Friday, April 24, 2020

The Audio File: A Scottish Podcast

Some podcasts are just so big, and come up in conversation so much, I just can't ignore them. Eventually, I have check them out just to see what the fuss is about. Sometimes they turn out to be overrated, but other times they turn out to indeed be worthy of the praise. That brings us to the podcast we'll be reviewing today. We're taking a look at A Scottish Podcast

A Scottish Podcast follows two Scottish dudes named Lee and Douglas. Lee used to be a radio DJ, but he recently lost job. In his quest to not starve, Lee has stumbled across, what he thinks, will be a surefire path to success: starting a paranormal investigation podcast. Lee soon drags Douglas along for the ride, and the two set out to make the best paranormal investigation horror podcast set in Scotland. 

Well, I must admit, I'm glad I finally gave this podcast a listen. I wouldn't so much call A Scottish Podcast a horror podcast. I'd say that it's more of a comedy/slice-of-life podcast that happens to include horror elements. The podcast primarily focuses on Lee and Douglas' day-to-day lives, and the various mundane aspects of running a podcast. Still, there's plenty of laughs to be had, and shout-out to other podcasts. Lee models the podcast, known as The Terror Files, as essentially a Scottish version of The Black Tapes. Haven't listened to that one, but from what I understand, it's kind of like the X-Files. Though, The Black Tapes is a fiction podcast, whereas The Terror Files would, in-universe, be a non-fiction investigation podcast. In other shout-out, at one-point Lee and Douglas discuss an episode of Campfire Radio Theater that is set in Scotland. It's a meta joke, because Lee and Douglas' voice actors, Rob Cudmore and Matthew McLean, played the lead roles in that episode. Two other podcasts Lee hopes The Terror Files will be able to rival is The Message and Limetown. Like I said, plenty of shout-outs and love to go round. 

Now let's talk characters. A Scottish Podcast is very much a character-driven show. There are plot threads that are set up at the start of the season, but it really is the characters, and the focus on their lives, that carries the show. Granted, there are hints of horror throughout the seasons. Things also tend to come to a head during the finale episodes of each season, which take a more serious tone, at least at the start.  

Anyway, back to characters. Lee has a freewheeling devil-may-care personality. He's the type to jump in first and hammer out the details as he goes along. That pretty much describes how he created The Terror Files. By contrast, Douglas is more sensible and cautious. Well, he did agree to Lee's crazy idea, but otherwise he's pretty sensible. He's also got a bit of a chip on his shoulder due to the time he shit in his pants on live television. 

Lee and Douglas' primary financial backer is a gangster named Bruce. He's the top gangster in Scotland, and widely considered to be the most dangerous man in Britain. He's also a huge fan of horror investigation podcasts, and The Terror Files is right up his alley. Douglas was a bit hesitant about being sponsored by a violent criminal. Lee meanwhile, pretty much said "where do I sign?" immediately. Though, considering their primary sponsor prior to that had been a hemorrhoid cream company, perhaps it is understandable why Lee said yes so quickly. A good bit of humor comes from how Brice his always cordial and polite, even when he's doing gangster stuff. For example, one time he politely calls to ask how the podcast is going, while also murdering a man in a cement mixer. He's also speaking with an English accent, which I found a bit odd. Is that common with Scottish gangsters? I once took a school trip to London (and Paris and Venice) and encountered a Scottish drug dealer selling marijuana. I had to do my best to defuse a tense situation after one of my stupid classmates pissed him off, but I digress. 

In other notable characters we have Helen, the perpetual drunk who practically lives at the local bar. I'm not sure how I feel about her. She was amusing at first, but then she got kind of annoying. Still, the prequel episode where she fills in for Lee as Santa at a charity even for sick kids was kind of fun. Helen, being Helen, rented some vans and took the kids to the pub, and bought them all j├Ąger bombs. That was probably one of the best Christmases those sick kids ever had. It was also amusing when Lee think he's died and gone to Hell, which appears to him as the local pub. When questioned, Helen basically says, "it's Hell, everyone is Scottish." 

In season two, Lee and Douglas are joined on their adventures by an American woman named Gina. She's a big fan of The Terror Files, and I though she provided a good foil to Lee and Douglas. There are plenty more characters, but those are the ones who really stand out. So then, let us move on to other subjects. 

I must also take a moment and talk about the fantastic voice acting this podcast has. I also must be very careful about how I chose my words. The team behind A Scottish Podcast are usually good sports about negative reviews. In fact, they've turned several of their negative reviews into drink coasters that you can purchase. All the same, I'd prefer if my reviews didn't wind up on a drink coaster for the wrong reasons. I'd also just like to say the official series title card is awesome. Even more than good word-of-mouth, it is what really convinced me I needed to give A Scottish Podcast a try. 

Okay, so how do I put this delicately? Fine, I'll just be brutally honest. I've always found Scottish people to be kind of annoying. They always sound like seals barking, which I, half-jokingly, suppose explains where the legend of the selkie comes from. However, I found the cast to all be rather pleasant to listen to. They're all very talented, and clearly hard working and devoted to their craft. Also, if this does wind up on a coaster, I demand a royalties check. Just putting that out there now. 

In addition to the main show, A Scottish Podcast has had many fun special. They did a Burns Night Special, where the characters all read poetry, but it was all original works, rather than the poems of Robert Burns. They also did a special where the characters all read poems written by HP Lovecraft. This was framed as a poetry contest that Bruce was running to sponsor a butcher shop he owns. They're famous for their meat pies...if you know what I mean. Naturally, he was declared the winner, because everyone was too scared of what would happen if he didn't win. 

Lovecraft was clearly a pretty big influence on the creators. Several of the strange things Lee and Douglas investigate have strong Lovecraftian undertones to them. For example, in season two they investigate a professor from Miskatonic University who conducted experiments for the British government during World War II. Also, apparently Miskatonic University is real in the world of A Scottish Podcast; albeit as a mundane university that is a bit annoyed that Lovecraft featured them in his works. Season one also featured Lovecraftian horrors lurking beneath Edinburgh, but also an undead cannibal warrior from the 10th century. 

There was also an episode where A Scottish Podcast crossed over with several other horror podcast audio dramas. The episode featured Lee and Douglas attending a podcasting convention, and meet with the creators and/or characters of the other podcasts. However, they were all podcast I don't listen too, so I didn't quite have the intended effect on me. Still, for fans of those podcasts, I'm sure they were over the Moon. I know I got excited when A Scottish Podcast merely mentioned Campfire Radio Theater, one of my favorite podcasts. 

So there you have it. A Scottish Podcast is a comedy/slice-of-life podcast about two Scottish dudes trying to create their own horror investigation podcast. It's a name you often hear in the world of audio drama podcast, and I'm glad I finally gave it a listen. Give it a listen yourself, you'll be glad that you did. 

Well, I think that should be enough from me for now. I will see you guys next time. 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Audio File: Fall of the Shah

Britain has had a long history of producing quality audio dramas. I suppose it is partially because television arrived there later than it did in America. Of course, even after television arrived, the British continued producing audio dramas, even into the present day. That brings us to the podcast we're reviewing today. We're taking a look at Fall of the Shah, a BBC production.

