Vast Horizon Review

Space. The final frontier for humanity, but one of the very first frontiers for podcast writers. I mean honestly, you can’t throw a blue yeti without hitting an entertaining, original, scrappy young podcast set in space.

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Vast Horizon Review

By Lex Scott

Space. The final frontier for humanity (other than the depths of our own oceans anyway, but that’s a whole other article), but one of the very first frontiers for podcast writers. I mean honestly, you can’t throw a blue yeti without hitting an entertaining, original, scrappy young podcast set in space. Some of them are truly excellent (lookin’ at you Girl in Space), and some are tragically lacking in one or two key areas while still being excellently mixed and produced. Most though, unfortunately, simply fall into the broad category of “pretty good”.

Don’t get me wrong, pretty good is a damn hard target to hit. I would sacrifice a lot to elevate some of my previous work to the level of pretty good (Quest Academy, oh what you could have been if I’d been competent or had experience…), and because my subscription list isn’t very large by most standards pretty good will often keep me thoroughly entertained in lieu of the same 100 songs I’ve got loaded onto my phone.

But pretty good won’t make you stand out. People tend to remember three kinds of things: their favourites, (coloured by personal experience so it’s a different beast), the greats, and the worst. No one ever remembers those movies that were just okay, the ones you went to because it was hot and you needed to kill a few hours. It is to this category unfortunately we have to relegate Vast Horizon, the newest entry from Travis Vengroff and K.A. Statz’ Fool & Scholar Productions.

Vast follows the now standard “Girl in Space + AI” set-up, though of course with it’s own twists: Dr Nolira Eck (an agronomist, not an MD) suddenly and painfully wakes up on The Bifrost, a massive colony ship that is mysteriously deserted but for her, a mysterious and as yet un-”seen” bipedal presence, and a dry AI that has lots of trouble with context clues.

In terms of set-up it’s rather economical. Once the story gets going we establish very quickly Nolira’s position, location, and lack of memory (another well worn but useful trope for easing an audience in: making the main character need just as much hand holding as the audience), while also doing a good job of presenting and explaining what will be one of the shows primary sources of tension: Nolira’s bionic limbs.

We also establish that the AI is unable to provide Nolira with any concrete answers as to why she was unconscious, where everyone is or even what happened to the ship, due to lost or corrupted data. The pair need each other, Nolira to physically go places and manually do things, the AI to provide her with in-the-moment info and a general plan on how to proceed if they’re going to take control of their situation.

Like I said, it’s a pretty solid premise that has a lot of potential. Unfortunately it consistently fails to hit the mark in most areas of production.

The show’s strongest area is definitely the sound design, which for the most part does an excellent job of setting up and presenting an audibly tangible world for us to immerse our ears in. But, it’s lacking in certain cues that would help convey physical action (a character apparently falling, which I didn’t realise until she was struggling to escape a hole), or time passing while an action is taken. Little things that would complete the picture for us and really sell the story and presentation. It’s the kind of thing that would be so easy to miss for anyone not a professional but as a listener is so jarring, and always takes me out of the moment.

The show’s weakest area I hate to say is probably writing, though the issues with the writing are also tightly bound up with similar issues in directing and editing.

Somehow, and I cannot figure out why, the overall pace feels simultaneously both too fast and too slow. Now, this is obviously a problem with the writing, as overall pace is something that’s present in the script from the very first draft: the speed at which plot moments happen one after another will always be right there on the page first (and it’s the hardest thing to manage I think, especially for a new writer), and that’s where you always have the most control to change it.

But, editing together a finished product is essentially doing a final draft of the script, so it’s a problem with editing too. And while directing you need to be aware of what the scene needs and coach that performance out, so it’s also a problem with the directing.

From line to line the dialogue itself is quite flat, though this has to do with delivery as well as actual writing. There are some lines that are just too wordy and clumsy, as though when they were written no one ever said them out loud to test them, and there are several instances where the clearly british-accented actor is pronouncing words with a distinctly american intonation (mom being the most egregious, please let your actors just say words in their native manner).

There are also several instances where Nolira’s actor just doesn’t quite reach the emotional heights required for a scene, though I would be hesitant to put the blame for that on her. It’s the directors job to coax the necessary emotion into a performance, and a good casting director will always be looking for the range an actor is capable of. Then once an actor is cast, a good writer will tailor lines and emotional beats to a performer, leaning into their strengths and being aware of their abilities. When everyone is working in harmony, every moving part compliments the others, and actors will never fail to amaze you with what they’re capable of. But if you don’t take your choices into consideration, if you just plow ahead without fine tuning your team and the new circumstances, it will always ring hollow.

The actual plotting of the narrative, and the “this therefore that” manner in which it proceeds is actually quite well done. The episodes so far have been 38, 38, and 28 minutes respectively, with not too much time taken up by pre and post show housekeeping, and each one makes good use of that time to progress events and throw obstacles in our protagonists path. Which is why it’s so odd that in the moment each episode still manages to feel both too slow and too fast.

