By Lex Scott
The last man on earth concept is a popular one in science fiction. I am Legend, The Omega Man, and Oblivion all spring immediately to mind, but my personal favorite is a relatively new addition to the subgenre: Girl in Space.
This radio play is frankly an astounding achievement, and a testament to a medium many would dismiss off-hand as dead or irrelevant. At times heartwarming, tense, and funny, this show is everything you could want shoved directly into your earballs.
“Abandoned on a dying ship in the farthest reaches of known space, a young scientist fights for survival (and patience with the on-board A.I.). Who is she? No one knows. But a lot of dangerous entities really want to find out…”
This is how we are introduced to the girl we’ll come to call X, and it is so wonderfully compelling you wouldn’t believe. It sucks you in with concept, and hooks you with it’s superb acting and excellent execution.
Let’s talk about that execution.
Girl in Space is written, produced by, and stars Sarah Rhea Werner, a professional writer, speaker, and podcaster She left a decades long marketing career, (why are all us writers former/current marketing professionals? I mean, there’s some crossover skill-wise but still…) to pursue her creative passions. I personally believe that move has paid off tremendously. Sarah’s performance is so rich in emotion and honesty that it alone is enough to pull you in. Acting is hard, and voice acting is even harder. I seriously cannot heap enough praise on this performance. It is nothing short of mind blowing.
The writing itself is fantastic. Polished and tight without any real wasted time, while simultaneously feeling very raw and off the cuff. The character of X is one with no filter: on a space station alone, and encouraged from an early age to vent her free-flowing thoughts into a portable recorder will do that to a person. So her character needs to do a lot of free association and be allowed to let her mind wander, (even in life or death situations; let’s just say that her mouth gets her in trouble a few times). This gives X a very charming, naive quality that’s never boring or off-putting. I’m not usually a fan of “naturalistic” dialogue; I always say if I wanted to hear natural dialogue I’d just go outside. I always want tight, focused speech from characters, a heightened reality. But coming from X and Sarah’s performance it is such a perfect character choice. Like having a friend who talks all the time, but in such a pleasant way you can’t help but be charmed.
The sound design is a triumph. Filled with subtle ambient ticks to truly sell the out of this world atmosphere. We hear the whir of Charlotte’s (the ships irascible A.I) hydraulic arm as she moves in and out of the story, subtle music cues filling in emotional beats and pauses in the narration masterfully used to convey the almost wistful stream of consciousness present throughout the entire show.
The overall production quality is excellent. The actual voice recording is professionally crisp and clean, no pops or odd spikes in volume. Each sound, from speech to music to effects, are entirely clear; in many podcasts I find myself manually tweaking the volume as I go to adjust for someone suddenly becoming inaudible (through moving to far from the mic or to account for extra noises going on in the show) but I never found myself doing this with Girl in Space. Even at its most busy (and that’s never much, it is a very laid back show) I never found myself struggling to make out words over effects or musical cues.
The writing itself is amazing in its simplicity. In essence it is a stream of consciousness narrative: X, the eponymous girl in space, is alone on a space station. We know this, and we can infer from certain clues that she was there with her parents until one day they weren’t. From a young age she was given a recorder and encouraged to share her thoughts with it, both as a useful log of events (and a helpful training tool for scientific recording) and as a diary to stave off loneliness and provide a creative outlet. This leads to a character essentially with no filter, who’s spent her entire life (approximately 24 years by my count?) venting a stream of unfiltered thoughts into her diary.
You might think this would make for a boring character but surprisingly it doesn’t. The stream of consciousness is endearing and well presented, and helped along by being thoughtful and emotionally honest. It provides a genuine and narratively consistent window for us to experience her life as an audience.
Girl in Space is the only piece of literature I can think of that is absolutely perfectly suited to the medium it inhabits. Pretty much everything we consume, movies books television, can be (and often is) presented in any kind of medium. Any movie could be presented just as well as a book and you wouldn’t lose anything of the core content in the translation. Sure many movies or books do take advantage of their respective mediums, and any adaptation will by its very nature focus on different things, Harry Potter the book is not fundamentally different when experienced as Harry Potter the movie.
Not so with Girl in Space. It could not exist in any other form without being fundamentally, unrecognisably, different. Not just that it would lose something in the translation, but that it would not be Girl in Space anymore.
At every turn Sarah takes full advantage of the fact that her audience can only hear what’s going on, that she’s not limited by words on a page or the budget required for visual effects. She paints a rich landscape of emotion, futuristic setting, and engaging characters, all while only engaging a single one of our primary senses. This alone is enough for me to recommend this show to everyone I meet.
Girl in Space makes great and successful efforts to maintain a clean rating, and was intentionally created for all ages to enjoy. I never have any qualms about recommending it to any even remotely mature acquaintance. However if you are squeamish about slightly disturbing imagery such as descriptions of wounds and blood, and sci fi gun violence it might give you pause. Also it is very um, let’s say science friendly, and you should definitely be prepared for such graphic words as coagulation, narcissism, and epigenetics.
I might already have mentioned I’ve actively recommended Girl in Space to every thinking, breathing person I have even a brief interaction with. Quite frankly I think this show is a marvel and a tremendous achievement on every level. It succeeds technically, from sound effects and recording, to presentation and performance, and of course is narratively gripping and compelling in a way you just can’t believe until you listen for yourself. Do yourself a favour and check it out, I promise you won’t regret it.