This review previously featured in the Weekend section of The Tribune on February 26.
IT was inevitable given the success of Serial that it would have imitators – but the first of our podcasts this week puts a little more thought into emulating the model of that wonderful true-life investigation show... by making the investigation at the centre of the show a fictional one.
A team of cryptographers are assigned a task of decoding a message... an alien message – and the whole of the investigation is charted, bit by bit, by a podcaster who joins the team to provide a record of the progress.
A compelling enough hook – but the way that the show goes about presenting that story is nicely done. It very much follows the style of Serial, with interviews scattered through the episodes, the narrator dropping into the middle of sections to say “We'll come back to that later” to let an interesting tidbit dangle a little longer.
By the end of the first episode, we know that the alien broadcast has been in the possession of the government for many years, we meet the team, we get the first sense of some tensions among that team and... we learn the broadcast has a curse attached to it.
The show is neatly done – it's sponsored by General Electric so don't be too surprised by some subtle advertising along the way – and the episodes are bite-sized at about 15 minutes a time. A quick and tasty morsel of a show. You can also explore outside the show, with the lead character having been given a fictional blog to further blur the thoughts of what is real... and what is fiction.
Limetown follows a similar pattern of an investigating podcaster probing a mystery – that of Limetown, a small town in Tennessee where, in the story, more than 300 men, women and children went missing ten years ago.
The fake radio reporter seeks to find out what happened – with interviews, scrambled audio clips, and ominous discussions about a research facility at the heart of the town where something went wrong, where scientists were trying to expand the capabilities of the human brain.
There's a dash of X-Files in here, a dash of Welcome To Nightvale (though without that show's surreal nature).
It's intriguing – although some of the acting is a little stilted, and sounds like words read from a script a little too often.
Without the gimmick of the investigating reporter, Podcastle is a more straightforward storytelling site, with a general focus on fantasy. It is none the worse for being straightforward. Indeed, this is a site with consistently excellent production. Stories from authors around the world are narrated by an actor, while framed either side by an introduction from the host, and analysis of the story and feedback from listeners on previous shows. Presently the show is hosting stories from Artemis Rising 2, Podcastle's showcase for female or, as they say, non-binary authors. The first show in that run takes us to Iraq, to explore cultures as much as fantasy. The host calls us back after the narration to linger on the most delightful writing in the story, to savour them, and to re-emphasise the final impact. With different stories each show – and they are past 400 of those – you may not always find you like a particular tale, but you won't be able to fault the production or the clear love for the work they share with the world.
Lastly, a bonus mention on the blog version of this week's review column for Rob Edwards' Storycast site. I'm too closely connected to feature this in the review proper in that his latest podcast features a story I edited for the Tales From The Universe science fiction anthology published by Inklings Press. Also, in that its previous episode was two years ago, it's fair to say that the show is... infrequent. The podcast serves as a showcase for Rob's fiction - and his fiction is very nice indeed. He produces the show well, the quality of recording is certainly superior to some shows I've reviewed in the past and I sincerely hope that this review, if nothing else, heartily encourages him to record more. Get to it, Rob!