Overall, I think this is a lackluster show from a team that should know better. The main actor, Siobhan Lumsden, is clearly skilled but just as obviously miscast in the role, while the writing and directing are well short of what I would expect from a team with at least six other shows under their belts. The story is well-trod territory, the tropes are well established in audiences minds at this point; fertile ground for a more creative team to subvert expectations, here a bland and muddy path for people who just want to rehash what’s gone before, minus the character or charm.

And again, although the sound design is overall pretty good, given the breadth of their experience I would expect them to be able to avoid the pitfalls they’ve fallen prey to here.

So, I would say feel free to skip this one unless your queue is empty and you’re in desperate need of a new show.

Edict Zero Episode 4

A Man in the Alley, a Man in the Elevator, and a Man with(out) a pan.

The Deep Dive Into…

Edict Zero – FIS

by Lex Scott

Welcome to part four of my deep dive into Edict Zero. If you’re new here make sure you check out my previous episode reviews (part 1) (part 2) and (part 3), before joining me for the rest of my journey.

And as always, spoilers ahead

Episode 4, Beautiful Lies

A Man in the Alley, a Man in the Elevator, and a Man with(out) a pan. A tactical unit commander acting as technical support, and a military presence despite the assertion that humanity (and the planet they occupy) are no longer divided into competing countries.

Continue reading “Edict Zero Episode 4”

Edict Zero Episode 3

The plot kicks into motion in this episode, with Briggs being rescued from his brief captivity in the sewers; Wakeman being suspiciously helpful about it, and a concrete confirmation that there is indeed a group conspiring (either directly or indirectly) against our protagonists…

The Deep Dive Into…

Edict Zero – FIS

By Lex Scott

Welcome to part three of my deep dive into Edict Zero. If you’re new here make sure you check out my previous episode reviews right here (pt1) and here (pt2), before joining me for the rest of my journey.

And of course, spoilers ahead

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Episode 3, Dead Canaries

The plot kicks into motion in this episode, with Briggs being rescued from his brief captivity in the sewers; Wakeman being suspiciously helpful about it, and a concrete confirmation that there is indeed a group conspiring (either directly or indirectly) against our protagonists.

Now this was a good episode, in that it definitely advanced the plot and gave us new information, but it also succeeded in highlighting what I’ve discovered is my main underlying issue with this series so far: The episodes are far too long, especially given how little actually happens in each one. It’s been three episodes so far and we’ve elapsed significantly less than 48 hours in this series of events.

That’s more than three hours worth of solid, jam packed story time, covering only two days. Now, you might be thinking that a lot has happened in that time but let’s recap. A bomb went off, agents were assigned to investigate it and evidence was reviewed. Suspects and witnesses were interviewed, more evidence was collected and presented, and our protagonists were assigned to the case. Then one of our protagonists was incapacitated and promptly rescued.

That’s it.

That is the entirety of the plot that has been covered in these three plus hours.

Now I don’t want to be giving out praise to TV procedurals, but that’s the kind of story they can (and do on a weekly basis) cover in a measly 35 minutes, with time left over to gossip about office scandals and hookups.

‘But Lex,’ I hear you saying through the magic of modern day spyware, ‘there’s been so much more covered! Important stuff, like character development, motivation, interpersonal relationships, all that vital good stuff that makes compelling human drama!’ And to that I say, everything I know about our characters I learned in about five minutes of “screen” time. Total.

I know Kircher is idealistic, moral, and honest. She genuinely cares about her job, her coworkers, and helping people. She’s also criminally underserved by her employer and unfortunate gender politics.

I know Garret is a widower, very unexpressive of his emotions (though the show would like me to believe he lacks them completely), and makes a very real and genuine effort to understand people and their motivations, but lacks the personal experience necessary to do so on anything more than a purely academic level.

I know Briggs was once in a relationship with Kircher, likely throws himself into his work to avoid confronting his personal and emotional issues directly, and tends to work alone and resents being anything less than self sufficient.

So much of the character and world building on display here is so gingerly holding my hand and carefully walking me through everything that it’s all but hammering me over the head. The show, and of course the writer, director etc, don’t trust me to follow along with it all.

They say show don’t tell, and Edict Zero has that down. They absolutely show me how everything fits together and works, and they show me how everyone relates through their interactions and genuinely good performances. But it also tells me all of that too.

The scene where the random drunk finds the briefcase floating in an alley (gravity bomb) was excessive. I don’t need to know that he’s late on rent and laid off from work, I don’t need to know that his wife is cooking and he’s ungrateful because he wants to go out drinking…

Side note: If your wife is generous and cares enough to cook for you don’t berate her, that’s just shitty.

…I just need to know that he’s drunk, it’s new years eve still, and he found a floating briefcase that he intends to pawn. It’s simple, it’s maybe a minute, and it’s far more engaging.

I should say though that there was one very satisfying moment, where Garrett’s brother-in-law confronts him and Kircher actually calls him out on it! It was a very typical moment between two characters where one says something confrontational and entirely unprofessional that just wouldn’t fly in a real workplace, that usually goes uncommented on by other characters. But in this instance Agent Kircher takes notice, and actively dresses down the man and defends her colleague.