Fall of the Shah tells the story of the early days of the Iranian/Islamic Revolution. We see this historic event though the eyes of many people. There is of course, the Shah and his wife, but also leaders in America and Britain, a Canadian journalist, and an Iranian family divided by the revolution.

Okay, I know that doesn't sound terribly exciting, but this is an excellent podcast. Being produced by a major company means that the audio production is a true cinematic experience. The BBC usually does with their productions. I say usually because there have been some occasion, many within the last few years, that they've gotten sloppy with their audio drama standards. Thankfully, Fall of the Shah is not one of those instances. Everything from the voice acting, to the music, to the sound effects, are all top of the line. Fall of the Shah has a full voice cast, but also features a narrator, voiced by Dame Diana Rigg, who helps to set the scenes and explain some of the background details about the various events the podcast depicts.

I should perhaps give a bit of background to help set the stage.  The Iranian/Islamic Revolution wasn't the first revolution. The first revolution occurred in 1953. It was a socialist uprising, and since it was the Cold War, the United States and United Kingdom didn't look too kindly on it. Especially since Britain owned several oil companies in Iran, and the Iranians were trying to reduce British influence in their nation. The uprising was swiftly squished, and America and Britain installed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as the Shah of Iran. The Iranian people always resented this, especially since Pahlavi was rather incompetent as a ruler. This anger continued to simmer until it boiled over into a new revolution.

Obviously, the Shah gets a fair bit of focus. I'm heard some people accusing this podcast of whitewashing the actions of the Shah. I would argue that it doesn't, as it takes time to have other characters voice precisely why so many people are angry with the Shah's government. More on that in a bit. Even if it might go a bit soft on the Shah, I'd argue that the writers did so because they knew what came after him was much worse. It's a bit like how media relating to the Russian Revolution tends to downplay Tsar Nicholas II's faults, because everyone knows how much worse the Soviet Union turned out to be. And I will applaud the writers for really humanizing the Shah.

On the flip side, the podcast also does an excellent job portraying Ayatollah Khomeini. He's cold, cunning, and calculating. The podcast doesn't say away from the fact that he was a religious extremist. At the same time, the podcast also makes a point of show how he was able to manipulate people and gain their support. Hats off to the voice actor who played him, and really captured Khomeini's public speaking ability. Many of those who initially supported the 1979 Revolution were socialists, but they believed the Ayatollahs and their followers would be useful idiots. They wrongly assumed that the Ayatollahs would be too obsessed with their religion to be of much harm. It is quite ironic that Khomeini's exile took him to Paris, a modern secular Western city. He railed against all of these things, and yet he only survived because of them.

We also get to see things from the perspective an Iranian family, and see how revolution divides, and ultimately disillusion them. The kids begin by getting involved in student protest groups, which were key in the early stages of the revolution. Then the fundamentalists begin to seize control of the government. Like I said before, the podcast might glossed over the Shah's flaws because the fundamentalist government was so much worse. For example, the Shah had 3,000 political prisoners, but the Islamic government had over 300,000 political prisoners, and that was just at the start of the revolution. One definition of revolution is to move in a circle, or in other words, make things like they were when you started. Having the family as one of the groups of focus characters gives a really great street view of revolution.

We also get to see things from the perspective of leaders in America and Britain. First, off, whoever played Jimmy Carter really nailed his voice. The writers also did a good job portraying Carter sympathetically. Carter is often remembered for how he mishandled the Iranian Hostage Crisis. In my opinion, Carter wasn't a bad president per se, but he got dealt a bad hand. It was during his presidency that the OPEC Oil Embargo, and the ensuing Oil Crisis, occurred. My mother tells me she remembers that because she'd just gotten her drivers license and gas had gone up to the outrageous price of one dollar per gallon. Carter can be said to, perhaps, have been in over his head, and might have made a better Secretary of State than president. He was a nice guy, but maybe not necessarily pragmatic enough for the job.

The podcast ends on a somber note. The Shah has died in exile, and the fundamentalist government maintains its grip on Iran. Women who once dressed as freely as Western woman now walk the streets clad in burkas. The desert waits for rain, and the Iranian people wait for the day when they can breathe freely once again. A powerful ending indeed.

So there you have it. Fall of the Shah is an excellent audio drama podcast from the BBC. It chronicles the Iranian/Islamic Revolution from a variety of perspectives, and I happily recommend it. Sorry if this review was a bit on the short side. I've been planning a...not so secret project, shall we say. If you are in the same Facebook groups I am you should be able to guess what it is. If not, you'll be hearing more about it relatively soon-ish.

Well, I think that should be enough from me for now. I will see you guys next time.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Audio File: Young Ben Franklin

As I've said before, there is no shame in listening to a podcast aimed at kids. A good story is a good story, and it shouldn't matter who the target demographic is. If other people can't see that, then so much the worse for them. With that in mind, let's move on to the podcast we're reviewing today. We're taking a look at Young Ben Franklin.

Benjamin Franklin is one of America's most beloved Founding Fathers. He was many things during his life; statesmen, scientist, inventor, writer, postmaster, satirist, printer. Of course, back in 1720, when he was only fourteen years old, he was just plain old Ben. Ben works as an indentured servant to his brother James in Colonial Boston. Still, he makes the best of his situation. He and his friends get into all sorts of mischief and fun. Then one day he is approached by a girl named Eliza Boyd. She is searching for the great puzzle solver Veracity Quince, who unbeknownst to her is actually Ben is writing under a pseudonym. Ben and the gang agree to help Eliza, but soon find themselves in the middle of a treasure hunt for lost Spanish gold. It's going to take all the wits and cunning they've got, because the governor of New England is also after the gold. He's planning on using it to raise an army and carve out his own kingdom in New England, or failing that, the western territories. The future of America is in the hands of Ben and his friends.

Young Ben Franklin is produced by Gen-Z Media, a podcast company focused on making quality podcasts for kids. They work in association with PRX, the same podcast collective that helps produce great shows like Timestorm and The Truth.

I'd heard of Gen-Z Media because one of their podcasts. No, not Young Ben Franklin, it was another one called The Mayan Crystal. Of course, when I looked at all of their podcasts, I noticed Young Ben Franklin, and I decided that I wanted to start with it. I'm glad that, not only because Young Ben Franklin was so great, but because The Mayan Crystal was so disappointing. I might make an edition of The Audio File dedicated to dissecting what went wrong with The Mayan Crystal, but that's for another day.

One of the things I really liked about Young Ben Franklin is that all of the kids are voiced by actual kids. That is always the ideal that you aim for with these productions. All of the kids are very talented, and I see bright futures for all of them in the world of voice acting. The adults in the cast also give excellent performances. I absolutely love the music used at the start of each episode. You just know you're in for an epic adventure when the music begins to swell.

Young Ben Franklin is primarily intended to entertain, but it does manage to slip on real facts about Benjamin Franklin's life. However, it also plays a bit fast and loose, at times, with the real history. So let's talk about that. Well, first off, Benjamin Franklin really did write columns as the fictional housewife Silence Dogood and the fictional puzzle solver Veracity Quince. He used the columns as a way to covertly express his views on various subjects. However, he did so when he was sixteen, not fourteen. A bit off, but not terribly far from the mark. Both of these columns were incredibly popular with the general public. In fact, several eligible bachelors from throughout Boston sent marriage proposals to Silence Dogood.

