Victorian Time Travel: The Tales of Sage and Savant

Assassin’s Creed and Mechanics of Time Travel

A time travel story with a frame narrative set in the Victorian era tackles the overdone sub-genre of time travel in speculative fiction and gives it a unique spin akin to the video game franchise. In fact, the concept for which the two titular characters travel through time is almost identical to that of Assassin’s Creed. The only difference is that the technology is 19th century steampunk while Assassin’s Creed is set closer to modern day.

Season one is episodic and serial in nature. Each episode is self-contained to a single adventure (aside from the two part season finale). The overarching storyline is the frame narrative of the two main characters, in which they deal with trying to keep their discovery a secret from the college. It’s because of this that the framing feels more interesting than the actual time traveling portions.

Dreams and Philosophy, Time Travel and History

Sage and Savant deals with time travel the way the film Inception deals with philosophy. The book Inception and Philosophy is a fascinating read and the Google Talk video on YouTube is a great introduction to why the movie is so much more complex than the average person gives it credit for. Like Inception and its reality versus dreams theme present through the movie, The Tales of Sage and Savant tackles philosophical schools of thought dealing with death. Is it murder to inhabit the body of somebody already dead? One of the main questions of the first season is whether suicide would return a traveller safely to their body. The writer’s keep coming back to this and throughout the season more and more data is collected, but nothing is definitively concluded in the first season regarding this moral conundrum.

In fact, not fulfilling on promises is perhaps the biggest sin this season commits. To be fair, most television operates the same way with their season finales and The Tales of Sage and Savant is clearly trying to emulate that style of storytelling while mixing in old time radio tropes from the golden age of radio. After all, where would show runners be if the main character defeated the “big bad” before the midseason finale?

Assuming this is an ongoing adventure, meaning the ending is unknown in some capacity, the creators of Sage and Savant do a marvelous job at weaving in serial storytelling tropes and episodic fiction elements. And while it doesn’t answer some of the more illuminated questions of the season, it does act as a nice gateway into the world of steampunk and time travel fiction.

4/5 Stars

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Piecing it Together

Next Time

Anansi Story Time

Epic Music and Sci-Fi Horror: Ex Tenebris

Epic Music and Science Fiction Horror

Ex Tenebris is a unique experience and an acquired taste. Strap yourself in and prepare yourself for an epic music/storytelling production unlike anything you’ve heard before.

From the start, the music sets the stage and is the dominant form of audio in the album. The actual story and drama is something to be desired as the script takes a back seat to the epic chanting a la the Halo video game franchise. In fact, Halo: Combat Evolved is the most appropriate comparison someone could make on both the story and music. Ex Tenebris feels like it could’ve started as Halo fan fiction. They share a lot of the same elements and beats.

At this point, it should be explained what is meant by music and story. This isn’t your typical audio drama. Rather than have background music, Ex Tenebris goes the route of the avant-garde and has entire songs of nothing but orchestral strings, sweeping synths, and generic Hans Zimmer drums. By the fifth or sixth musical track, it got a bit tedious.

The story portion of this production is generic, cliched science fiction horror at worst and an Alien franchise ripoff at best. The dialogue here is bad. There’s no getting around it. While the performances aren’t nearly as bad, they don’t enhance anything. A good actor can make bad dialogue at least sound somewhat better. In this case, it comes across as more standard military jargon inserted clumsily into B-movie horror film. Saying “fubar” every few seconds draws attention to itself in all the wrong ways.

If you buy this on iTunes, you’ll be disappointed with your purchase. Assuming you’re looking for an audio drama. Purchase it on Bandcamp and at least you receive bonus material and at a cheaper price. Apparently, there are more than one of these audio drama/music hybrids by the same creator. With the attention focused so heavily on the music rather than a well-crafted story, taking a chance on others in the series is going to be a risk. And we received a free review copy. Still, the production quality and sound design were well done. Just not good enough to save the drama and story portions of the album.