It didn’t go as far as I personally might have liked, but it’s giving me hope that the writer will actually treat her character with a more deft hand than I previously thought.

Look don’t get me wrong: I like this show. It impressed the hell out of me the very first time I turned it on, and from a technical standpoint it’s goddamn genius. Each new episode I turn on I’m engaged with the plot and I genuinely want to know what happens, not to mention the director getting very good performances out of the actors (and of course the actors giving those very good performances).

But wanting to know what’s next isn’t always enough for me, I know that most recently from Wolf 359. The show started pretty strong with a fun irreverent vibe but now I’m half way through and I’ve been on the verge of giving up for a while now.

Now you should know that I’m obsessive when it comes to story: I have to finish them or it eats away at me. But in this day and age if something isn’t keeping me invested with good execution I have the option to just look up the plot online. I want new exciting shows to immerse myself in and get obsessed with, but you’ve got to be more engaging than simply reading the wikipedia page for your show or I’m not going to finish.

I like this show. I want to enjoy this show. I desperately hope it’s not losing its lustre for me so quickly.

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Theories and Predictions:

Socrates is actually an agent of Edict One (can’t remember if I suggested this previously) but somehow had multiple peoples consciousnesses transplanted into his brain. He’s clearly got more than one, and it would explain the word salad verbal diarrhea thing he’s got going on.

Side Note: Also I forgot to mention the reveal of his invisibility ring, another artifact briefly mentioned previously, and shown to have failed him in his moment of need. Clearly these Paradox Artifacts are then fallible, so they run of tech as opposed to a kind of magic.

A bit of a fringe theory, but what if Edict Zero is actually a computer simulation. We know that the trip from earth took a huge amount of time, and that most were in cryosleep. What if the reality they’re experiencing is actually generated for them while they sleep? I still firmly believe(/possibly proven) that edict one is actively conducting experiments on the gen-pop, so this isn’t that far removed from what we know.

What do you think of my theories? What do you think of my criticisms: are they genuine but harsh, or the bitter ravings of an amateurish failure? Let me know in the comments below, let me know your own theories, or better yet let me know if you are listening along with me in this deep dive. Just please no spoilers for upcoming episodes, as I will absolutely be reading your comments.

And of course, go download episode 4 right here, and join me next time as I continue my deep dive into Edict Zero – FIS.


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The 12:37 Review

The 12:37

By Lex Scott

I’m going to be upfront with you right here: The 12:37 is not the best show. It hasn’t got the absolute best acting or directing. The dialogue suffers greatly (and given it’s an audio drama, it’s almost entirely dialogue) and the actors struggle mightily to reach the levels of emotion that many of the scenes require.

The 12:37 is an interesting show. It’s also not aimed anywhere near me. And you know what? All those things I just listed: they can be improved. In fact from the first episode to the second they do improve. Drastically.

The notes I made for this review start out pretty harsh: “Nora and Wheeler never manage to get on the same level of performance. Each feels distinctly like they were recorded separately, and the director never bothered to direct their performances to match. They effectively aren’t in the same scene”.

But I had to immediately revise those notes upon starting the second episode. The actors and director do a much better job matching performances, and all the scenes from that point actually feel consistent. It’s that fact that makes me comfortable being as critical as I am in this review; I know for a fact that any technical issues (writing, acting, directing) can and will be improved upon as the series continues and the cast and crew get more experienced.

Our charming lead is Nora, a young (I assume) scientist (likely a chemist) who finds herself in a rush accidentally boarding the wrong train. A time travelling train. She’s told that “shouldn’t be possible”, but we’re privy to certain conversations that indicate that it probably wasn’t an accident. She’s a fine character, though troublingly unphased by her predicament (I have a feeling that might be one of those performance issues I mentioned so that’s all I’ll say about that), and a decent voice to be our touchstone.

The next character we meet is Wheeler, and he serves as our gateway into the world of the time travelling train. He always feels slightly off, but not I think in the way he’s supposed to. He always responds to most of Nora’s lines with this little laugh that never quite manages to be the appropriate reaction to her words. Again, a writing/performance issue that I’m certain will be improved upon with time and experience.

The cast slowly expands out from these two at an excellent pace, introducing characters at exactly the right point in the narrative, but I’ll leave those for you to discover.

This show isn’t the best, but it is absolutely worth your time. One of the best things about podcasting to me is the incredibly low barrier for entry: You don’t need a Blue Yeti, you don’t need to be a professional. Most importantly you don’t need anyone else’s permission to tell your story. I will never dump on someone for being inexperienced, and I will always support someone putting in the work to get something made and putting it out into the world:

You made a thing! Congratulations! That is so much more than about 99% of everyone who ever talks about “well this is how I’d do it if I made it.”

So go and give this show a listen, there are three episodes out so far and they only continue to get better with each one.

