Jump at the Sun

A dramatic presentation of African American writer, folklorist and anthropologist — Zora Neale Hurston. It’s hard to determine how much of the story is true and how much is fiction, but the suspension of disbelief was never lost.

Throughout this production I was on the edge of my seat, in part because the struggles Zora went through were things most writers —aspiring or not — fear might happen to them. Even if you’re not a writer, the anguish she goes through is so universal that you can’t help but feel sorry for her. Even if you don’t understand why, the amount of hardship she endures is worthy of a “stand up and cheer” moment.

The actress who played Zora was phenomenal. Her performance alone was enough to give this a perfect rating. And the story itself was just icing on the cake. The audio drama is not without its faults, but they’re easily forgotten and on the level of nitpicking that they don’t bear mentioning.

You can find it on Audible for less than $10.

5/5 stars.

Star Trek: Outpost Season One

Star Trek: Outpost includes the things people love about the television series and its many spin-off shows. Everything from characters, interesting species, “techno babble,” and dry humor are all included in each 30-60 minute episode.

They say character is most the important element of storytelling. Nobody knows this better than Gene Roddenberry, who’s space opera has touched the lives of people all over the world. Why? Because of the characters were interesting, engaging, and well-rounded.

Granted, I’m not Trek fan by any stretch of the imagination, but from the episodes I’ve watched of the original series, plot took a backseat to character. Star Trek: Outpost is no different. It feels like Star Trek, told in a serialized, rather than episodic way. For some that may be a flaw. Other’s may see it as refreshing getaway from the typical plot-centered stories often found in today’s movies.

Where Outpost truly shines is its attention to the characters. Each one is unique and feels like a living breathing person with their own passions, desires, and personalities unique to themselves and only themselves.

One complaint is that the first seven episodes are hard to pin down as to what exactly is going on in terms of the plot. By episode seven you’re more grounded in the characters and world than the events that have been taking place. It takes half the season to get to the point where crap hits the proverbial fan and that’s a genuine problem it faces. These are long episodes and I personally can’t tell you what happened in the first six and a half episodes in terms of the plot. There kind of isn’t any.

Once you get past that opening hump, the story really picks up momentum. If this sounds like your cup of tea, definitely check out this fan-run Star Trek audio drama from Giant Gnome Productions.

4/5 Stars

Bioshock: A Radio Drama Part 1

The first of a two part adaptation of the popular franchise Bioshock, this audio drama takes a behind the scenes look at the history of the infamous underwater city called Rapture. The source material this production gets its material from comes from both the first Bioshock video game and a novel written by Jon Shirley. It follows the book quite well, but you don’t have to know the story Rapture in order to appreciate the story.

For this unfamiliar with the backstory of bioshock, here’s a quick summary: An wealthy man named Andrew Ryan has plans to build a city under the sea. The people will govern themselves in a laissez faire society. As stated several times by Ryan himself, what is the difference between a man and a parasite? The political thought experiment brought to life is what makes Bioshock so original and unique. Everything goes along perfectly at first, but when a man by the alias of Frank Fontaine steps inside the city of Rapture, things go down hill quick. If you’re already familiar with the world of Bioshock, you’ll know that the glory days of Rapture don’t last forever. if they did there wouldn’t be a story.

This first part focuses on the creation and daily life in Rapture and ends right before start of the decline. Hence why part one has a subtitle of “the Rise of Rapture.” It was amazing experiencing the history in depth, such as the genesis of Adam and Eve.

Where this work truly shines is with its actors. The man who plays Andrew Ryan sounds like the man from the video games. Same with Frank Fontaine. That being said, the one real drawback is the radio filter applied to the monologues in between scenes. The effect peaks and clips often, making it hard to listen to without wincing.

All in all, Bioshock: A Radio Drama is more than deserving of this rating, considering the amount of care and talent went into the production and adaptation of a popular video game series into the world of audio.

5/5 Stars

Night Terrace Season One

A female Doctor Who for a universal audience has all the makings of an audio drama for the ages. Fans of the time traveling doctor will love Night Terrace and its cast of zany characters. One of them — the protagonist — being a retired time lord.

There’s a lot of tying up of story elements in the first two episodes, giving the initial impression of a purely episodic audio drama. That is, one adventure after another with no real continuity between them.

By the third episode there’s a stronger sense of an underlying story and things get a lot more interesting. In fact episode three was the best episode out of the eight episode first season. If you enjoy a good mystery mixed with time traveling tropes, you’ll love episode three.

The rest of the series is hit or miss. The interest in the story goes up or down and reaches its peak around the episode title “Sound & Führer.” During the final episode, things get complicated. Overly complicated, in fact. It’s filled with jargon and terms most people would scratch their heads over, trying to figure out what it meant.

Where this work truly shines is the comedy and the dynamics between characters. It may not be everyone’s flavor of comedy, but if you like Dr. Who, you’ll probably get a chuckle. The humor — based on my slight exposure to the Doctor’s stories (at least when compared to the true fans) — is similar. That being said, the humor here is simple, but effective. Aside from the first episode, there wasn’t a single adventure I didn’t laugh out loud at least once during its duration.

The conclusion of the first season is lackluster at best, sacrificing a potentially good ending with one that is safe. Overall the season as a whole is average, even though many of the individual episodes are filled with good ideas and funny lines of dialogue.

Night Terrace Season One is available for purchase on their site.

4/5 Stars

The Sting of the Dark Tower

It’s rare that a frame story is more interesting than the story being told by the characters inside the work of fiction. The Sting of the Dark Tower is one such example. Based on a story probably written by C.S. Lewis, this science fiction dystopia, shelled within a casing of contemporary sensibilities.