3.5/5 Stars

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Next TIme

Sad Stories and Happy Songs

Freytag’s Pyramid – Liberty: Critical Research S1

Freytag's Pyramid

Aristotle’s Dramatic Structure or Freytag’s Pyramid Breakdown

If ever there was an audio drama, which followed the Greek philosopher Aristotle’s view of dramatic structure or Freytag’s Pyramid, Liberty: Critical Research is it. On both a large and small scale, the first season of this post-apocalyptic audio drama is, at its heart, a modern take on the story structure students learned in grade school—including the pitfalls of mapping it to a newer genre and medium.

Without going into too much detail about Freytag’s Pyramid, the first season of the Liberty: Critical Research podcast starts off in the exposition phase for three whole episodes. The first two serve primarily as world-building seminars for the listener. It’s not until the third episode where the cast is introduced in a way that makes them likable and feel more like real people and actually like a story.

The world-building under the surface barely seems present. To use another piece of classic writing advice known as the Iceberg principle, the impression of there being a larger world seemed muddled and over-stimulated by everything else in the first few episodes. A writer needs to give the impression that their setting is deeper than it appears on the surface. For Liberty: Critical Research, the world is only a few feet deep. There’s no sense of anything exciting until later.

Freytag’s Post-Apocalypic Pyramid

The next few episodes, the tone shifts to a more dark and sinister bearing as the team enters the fringe and finds themselves knee deep in the post-apocaypltic wasteland. Emphasis on “waste” in one episode in particular. It’s akin to a Hollywood pitch like Mad Max: Fury Road meets Fallout 3. The resulting story resembles the antagonist’s brutality in the recent Mad Max movie, but with the setting being less important. If not completely skippable, like in Fallout 4.

That being said, there’s a lot here if you like post-apocalyptic settings. However, don’t expect much difference between this and the hallmarks of the genre. In that sense, it’s kind of generic. A good story overall and worth the effort. The fact the episodes are basically short stories in and of themselves makes the job of listening more manageable. For that it deserves a better rating than decent.

4/5 Stars

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Next Time …

Ex Tenebris

Awesome Foley: Deck the Halls (with Matrimony!)

Foley

Give this Foley Artist ALL the Awards

Without a doubt, this is one of the best sounding free podcast audio dramas out there. The foley work alone is deserving of every award out there. Right from the start, the foley artist uses everything and the kitchen sink to create an image of chaotic harmony in the opening scene. As for the actors and actresses, their voices are distinct from one another and you understand everyone’s role in the story early on. The writers throw you in the deep end with a wedding preparation scene involving turkeys, played by actual gobbling people. And, like the foley, it doesn’t come across as sounding fake, forced or unintentionally comedic.

A romantic comedy may be a staple of Hollywood, but in an audio drama the idea of a miscommunication affecting a relationship feels more like bad storytelling. Deck the Halls is the answer to that common complaint. Even if it falls back on the same tropes by the end. That being said, this hour long production treats it more like a plot twist than a face palming joke, giving it more of an emotional punch than most romantic comedies. The feeling might not be expected from a romantic comedy, but it’s what separates it from so many others. No, nobody dies.

Story < Foley

As far as story goes, there’s nothing new here in the realm of a romance, comedy or romantic comedy. The plot is the simple “boy meets girl, boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back” cliche we’ve seen a million times. The one difference is there’s a female in the lead role instead of the usual male protagonist. However, in today’s society, it doesn’t hold the same weight in regards to a trope subversion.

5/5 Stars

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Next Time

Liberty: Critical Research (Season One)

A Theater of the Blind Western: Powder Burns Five

The Blind Sheriff. Powder Burns

Blind Start: Season Premiere or Finale

Once again back in the old west with the blind sheriff, played by John Wesley Shipp and created by David Gregory—this unexpected second season picks up a few weeks or months after the finale of season one. “Unexpected” meaning, in the intervening months, it’s hard to tell if they were on hiatus or if the first season was completed. Based on the opening of this episode, it sounds like the latter.