Miscellaneous observations:

  • Massive chunks of dead air throughout the episodes is a pretty big issue, to the point where I actually thought the episodes had ended. I think they’re meant to be scene transitions, but they don’t play like it.
  • Explaining what kind of bullet you shot someone with doesn’t make you sound tough, it just sounds dumb.
  • I really really didn’t need a scene where she gets a dictaphone, or really any in universe reason for her to be narrating her life. We managed fine for the majority of two episodes, it’s just unnecessary. (I have thoughts on the prevalence of “found footage” in modern audio drama, but that article is still a long way from ready…)
  • The sound design is wonderfully subtle and understated.
  • The 1237pod.com site damn near crashed my browser, and I have no idea why.

Theory:

I’ve come to enjoy closing out an article with a wild theory about what’s going on so here’s one for The 12:37

(SPOILERS!!)

The staff of the train are on a mission to seed and distribute pharmaceuticals throughout the past in order to disrupt medical patent history, and make medicine better, more available, and more affordable in their future, and that’s why Beyond Pharmaceuticals is after them.


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Edict Zero Episode 2

By Lex ScottWelcome to part two of my deep dive into the masterclass in audio drama that is Edict Zero. If you’re new here make sure you check out my episode 1 review right here, before joining me for the rest of my journey.

The Deep Dive Into…

Edict Zero – FIS

By Lex Scott

Welcome to part two of my deep dive into the masterclass in audio drama that is Edict Zero. If you’re new here make sure you check out my episode 1 review right here, before joining me for the rest of my journey.

And of course, spoilers ahead!

Episode 2, 2415 Part 2

3 seconds. In all my studies and my own experience in content creation, 3 seconds is all the time you’ve got to hook your audience in the online space. This of course is not true of all content: watching a movie you’ve usually got a few minutes to grab your audience’s attention, and just a few fewer for television. But online content: web series, social media videos… podcasts? You’ve got precious little time to really get to the point before your audience decides to move on to a more immediate gratification.

This is what was going through my mind in the opening moments of Episode 2. Now granted, as I’ve said before this show is quite a few years older at this point and it’s possible a lot of this information hadn’t really been gathered at that point. But still the scene setting in this show is excruciating from a modern viewpoint. They spend so much time setting the scene that I honestly believe if you decided to recut this show you would potentially lose about ten minutes of run time (probably an exaggeration but I really needed to get that off my chest).

I think the most maddening aspect of the scene setting is that most of it isn’t just establishing location through background noise like traffic etc to go along with any “new location” voice announcement. Most of it is actually world building and lede burying, BUT it all ends up being superfluous because they give us the same exact info in actual dialogue during the scenes being set up! It makes me feel like the show believes it really needs to hold my hand and lead me through it’s oh so labyrinthine and difficult plot, which makes me think either it doesn’t respect me enough to be able to follow along, or thinks it’s much much smarter and more elaborate than it is.

It all comes across really as clumsy exposition, compounded further by more clumsy foreshadowing and exposition. Don’t get me wrong, the idea of hiding info dumps in radio broadcasts that our characters are listening to in scene, that slowly fade out as the scene in actual starts to play out, is genius. But the problem is simply that too much time is taken with it all being repeated anyway, when each episode is already bordering on an indulgent run time.

Much like I’ve spent so much time on this one gripe I have with an admittedly high quality and objectively good show.

Side note I’m always genuinely torn when reviewing something; between being a creator and knowing what an achievement it is to just make something (especially independently) and thus shouting down excess criticism, and picking everything apart down to its tiniest components and being very critical indeed. I am really riding the line with this series, but it might be because I’m both reviewing it for work and also dissecting it to better understand what I want in my work.

 

Anyway, episode two is definitely a part two. Everything going on is just wrapping up previously established plot points aimed at putting everyone where they need to be before the action really gets going. We get some great world building in Kircher’s interactions with her AI butler Jasper (sassy or bitchy? Let me know in the comments) and her cars built in AI slash some kind of phone/ PDA system? It’s a fun taste of the futuristic tech that’s just helpful enough to not castrate our investigators in this mystery, and just broken enough to be entertaining.

 

Side note I don’t know what it is specifically but a lot of this whole show just feels really nineties to me. I don’t know if it’s the dialogue or the music or what but so much of it reminds of nineties storytelling and aesthetics.

 

Our trio of main characters (Kircher, Briggs, and Garrett) are thrust together in a mini task force operating independently within the main task force (ed: task-ception!) in a manner that makes Kircher suspicious of it’s ease, and the others exasperated at having to work with each other. Once they’ve each debriefed the others they set out to do some boots-on-the-ground investigating.

Briggs follows up on the homeless angle, given Garrett is “terrible” at interacting with anyone but the hard done by in particular would not put up with him, Kircher follows up on an asylum lead to learn hard info about Cooke and Socrates, and Garrett lets us all learn more about the Paradox Artifacts and in the process introduces us to one of the most teeth gritting characters that are unfortunately seemingly emblematic of this series.