The governor that Ben and his friend are squaring-off against is named Archibald. However, no such Governor of Massachusetts by that name existed in our world. In 1720, the Governor of Massachusetts was William Tailor. There are also multiple references to the common myth that Benjamin Franklin flew a kite with a key on it in a thunderstorm to attract a bolt of lightning. Much like George Washington and the cherry tree, there is no historical evidence that this ever happened. However, Benjamin Franklin did experiment with electricity. In fact, one of his favorite party games was to have everyone hold hands in a circle while an electric current was passed between them. Another time, he attempted to dazzle his guest by killing, cleaning, and cooking a live turkey using electricity. However, he got the wiring wrong and instead gave himself a massive jolt of electricity, but he was unharmed.

Jumping ahead, but the series ends with Ben preparing to depart for either New York or Philadelphia. He decides this by flipping a coin, but we never find out what it lands on. Of course, if you know your history, you'll know he chose Philadelphia. Slight problem though, because the podcast is set in 1720, while Ben left for Philadelphia in 1723. Also, he and his brother part on amiable terms, with Eliza taking over as James' apprentice. In real life, Ben ran-away from home when he was sixteen. Also, Eliza, and Ben's other friends, are totally fictional characters with no basis in reality. Ben plans on arriving to his destination by catching a ride on a ship. For reference, Pennsylvania is a landlocked state, apart from a bit of it's northwest that boarders Lake Erie. Though, I suppose that he could ride up the river to Philadelphia.

There also a scene in the first episode where Ben steals some copper bars for a science experiment. He does so by tying a giant kite to his back and gliding onto the ship the bars are on. Besides that fact that this obviously never happened in our world, I'm not sure it could have. I mean, it would have to be a gargantuan kite to life a teenage boy off the ground, and that's not even getting into how steering would work. So apparently, in the show's universe, Benjamin Franklin was so awesome he could bend the laws of physics to his will. And he was apparently a teenage ninja on-top of everything else he did.

However, these mistakes might be intentional. If so, there's actually a pretty brilliant justification for them. The series is narrated by an old Benjamin Franklin looking back on his youthful adventures. As such, these various mistakes could be Old Ben misremembering the details. Alternatively, he could be embellishing, exaggerating, or outright fabricating certain details to make the story sound more impressive. Granted, there isn't really anything within the show itself that would support this interpretation. The closest we get are the little bits at the end where Old Ben reads the show credits, and talks about some of the other shows Gen-Z Media has to offer. They're fun, but certainly aren't mean to be canonical within the main show.

Now all of this being said, Young Ben Franklin does all get a fair number of things right. For example, I liked how it gave a focus on indentured servitude. Indenturing was a fairly common practice in the 17th and 18th centuries. Basically, you would sign a contract agreeing to work as a servant to someone for a set number of years, after which you'd be given your freedom. It was common for those who could not afford passage to America to come as indentured servants. Several of my ancestors on my mom's side of the family came to America as indentured servants. Well, technically they came when it was known as England's colonies in the New World, and then British North America, but you know what I mean. Many poor people who otherwise would face starvation chose to be indentured. For example, many Scottish people came to America, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand as indentured servant following the Highland Clearances of the 18th Century.

If indenturing sounds a bit like slavery-lite, well, that's because it kind of was. Now, obviously indentured servants had far more rights than slaves, but that didn't mean their lives were free form hardship. They often endured grueling work, often under the care of cruel masters. The contracts of indenturing theoretically protected them, but the terms were often vague. For example, many stated that master must provide servants with clothing, but never specified what kind of clothing. Many masters took that to mean they only had to give rags to their servants. Servants could take their masters to court, but the threat of physical violence and intimidation from their master often dissuaded them from doing so. Master also routinely cut corners when it came to providing food, and indentured servants arriving by ship had to ride below deck with the cargo.

Benjamin Franklin was indeed an indentured servant in his youth, and it isn't hard to see hid disdain for the institution. In fact, Ben's plan for the gold is to use it to buy the freedoms of all the indentured servants in New England. Another point of accuracy is that Ben peppers his speech with several saying that Benjamin Franklin did indeed use in his writing. Many people use his saying without realizing their source. Many of them derive from his famous work Poor Richard's Almanac.

To name just a few examples: Don't throw stones at your neighbors if your windows are glass. No gains without pain. Haste makes waste. Lost time is never found again. Well done is better than well said. When you are good to others, you are best to yourself. Beer is proof that God wants us to be happy. Hide not your talents, for they were made to be used. What is a sundial without shade?

Not related to historical accuracy, but I loved that one of Ben's friends is named Sam. His other two are named Ned and John. Despite the predominately male cast, Eliza, and the governor's daughter Constance, play significant roles in the story. Eliza acts as Ben's eyes and ears inside the governor's mansion, where she works as a servant, and Constance also helps slip important information to Ben and the gang. Eliza also frequently sneaks along whenever Ben and company go on a mission to break into various locations. I should also say that I like that there were good British characters, such as Constance, so the series avoided falling into the trap of good Americans vs evil British so common in media related to the American War of Independence. You also don't really get too many works of fiction set in Colonial America apart from Jamestown, The Pilgrims, or The Salem Witch Trials. As such, Young Ben Franklin was a nice change of pace.

As previously stated, the series ends with all of the major plot threads wrapped up, but leaves open the possibility of future seasons. Though it doesn't seem that there are an more seasons on the horizon. I think that this was intentional, as that way it would encourage kids to read more about the real Benjamin Franklin, and to learn about the facts behind the fiction. Still, we should be glad for the amazing season that we did get. Fun fact, Young Ben Franklin was released, fittingly enough, in its entirety on July 4th, 2018.

Well there you have it. Young Ben Franklin occasionally bends the truth, but it is still a great series about the youth of one of America's most beloved Founding Fathers. It is aimed at kids, but can be enjoyed by all ages. I happily recommend it.

Well, that should do it from me for now. I will see you guys next time.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Audio File: Timestorm: Season 1

Just because you aren't the primary demographic of a podcast doesn't mean you can't enjoy it. For example, you don't have to be a kid to enjoy a podcast that is aimed at kids. By now, you ought to know that this is going to tie-in with the podcast we're going to be reviewing today. We're taking a look at season one of Timestorm.

Timestorm follows brother and sister Beni and Alexa Ventura from Newark, New Jersey. Things are going pretty ordinary until they find themselves pulled into a storm in time, a timestorm if you will. They find themselves face-to-face with their previously unknown cousin Horacio, who also happens to be the protagonist of Take Back Time, Beni's favorite comic. Horacio and his AI friend Atabey, named for the Earth goddess of Taino Mythology, have a task for the twins. Alexa and Beni will be traveling through time to witness key moments in the history of Puerto Rico, and then bring back artifacts relating to those events. Together they will witness, find, and remember.

Timestorm is written and created by Dania Ramos, and is made in association with PRX and the Google Podcasts Intuitive. It is also a production of Cocotazo Media, a podcast company dedicated to promoting creators of Latin American ancestry.

