Powder Burns Episode 2: Father Abraham

The Blind Sheriff. Powder Burns

At first listen, this might feel like a filler episode, but in truth it blends a “reaction” scene with some great character development. Getting to know a character through any sort of plot is a higher form of storytelling and something that can easily turn into something which feels obvious. The dreaded “author’s hand” writing motif.

Powder Burns episode two manages to slip in bits of dialogue about the protagonist’s history that it feels natural. Much like episode one where there was a sense of depth in each line of dialogue–whether it was about the setting, character, or plot–episode two has fewer of those moments, but their quality exceeds that of the pilot.

The plot for this episode revolves around a mentally challenged boy who shot a bank teller, and now Emmett Burns has to decide what to do when the town wants the boy’s life for his crime. That’s the setup. Right from the start, the tension keeps ramping up until you get to the climax where it all comes together in a nice neat bow.

Most of this episode is self-contained, save for the last minute or so before the credits where it gives a glimpse of what episode 3 might be about. We’re Alive redefined the zombie story for me and Powder Burns is doing the same thing with the western genre. Hats off to them.

4.5/5 Stars

Good Things Come

A story, whose aim isn’t high or out of reach, but right on the mark. It knows what wants to be and does it well. The plot of this tale is unusual and its form even stranger. It takes a stroll through the pre-WWII era all the way to the 80s via commercial radio ads. A fun little gimmick, but getting tiresome in the medium overall.

The story is unusual in that it sits smack dab in the middle of audio drama and full-cast productions. It sits there perfectly, using both functionalities of the different forms. In other words, I forget that most of the story was told through narration. The only times I was thrown out were the radio ads, but that was a product of the need to jump forward in time every decade. They arrived in late and out early.

The story is about a girl who has a strange fantasy of being whisked away from her room through her window by a German or other foreign boy. As the years go by, she gets older. For the most part, we never see her leave her room. There’s subtle hints that she knows what goes on in the house downstairs, but there’s never  a scene where we see her outside her room.

Overall this feels like a standard audio drama short with the stylistic tone of a Beverly Cleary novel, but with the complexity of a story for adults.

4/5 Stars

Mari

Mari is an unusual tale in that there’s no speculative or genre elements to be found anywhere. It’s more literary than anything, and something rarely seen in contemporary audible medium.

What makes this such a unique experience is the narrator. More than 3/4 of this story is told in first person POV, which occasional dips into second person. The dips are a bit jarring at first, but they happen seldom. With the divide amongst fans about what makes an audio drama, the use of narration is one of the key factors many people point to as being something which can ruin a good audio drama. Perhaps ruin is too strong a word, but you get the idea.

The main character, Mari, loves books and waxes philosophic on the books she’s read and the writers of great literature. There’s even some singing, though not a full musical number in case you were wondering. Mari works as a custodian in the library just so she can be near all the books. That’s where the story falls apart.

Seeing as how this work as no genre fiction elements, there’s no plot to be found. It’s purely a character study of Mari. Again, it’s literary and there’s nothing wrong with that. The beginning is filled with exposition and by far the hardest part for your mind to process both intellectually and as a passive listener. You really can’t listen this while your mind is elsewhere. This is true of most audiobooks in my opinion, unless you have the text in front of you.

There is dialogue, but like the dips into second person point of view, the scenes with two people speaking to one another are short and serve only one purpose to further what little plot there is.

Once you get to the middle, however, holy crap does it ramp up the drama. At that moment, you’ll know why you spent so long getting to know Mari. She has her own quirks that make her two-dimensional character biography three-dimensional and once the . It’s not a “holy crap I never saw that coming” ending, but everything from the middle onward is pure gold on a dramatic level.

4/5 Stars

The Diamond of Jeru

The Diamond Jeru is a wonderful story—full of suspense, intrigue and mystery around every corner of the wilderness with which the story is set. That being said, it wasn’t until the thirty minute mark where you can hang your hat on something. In this case its jealousy. The particular scene was a bit one-sided, in that the jealous character was being thick-headed, but it was understandable given what we know of the characters.