I don’t know Jack Kincaid, and I’m not readily familiar with any of his other work, but he seems to have leaned far too heavily on a kind of excessive pomposity for a lot of his characters. I suspect this has a lot to do with his voice acting: a quick and dirty trick for voice acting is to put on an exaggerated accent as a kind of shortcut to character creation, and his characters all seem to share a similar upper class pastiche that lends itself to verbosity and pompousness. I don’t know if this is still true, or even if it will hold true in the near future of this series, but for now that’s what i’ve seen.

Oh and Mister Cooke returns (totally called in my last review) and reveals that Captain Socrates’ beloved pan was actually gifted to him by Cooke. So I guess I’ve got one more reason to dislike that arrogant eyeless churl.

 

Conclusions/ Predictions

All in all, though I do have one or two specific complaints that come primarily from my own instincts as a writer and thus are entirely subjective to my personal style of doing things, I am enjoying this show. I’m looking forward to finding out how they rescue Briggs, which from the preview will be the main focus of episode two, and I’m genuinely interested in these Paradox Artifacts. Now I lean more towards the fantastical than the realistic, so that could be why, but I really think the show will benefit from leaning more into the outlandish aspects that have been hinted at so far.

 

Side note if I don’t get a scene on a boat with those weird sea monsters they mentioned I’m going to be very upset.

 

A solid episode overall, very functional in what it needs to do. That might sound like a backhanded compliment, but I think not enough people are willing to make functional. All too often people eschew necessity for spectacle and neglect to put in the work, so I respect this episode all the more for it.

I’m working on a theory for the Paradox Artifacts, though admittedly I’ve still got very little info to go on. So far we know they exist. No matter what, that briefcase bomb does exist, and it has a voice activated trigger. We can surmise that some kind of personal teleporter also exists, thus it is likely if two exist there are others that exist as well.

We also have been told that Edict One, the people who developed on the spaceships in the (as yet unspecified length of) time that passed on the trip from earth, keep themselves separate from society and also somewhat prohibit laboratories (and thus probably scientific advancement to some degree?). We can surmise that they have developed technologically as well as socially. We’ve also been told that two other ships “disappeared” on the journey.

So my theory is that Edict One didn’t wake everyone up immediately, instead seeding the planet with these artifacts first so as to facilitate part of the experiment they are so clearly running on human society. Not invasive tests or anything, but sociological observations on how they’re developing as a people. They also probably terraformed the planet at least a little bit. Either way they’ve definitely got their own sixth continent they’ve set themselves up on.

What do you think of my theory? Leave a comment and tell me know your own theories, or better yet let me know if you are listening along with me in this deep dive. Just please no spoilers for upcoming episodes, as I will absolutely be reading your comments.

 

And of course, go download episode 3 right here, and join me next time as I continue my deep dive into Edict Zero – FIS.

New Scripted Podcast “Blackout” coming soon from Rami Malek

Audio drama is definitely becoming more and more mainstream (“I hear radio as entertainment is making a comeback” as a certain fictional Eiffel once put it), and proof of that can most easily be seen in the steady increase in professional mainstream actors appearing in or producing their own shows.

By Lex Scott

Audio drama is definitely becoming more and more mainstream (“I hear radio as entertainment is making a comeback” as a certain fictional Eiffel once put it), and proof of that can most easily be seen in the steady increase in professional mainstream actors appearing in or producing their own shows.

Now, I’m new to the scene as many of you will know, so the first major one I was aware of was Richard Armitage’s wolverine in The Long Night. More recently there was The Angel of Vine and it’s ludicrously stacked cast. Both of these were originally released on stitcher premium, and then released episodically to general audiences, so that may be related.

Rami Malek – IMDb

The next we will apparently have is called “Blackout”, and is produced by Rami Malek, Endeavor Audio, and QCODE, and starring Malek himself. “Blackout” is created by Scott Conroy, and is a suspense story about a small town radio DJ who must fight to protect his family and community from a coordinated attack that destroys the power grid and upends modern civilization. It is set to be an eight episode show.

Scott Conroy, creator and producer, is a writer whose feature script Analytica was named to the 2018 Blacklist (a yearly list of the “best” as yet unproduced screenplays) so there is reason to be excited about a new project from him.

Endeavor Audio launched in September of last year to work with partners like Dick Wolf and Mass Appeal to finance, develop, produce, and distribute podcasts, and recently released the second season of Limetown. QCODE is a new podcast banner of Fred Berger, David Henning, Rob Herting, and Brian Kavanaugh Jones.

I’m always on board for some professional grade acting. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of charm in the more raw performances of less experienced performers, but professional acting often means professional directing, which usually translates to a more engaging performance (depending on the content and style of course, always). But this premise is not doing a great job of selling me on the show.

Will we have another amazing Angel of Vine on our hands, or another pretty good but ultimately lacking Wolverine The Long Night? We’ll have to wait and see, as it won’t be coming out for quite a while.

The Deep Dive Into…

Some 400 years into the history of the New Earth – or Edict Zero as it is officially designated – the first act of terrorism has been committed by one Mister Cooke.

