions end up feeling perfectly reasonable. Of course, that sounds like a great plan, I find myself thinking at the end. The Interviewer feels like a complete character, with internal consistency and important flaws. He feels right at place in the world they’ve created.

The Amelia Project is what I would call a charming podcast. It will win you over, because it is just that good. The second season will be out soon, so it is a great time to listen to the current episodes so you can be up to date. Definitely a story to enjoy.

You can find them here: The Amelia Project


A Listener Reviews: Calling Darkness

Calling Darkness

Episodes: 8 episodes so far

Length: Generally around 30-45 minutes

I’ve listened to… everything put out so far.

The Premise: A group of hopeful actresses show up at Annabelle Crowe’s residence for an acting workshop. Only they accidentally summon a demon overlord, like you do. Now it is up to these women and some helpful (or not) companions to just mostly try to survive the whole demon thing.

My Review: As someone who grew up on the corny movies on the Sci-Fi (now Syfy, what?) channel and a healthy dose of MST3K, this show is perfect. It is an audiodrama that lovingly plays with so many of the horror tropes, but takes them in unexpected directions. Or sometimes plays them up for the humor. I mean, they do have a priest there, after all. Maybe. He has a priest ID, so who can question that? If you like horror that knows how to laugh, then this is definitely something worth listening to.

The concept is good, bouncing between some really unsettling horror ideas and some honestly funny moments. The narrator in the series, who I think knows more than she’s letting on, has a great tone about her that helps balance the mood of the story as a whole. It provides some nice transitions, some good foreshadowing, and adds an additional level of mystery to what is really going on in Crowe House.  The podcast overall is really well written and well-acted. So often, people try for these self-mocking style stories, but end up falling flat by either taking themselves too seriously or not taking the story seriously enough. Calling Darkness manages to balance those very well so far. The story is good and well-executed, not leaving glaring holes or inconsistencies. The characters are interesting and well-acted by their voice actors. And at the same time, they lovingly mock themselves and other tropes within the genre.

Speaking of characters, I think this is a true strength of the podcast. The characters are all stereotypical to a degree, but play up those qualities for plot and character development. So many stories miss the mark when playing around with stereotypical characters because they leave them in that role. Calling Darkness has already done a great job demonstrating character growth, development, and depth. So what starts out as your stereotypical horror movie scream queen develops into someone much more complicated through the story. I’m really looking forward to seeing where this goes as the plot continues to unfold.

Overall, Calling Darkness feels like horror-humor audiodrama gold. It brings in demons, guilt, alcohol, running from the past, acting, songs by Journey, pizza, horror, and humor all together into one messy, wonderful pot. If you like this kind of media, then Calling Darkness is an excellent take on the story with some complicated and strong leads just trying to survive. The latest episode released as of this posting, (episode 8: “It’s All Going to Hell”) was one of the strongest of the season and really demonstrates how good this story can be. You want to start at episode 1 so you can appreciate how wonderful that episode is. And by that point, you should probably just keep listening to see where it goes.

You can find them here: Calling Darkness


A Listener Reviews: Still Lives

Still Lives

Episodes: 8 episodes in this contained story

Length: Generally around 20-30 minutes

I’ve listened to… the whole story

The Premise: Five people live alone in a post-apocalyptic world…until one day someone knocks on the door. With this change comes many others that threaten the delicate equilibrium they have established.

My Review: This is another story that is all told in one season release. And, much like The Deca Tapes last week, it tells the story in a packed eight episodes. And again, it is a story I was so sad to see end. It starts quiet and slow, and builds tension in a more restrained way. The stakes are high at times, but the tension built is of a quiet sort that seeps into you and twists into knots.  The creators have described it as a “pastoral post-apocalyptic audio drama.” When you break down what that means, it does an excellent job of describing the tone and feel of the story. It’s quiet, subdued in that pastoral sense. But it’s also post-apocalyptic. So the main reason it’s got such a quiet tone? Most of the humans on earth are dead, with all our noise and chaos.

The story focuses on five main characters: The Archivist, the Cook, the Scientist, the Soldier, and the Kid. The Archivist is the main character and the narrator for most events, and she develops as a rather complex character. In fact, all the characters are pretty complex. They are flawed, selfish, and impulsive at times throughout the story. But their wants, desires, and ways of handling situations are so painfully human. They make mistakes–some of them big–and there are real consequences. There are also situations with no good solution that left me feeling bad for the characters put in those predicaments.  In eight short episodes, I was able to connect with the characters and see their perspectives, even when I disagreed or knew it was going to lead to trouble. It is that realism that captured me and separated this story from the millions of other post-apocalypse tales that have flooded…well…everything.

