Originally published on Suburban Conspiracy
By Dex Trenchcoat
Welcome back audio fans! In this edition of Have You Heard, we turn our curious ears to the stars. Science fiction in audio form dates all the way back to the golden age of radio. The slow decline and eventual silence of radio based audio dramas was a harsh blow to fans of the genre. Fortunately for our ears, podcasting came along and now, new audio dramas are once again being produced.
Modern audio drama is not the bunch of scratchy, dated recordings most people seem to think of. Instead what they would find is a whole host of original dramas, comedies and even soap operas of every genre and style one can imagine. Best of all, a good number of these audio shows are free to listen to, and enjoy! In fact, there are so many free web-based audio dramas being made these days that its hard to know where to begin. That’s where The Listening Post can help. If you’re looking for an exciting, absorbing and even thought-provoking science fiction saga, you only need to ask one question…
Have You Heard?…
Children of the Gods, produced by Deadweasel Studio is an audio drama that began production in 2005 and was nominated for a Parsec Award in 2006. This series currently consists of 11 episodes so far, with approximately 50 episodes planned for the complete series, depending on final scripting. The website was recently completely reworked and relaunched. The new site is very nicely put together with lots of buttons, glossy art work, full episode scripts and even some concept art describing how the ships would function.
I found two features of the improved site to be exceptional, the first is the new built-in streaming media player, allowing visitors to listen to all the current episodes in a separate window. This streaming media player is perfect for attracting new listeners who might not want to, or might not know how to subscribe to a podcast. For those who like subscriptions, The site also offers three different methods of subscription: an RSS feed, an iTunes feed and a Zune feed. The website also has a built-in IRC channel where the cast and crew can usually be found hanging about. This is by far my favorite feature of the website. Very few other production companies make it so easy to communicate directly with their fanbase. Each time I return to their site, I find it great fun to talk to the cast and crew directly. Take note podcast creators, the more ways you can offer folks to hear your work, and talk to you directly, the better!
Children of the Gods is told from the perspective of Captain Kevin Corval leader of Nova Squadron, who is stationed aboard the U.D.F. carrier, Vengeance. Captain Corval is both the narrator and one of the central characters of the series while members of Nova Squadron and the senior staff of the Vengeance round out the rest of the cast. Damien “Tripwire” Treskot, Sergeant Sergei Petrov and Kyrie “Redline” Galos are just a few of the memorable characters, and I hope we get hear more about them as the story progresses. However, by far the most memorable character by far, for me, is “Fido” and he’s not even a squadron member. Just who is Fido, and what s his relationship to Nova Squadron? Sorry, you’ll have to listen to the show to find out.
I found the pacing of the plot a bit slow at first, but things quickly pick up steam with each subsequent episode.Chapter 1: Exodus and other early episodes use extensive narration to set up the story, which is not terribly exciting to listen to. Even with music and special effects, the longer bits of narration feel more like an audiobook than a drama. While not always exciting, all that narration is very necessary to set up the story. The story is set in the year 2522. A powerful alien race named the Tarthet invaded Earth nearly five hundred years ago and nearly wiped out civilization. Humanity slowly rebuilt, and soon surpassed even its previous technological level. The threat of the Tarthet was considered ancient history by a now space-faring humanity, until a huge fleet of Tarthet “monster-ships” were detected headed toward Earth once again. Immediate action was required. The Unified Defense Forces of the Earth, Moon and Mars were formed and pressed into action. The U.D.F. quickly find themselves facing off against advancing Tarthet ships in desperate deep space battles in hopes of delaying or destroying the on-coming alien fleet. The plot really heats up after a small battle involving Nova Squadron and a group of Tarthet scout ships, which yields humanities first live capture of a Tarthet pilot.
This is where pacing of the plot really picks up, voice actors fully settle into their roles and even the production values go up as more background sound and music comes into play. By Chapter 9: Mindgame, we find out what makes the Tarthet so “alien”. This was a very thought-provoking episode that added whole new layers to the show, to go along side the all-out action of the outer space dogfights. It’s also a small joy to see aliens that are portrayed as truly different from humans. The Tarthet neither look human nor act it. This combined with their races unique abilities, make the Tarthet exactly what they should be… alien. I really enjoy the Tarthets’ “otherness”. Far too many sci-fi stories contain aliens that are barely more than thinly disguised humans, and it’s quite refreshing to see Children of the Gods attempt to portray “true” aliens.
I am extremely impressed by Children of the Gods high production values. Sound effects are the audio dramas equivalent of special effects for imparting that “big budget” movie-like feel and this show delivers that in spades. I found the over all sound design similar in quality to another outstanding audio drama, the Leviathan Chronicles. What stands out most to me, are the immersive “soundscapes” this show creates. Hanger bays are filled with incidental noise like machines whirring, hammers pounding against metal, footsteps from mechanics and the background drone of the ship intercom. The bridge of the Vengeance is a steady hum of communications officers mixed with the beeps of tactical stations. Deep space dogfights are filled with desperate radio chatter, blasts of energy cannons and the whine of engines being pushed to their limit, all add a huge amount of detail into every scene. All of this goes on just below the main dialog and frequently with background music to boot. The music is as exceptional as the sound effects, and sounds like a full professional orchestra, but it all seems to be original music. I’ve listened to other shows fall victim to clashing sound levels in the past as music, sound effects and dialog all fight for listener’s attention. Yet somehow Children of the Gods pulls off clear audio in almost every instance, and we the audience are richly rewarded with high-flying action and drama filled sequences.
My only complaint about this show is actually a common one for modern audio drama podcasts… the long wait between episodes. Long wait times are hard on long time listeners and new fans alike. After visiting the revamped website, I spoke directly to Christopher Mack, the shows creator. He is confident that future episodes will have significantly shorter wait times after revamping his studio. He has changed production methods and software to help in the effort to get episodes out faster. Even before talking to folks at the site, it was clear to me that a vast amount of work went into each episode, and like most other shows it is offered at no cost to the listener while the shows creators hold down day jobs and lead busy lives. I am grateful for all the work that goes into Children of the Gods. All that hard work is reflected in the quality of each episode and its constantly improving, much like the show itself.
Chapter Ten: “Furious Consequences, Part One” was a good old-fashioned cliffhanger that left listeners hungry for more. The newest episode Chapter Ten: “Furious Consequences – Part Two” delivered on Part One’s promise and is one of the best episodes of Children of the Gods yet. It adds whole new layers to the plot, and makes me eager to hear episode Chapter Eleven: “Gone to Ground”.
This is epic sci-fi in the grand tradition… But don’t take my word for it, always listen for yourself.