This was a podcast I'd heard about, but always meant to get around to listening to it. I'm certainly glad that I finally gave it a listen. As I've stated, despite being aimed at kids, I firmly believe that this podcast can be enjoyed by listeners of all ages. You know that I'm a sucker for anything that involves time travel and/or history. I was also excited by the focus on Puerto Rico, as they don't really get featured often in American media. Or much in the American education system, for that matter. We kind of ignore Latin America and the Caribbean. Usually, you might get lucky and hear about Puerto Rico if your class talks about the Spanish-American War, especially the Battle of San Juan Hill. Not the the rest of Latin American has it much better. You might briefly touch on the Mexican-American War, for talk about Mexico's role in the Texas Revolution, but that usually it. Other than that, you might briefly hear about Cortez conquering the Aztecs or Pizarro conquering the Inca.

As such, I'm glad that we're getting focus on this less well-known, but no less deserving, island's history. As the theme song say, the hidden past seeks its dawn. Of course, there's another layer to that. I think that it is no accident that most of the historical figures featured in the first season are women. Women do have an unfortunate tendency to be ignored by the historical record.

For example, the first adventure sees the twins going back to 1838 to meet Maestra Celestina Cordero. She founded the fist girl's school in Puerto Rico, and was a strong advocate for women's education. She was also a black woman, and faced opposition because of her race as well as her gender. Her brother Rafael ran a boy's school, and is considered the Father of Public Education in Puerto Rico. As such, Rafael Cordero tends to overshadow his sister's contributions to public education. Hopefully, Celestina will be getting more attention thanks to Timestorm.

Though it also seems that some fictional characters are added to the mix. In another episode, the twins go back to the late 19th/early 20th century to meet Lola Tizol. She was a talented violinist, who caught the eye of Claudio Brindis de Salas Garrido, but had to give up her passion to become a teacher because her mother didn't approve. Claudio was indeed a real violinist who existed in our world, but I couldn't find any record of Lola existing. I'm not opposed to there being some fiction characters, but they should be used sparingly and cautiously, especially since the goal of Timestorm is to educate listeners about the history of Puerto Rico. You don't want to unintentionally mislead the listeners. Though I suppose it is a way of getting kids to do further research. Encourage them to find out what was real, and what parts were artistic license.

I have a bit of a connection to Puerto Rico of my own. One of the happiest Thanksgivings my family ever had was the week that we spent in Puerto Rico. Our hotel was in San Juan, but we went pretty much everywhere. We went to the rainforest, went to the caves, went to the forts and Old Town San Juan, we went to Arecibo, we had dinner on the beach, ate at all those off-beat places the locals ate at, and so much more. It was an experience none of us will ever forget. Of course, on a more somber note, not long after that, my maternal grandfather passed away.

I also related to how all the characters are worried about their family in Puerto Rico. One of the main plot points of the first season is about Hurricane Maria hitting Puerto Rico. I remember what it was like back in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. I've got family down that way, though most of them live in Metairie, which is a suburb of New Orleans. As such, their houses were higher up, and were spared the worst of the flooding. Still, for those of us in Louisiana, Hurricane Katrina is a memory that still burns bright even after all these years.

Now let's talk about characters. Our two leads, Alexa and Beni, are twins, but pretty much polar opposites. Alexa is a Straight-A student with a love of history and biographies. Initially, she scoffs at things comic books and science fiction, but eventually learns to loosen-up and give them a chance. Not liking comics, I can understand, but not liking time travel stories? Come on, every history lover I know loves time travel and secretly wants to time travel. By contrast, Beni loves comic books, video games, and tabletop RPGs. He's not the best of students, but thanks to his adventures in time, he learns how much fun and interesting history can be. Beni and Alexa bicker, as siblings often do, but deep down they really do care about each other.

Horacio and Atabey play the mentor roles. Horacio was a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, which is how he got sucked into the timestorm. He's caught halfway between life and death, which is why he needs Alexa and Beni to go on the missions for him. Atabey is a snarky AI who has powers that border on magical. Though, as Clarke's Third Law says, any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic. She provides the twins with appropriate clothing and knowledge for their missions.

One thing that I liked about Timestorm was the way it gave equal time to Alexa and Beni's lives in the present day as it did to the time travel adventures. Atabey mentions that it isn't possible to alter history. At best, you just create a divergent timeline. So you can't change the past, but you can change the present. We see that in the way the community rallies together to provide hurricane relief supplies for Puerto Rico. Moreover, both Atabey and Horacio mention that the twins can continue their mission to witness, find, and remember even in their mundane lives. History isn't just a topic you read about in books. It is a living breathing thing that is happening all around us.

Sometimes it amazes me how many things I've lives through that will windup in the history books some day. 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War, the Columbia Disaster, the legalization of gay marriage, the spread of the Internet, the election of America's first black president. And that's not even getting into the stuff I was too young to remember, like the Oklahoma City Bombings, Bill Clinton's impeachment, Princess Diana's death, or the Balkan Wars.

Point is, sooner or later we all witness historical events. You can learn quite a bit about history by talking to family members who have lived through major historical events. Most of us probably won't get to go on time travel adventures, but chronicling important events of the present is a great way to show kids that they can engage with history in their own lives. And hey, even if you don't get to time travel, history can still be plenty fun to learn about in and of itself.

At the end of each episode there is a minute long share-out, where kids can talk about how much they're enjoying the show, and tell something cool about themselves. I think it's really great, and a good way to help the kids engage with the show. I'm sure all the kids who got featured where over the Moon to hear themselves on their favorite, or one of their favorite, podcasts.

Timestorm is brought to life thanks to a talented team of voice actors. Overall, everyone does a good job. However, I will say I was a bit surprised when all the kids turned out to be twelve and in middle school. The voice actors for the kids were all clearly older than twelve, but they at least sounded ballpark correct. I suppose it isn't too different to how teenagers on television tend to be people in their twenties and thirties, though television is getting better about that. I will also add that I loved that music used for the scene transitions. There was a different little number depending on where the action was taking us.

While the writing is overall good, there is one minor bit of criticism I do have. It is repeatedly shown that Beni gets picked on by the school bully Thad because of his love of comic books and video games. Then it turns out that Thad is a closeted geek and wants to buy a Kylo Ren mask, but he's afraid it will ruin is reputation. Okay, it has been almost a decade since I was in grade school, but I'm pretty certain you won't become a social pariah just because you like geek stuff. At this point, it is pretty safe to say that Star Wars is as much a mainstream film as the Marvel movies. Not only that, but most nerd/geek thing have gone mainstream at this point.

It kind of felt like Dania was drawing on her own experiences, but didn't consider how the times have changed. We also later find out that Thad is a Muslim, but we mostly know this because of an off-hand comment he made. Never thought of Thad, which I assumed was short for Thaddeus, as a Muslim name. I will say it was nice that it showed that minorities can be bullies too. A similar thing happens when Alexa's best friend, Sonya, mentions that some of the other girls assume she can't speak Spanish because she's light-skinned. Again, it was a nice touch.

Though I concede that my criticism was a relatively minor one, and overall I'm loving where Timestorm is going. We've only scratched the surface, and there's still tons of Puerto Rican history to explore. Personally, I'm hoping we'll get to see the Taino people. They are the native people of Puerto Rico; the ones who were there before the Spanish arrived. And you know, and episode set during the Spanish-American War, with the twins meeting Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, could be fun too.