Edict Zero – FIS

By Lex Scott

Ever since I started getting into scripted podcasts, I’ve wished I could find proper full episode reviews and breakdowns. I could never find them, but that might because I never looked in the right place. So, when Podern Times started up and I was asked what I wanted to work on, that was of course the first thing I said. I was recommended a show to check out and review and it was off to the races.

The show was terrible. I thought “I don’t think I can stomach listening to two more seasons of this show”

It turns out it was a joke! I was supposed to hate that show (ed: SORRY! ) and there was something far more substantial, and of significantly higher quality waiting just up next in my podcast queue. The second recommendation: Edict Zero – FIS.

Here was a show that, at eight years old, is still held up as a benchmark of quality for audio dramas, and is regarded by many in the community to be one of the best the medium has to offer. And that’s not just in sci-fi: every new show, regardless of genre, is measured against the astounding quality of writing and production design on display here. And yet no one has really broken it down or analysed it before.

It was everything I’d been hoping for, and almost everything it’s reputation promised: big long meaty episodes roughly an hour each. Excellent technical quality and absolute masterful sound design. I knew, if I could get into the story there would be plenty to sustain a series of articles of analysis, conjecture, and gushing over this veritable audible feast.

So, please join me as I take a long journey, episode by episode, deep into the future of New Earth and the Federal Investigative Services, as presented by Jack Kincaid and Slipgate Nine Entertainment.

And of course, spoilers ahead.

Prequel/ Episode 1, 2415 Part 1

Some 400 years into the history of the New Earth – or Edict Zero as it is officially designated – the first act of terrorism has been committed by one Mister Cooke. An interesting if overly hostile character, our time with him in this episode is sadly very brief.

He unfortunately is emblematic of one of the main issues I had with this episode though: an overly wordy talker, unnecessarily hostile to everyone he meets. It’s a trope I’ve seen time and again in every medium imaginable and I always find it tiresome, because it’s just not believable.

People just don’t get to be that openly hostile to others and still interact with them. He’s rude to the butler who ushers him through the building, he’s rude to security doing his job, the only person he’s not rude to is the girl he rescues.

Side note: I’m assuming both Cooke and Melissa Parker survived, otherwise the entire opening is pointless.

Maybe Cooke’s whole demeanor is meant to make him one of these “characters you’re supposed to hate” but I’ve never bought into that trope. Either engender sympathy for your hero’s plight to make us hate the villain as an obstacle, or make us fear the villain for his actions. Making a vaguely hostile and oddly verbose character just takes me out of the moment and reminds me it’s unrealistic.

Near the end of the episode we learn that Cooke was involved in procuring mystic items for this now deceased mob boss. I’m inclined to believe this suitcase bomb was one of these Paradox Artifacts, and can probably be used more than once. My guess is some sort of black hole or gravity distortion bomb. And the fact that Cooke and Melissa probably survived indicates he probably has more than one in his possession, likely one for some sort of teleportation. It’s debatable whether he also actually does possess the Hex Gate Disc he was supposed to trade for Melissa Parker’s life.

Edict Zero is on the whole an extremely impressive piece of literature. On a technical level it is nothing short of astounding, with sound effects, music, and background noise all expertly layered together to form a truly impressive soundscape that really does build a picture in your mind of where you are. Every scene transition is smooth and flawless without being unnecessarily telegraphed. There is the occasional robotic voice telling us of our new location when it’s necessary or pertinent, but it always feels like it too is part of the world.

It actually feels like an automated train announcement, telling us what stop we’ve just arrived at. This even gives us an extra layer of subconscious detail by subtly telling our brains that time has passed while we travelled here.

Another scene transition that blew my mind in its simplicity was a simple change in audio quality. There are a few instances where a character is on the phone with someone, and we hear their voice as though through a phone. Now in video you can quickly switch back and forth, showing the different locations, but here we slowly transition from hearing one character through the phone’s distortion to the other. And we end the interaction now following the second character, in the new location.

It’s an incredibly subtle change, and I doubt most listeners would pick up on it consciously, but  no one would fail to realise that we’ve suddenly changed perspective.

It’s simple, almost consciously imperceptible, and impressively effective.

There were unfortunately a few times where they spent too much time setting the scene, and the whole thing felt a bit too audibly busy, with sound effects and background noises building and bustling. But, as this is the first episode and almost a decade old at this point, I’m expecting this to be improved as the series progresses.

Our second major character is another trope I’m generally a bit tired of, but in this instance I’m more bothered by the people around him than the actual character.

That is one agent Nick Garrett, an example of the Sherlock type character. He’s studied it all, is well versed in the various sciences, but lacks the intuitive understanding of actual people that most develop in their early years. He lacks the “correct” emotional response to most situations, and comes at everything with a critical, analytical mind.

As this character trope goes he’s not bad, but it’s the others around him that make it aggravating to me as an audience.

He lacks any hostility or superiority in his tone to be truly rude, but everyone he meets acts as though he’s the foulest most offensive thing they’ve ever had the displeasure of enduring. Though admittedly this seems limited to FIS agents, in particular those who seem to really lean on their authority and positions. The son of the murdered mob boss seemed to be pretty reasonable in talking to him. This leads to us immediately distrusting most of the other (non-pov) agents. In particular one Agent Whiteman of the organised crime division.