The story starts out in modern day or close to it. A new nanny has been hired for fifteen year old Juniper and C.S. Lewis is her favorite author. To find some common ground, the nanny reads her a story she has not read by him.

Enter story B. Lewis stars in the book as himself. Whether or not this was in the original source material remains to be seen, but the focus of the story is not on him. Rather it is about a young assistant Michael Scootermore and his fiancé traveling through space, but not time to a different dimension called “other world.”

The story explains the science of how this new technology works in way that’s needlessly complex and bogged down with jargon. For a well-read reader of science fiction, this still might hard to understand at first. Another 10-15 minutes in and it all starts to make more sense until you’re finally able to wrap your head around what’s going on.

The transitions between real life and the story are seamless and the technique used to accomplish this is something not seen very often in audio dramas.

4.5/5 Stars

The Case of the Prince Formerly Known as Hamlet

How do you make shakespearean tragedy better? Have it performed on stage rather than read the play. How do you make it funny? By adding a hard-boiled detective element to the play. Of course, based on the title of this review, the shakespearean tragedy in question is Hamlet. This audio drama is both a “what if” parody as well as a secret (fictional) history.

Enter the main character, Justin Thyme: A detective who investigates crimes in fictional stories. And what better story than Hamlet to parody. We all know the story, Hamlet’s father is murdered by his brother. What we don’t know is that Detective Thyme was hired by the late King of Denmark

The first part is mostly set up for information most people already know. There are however a few differences, like how involved Thyme was in the ending of Hamlet. Spoiler alert: everyone dies. Everything from the jokes (some of which get a naughty) to the hard-boiled similes offered by the detective are wonderful and don’t disrespect the play. Rather they add a level of enjoyment to it.

The second part is much more proactive and follows the book more closely after the initial detour from the original story. It’s always fun to make fun of a person’s indecision and Hamlet is the king of it. The “to be or not to be” speech being a prime example of his indecisiveness.

All in all, this comedic audio drama is both fun and enjoyable. The writer even twisted the ending, adding a layer of complexity not found in the original play. Again this doesn’t distract from the story or disrespect it in anyway. It enhances the enjoyment of this story — undoubtedly, is different from the play — but by no means inferior.

4.5/5 Stars

The Starling Project

A simple political thriller made audible by voice actors and no narration. Jeffrey Deaver’s newest story: “The Starling Project” is putting audio drama back in the mainstream. From articles in the New York Times to reviews given by Radio Drama Revival, this “audible drama” is taking the world by storm. But is it a good representation of audio drama as a whole? Are newcomers to the art form truly getting the best possible version of a storytelling medium that never quite went away; rather, went underground.

The answer is yes, but with a caveat. The story is simple. Perhaps a little too simplistic. With the theater of the mind, there’s a lot to get right and so much more to get wrong. Clunky, descriptive dialogue and bad sound effects are the easiest to notice, but going deeper this spy thriller created in the “blind medium” is not the absolute best. This story doesn’t have that, but what it does lack is a compelling story. More specifically a satisfactory ending.

In terms of production value it’s great. If you get anything out of this review, know that the execution is great. The concept — or rather, the story — is generic. We’ve all seen the plot where there’s a mystery and it gets solved by the end. The revelation is supposed to be a surprise. The problem with “The Starling Project” is that the answer to who this criminal mastermind is happens to be unsatisfying and more along the lines of a cliffhanger ending. You find out who the starling is, but it turns out he’s as important to the story as a school janitor. Not even sure if his name was mentioned before the big reveal.

Now this isn’t a bad story, but it did start a little slow. The conflict picked up after the prologue of an opening which didn’t have much to do with the overall story. Once the hostage situation got underway the rest of the story was smooth sailing, up until the last 15-20 minutes where the identity of the starling is revealed. Then it kind of fizzled out.

Aside from the luke-warm ending, this story is worth the audible credit or how ever much it costs. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys the journey to the endpoint, rather than the end itself you’ll enjoy this.

4/5 Stars.

The Last Day – Origins

A post-apocalyptic tale with a dark undertone that rivals the movie: “The Road,” in terms of its bleak look on the future and the end of the world. While not truly post-apocalyptic, the setting is dystopian, much like 1984 by George Orwell or the many books of the cyberpunk movement.
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The Hobbit (NPR Dramatization)

With the third and final Hobbit film coming to the screen, it only made sense to review a Hobbit audio drama. It’s hard to criticize this the same way people do modern audio dramas. A lot has changed and the story itself is a timeless children’s classic. After watching the extended edition of “The Desolation of Smaug,” and finishing the full-cast dramatization of the entire hobbit story, there were a lot of similarities. The scenes that weren’t in the theatrical edition were some of my favorite parts of the audio drama, but felt long and over bloated in the extended cut of the second Hobbit film. The scene that comes to mind is when the biggest dwarf falls in the bewitched water in mirkwood. Despite the narration, the version that appeared on NPR was more engaging. It felt like a part of the story, rather than a scene which was cut from the story.

The story’s ending is the weakest point. Maybe it’s the source material or perhaps it’s the adaptation of the beloved children’s book into an audible medium. Regardless from the moment Smaug is killed it feels rushed. It was bam, bam, bam, and we’re done. There was no time to catch a breath and mourn for the characters who lost their lives in the battle of the five armies. It’s a simple sweeping overview of the battle and its aftermath.

4/5 Stars