So there you have it. Timestorm is a time travel podcast about two kids going on adventures though Puerto Rican history. Season one is great, and I can't wait to see what future seasons have in store for us. It's aimed at kids, but can be enjoyed by listeners of all ages.

Well, I think that should do it fro

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Audio File: Terms

There are many times that one great podcast leads to another. If I really enjoy a podcast, I'll take a look at any other works the creators might have made. For example, I absolutely adored the podcast 1865, and I went to see if Airship, the company behind it, had anything else to offer. That brings us to the podcast we'll be reviewing today. We're taking a look at the podcast Terms, from Airship and Wondery.

Terms is a modern-day political thriller that follows lame duck president Oliver Pierce. Lame duck means a president who has been twice elected and is about to finish their second term. A highly contentious and controversial election has resulted in Republican nominee Charles Dunwalke becoming president-elect. Despite also being a Republican, Pierce is appalled at Dunwalke's victory. He fears that Dunwalke will undo all the hard work his administration has carried out. Moreover, Pierce feels that Dunwalke will be a disaster for America and the world at large. He's got to stop Dunwalke by any means necessary. The clock is ticking, and Pierce has only got seventy-three more days until Inauguration Day. But just how far is Pierce willing to go? What lines is he willing to cross?

I'm not usually inclined to seek out political thrillers; but I was extremely impressed by what I'd listened to with 1865, and I needed something to fill the 1865-shaped hole in my life while I wait for season two. Since Terms is created by Lindsay Graham, Rob McCollum, and Michael Federico, two of whom also had a hand in making 1865, I was reasonably certain that Terms would be of similar quality.

Well, admittedly I was a bit weary when I read the initial premise. I was a little worried that it might turn out it be an "Orange man bad!" show that would beat listeners over the head with that message. Charles Dunwalke certainly bears more than a passing resemblance to Donald Trump. Still, I decided to give the series a fair shake. When they got to an episode where we meet a Dunwalke supporter I was worried the supporters would be portrayed as ignorant, racist, uneducated hayseeds. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how nuanced the portrayal of Dunwalke's supporters turned out to be. They are shown to be working-class people with blue-collar values, who feel that their voices are being ignored by Washington. They feel that the establishment needs to be shaken up, and if that shake-up takes the form of Charles Dunwalke, then so be it. They're also shown to not be blind to Dunwalke's faults, but again, they view him as their best chance of finally having their voices be heard. After that, I was much more relaxed about the show.

Lindsay has said that the point of Terms is about the workings and process of government, not debates about political policy. Obviously, it draws inspiration from government procedurals such as The West Wing. Terms might draw parallels to modern politics, but it does so as a springboard for discussing the workings of government. Lindsay has also said that he didn't want the show to be about Democrats vs. Republicans. This is why Pierce and Dunwalke are both Republicans. And obviously they had to both be Republicans, because there's no way anyone like Dunwalke could possibly get nominated as a Democrat, much less elected. I suppose the series could have work if they were both Democrats, but Dunwalke's entire character would have to be totally rewritten. For that matter, we don't know much about Pierce's positions on pretty much anything, only that he was a very popular president, and he views Dunwalke as trouble.

Moreover, Lindsay and Rob have both said that they view radical tolerance as being what America needs to get through these increasingly tumultuous times. That is, that while we don't need to agree with each other, we should be able to understand and accept each other's differing views and opinions.

Throughout the series there's a running question of how far Pierce is willing to go to ensure his plan for America. Dunwalke is certainly an unsavory fellow, but does that justify taking such drastic actions? It's a bit like on Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Caesar might have done some questionable thing, but did mean the other senators were justified in killing him? We'll get back to this particular theme in just a minute.

I mentioned that I came into this podcast via 1865, and it is certainly interesting to compare and contrast them. In fact, in many ways Terms feels as though it was the test run for what would become 1865. They're both government procedural and political thrillers that focus on presidents who got into the Oval Office via controversial means. They also feature protagonists who view said president as a threat to America, and view it as their moral duty to oust the president by any means necessary. Again, this is unsurprising as both podcasts share creative teams. Both podcasts also feature original music scores, sound effects, full casts, and other things that result in a true cinematic experience.

It was certainly interesting to see some of the things Pierce tries to do to prevent Dunwalke from taking office. For example, at one point he tries to persuade the electors of the Electoral College to change their votes. I realize that I've got a few international readers, so let me explain how that works. For my American readers, this will probably be stuff you already know. In America our elections are done via an Electoral College. The number of votes each state gets is determined by their number of representatives in Congress. Each state gets two senators regardless of population, and then a certain number of representatives in the House of Representatives. How many representatives you get is determined by your population. So, three is the minimum number of electoral votes a state can get. How these votes are cast is determined based on who gets the most votes in each state. We do a first past the post, winner take all system. So, for example, if a state votes Democrat it is expected that the electors will cast all Democrat votes.

However, the electors are allowed to override the votes of the public, but this rarely happens to a great extent. For example, during the 2016 election a few electors cast votes for candidates who weren't even on the ballot. 270 electoral votes are needed to be president, which Donald Trump still achieved despite this. The person who wins is called president-elect because they have been elected, but haven't yet taken the Oath of Office. The Electoral College system means that it is possible for someone to lose the popular vote, as in votes overall, but still be elected president thanks to the Electoral College  There are arguments for and against the Electoral College, but I that's better saved for another time. The Electoral College determines the Vice President in a similar fashion. Keep that in mind, it turns out to be import later in the show.

One more thing I ought to explain for our international readers. In America a president can be elected for a maximum of two terms of four years each. This was started because George Washington, America's first president, stepped down after serving two terms. All other presidents followed his example, even though there was no official rule. Then, Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran for four terms in office, but died in the middle of his fourth term as a result of polio. After that, Congress added and constitutional amendment making the two-term limit official. The two terms don't need to be consecutive, but thus far, only Grover Cleveland has served two non-consecutive terms has president. And we've already gone over what lame duck means. The only exception to the two-term limit is if a president dies in office. The former Vice President is allowed to finish the remainder of the former president's term and then run for two of their own for a maximum of ten years.

Terms clocks in a little over three and a half hours. You can probably binge it in an afternoon or two. I bring this up because now we have to talk about some major spoilers for the finale. So turn back now if you don't want to know.

This is your last chance. Sure you want to keeping going?

Okay, you must want to know, or already do.

The season finale ends on Inauguration Day. Dunwalke is about to take the Oath of Office when suddenly military forces descend on Washington DC. Pierce appears on television announcing that he has ceased control of the military, instigated martial law, and suspended the Constitution  Moreover, he plans on totally rewriting the Constitution, but assure the American people that they'll do it together as a nation.

Well, damn. I did not see that coming. So yeah, Pierce was so determined to ensure his vision for America that he staged coup and overthrew the democratically elected government. Remember what I said about the show asking if the ends justify the means? Well, here is your biggest example of that. We started off as The West Wing, and we ended up as 24.

That is a hell of a cliffhanger to end on, and I'm dying to know what happens next. However, from what I understand Terms has been put on the back burner so that the team can focus on 1865. Don't get me wrong, Terms is great, but if it means more 1865, I'm willing to put up with Terms going on hiatus for the foreseeable future. As much as I loved Terms, I'd say 1865 is easily the superior show of the two.