Side note: in regards to Whiteman, they spent so much time showing us how incorruptible he is that if he doesn’t end up being a traitor I well be genuinely shocked.

A counterpoint to the Agent Garrett character is presented in the form of Agent Kircher, and the way she’s treated by the narrative/ other characters is troubling.

In the briefing scene there are two people interrupting Agent Whiteman: Garrett, and Kircher. While Garrett is removed from the room and verbally dressed down, he’s otherwise allowed to continue his own personal investigation. Meanwhile, Kircher is tolerated in the room but later simply removed from the case entirely.

She’s not given the same opportunity to pursue her (entirely relevant) leads, or even confronted about her somehow “disrespectful” behaviour. She’s simply removed without ever being given the same opportunity to defend her position. This is unfortunate but probably unconscious gender politics on display, and the complete difference in the way their actions were responded to warrants further thought and discussion. I don’t believe this was a deliberate or even conscious choice by the writers, but in 2018 it really sticks out.

We close out the episode with a final scene introducing us to our major lead in the case: the homeless, probably mentally ill “Captain” Socrates, an associate of Mister Cooke.

This scene with Socrates is honestly one of if not the single weakest in the entire episode. I know people say in acting you make a choice and it’s better than not making a choice, and Jack Kincaid – the creator of this show, and actor of this role – certainly made a choice.

The trouble is I think that choice was bad.

It’s a tired and, once again overly verbose, caricature of a mental patient from the 1950’s. Speaking in a pastiche of upper class gentleman explorer vernacular, he seemingly speaks in an interminable mashup of movie quotes and pop culture references that lose all meaning when jammed in next to each other. I get that this is probably the aim, presenting an unhinged character with a scattered brain and neurons firing every which way all at once, but it is so world breaking it completely takes me out of the moment every time I hear it.

I cringe, every time, and not in the way the writer probably intended.

Conclusions/ Predictions

Overall I like this show. It is a master class in audio presentation and mixing, truly the most complex and technical show I’ve ever had the pleasure to hear and I genuinely feel like I learned a lot about the craft just by listening to it. The world building is top notch and genuinely engaging, and I really am looking forward to hearing the next episode and knowing what happens to our characters.

One of my favourite things about finding a new (to me) show with a big back catalogue spanning years is getting to see a kind of time lapse of their skills, as the creators grow and develop as people and artists. Getting to go back to the beginning of a journey and looking for all the kernels of promise present right from the start; crossing your fingers and watching them tease out their problematic or tired tropes into well defined thoughts is always engrossing.

I am genuinely looking forward to continuing with this series and seeing where it leads. And, hopefully seeing them outgrow some of these things that bothered me.

Go download Episode 2 right now, and join me next time as I continue my Deep Dive into Edict Zero – FIS.


Girl in Space

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.

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.

Creepy: 31 days of Horror

It’s October, and we all know what that means: the whole internet has gone pumpkins, and the things that go bump in the night have come out.

Creepy Presents the 31 days of Horror

By Lex Scott

It’s October, and we all know what that means: the whole internet has gone pumpkins, and the things that go bump in the night have come out.

That’s right, it’s Halloween season and Creepy – one of the best, most reliable regular purveyors of horror on the internet – is again giving us a spooky 31 Days of Horror Halloween countdown.

Days 1 – 3 Tales from the Gas Station

We start the month off with a seven part series following Jack, our plucky protagonist and the only full time employee of a weird gas station on the outskirts of a quiet town. Strange things go down in this place where, mysteriously, no phone or internet signals seem to reach.

From toilet cowboys to hand plants, doomsday cultists to dark gods, and even mysterious politicians who just won’t stay dead, this place has everything you need. They might even pump your gas if you need it.

The narration is simple and hypnotic, as of a man who’s so far gone with insomnia he just rolls with everything weird in his life. It perfectly captures the dull monotony of working the graveyard shift in the service industry; isolated from everyone normal and even normalcy itself, the bizarre becomes your new mundane and allows you to become very zen with your situation.

Day 4 Kisaragi Station

Our journey through the Gas Station situation is interrupted by this creepy pasta originating from 2chan, the Japanese message board. Presented as a simple dramatic reading of the original posts, we go on a journey with an unfortunate girl to an abandoned isolated train station.

With spooky strangers, ominous name translations, and improbably mobile reception, we’re taken on a late train journey you probably don’t want to go on.

Days 5 – 8 Tales from the Gas Station (cont.)

Back at the gas station we learn that Jack has deleted his original day 4 post and urges everyone not to seek it out. As far as we’re concerned “nothing happened” wink wink.

On a personal note I’ve always loved this kind of meta-narrative, where real world realities of publishing and timetables directly inform the stories presented. It brings the audience in in a special way, making us directly part of the story and co-conspirators with the author/ narrator.

Tales from the Gas Station continues and concludes uninterrupted on day 8 with a simple, somewhat expected climax and resolution.