Performances, Politics and American History

Shipp returns with his well enunciated southern drawl and A+ acting to the role of Sheriff Emmett Burns. The blindness angle has lost some of its appeal and novelty even with how they make his disability into a strength. It comes across as more confusing than being a “wow” factor for the episode.

The story of this episode is straight forward, with a theme and viewpoint that’s portrayed as one-sided on one hand and falling back on the “straw man” trope on the other. The issue is slavery. Considering the setting of the post-Civil War era becoming more of a plot point than simply backstory for the characters, it makes sense to have an entire episode dedicated to the subject.

Moving away from the political aspect of the episode, the focus of the narrative is split in two. The second half deals more closely on the issue of slavery in a post-13th amendment society with a trial as the main way of portraying both views. Again, a bit one-sided and definitely preachy in some parts, but the writer’s philosophy was not lost. He’s correct in his view that slavery’s evil, but a better job could’ve been done regarding the other side.

The first half is the set up for the main event and starts off strong with well acted and believable-enough dialogue, but as soon as the slaver enters the picture it becomes a a picture perfect example of straw man logic and confirmation bias.

Aside from the political philosophy lecture, the only other problem was how they got to the aforementioned trial scene in the first place. Upon first listen, it was about as confusing as a fight hidden in a cartoon smoke cloud as to what happened. The main character is blind, but that doesn’t mean the listener needs to be confused as to what’s happening in the scene.

4/5 Stars

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Deck the Halls (with Matrimony!)

Public Domain Avengers: Starlight Radio Dreams

Public Domain Adventure Team

Public Domain meets the MCU

Why no one has made it big with such a simple idea is beyond words. Thankfully, the folks at Starlight Radio Dreams do it rather well in their recurring segment, titled: “Public Domain Adventure Team.”

As the title suggests, it stars characters in the public domain. Think the Avengers or Justice League, but with literary classics. The cast includes Jane Eyre, Beowulf, Mr. Toad (The Winds in the Willows), and the Ghost of Christmas Past (A Christmas Carol).

This particular review looks at the first episode of the second season of the podcast feed as a whole. More information can be found on their website as to the different shows they have available.

The cast of characters remains constant, but every episode introduces a new character from the public domain, if only for a one-off storyline. For this episode, its the relatively recent addition from classic literature: Sherlock Holmes. In the beginning, we learn about Holmes through Jane Eyre more or less fan-girling about his deductive skills. Oddly enough Sherlock doesn’t steal the show like the BBC series, starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

The story told is primarily comedic. By far the funniest member and the source of most recurring gags is Beowulf. The actor’s old english accent is hysterical and when added with the physical humor, it’s hilarious beyond reason.

One of the more fascinating elements about the show is that it is a live performance. The engaged audience adds to the level of enjoyment on the podcast. Like yawning, laughter is contagious, and you’re certainly laughing with the audience every time a joke lands. For those who hate laugh tracks in sitcoms, might get annoyed at the constant laughter, but you can’t deny it adds to the overall experience of the live performance—which is by far the most entertaining aspect of this production company, even while listening by yourself with the theater of the mind.

4.5/5 Stars

Next time…

Powder Burns Episode Five

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Audio Drama Sitcom: Wooden Overcoats

Sitcom: Wooden Overcoats

A British audio drama sitcom with American sensibilities and humor, the first season of “Wooden Overcoats” is packed with laughs and characters who run the line between well-developed characters and somewhat overused character archetypes. All while running with metaphorical scissors, cackling like a maniac. If that doesn’t scream sitcom, nothing will.

The first two episodes don’t give much to the overall tone of the story. Yes, they’re funny, but it’s not until the third episode where you find yourself laughing out loud at some of the humor it pulls. It’s absurd, but for a situational comedy it’s held back from becoming a tired and obvious blend of sitcom tropes one after the other. The season manages to balance itself well between thought-provoking character studies and off-the-wall crazy hijinks the characters have thrust upon them or create for themselves.