It is good that shows like Terms and 1865 are bringing more diversity of genre to the podcast landscape. I know Lindsay ruffled a few feather when he said that audio drama is dominated by science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I don't think that was meant as a judgement, simply as statement of fact. And, well, he's not wrong in that regard. Though I will slightly disagree with him. Car chases might be hard to pull off, but I think a race car audio drama could be pulled-off reasonably well.

Don't get me wrong, I love my speculative fiction shows, but I'd love to see more historical fiction and down-to-earth type shows get some more love. Audio drama can tell all sorts of stories, and we're all the better for having more diversity of genre.

So there you have it. Terms is a modern-day political thriller about the workings of government, and how far we're willing to go for our beliefs. Well, I think that should do it from me for now.

I will see you guys next time.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Audio File: Poe Theatre on the Air

I am always happy to give reviews to podcasters who ask me, especially if they've enjoyed my previous reviews. I'm glad to do my past to help promote podcasts, and it often leads me to some truly undiscovered gems. That brings us to the podcast we're taking a look at today. We're taking a look at Poe Theatre on the Air.

Poe Theatre on the Air is a production of the National Edgar Allan Poe Theatre. Each episode is an adaption of a different Edgar Allan Poe short story. While by-and-large faithful to the source material, the writers make sure to put their own spin on the stories. This largely relates to the framing device. The framing device is that you, the listener, are a guest at the asylum of Dr. Maillard. He has developed a radical new treatment to cure the mentally crippled, and he considers all of the inmates his children who have lost their way. Each of the inmates are the protagonist of a different Edgar Allen Poe short story, and they will be sharing their tales with us.

I share The Audio File and The Alt-Hist File over on the Audio Drama Lovers group over on Facebook. If you ever see me over there, feel free to say hi. Not to brag, but my reviews always seem to be reasonably popular with the other members, and I have gained a few fans. One of these fans, named Alex Zavistovich, reach out to me about a podcast he's involved with. Obviously, that podcast is Poe Theatre on the Air. I had a few reviews to take care of, but I agreed to give it a listen and review it later.

I'm glad that I did, because I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. The team is going for the shared universe approach with Poe's short stories. Even Dr. Maillard and his asylum hail from a Poe story. Specifically, he's from "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether." That's was always one of my favorite Poe stories. Suppose that means it might be a while before that one gets adapted. Poe Theatre on the Air is a fully performed audio drama with actors, music, and sound effects. This gives it a key advantage over a podcast that would just read the stories. The language used in Edgar Allen Poe's writing is a bit archaic by modern standards, and that can be a stumbling block for a lot of people. By contrast, the dialogue and bits of narration Poe Theatre on the Air uses are more modern, while still being a bit formal when needed. This allows the listeners to really focus on and enjoy the content of the stories.

Of course, this could not work without a talented team of voice actors. Thankfully, Poe Theatre on the Air has quite the team of voices at its disposal. I should also mention that Poe Theatre on the Air has been featured several times on NPR. Okay, now that we've covered all of that we can delve into the individual stories.

Our first story is "The Tell-Tale Heart." You've probably heard of this one, but if not, it's the one about the person who kills the old man and is then haunted by the sound of his beating heart.

With our first episode, we see what I meant about the writers putting their own spin on the story. The original "Tell-Tale Heart" leaves a lot of quest in unanswered. We don't know the narrator's gender, or their relationship with the old man, or even the motive for the murder, beyond a hated of the old man's eye. As such, it leaves a lot of room for interpretation. So here, the narrator is a woman working at the inn the old man owns. Admittedly, I've never been the biggest fan of "The Tell-Tale Heart." I remembering linking it as a kid because of when I discovered it was used as the basis of that episode of SpongeBob where Mr. Krabs regifts some boots to SpongeBob; but the boots are very squeaky, so he steals them and hides them under the floorboard of the Krusty Krab. Then he is haunted by the squeaking of the boots until he confesses and then eats the boots.

It was neat to discover that connection on my own as a kid. I studied the story in English class in middle school and enjoyed it. Then I got older, and the story just didn't hold the same charm for me. I guess it was because I'd seen it parodied and homaged so many times that I just wasn't as effective as it once was. Still, for what it's worth, I think I liked this episode more than the original story.

The second story is "The Black Cat." This story is about a man who's wife loves animals and has turned their home in a menagerie. However, he has never been a lover of animals, and he does not care for the black cat, despite how often it shows him affection. He pokes out the poor cat's eye, and eventually hangs it. He thinks his troubles are at an end, but then he brings home a new black cat for his wife. There's something hauntingly familiar about the new cat, and it drives the man insane.

I had not previously read the story, but I very much enjoyed this episode, and it made me want to seek out the original. I have a beloved orange tabby named Tiger, so I say the protagonist got what he deserved in the end. It is unclear when the stories are set. I assumed the 19th century, just like the originals. Certain details do back this up, such as the police being Irish. I mean, it's not impossible for a modern police officer to be Irish, but that was more of a cliche you tend to see in stories set in the past. Additionally, there's no references to any modern technology, which would back-up my original assumption.

It is interesting to compare and contrast this story with "The Tell-Tale Heart." Both stories feature unarmed narrators, though the podcast gives them names. Both stories involve the protagonists committing heinous acts because of an eye. And both stories have the protagonists thinking they've gotten away with killing, only to be haunted by the deceased. Well, that is, unless they've simply gone crazy. From what I've gathered, the protagonist hating animals was a slight deviation from the original, but I understand he was a bit of an unreliable narrator in the original story. The actor playing the protagonist gave an especially strong performance. All in all, an excellent episode.

The third story is "Morella." This story tells of a man who has married a woman named Morella. He married her for her brilliant and intellectual mind. However, she's developed an obsession with the occult, and he fears this may lead down a dark path.

This one wasn't bad, but it didn't especially blow me away. I could guess where this story was going about a halfway through. That's usually not a problem for me, but it worked against the story here. The part where the main a character is driven to madness and shouts "Morella! Morella!" was supposed to dramatic, as it shows that Morella has triumphed and driven him to despair, but it just came across kind of annoying to me. I will say it did make me wonder about when the series is set. The protagonist takes his daughter to be baptized by a priest, but the service comes across like an Evangelical megachurch service rather than anything from Poe's time. Anyway, moving right along.

The fourth story is "The Cask of Amontillado." This is another one you've probably heard of. It takes place in Carnival in Venice. Montresor is from a noble family, but is constantly picked on by his "friend" Fortunato. So, he lures a very drunk Fortunato into his family's crypt on the grounds that they will be tasting a fine amontillado. Then he bricks up Fortunato and leave him to die.

Like I said, you've probably encountered this story in English class at some point. I think I read this on in high school, but it might have been middle school. Either way, I wasn't terribly impressed, but I grew to like it better when I got older and reexamined it. It helped that William Joyce made a really good animated short film of it that I saw at a screening of his short films. He's the guy who made Rollie Pollie Ollie, A Day with Wilbur Robinson and Rise of the Guardians, among other things. Poe Theatre on the Air gave us an excellent adaption, and I've got no complaints.

