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Hello, fellow listeners!

I have got oodles of updates for you before you go on your journey through this newsletter!
  • I was on the most recent episode of Honey Roast. I roasted Wil and it turns out... Wil roasted me. We're just Like This. Honey Roast is a podcast where creators say wonderful, sweet, kind things about other creators who have inspired them or been impactful in their lives.
  • Radio Drama Revival is looking for a social media manager! Do you think that's you? You can read about it over here.
  • I'm going to be at PodTales in October! That's a free one-day fiction podcast event happening in Cambridge, MA. I'll be staffing a Radio Drama Revival table with the executive producer, Fred Greenhalgh.
  • Remember that I'm also going to be at Podcast Movement, as I'm one of the curators (alongside Wil Williams) for the fiction track. We've announced the line-up; go check it out!
As you can imagine, my plate is very full! I'm still doing thesis on top of this, and on top of writing for The A.V. Club, The Bello Collective, and some other projects I can't announce yet (stay hype!). In order to accommodate this, I'm going to be scaling down mini-reviews down until after Podcast Movement in August:
  • Casting it Back will be limited to 5-7 reviews until September (at which point it'll go back to the normal 10).
  • No regular Audio Dramatic on August 19th! That's the Monday after Podcast Movement and I need time to recover.  There might be a special edition covering Podcast Movement specifically.

Civilized, Picnic (episode 2): From the creators of Alba Salix and The End of Time and Other Bothers comes this improvised dark comedy science-fiction about a small team of hapless people setting up engineering in advance of colony ships. The small group of improvisers have a deft grasp on running gags and momentary sarcasm, taking the horrors of space up to eleven while making it completely ridiculous. This is sharp absurdism that excels at setting up a a spark of an ongoing mystery and Kristi Boulton, in partciular, excels as the bubbly, yet terrifying Beatrix. [13:52]

Kalila Stormfire's Economical Magick Services, Case Nineteen: Money & Headaches (episode 2.6): Listening to Kalila's world blossom outward and get more complicated than she every dreamed it would has been both absolutely delight and distress. Kalila struggles with doing all of the things we do too: taking care of herself and her job, mending and sustaining relationships, learning how to improve herself and learning how to care about the world around her. This episode ends on a heck of a cliffhanger! [16:00]

The Graduate's Cup, The Trial (episode 1): The first of four podcasts from SYN Media's Incubator, this is a documentary-style podcast following high school students through a trial allowing girls to participate in the male league, following one player in particular. The design calls back to every audio documentary, a perfect and immersive mimicry between the host breaking down the issue and interviewing coaches, players, students, and administration. It's a timely discussion considering what's happening in the world of soccer at the moment, and laying down the perspectives while ratcheting up tension and emotion. [35:20]

SCP Archives, SCP-1171 & "HAMMEER" (episode 13): I never expected The Amelia Project and SCP Archives to be two podcasts that would crossover and yet, it has happened, in this world, and it is tone-perfect. The second story in this episode, "HAMMER", retains that totally absurd whimsicality that The Amelia Project is famous for, while imbuing it with the tense fear that comes from the totally unknowable, like SCP's fare. [23:39]

The McIlwraith Statements, Future Blind (episode 6): The narrator is a graduate student, who once was a member of a paranormal psychology research study that went horribly wrong; this is the story of that study. Reminiscent of such podcasts as Ghosts in the Burbs, "Future Blind" is one of my favorite examinations of events that happened at the study with someone who professed to be a real psychic who could talk to ghosts, via the observations of this graduate student who can see, but not speak, to ghosts. [16:05]

Unwell, Pack Animals (episode 8): The spooky Midwestern Gothic podcast of my heart continues to astonish with the wrapping of town conspiracies and horrible, fearful sounds. The mirror between the town happenings and what's happening in the boarding house family is rich with metaphor, creating a jigsaw puzzle that is not complete but every piece is even more chilling. If you haven't jumped onto the Unwell train yet, please do: it's perfectly paced and designed. [23:46]