The final few episodes serve both the humor and the story, much more than most television sitcoms. The story comes together slightly disconnected, however, with a mystery that is set up rather late and falls flat. Thus giving the listener a sense of “why was this included so late?”

Of course as with any comedy, thinking too hard about the logic makes any humor-based show seem unfunny. Wooden Overcoats manages to walk that line between traditional US sitcoms while still having the British wit Americans love to enjoy.

Highly recommended!

4.5/5 Stars

Tune in next time for Starlight Radio Dreams and the quirky cast of their Public Domain Theater segment.

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Promo

Melting Potcast

Pen Pals Episode One: Romeo and Juliet

Pen Pals: Romeo and Juliet Cover

The first episode of Mira Burt-Wintonick and Cristal Duhaime’s new series, Pen Pals offers a twist on the classic Shakespearian tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. What happens after their dead?

In addition to this being a retelling of Romeo and Juliet’s journey, the first episode also acts as an solid adaptation for the source material. The listener experiences the story through audio. However, the in-story method is done via text messaging. The one drawback is the sound effects can get repetitive.

As far as adaptions go, this version of Romeo and Juliet doesn’t rehash the entire plot through spoken text messages. It goes off what the general audience knows about the play and lets you fill in gaps where necessary. What Duhaime and Burt-Wintonick do with this 15th century play is not only bring it to the modern age, but also tell a fascinating story about two lovers who die tragically and suddenly have to deal with the fact they’re no longer together. Even in the afterlife.

At times the story can get somewhat annoying, but that’s only because they capture the hormonal moodiness of teenagers too well. If you teach a class on Romeo and Juliet, some of the scenes might be worth checking out. Be warned there are a few curse words, which most high schools would frown upon. However, they are used sparingly.

Starting out the scenes are a nice duration. They get to the point and don’t stretch out. In late, out early. Towards the middle, the scenes become shorter and less happens. It’s played for comedic effect, but after the fourth or fifth time it got old.

Overall Pen Pals’ take on Romeo and Juliet is a wonderful addition to fan fiction everywhere. Highly recommended you check it out. Use promo code: PENPALS to get a one month free trial.

4.5/5 Stars

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Who’s Johnny Long Arms?

Johnny Long Arms Cover

An audio drama short from UK arts nonprofit “Life you Choose,” “Who’s Johnny Long Arms” is a horror story with little to no suspense or actual fear for the characters. Life you Choose does’t work with trained actors and that’s apparent in the first few minutes. Doing a bit of research after the fact, it became clear the purpose wasn’t to entertain the masses. Instead, the goal was more than likely a confidence booster for the people playing the characters, and there’s nothing wrong with helping kids with learning disabilities try to come out of their shell.

Full disclaimer: Most if not all of my employment history has been with non-profits, whether it’s national ones like PBS or smaller organizations on an independent contractor basis, there’s a soft spot in my heart for 501(c)(3) organizations. That being said, those looking for quality in their audio dramas should look elsewhere. There’s plenty of professional material on iTunes and audible, if you’re willing to pay for it.

The story of “Who’s Johnny Long Arms?” is basic, but not simple. There’s unexplained subtext which doesn’t have time to be addressed in an eleven minute short. In summation, the story ends on an anti-climactic note, giving the listener a sense of incompletion and bored wonder. At various points it’s even hard to understand what’s being said. Part of the problem is the actors. Again these are by no means professionals and shouldn’t be judged the same way.

For their first audio drama, “Life you Choose” shows potential. Practice makes perfect and as someone with disabilities, I wish there was a organization like this growing up. There’s a need for programs like that. Going off script here: Support your local PBS station and help keep public broadcasting alive and well. Or if you’re in the UK, consider donating to “Life you Choose.” As for this review:

3.5/5 Stars

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