The fifth story is "Berenice." First of all, you pronounce that as baron-nice-cee. It follows a bookish man who has a monomania for books. He loves to read books, but also to study the shape of letters, and the arraignments of words. His beloved cousin Berenice always tries to get him to come out and enjoy nature. Then she falls ill to an unspecified disease, that was probably tuberculosis, and dies. Are protagonist remains obsessed with he beloved Berenice, especially her lovely smile. He is determined that not even the grave shall keep them apart.

This was another story I wasn't familiar with, but now I kind of want to seek out the original. This is very much a story about the dangers of obsession and passions run amuck. I said the disease was probably tuberculosis because, nine times out of ten, that's what unspecified illnesses turn out to be in 19th Century stories. Also, I should point out that marriage between first cousins wasn't considered unusual in Poe's day, especially among the wealthy. Sometime else that wasn't considered unusual was premature burial. Many coffins had boards in them that could be pressed with the feet. This would ring a bell on the surface and alerted the cemetery watchman that someone needed digging up. It is also not uncommon to find coffins from that era with scratch marks on the interior of their lids.

The thought of being buried alive has always been something that sends a shiver down my spine. True, Berenice might not have enjoyed having her teeth yanked out by her crazed cousin, but it sure beats suffocating in a coffin six feet under. Well, that's my takeaway. Though, I concede that having teeth pulled without anesthetics is hardly a picnic. All in all, another great episode.

The sixth episode is "A Predicament." It follows a wealth woman named Madam Zenobia and her man sergeant Julius. They're on vacation in an unspecified European country. Madam Zenobia treats Julius quite poorly, but she's about to receive her comeuppance during a trip to a cathedral's bell tower.

This was another story I was unfamiliar with, but made me want to seek out the original. Never pegged Edgar Allen Poe as someone who'd write comedy stories, but I guess I was wrong. I can certainly related to Julius, as I too have a fear heights. Though I've never had to deal with anyone quite so demanding as Madam Zenobia. Really, she only has herself to blame for what happens. Just what was she expecting, sticking her head into the bell tower's inner workings?

This story also deviates a bit from the original story. For example, in the original story, Julius was a black midget named Pompey, rather than an old white man. Obviously, that isn't exactly politically correct by modern standard, so I can understand why the team changed that. However, more importantly the ending if different. So if you don't want to know what happens, skip down to episode seven if you don't want to know.

Last chance, turn back now if you don't want to find out. You sure you want to keep going.

Well alright. Here we go.

In the original story, Madam Zenobia got decapitated by the clock's pendulum, but her head remains functioning independent of her body. In this adaption, however, the pendulum knicker her neck, but otherwise leaves her head intact. However, she believes that she has become a body without a head, and thus finds helpful in the asylum. Even without having read the original, I still found it an interesting twist ending. So well done on the part of the writers. Excellent episode all around.

The seventh story is "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar." This story follows a hypnotist who believes it is possible cheat death by hypnotizing someone at the moment before death. His friend Ernest Valdemar agrees to be a test subject. But will Valdemar find himself facing something worse than death?

Alex recommended this as the best of the currently available episodes. I must say, it did not disappoint. This was a Poe story I meant to track down, but never did til now. You've got those elements of gothic horror, as is common in Poe's works. However, I'd also argue that this story is an early example of science fiction. We've got out protagonist trying make discovers and perform experiments using scientific means. Obviously, we now know that even the strongest hypnotism is no match for organ failure and blood loss. Still, remember that this story was written before germ theory caught on, and back when belief in the four humors hadn't quite died out. Poe was working with the information available to him. Gothic horror was important to the development of early science fiction. Just look at Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. In fact, many of Poe stories are just as much science fiction as they are horror.

Even disregarding all of that, it is still nonetheless a very entertaining story. Amusingly, when first published, some people mistook it for an actual account. Poe hadn't specified that it was a work of fiction. There is a strong theme about the dangers of meddling with the natural order, and dabbling in things mankind was never meant to mess with. A very common trait of both gothic and early science fiction stories. An excellent story that certainly lived up to its pedigree.

The eighth story is "The Oval Portrait." This story tells of an artist who fell in love beautiful young maiden whom he eventually married. He decided to immortalize her beauty forever by painting a portrait of her. There more to it, but that would be spoilers.

This is your last chance to turn back. If you don't want any spoilers, skip down three paragraphs to where it says "So that's all the episodes that have been released so far." You sure you want to continue?

Okay then, here we go.

So what's the big twist? Turns out the artist's bride was sitting so perfectly still because she'd died. He was so enraptured by his work, and her beauty, he failed to notice he was painting a corpse. Dr. Maillard really rubs this fact in his face. From this, we begin to see that Dr. Maillard might not be as benevolent as he claims to be. I saw the twist coming, but the story was still effective and well-written, so I still enjoyed the episode. Chalk another one up for great episodes from Poe Theatre on the Air.

The ninth episode is "A Descent Into the Maelstrom." It follows a man who used to work as part of a fishing crew in Norway.  A big storm is on the way, and the crew must not stay at sea too late. Unfortunately, time gets away from them, and their boat gets sucked into a massive whirlpool. The story tells of how the man escaped from the maelstrom. 

This was another story that surprised me. Didn't expect Poe to be the type to write high seas adventure stories. This is another of Poe's stories that is often considered an early form of science fiction. Not sure if I can quite see that, but again, science fiction was in its infancy during Poe's time. And I suppose the protagonist did use his reasoning skills to get out of his predicament. I will say the way the protagonist escape the maelstrom was pretty ingenious. 

About the only deviation from the original is the framing device. In the short story, the protagonist is telling his tale to a mountain climber. Here, he's another patient at the asylum. The man insist that his hair turned white because of the stress of the adventure, and that he's actually thirty-two year old, as in the original story. Dr. Maillard, naturally, thinks the man is simply crazy. All in all, another excellent episode that made me want to seek out the original. 

The eleventh episode is "The Raven." This one breaks the trend a bit, as it is adapted from a poem rather than a story. It tells of a man who is mourning the death of his beloved wife. Then, late one night, he is visited by a raven who seems to mock his despair.

This was an unexpected change to pace, but one that worked out quite well. Alex told me that he wanted to keep the show going, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, so that's how we got this episode. He played all of the role, though said roles were limited to the protagonist, the raven, and Dr. Maillard, but he played them quite well. This episode is the exact same quality as all the others. It was certainly a unique angle to turn a poem into an episode. It isn't told in verse, it is a standard episode like all the others, and that's what I love about it. Didn't expect to see poems get adapted, but I think I'd like to see more poems get this same treatment. "El Dorado" was always my favorite of Poe's poems.

I must admit I always found "The Raven" to be a bit so-so as far as poems go. I've warmed up to it a bit more as the years have gone on. I've especially warmed up to it after listening to this episode of Poe Theatre on the Air. It helped that I'd recently watched a video recreating "The Raven" using characters from Thomas the Tank Engine. It was from The Stories of Sodor, a high-quality Thomas fan series. Anyway, this was another great episode from Poe Theatre on the Air. If they adapt other poems I'd suggest "El Dorado", but "Annabel Lee" and "The Conquering Worm" could be fun too.