Paired, Resident Computer, Conference Room 273 (episode 5): This strange little nugget is a series of musings, meditations, and observations from a digital assistant in different places and situations, something like a slice-of-life. The glitches and objections, the distress when something goes wrong, the gentle considerations of human experience and trying to improve their lives but with not much effect, all feels relatable and also makes me worry my digital assistant is judging me. This is weird, unusual, and kind of relaxing to listen to, as long as you don't think too much about technology and sentience.  [11:16]

a cityscape from across a river, at night, lit up in bright neon colors reflected in the cloudy sky

If you’ve been on the internet at all in the last week, you’ve probably witnessed the wave of discussion on the game Cyberpunk 2077 (if you haven’t been, tread carefully while Googling, it’s a minefield). Crucially, there’s been a lot of very hot takes on the humanity/machinery dichotomy in cyberpunk, and the game creator’s, let us say, interesting opinion on the sacred/profane dichotomy. I’m not getting into that here. What I’ve started thinking about as a result is the state of -punk in fiction podcasts: what do the popular -punk genres look like right now? Podcasting is already a pretty anti-capitalist, punk rock medium, at its roots; where punk bands started in their parent’s garage, indie podcasts got started under a blanket in the bedroom closet. Some initial caveats that I’ve held to in order to keep this essay less than book-sized:

  • I will only be mentioning podcasts that have chosen to label themselves in a -punk way, in any part of their marketing or online material. Additionally, they won’t be an exhaustive list.

  • The description of each genre is going to be very superficial and brief; there’s of course a lot more to them than I describe here.

  • I’m only going to be looking at scripted fiction podcasts here, but there is a lot more proliferation of different kinds of -punk in actual play (including, for instance, dieselpunk in Serendipity City). (I think this would make an interesting separate essay, on improvising in a punked-out environment and staying true to that punk ethos. Someone find me more time to write all the things I want to write.)

The origin point most historians trace the concept of punking literature back to is cyberpunk, back to this short story by Bruce Sterling and popularized by William Gibson (Neuromancer, Burning Chrome). Cyberpunk’s ethos is rooted in strong anti-capitalist fears about the future, and the advent of machinery that could be used to control humanity, as well as the natural state of the world where the underprivileged will find a use for everything in order to survive. You can see cyberpunk work in podcasts like Cybernautica, Splintered Caravan, and Under the Electric Stars. These podcasts, in particular, all touch on the concept of “street will find its own use for things” (a line from Burning Chrome) which talks about unexpected uses for technology, and in particular perhaps, using it to fill in spaces where something had to go, but nothing else had been designed for it. For instance, in Under the Electric Stars, the lead creates a friend and companion from a jettisoned bot.

Steampunk was a tongue-in-cheek reference to cyberpunk by sci-fi author K.W. Jeter; in fact, you can read the letter in which he coins it here. It described these stories inspired by environments like those in H.G. Wells and Jules Verne’s works’, a neo-Victorian place where everything relies on anachronistic versions of clockwork, steam, and other 1800s-era technologies. Steampunk’s thematic focus is still firmly rooted in these notions about humanity, agency, and technology. It tends to deal with governmental and class oppression styles of capitalism, rather than that brought on by tech corporations. As Gibson and Sterling state in The Difference Engine: “Love the machine, hate the factory”. Again, in fiction podcasting, three primary examples leap out to me: Victoriocity, BRASS*, and The Tales of Sage and Savant. They are all three of them comedic or purposefully light-hearted or farcical in some way, holding true to steampunk’s roots. There is a streak of mystery throughout all of them, some more overt than others, but key to all of them is their ironic approach to current events and ways of thinking. Early on in BRASS, one character complains, “it’s not privilege if you’re actually nobility”; Dr. Sage objects snarkily with “I’m not a lady, I’m a scientist!” when Savant is hindered by his own sexist mannerisms from participating in her experiment; Victoriocity exaggerates governmental architectural design problems in the design of Even Greater London, like the Thames being used to power the Tower and no longer actually being a river.