There’s also a tug-of-war between the conventions of audio drama and full-cast productions, which adds to the long, drawn out beginning which is only there to set everything up. In simpler terms, this audio story doesn’t know what it wants to be. For example, one time the narrator mentions the color of something as well as detail not necessary for an audio drama. However, in other parts, the sound effects and ambiance are so good that you wonder why the narrator is describing the same thing you’re hearing. Basically, it gets too specific when it doesn’t need to, and that could turn some people off.

It is however a nice transition ground between old time radio conventions (the ones which use narration) and the more modern era of audio dramas. The creators strike a fine balance and sometimes miss their mark, but aside from the one nitpicky example above, they’re easily forgettable and don’t impact the enjoyment of the story.

Fun fact: this story is based on the author’s travels in Borneo and the audio adaption was headed by his son Beau–who, for over ten years–recorded sound effects and music. Both of which are original. I’m usually not one for the biography of an artist, but that’s too amazing a fact not to include. How much of the story is based on truth, is anyone’s guess, but seeing as there aren’t supernatural elements in the story it’s possible that the entire story might be truthful to an extent.

The ending has the emotional weight of a modern contemporary story, but at the same time the tone of a 30s era pulp fiction. It’s an odd combination and the narration helps meld the two together. When a certain character dies, the music is beautifully composed and had me misty-eyed, despite not knowing the character too well (aside from his role in the story).

In the end, the biggest hump to get over is the beginning and the narration. Compared to other productions that use the same audio storytelling techniques, however, this one feels rich with life and different from a more contemporary standpoint. And that is its biggest strength: blending the old and the new conventions into a cohesive whole.

4/5 stars

The Mask of Inanna

Winner of the 2012 Parsec Awards and a favorite among audio/radio drama fans everywhere, The Mask of Inanna combines elements of old time radio with the sensibilities of audio drama in the modern age. The blending of the two is seamless and works for the story Alicia E. Goranson is telling. It doesn’t feel like a cheap gimmick at all. Rather, it pieces up things up in the same way the Mistborn: The Final Empire (the book) uses the italicized paragraphs at the beginning to chapters as both a plot point and a coolness factor.

The plot itself is anything but simple and is so unique. There’s a god called Inanna who watches over her followers children who are out risking their lives in Iraq. The protagonist is Leonard Allen—an elderly man who recently left retirement to finish the horror radio show he hosted back in the day. The name of the show is “After Dark” and for most of the episodes, a radio drama within an audio drama takes place. But it’s not simply there for fan service of OTR fans, it serves the story as a plot point.

The ending is where this piece truly shines. Truth be told, the middle was a slog to get through, mostly because it felt like setup or simply wasn’t interesting. But, man was that set up worth it. The last time I grew misty-eyes from listening to audio dramas was We’re Alive Season 2. Since then I’ve awaited another show to hit me with an emotional gut punch. I won’t say what happens for obvious reasons, but know that getting through the middle episodes is well worth your time.

5/5 Stars

Powder Burns: The Blind Sheriff

An interesting premise, executed with the care and complexity of Pendant Audio’s Phantom Canyon. There are a lot of similarities between the two. They are both westerns for one, but seeing as how this is only the pilot episode, the amount of depth received was mind boggling. It’s not every day where in a single episode you get the backdrop and complexity of an entire series. Based on this episode alone, there was a sense that I knew these characters. In a less than twenty minute production that’s truly a remarkable feet.

The story itself is fairly mundane and simple. The twist near the end could be seen coming from a fair distance away. Normally this would make the story less enjoyable for most people. Your mileage may vary, but the true nature of this story is the gimmick of a blind protagonist in the medium for the blind.

Some people may see gimmicks as bad. On their own, yes they are, but adding little variations to a story can turn a cool idea into a story. It’s all about asking the right questions.

This is where the sad trombone music comes in. As of this review, the Kickstarter campaign the creator is using to help fund this endeavor is coming to a close. IF this gets funded, we’ll hear more episodes and that’s something I’d enjoy. I was not paid in any way to bring this message. The story just captured my attention and imagination enough to where I want to see this be successful, because it has so much potential.