So that's all the episodes that have been released so far. I was very impressed with what I listened to. I eagerly look forward to what Poe Theatre on the Air decides to adapt next. Personally, I'm hoping for an adaption of "Some Words with a Mummy." From what I've heard of it, "The Man Who Was Used Up" sounds interesting, and like it would make for a good adaption. "Fall of the House of Usher" is another of those stories people read in school, and I'd love to see what the team can do with it. Of course, as of late, "Mask of the Red Death" might make a macabrely appropriate adaptation. Really, I'm happy with whatever the team brings next, and I eagerly await the fruits of their labor. I think I'll have to come back and add my reviews of future episodes to this list, or create a second article once enough episodes have come out.

So there you have it. Poe Theatre on the Air is an audio drama that adapts the works of Edgar Allan Poe into a shared universe. It is an excellent podcast, and one that I happily recommend. Check it out today, you'll be glad that you did.

Well, I think that should do it for now. I will see you guys next time.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Audio File: The Hermes & Hekate Road Show

I've said before that it can be frustrating when a really great podcast ends after only one season. It's frustrating, but that doesn't mean there aren't some true hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Why yes, this does relate to the podcast we're reviewing today. We're taking a look at The Hermes & Hekate Road Show.

The Greek Gods are no mere myth. They're real and very much active in the modern world. Specifically, they're messing around in the modern-day United States of America. Hephaestus' anvil has gone missing, and Zeus has tasked Hermes, god of thieves and travelers (among other things), and Hekate, goddess of witchcraft and crossroads, to retrieve it. However, they'll soon find that's far from the only mythological mishap going on in America. The two gods are about to take a motorcycle road trip of mythic proportions across America.

If you've been following me for a while, you'll know that I love pretty much anything related to Greek Mythology, or mythology in general. You'll also know how much I love Percy Jackson and American Gods. As such, I absolutely loved this podcast. It only lasted for one season of five episodes. There were plans for a season two, but it never materialized. Sometimes life gets in the way, or creators move on to other projects. That's just how it goes. Still, what a season it was.

The series is created by Genevieve Williams and Ray Snyder. The idea started when they were at a festival late at night, and they began musing on what kind of vehicles the Greek Gods would drive. Then they began to ponder what it would be like to set those gods loose on the roads of modern-day America. It when through a few mutations before they settled on the final form.  They cut down the number of characters, and focused on their original idea of Hermes and Hekate on a motorcycle trip. They figured the two gods would be a good fit, as they often appeared together in myths as fellow psychopomps. Psychopomps are those who help guide the dead to the afterlife. 

The original plan was for Genevieve to voice Hekate and Ray to voice Hermes. That first half did happen, but Hermes wound-up being voiced by their good friend Greg Watridge (hope I spelled that correct). Meanwhile, Ray voiced a hobo, who has a bit more to him, but telling more would be spoilers. Really, the whole cast is absolutely phenomenal, and everyone does a great job.

Zeus act as the narrator who introduces each episode and sets the stage for the adventures to come. He makes an on-screen, for want of a better term, in episode three. I appreciated that he portrayed as honorable, noble, and a competent leader rather than a one-not sex joke. That being said, both Hermes and Hekate snark about Zeus' many affairs behind his back. Not that Hermes is one to talk, given how he cheerily remarks about his own escapades at a pride parade in San Francisco. The opening and closing music is rock guitars, and it really adds to the motorcycle trip vibe of the show. It is nice that the show didn't shy away from the fact that many of the gods were, by modern standard, bisexual. It is true to the original mythology.

Our leading deities are both great. Hermes is energetic, easily distracted, and a bit overly flirtatious at times. Meanwhile, Hekate plays the snarky straight woman to Hermes' antics, but occasionally shows that she's not as above it all as she seems. They're also joined by several other members of the Greek Pantheon, and occasionally gods from other pantheons. Yeah, turns out the Olympians aren't the only gods running around modern America. In episode three we get to meet Baron Samedi of the Voodoo Loa, and a Native American goddess at the Grand Canyon, with mention of Anansi from West African mythology.

Athena and Ares join in the fun starting with episodes four and five, though Athena also briefly appeared in episode two and three. Athena takes the form of a butch-looking cop. She does her best to remain calm and level-headed, but there are times her temper gets the better of her. Again, not inconsistent with how she is in Greek Mythology. Ares appears as a Hell's Angels biker and tries his best to put on a though guy persona. He tries, but all the other gods never let him forget the time he was captured by giants and held hostage for months. Athena and Ares don't like each other and constantly make passive aggressive swipes, which kind of makes sense. Athena was the patron goddess of Athens, and Ares was the patron god of Sparta. Both city-states were bitter rivals, and this eventually lead to the Peloponnesian War.

It is explained that the gods don't need worship or sacrifices per se, but they do feel strong when they're around things related to them. For example, Hermes feels best when he's at the Caesar's Palace Casino in Las Vegas. Well, he is a god associated with gambling, and the casino does have a Greco-Roman theme. I'd imagine Athena probably loves to visit the full-scale Parthenon replica in Nashville; especially since it looks just like the Parthenon did in Ancient Athens, giant statue of her and all. The gods are perfectly capable of influencing the modern world. For example, the main plot of the season involves having to track down four items used in the judgment of the dead. Not having them around is causing the natural balance to be thrown out of whack. This is causing unusual weather events. So yeah, apparently the real cause of global warming isn't fossil fuels, but missing items from the Ancient Greek underworld.

I loved the way the podcast juxtaposes Greek Mythology and Americana. For example, at one point Hermes and Hekate have to take down a cyclopes at a roadside attraction claiming to be built on top of a dimensional riff. Though technically this turned out to be true, just not in the way the owners claimed. That's what I've always loved about urban fantasy. With urban fantasy you don't have to go to some far-off fantasy land like Narnia, Middle-Earth, or Britain to have an adventure. You can find adventure right in your own backyard. It's why I always preferred to Percy Jackson to Harry Potter. Yeah, technically Harry Potter is urban fantasy, but the Wizarding World might as well be some far-off high fantasy world. With Percy Jackson it was like "Hey, that could actually happen!" Well, I didn't literally think that it could happen, but it felt more real and relatable to me.

There is a certain kind of magic that can be found in the mundane world if you know where to look for it. I've always been of the opinion that America has a certain magical quality to it that could easily rival and fantasy book. That's very much a connection The Hermes & Hekate Road Show shares with American Gods.

There were plans for a season two, but it sadly never materialized. The plans was not necessarily to feature Hermes and Hekate, but perhaps another set of Greek deities who wouldn't get along. The first season came out in 2013, which is obvious because Athena uses an iPhone 5S, and there have been Facebook posts from 2015 and 2016 indicating the creators are still working on the show. Perhaps there is hope that more seasons will appear someday, but I wouldn't get those hopes up to high. Thankfully, all of the major plot threads are wrapped up by the end of the first season, so it doesn't end on a cliffhanger or anything. I desperately wish that we'd gotten more seasons, because the show is so good, but we should be thankful for what we do have.

So there you have it. The Hermes & Hekate Road Show is a podcast about Ancient Greek Gods on a motorcycle trip of mythic proportions across modern day America. I can't recommend it enough. Check it out today, you'll be glad that you did.

Well, I think that should do it for now. I will see you guys next time.