This is certainly the kind of story that could go on for many seasons and episodes, meandering through crisis after crisis. However, I think its strength is that it does not try to do that, but instead focuses on telling one story, and telling it very well. It has a clear beginning, middle, and end. There is a central conflict that the characters are working to resolve, each in their own way, and their success or failure is what drives everything forward. I found some episodes a little slower than others, but I think that is a good thing. There is tension in the story surrounding timing, and so it’s fitting that I’m getting nervous and wanting to rush ahead, because rushing feels like it would solve the in-world problems. Even if it might not.

My critique does come at the end, in the way things were wrapped up. Without giving too much away, I felt it was too convenient in how it tied up loose ends. There was ambiguity, moral quandaries, and uncertainty all throughout. To have an ending that put a bow on so many things was not as satisfying. I think I wanted more ambiguity in the ending, to leave it a little messy. While I like the clarity about how things end, it felt inconsistent with the other story beats. That said, it did end everything and bring the main conflicts to a satisfying resolution.

While the story was not always positive and uplifting, I found myself enjoying listening simply for the quiet, contemplative tone that it set. The characters were human in all the best and worst ways, the story followed a steady and even pace, and the themes presented were really interesting to hear. I spent a good bit of time wondering about some of the dilemmas presented, trying to figure out right, wrong, and a way out for the characters. It is a different take on the apocalypse, but one that is refreshing in its perspective and treatment of human themes.

You can find them here: Still Lives


A Listener Reviews: The Deca Tapes

The Deca Tapes

Episodes: 8 episodes in this contained story

Length: Generally around 25-35 minutes

I’ve listened to… the whole story

The Premise: Recordings have been released detailing the lives and events that befall ten strangers kept together in a small, confined location. The strangers, each with their own roles in this micro-society, narrate the events. These events are also cut together with news, radio, and interview clips providing more background on who the ten people are and how they arrived there. I don’t want to say much more, because anything else might give away some of the fun twists and turns.

My Review: Looking for a really interesting mystery? Something with a bit of whodunit, a bit of conspiracy, and a whole lot of piecing clues together to uncover the big picture? The Deca Tapes manages to bring a lot of ideas together in a really successful format. It is a very serious mystery and deals with some adult themes and content throughout. But the way it all comes together makes for a wonderful ride. I’m going to do my best to avoid giving too much away, because the slow reveal is certainly one of the strengths of the story as a whole.

Each episode follows a single character and outlines a bit of their life. Some pasts (and presents, for that matter) are horrifying, some are sad, and many live in a messy grey area. Character development is brief, since most only get one episode to really share their perspective; however, they manage to be unique in voice, motivation, and personality. By midway through, a listener can start to recognize and understand how characters are likely to respond as new situations face the group. There are some characters with more thorough development, background, and personality, but each serves their place in the overarching story.

The clips from outside the group serve to provide a lot of character development, as well as push the mystery forward. These ended up being some of my favorite parts, because I felt each one gave some clue to the mystery, and I was hungry to learn more. On top of that, the backgrounds of the characters shared through this format were really creative. I was often surprised by the directions the stories took, and the writing took care to avoid some of the more obvious or expected tropes. As the character backgrounds come into focus, it makes it clear how each was assigned to their role, and why that might not always be for the best.  If you do the math, though, you’ll notice that not every character gets their episode. Which I think works in the end, but my greedy curiosity would have loved more.

Another strength is that the writers clearly set out to tell a specific story. The plot is tight and moves at a good pace. Each episode serves to reveal a little more, and I certainly felt a growing sense of dread as the pieces began to line up and the big mystery became clearer. With eight episodes, it does not drag, nor does it feel too rushed. The preparation and storytelling considerations up front really help this story stand out.

My main critique would be the ending. Not because it was bad; it was completely fitting and appropriate given the direction of the story. I think it also threw me for an unexpected loop related to the timeline, but I won’t say more. However, I was left wanting more. I wanted more about these characters, more about their journey, and more about the shady stuff going on behind the scenes. It’s not that the ending did not wrap everything up nicely, but rather that the story really captured my curiosity. I was sad to see my time of studying this tiny portion of the universe end. And if I’m being honest, I really wanted there to be ten tapes. Because the Deca Tapes. But I think that might have been a little too on theme, and maybe not entirely consistent with the overall message.

The Deca Tapes is a well-paced, somber mystery that explores greed, religion, human nature, fear, and a lot of other deep concepts. It take a “found tapes” style approach, but develops those more fully so that it becomes a very vibrant story. While I had figured out a good bit by the end, as I mentioned, there were still some surprises waiting. It’s a solid story, written well, and executed beautifully. At eight well-constructed episodes, it is definitely worth listening to, even if you turn out like me and end up craving even more.

You can find them here: The Deca Tapes


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


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 and 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