John Wesley Shipp who stars as Barry Allen’s father on CW’s “The Flash” does a phenomenal job. The biggest worry for me was the potential for the dialogue to be too descriptive. Needless to say that didn’t happen and I enjoyed this all the way through to the end.

4.5/5 Stars

Big Dan Frater and the House of Long Pants

Big Dan Frater and the House of Long Pants is perhaps the weakest of the five episodes, but still manages to warrant a quick chuckle here and there. Unlike the previous episode, this episode, the humor took second seat to horror and drama. There’s still humor of course, but it’s more a parody of horror movies than anything else. In fact it’s kind of wishy-washy in the way it plays out.

After listening to this episode, it became quite clear that these characters are not only misinformed, but idiots. A little bit about the plot for this episode: this is a classic “trapped in a house while a murderer is on the loose” story. Not sure if there’s an official term, but hopefully the description provided is enough to offer up some examples of movies and other television shows. Michael Myers from the Halloween movie series should leap into mind or something similar

The ending itself is abruptly concluded and the resolution is a: “Really? That’s what happened?” kind of moment. All tension is lost and you can’t help but wonder what the point of this episode was. To make you laugh, or make you sympathize with the characters? Either way this is the weakest of the five episodes, with episode four being a close second. Next week is the review for episode three, which is perhaps the best one out of the mix.

3.5/5 Stars

Big Dan Frater and the Escalator of Forgetfulness

This the first of five self-contained short audio dramas about a big man named Dan Frater, his side-kick and a librarian who solve mysteries together. If this sounds like Scooby-Doo, you’re not alone. Think the classic cartoon mixed together with a bit of old time radio and you pretty much have Big Dan Frater.

This first episode is mostly a comedy with some dramatic bits thrown in to keep it from becoming pure slapstick. In this episode, the mystery is about an escalator in a mall that makes people forget what they wanted to do once they reach the top. The ending, while not paying off anything the episode deems important to tell you, is in fact satisfying. I’d go so far as to call it surprising yet inevitable and something only a comedy can do.

Expect another episode reviewed next week and the weeks following. if this sounds like your cup of tea, check out the album on iTunes. It’s $7.99 and includes a blooper reel. Unfortunately only one episode is available for individual purchase and download on the iTunes store. Its title is “Sorry, Right Number.” Expect that review two weeks from now.

4.5/5 Stars

 

Good Omens

The adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s pre-apocalyptic story on the events of the book of Revelation makes for an interesting story, and an even better audio drama. It was produced by Dirk Maggs, who also worked on the Neverwhere audio drama, and like the underground city of London, it adds life and complexity to this co-authored work of fiction.

If you haven’t experienced the story before in its original form, this audio drama will be that much more effective, I feel. Having never read the book, I was going into this story blind. What sets this story apart from other apocalypse stories is the humor. It’s hilarious, but at the same time unlike the usual comedic dribble movies released every couple of months. At times the humor is juvenile, sure, but there’s only one example of that and it’s kind of running gag, so it’s okay.

Author Brandon Sanderson said it best on a recent Tor.com blog post on Terry Pratchett’s death this year:

Pratchett is transcendent. There are lots of funny writers. Some are hilarious. A few are good at making you think at the same time. But most humorists, while brilliant, have trouble with story. If I put their book down, I remember the laughter, but feel no urgency to return.

That “transcendence” is what most  comedies by Pratchett have in spades. He also delivers a style unique to him and almost universal to all (there’s always going to be haters). Of course, let’s not forget Neil Gaiman, whose own literary skill can be found in spades, despite Pratchett’s comedic and storytelling genius.

If there was a gateway drug for both Gaiman or Pratchett work, this would be as popular as a commonly used anti-depressant. All I can say is I’m going to my local library and checking out a few Pratchett books, because now I see what all the fuss is about.

You can find it on audible.com. It’s well worth the credit or price you pay.

5/5 Stars