Finally, let’s touch briefly on hopepunk. Hopepunk was initially coined by Alexandra Rowland as a response to grimdark. The rebellion is the whole point; there must be justice, even if it is a single seed planted. That seed is worth defending. You can find Wil Williams’ list of hopepunk podcasts over at Polygon, from which I saw a huge influx of both spoken desires for more podcasts like this and of developing podcasts for this style (whether already produced or in production). Shows like Flyest Fables and Standard Docking Procedure have embraced this world, promising things like "no bummers" and positive, empowering stories for marginalized peoples. Even the BBC announced earlier this month they’d be creating a hopepunk podcast aimed at younger listeners.

We’ve started a new, fascinating era of fiction podcasts, one that embodies the issue punk tackles to its core in real life: independent artists have made fiction podcasts popular and desired, so corporations and companies have elected to step into the space and cause the kind of capitalist disruption that is so common to the indie-vs-company issue in entertainment. There is somewhat of a surprising gap, in my eyes, in every realm of -punk. Maybe it’s just a matter of time. Maybe it’s also a matter of how genre labels function for different creators, and the distinct minefields you could be stepping into.

Cyberpunk has this untapped potential in fiction podcasting (as well fiction mediums at large) for the intersections of trans and disabled identities to take center stage. We already live in a society where technology has been integrated into the human body, where surgery and medicine change both shape and function, for the better. I’d love to see that explored, without fear and without defaulting to the tired idea that changing your body through surgery and machinery means you become less human. (Whether that means this is still cyberpunk or not is, again, not something I’m getting into here). Steampunk’s potential to discuss colonialism and racism and its intersections with class divisions seems particularly useful at this point in time as well, for the colonized and the poor to take over stories in which they have been a muted background point for too long in all mediums. I think we need to lean into punk more, with intent and with clarity that if it doesn’t include the marginalized, the forgotten, the silenced, the vulnerable--it’s not punk.

For me, it boils down to this: bring me your punk as fuck story and rebellion, whether it is weary or fierce, comedic or stern, triumphant or desperate. I want to join you in burning down the oppressive state and subverting those who have wronged you, in whatever skin you want to use.

*BRASS’ production company website is currently undergoing maintenance in preparation for a relaunch soon! You can listen to their podcast here on Spotify or here on Apple Podcasts.
**Additionally, my reading list for this essay is available upon request!
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If you want to see more reviews, interviews, and other articles from me, you can support me at my Patreon, or at my ko-fi account for a one-time donation!
Patreon Ko-Fi

Scoring Magic has dropped their first episode! It's a wonderful documentary podcast following the creation of a fiction podcast, VALENCE, from creators Wil Williams, Anne Baird, and Katie Youmans.
PodTales is crowdfunding! Support their IndieGoGo for some really cute mouse merch and help get this one-day audio fiction festival off the ground.
Childish: A Podcast Musical is in their last days of crowdfunding! They're at 84% and so close to reaching full funding for this great musical podcast about a college student who wants to become a famous rapper, and becomes an RA which results in wild hijinks.
Fall of the House of Sunshine is crowdfunding on Kickstarter for season three! This is an incredible comedy musical podcast, one of the weirdest things I've put in my ears, and I'd love to see them get fully-funded!
Wil Williams wrote one of my favorite articles recently, I Don't Care What We Call Non-Non-Fiction Podcasts. It addresses the question of what do we CALL these podcasts we love so much. (I did some of the research Wil used in this article.)

The A.V. Club recently released a great list of best podcasts of 2019 so far. I am super pleased that I got to talk about CARAVAN, under a heading you probably didn't expect and yet, you did.

This is a great article on how to best create podcast artwork from RadioPublic. These are some super useful tools.

Hey, we live in really difficult times. I loved this article from The Guardian that has quotes from different activists from many different areas and fields talking about what they do to stay healthy, happy, and ready to keep going in their work.

Sean Howard has continued his Patreon growth experiment articles, and the latest one is a doozy that I'm sure many indie creators will identify with: losing steam and what that results in.

If you'd like to ask me questions or comments, you can reply to this newsletter (it goes directly to my email!) or reach out to me on Twitter.

Happy listening,
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