I don’t say this to be critical, I’m simply saying that a modern audience will see this ending coming. The tone and turn are all familiar and expected, and dare I say, classic in their own way.

There’s a comforting familiarity with the conclusion that I am definitely okay with.

Day 9 The Quiet Child.

Here we’re presented with instructions on how to summon a dark god, aspect of stark truths and the primal fear of confronting and knowing the unknowable.

This episode mostly consists of deft atmosphere building, through the lens of painstaking descriptions of the steps necessary to invoke the presence of The Quiet Child.

It has echoes of other classic horror/ thriller child tales, like the twilight zone episode It’s a Good Life, but it feels more reminiscent of Faust or D’jinn: bargains struck by over eager mortals, only to be confronted by the very cost they’d been warned against.

Warnings they had ignored.

Source: Freeimages

Day 10 Voicemail Transcription [BETA]

New narrator, new writer, this genuinely affecting episode presents a horror that is all to real: a stalker.

Now there is a supernatural bent to this tale, but like all fairy tales/ fables it presents a very real and frightening danger it wants to warn us about. In this case, the fear and danger of someone following us.

It perfectly captures that feeling of terrifying vulnerability that comes with knowing someone out there can see us, but we can’t see them. Knowing that, because we can’t perceive them, any time they want to they could harm us.

It takes away everything that makes us feel safe and comfortable in this world, stripping everything away to make us feel alone and isolated. Then they strike.

Like I said, genuinely affecting. A powerful story.

Day 11 The Perfect Child

A new take on the classic tale of greed and the dangers of obsession. You’ll most likely recognize this story, but that makes it no less effective in it’s execution. This is a cautionary tale humans have been telling themselves for millennia, and there’s a good reason for that.

Day 12 Dear Scammer

Have you ever been the victim of your own generosity? What about just losing sight of the important things when an opportunity came along. This is a story that presents you with both sides of each of those situations, while maintaining a single solitary perspective.

It’s graphic and unpleasant, but that’s what you’re here for right?

Day 13 Midnight Dancer

Who likes clowns? No, I mean it I’m genuinely asking. Who are they for? Why do they persist after over a hundred years of entertainment? I seem to remember once reading an article claiming that clowns were never actually designed to be funny and charming, that they’re supposed to be tragic and at least mildly upsetting. But I’ve never been able to find it again and check it’s sources.

I can’t help feel like this tale, or the title at least, was inspired by Pennywise. He is after all, probably the most famous dancing clown. One thing I can say about it is that the ending is perfect.

Day 14 Cupcakes

This is the one episode that Jon Grilz – creator and lead narrator of Creepy – specifically mentioned when I reached out to him.

“On the 14th we have a story that I’m really curious to hear listener feedback about. It’s one that we’ve had requested before, but I was never sure if I should put it as its own weekly episode. It’s dark in the weirdest possible way.” – Jon

It may seem bright and sparkly (can you guess it? I managed to) but be prepared for plenty of body horror.

Source: Freeimages

Day 15 Moonface

This episode brings us back to a primal aspect of childhood I think we all experienced: that profound sense of unbridled joy, coupled with the disconcerting realization that sometimes people just don’t want to spend time with us. It’s a saddening and confusing realization, but anyone with siblings can probably relate.

Hopefully it didn’t go as badly for you as it did for this young boy.

Day 16 What Was In The Store With Me?

Is there anything more mundanely otherworldly than a retail store after hours? Maybe a supermarket, but you probably won’t run into any ghouls there; just the weirdos buying ice cream at 2 am. Not so for this unfortunate night owl employee restocking for the holiday season.

Day 17 Little Red Ranger

Once upon a time, the older traditions of All Hallows Eve said that ghosts walked the earth that night, and if you left your home you would encounter them. People took to dressing up as monsters to avoid being recognized by these ghosts, instead being seen only as fellow spirits.

This story has echoes of that old tradition, with one small boy eager to show off his latest obsession, and another who just doesn’t want to be lonely anymore.

Day 18 Chatroom 98

Who among us hasn’t found and old unmarked CD in their house, put uncaringly into their drives to search for interesting things? It’s the modern day version of looking for buried treasure, and it’s usually harmless.

Hopefully next time you boot up someones discarded old discs you’ll have some solid protection in place. Not much else I can say without spoiling things unfortunately!

Day 19… Subscribe to find out!

So there you have it, all episodes so far of this years 31 Days of Horror as presented by Creepy Podcast. They will be continuing with a new one every day for the entire month of October. I asked Jon Grilz if he had any words or thoughts he could share about how he’s planning to close out the month and he only said this:

“We have a mix of everything from classic creepypastas and listener submissions that I think people will really enjoy. I don’t want to give anything away, but as far as how we will close things out, I guess it will be like last year. The devil’s in the details.” – Jon

Make sure you check out Creepy right here so you don’t miss their 31 Days of Horror series before it ends.


 

Lex is a professional writer from New Zealand. He’s studied copy writing and social media marketing, and is known for his outstanding web series, Reggie’s Case Files.

 

To learn more about Lex and the rest of the team visit our About Us page.